The benefits of storms in keeping workplaces healthy

The benefits of storms in keeping workplaces healthy

By Andy Howie

Have you ever read an article about a specific subject which has made you think about a much bigger question of life? Recently, I read a piece in The Observer about the great storm of 1987 and its impact on nature, and it prompted in me a curiosity about growth and decay in life. One of those interviewed for the article talks about the role decay has in promoting new life and how we need to see it as an integrated part of life.

In my family I can observe both decay and growth with an ageing mother and a new grandson, but it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that growth is good, it’s fresh, it’s full of potential and see decay as all bad, about deterioration and decline. But what if it’s not?

We regularly hear talk about the desirability of growth in people, and our debates about the economy is all about an aspiration for growth, but we avoid the subject of decay, and yet it seems to be a vital part of growth. The trees that the 1987 storm felled allowed more light to get into woodland, which prompted new growth and helped forests stay healthy. So, in nature, decay and growth, self-destruction and self-healing are comfortable partners. In the workplace, not so much.

Projects come to an end and equipment becomes obsolete, and it’s important to let go and let light in to stimulate ideas and innovation. Moving on freely can inspire new ways of working and relating. I’ve watched my granddaughter play and once she has exhausted the possibilities with one toy, she moves on to another; once she has explored one room, she goes to the next. She allows her natural curiosity to lead her into leaving one thing and moving on to another. As one interest decays, another grows.

We often think that decay interrupts a life cycle, and yet if we let nature take its course we are often surprised by a healthy recovery. Trusting life and its life force to take care of itself creates a more robust ecosystem. But we do need to consider people in the midst of it all. Perhaps austerity, the commissioning system and competitive tendering are the workplace equivalents of the 1987 storm. People are being felled and damaged by the ruthlessness of it all. Modern work culture can bring positivity and opportunity if we only look after people during the decay process. It’s something we don’t do very well, and the contribution people can continue to make is often lost.

Is everlasting growth in an organisation realistic, possible or desirable? Perhaps we need to acknowledge that growth ends; we live on a planet with finite resources. We all need to search for our own lessons in nature; my challenge is to accept decay and see its importance in the process of life. What lessons has nature taught you?

Image attribution: Nicholas A. Tonelli on Flickr under Creative Commons License