At a recent social occasion I asked somebody a question and, as a result, he stopped talking to me. We had been chatting a while, getting to know one another, and I had discovered that he worked in a global entertainment industry awash with money, while his wife worked for a charity working in the Third World. I asked how they dealt with the paradox of their working lives. I think the question offended him because he made some defensive remarks and then our conversation came to an abrupt end!I tell this story because we are approaching August, a month in which I typically take some time out and use the opportunity to reflect. I try to remember what is important and reconnect with my purpose.
I believe my purpose is to create spaces to enable people to think about who they are and what they do.To be effective in that I have to bring enquiry to the process and that can be uncomfortable. During a group review of some work I’d been facilitating a participant described me as an irritant. Maybe the guy at the party would say the same! But it is something I have been thinking about.
Andy and I recently met up with a previous manager of ours, somebody I’ve always looked up to and admired for his quick thinking. When he is firing on all cylinders I know I need to be on my game. When I was out of the room he said to Andy that he found me really challenging – in a good way, I think. It confirmed to me that part of my purpose is to help people question their own lives and also to critically examine the system we work within.
Recently, I spent two weeks taking part in environmental protests in London and the next Monday morning I found myself in a meeting with senior managers and directors from some of the biggest name retailers in the country. I am open with these leaders that I don’t buy in to some of the principles that they embrace. They were asking what retail will look like in 2030, and I said to them that I thought they were asking the wrong question. Surely the question should be what will the world look like in 2030 and how will retail fit into that. They were a little resistant at first, but I believe they have started to allow themselves to look at a bigger picture and work with the fact that retail is just one part of a much bigger eco-system.
I am finding my own paradox here. On the one hand I protest against the impact of consumerism motivated by wealth accumulation. On the other, I work with the leaders of the businesses at the forefront of our economic system – the system I am so uncomfortable with. To borrow an activism phrase, I am, at times, ‘being in the belly of the beast.’ And in my next blog I will explore the paradoxes that brings to my own working life.