Goodbye Yellow Brick Road



It’s a hard thing to pin down. How do we really feel about change? Or, is that the thing about change, not only is it ever mutable, so are our feelings towards it?

Of course, biologically speaking, we’re hard-wired to not be all that good at change. Habit is a survival mechanism. If we could all change ourselves (our thoughts, our feelings, our actions) over-night, it would make for an even more volatile world than it is.

We work so often to rhythm, and collaboration – teamwork, human orchestration – need their rhythms to work harmoniously.

If we kept changing the beat all the time, there’d be no coherence, no music in the world. We have to play along together.

I live high up above a busy road in an apartment in central London and I love standing out on my front balcony and watching the traffic, from my elevated stance the size of toy cars and buses, and the gentle choreography of lights, traffic and people.

When you’re down in it, it feels something bordering on chaos. From above, you could set music to it.

Rituals and routines have a certain rhythm to them too, and they’re important in the workplace. People like their routines. They can even get pretty hostile if you seek to alter them. For some, though, routines can quickly become constructs that seem to restrict them; that force them to dance to a tune not of their making.

Others, and I’d put myself in this camp, just don’t seem to be wired terribly well for routine. The only habit I’ve ever effectively established is smoking – I can’t even take vitamins regularly. My clock just doesn’t work that way.

Talk to people about what they love most about their work and often the answer is no two days are the same (so much so its become a to-be-avoided-at-all-costs recruitment communications cliché).

But what do people mean when they say this? The tasks are different, the contacts, the environment itself? An awful lot of these same people have their mug, their desk, their lunch with the same people everyday (often the same place, maybe even the same thing).

There are changes and constants – and perhaps it’s the balance of these things that make us most content.

Radical change is rarely desirable for most people (much as we might claim to want to wave a magic wand sometimes). To throw away all knowns, all structures, all our stabilising habits and interactions might, in the moment, be tempting, but the uncertainties soon eclipse the allure of a blank sheet, an unknown road.

And that’s a good thing – because we have to bring others along with us in life. Whether in the family unit or the multinational, an individual seeking radical change alone, without consultation, is likely to create discord.

The workplace exit is rarely the result of a consultative process. Someone hands in their resignation (sometimes a shock, sometimes not) and that’s it – whether people like it or not, in some form or another, radical change is afoot.

It’s a time when it’s as important as ever to bring people along with you – in the sense of assurance and adequate handover and plenty of time for people to talk – but, unlike the carefully planned induction, few exits are planned with such precision.

Just under a year ago, just after midnight in the Piazza Della Signoria, standing in front of the David and celebrating my 40th birthday with my dearest friend, I had a little epiphany: whether fuelled by copious amounts of red wine and limoncello, a crystallising mid-life crisis or just the magic of Florence, here, in the cradle of the Renaissance, I decided it was time for another Renaissance in my own life.

My life has always run in chapters. After five great years at SMRS – where I’ve seen the business flourish, double in size (my own department quadruple in size), won, and worked with, some fantastic clients producing award-winning work, seen talent I’ve brought in reach new heights and recruited my successor – I feel I’ve come to the end of a chapter and am ready to start a new one.

It’s not been an easy decision to leave (opting for radical change never is) but I hope, over the last year, I’ve been able to pave the way for my departure to make leaving as painless and as smooth a transition as it ever can be.

I owe an awful lot to my time at SMRS. During my time here, we established a simple, powerful value system in Brains, Courage and Heart, and it’s what I’ve learned about these values – and the challenges of living them day-to-day – that will be my most valuable ‘takeaway’.

I’ve expanded my brain in my time here. I’ve been given time to think, been stimulated and inspired. I’ve met an incredibly diverse mix of people who have helped me think about the worlds of work and study in different ways. I hope I’ve also inspired and help developed others’ brains too.

SMRS has given me the courage to try new things – to be bold, to (sometimes) be ‘disruptive’ even. Even more rewarding has been seeing others’ confidence and courage grow.

But the value I’ve probably struggled with the most has been Heart. I’m a classic strategist and ‘visionary’ – a RED type, A-type, ENTJ. Heart has been a struggle for me. Feelings aren’t the first thing I consider when considering a plan. And yet, and yet, after all this time, I’ve come to see that really it’s the most important consideration of all.

You can’t take people’s feelings out of the equation. We don’t live in abstract, theoretical worlds, we live in a human world where, whether we like it or not, people have emotions. We need to learn to work with emotion, with human beings – not just with concepts.

Without Heart, an organisation is just made up of tin men and women. It’s empty.

With heart, with passion and feeling and emotion, you have something really powerful. Harder perhaps to manage. Sometimes frustrating. Sometimes seemingly more fragile. But meaningful, a community, with a commitment to purpose – and bonds to each other.

It’s a really important lesson to learn and I will be forever grateful to SMRS for helping me learn it. There will always be a big place in my heart for SMRS. I’m excited for them for the changes they have ahead – and excited for myself to see how that next new chapter unfolds.

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