In praise of “old ways of working”

Reflecting on being at the excellent “Stop Doing Dumb Things” unconference on Wednesday this week, one comment kept surfacing above all others in regard to effective engagement – “re-invent lunch”.

It helped me to connect the dots to other areas of my activity – and in watching the tweetfall from yet another (please, no more) “future of work” event yesterday, made me think that perhaps in our “greed for the new” (as Nietzsche said) we have been in too much of a hurry to leave behind and scoff at the ingredients of our past success. We are in mortal danger of betraying the golden rule of change.

It’s perhaps time to recognise that “old ways of working” still have much to offer, and if we trample over them to reach the unknown future, we may regret it. Things like….

The mystique, magic and hidden secrets of signatures, drawn with fountain pens, tracing the flow of the ink to the abrupt, stubbed dots

The sensory delight of carefully opening and unfolding a letter on thick, textured paper, speaking all the while of its importance, and the slow, deep intake of breath as you start to read

Handwriting, as mesmeric as watching the breaking of waves

The arresting calm of conversation flowing, with time for the silence of the reflective pause

Quiet undisturbed contemplation, without the sharp deflating puncture of a beep or vibration, and blind to the clock

Petty cash and cheques, swift payment, a receipt, satisfaction – respect, the only term or condition

Lunchtimes, sacred, anticipated and patiently consumed, alone or generously shared

Arrangements adhered to, without fear of the last-minute scythe of an excuse-laden text

Real names, and a single identity – respectfully remembered and addressed – handles only for doors and cupboards

The social pillow of beer after hours, or even just before – and the delight in the immediacy and willing of colleagues, thrown together yet open and sincere

So – be careful not to trample on the beauty of the past….

7 thoughts on “In praise of “old ways of working”

  1. Gives us all the challenge to take time out to think and reflect. There is nothing better than taking time to get to know people. It is only when the mask of the actor is taken off due we get to know the true person who lie beneath. At work we actors, who are we really?

  2. Do you remember when it was common to have plants in offices and for people to have their own plants on their own desks?

    There was a programme recently about design. A Big 6 consultancy were describing how they moved into a new, super-efficient, ergonomic office (machine). Hot desking, no boundaries, clear your desk as soon as you finish. Minimalist, cool, clean, tidy. Efficiency went down, absenteeism and illness went up. They softened the design and brought in trees, and plants and it started to recover. And they were surprised! A leading partnership that advises other companies about people did not seem to know much of real importance about people. That is scary.

    It is also how such consultancies’ advice can be intellectually correct while being devoid of common sense, i.e. utter non-sense. People are sensible as much or more than they are “intellectual”. When they are mindful it is because they have integrated brain and body. Things that work well and keep their appeal, do so because they integrate all people’s senses and sensibilities. They acknowledge and value people’s nature.

    A recent study showed that people in the country thought much more about others than people in urban environments do. They further found that people facing windows that looked over country landscapes thought more about others than people facing windows hat looked over cityscapes. And, yes, people with natural things like living plants in their offices were also more other-oriented.

    When did you last feel a live leaf? Feel its own unique texture, hue, moistness and coolness, see how its colours change and merge, how every part of it fulfils its own function in perfect co-ordination without a single instruction manual and just needs an occasional watering to continue to turn light into energy and air into carbon and oxygen. Go on, sniff a rose, hug a tree, lick a chrysanthemum! No-one’s looking! And now for a weekend raking leaves, and maybe kicking a few piles around and raking them up again. Nobody is looking, are they?

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