I wrote this post and then thought it was self-indulgent, so decided to abandon it while driving to a new venue to run a workshop on leadership, change, motivation … Then I arrived and there was no hot water, no working toilets due to the Big Freeze, no hot drinks, an overpoweringly hot crowded room, some disgruntled people – and still the event went ahead (well, we did achieve one working toilet for 35 people after a couple hours and hot water for drinks)….A triumph over adversity or a mixed message? You tell me.
If you’re reading this and you were there too, please read on. It was an experience that’s fed in to my musings on what is happening in the world around us and in organisational life.
I thought, actually there’s something in this post after all. If we can no longer even meet our basic needs in Maslow’s hierarchy and treat each other with humanity, how can we ever approach self-actualisation?
So here goes…
Frosted trees, Cotswolds – picture thanks to Chris Hill
‘Like a fairy tale’ – that’s what Dody said about HearthMusic Thanksgiving. That was just what it felt like to me. The remark resonated and spurred me on to make sense of the confused mess of reactions I’m continuing to have after the fairy tale ends.
I decided to google that phrase ‘after the fairy tale ends’ – to see what might come up. I quickly got bored. It all seemed to be about waking up to reality, there is no ‘happy ever after’ etc. Is that relevant to how I’m feeling?
The story of HM TG was easy to write as it was a factual and personal record, so it just flowed. As I was writing it, I was very conscious that it was purely the upside of the whole experience and that as a blog is a public document, it wasn’t easy to write about the accompanying lesser upsides or downsides, or even the lingering questions, for a whole host of reasons.
My impression is that the story and the experience has been quite transfixing for some of you out there – and I guess that means I have successfully communicated how the experience has been for me. I have been more than a little baffled by this because in the few days leading up to the concerts I had mixed feelings, I wasn’t completely looking forward. So it was quite astonishing to be transported to such a different place, and really frustrating and unsettling to not be able to quite get back from there. This is more than the usual sense of anticlimax after you finish a project or go on a special holiday, and I’m trying to work out why.
A whole host of thoughts come to mind, none are conclusive.
First off, actually it’s been an emotionally demanding year. Most of the people I am working with are in such grim work environments, some have lost or are losing their jobs, many are wondering whether they will have jobs or what the workplace (and the world for that matter) will be like even if they do. When I hear accounts of how these situations are being managed, on the whole it fills me with exhaustion and, well, despair may be too strong a word but just a sense of overwhelming weariness. I have spent the best part of two decades trying to help people, teams and organisations become better, more effective, energising, more humane places to work. Sometimes, particularly in a time like this which seems to be going on and on, it just seems a little pointless – even though I know how many individuals have developed, become more self-aware, found more satisfaction in their work and lives….but still, there is a limit.
If I come back to the venue that had no hot water, toilets etc – the story behind it is that it isn’t yet finished. It’s being refurbished to save money on external venues. In my view it will be serviceable when done but probably not up to external standards. Does that matter? No, it will fulfil the intended purpose. What does matter – t0 me anyway – are the behaviours and treatment of people, each other, around that change, and now I am speaking more broadly than this experience. Because everyone from the top down is feeling so sque-ee-eezed, there is little compassion for each other in this change process that so many organisations are going through at the moment. Just a kind of ‘get on with it, stop complaining’, stoical quality. While I dislike excess moaning and pining, I do think there is a case for appropriate, balanced recognition of the frustrations, disappointments and losses – as part of a necessary ‘transition curve’ to whatever the future holds. If directors and senior managers weren’t feeling so bad themselves – and justifiably so as every budget round holds worse news for their organisations – they would have the personal wherewithal to do the humane thing – for instance in the circumstances I encountered recently, order a round of Starbuck’s coffees for everyone and cake! But those resources of goodwill and care for others are being seriously depleted, and it is sad to see this. Obviously there are still exceptions, but even very skilled leaders like the ones at this event are being ground down by circumstances understandably and so those little details of care are falling by the wayside.
I would like to be doing something with my skills and qualities that genuinely makes a difference. Some days I feel I am, but increasingly facing the adversity of hostile environments, I feel uncertain.
This HM TG idea seemed to come out of the ether and now I’m wondering was/is the appeal partly escapism? Or if I put that in a more balanced way, I think the appeal has certainly been the contrast with my everyday work environment – on just about every level, physical, emotional, spiritual. The warmth, humanity, spontaneity and energy of the connections that I’ve written about in this experience are certainly a powerful antidote to the negativity in some of the other environments where I spend my time.
I am a great believer that we should all strive to spend as much of our time as possible in healthy, sustaining, nurturing environments. This applies to me too!
The music I’ve always loved, and the type of music HM is about, takes me right back to my own roots – which must also be why the experience has been so overpowering. It has been interesting to share the idea with my father who is nearly 90, still very mentally alert, and just about gets it. He was a great lover of Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Pete Seeger, as well as Bob Dylan, and so I grew up on this music first. He was intrigued and kind of transfixed by this idea of me getting involved in setting up home music concerts with what was for him a tangential link with folk and activist music. There was a sort of intuitive approval.
And yet – the music business is a very strange business. It’s not one I ever wanted to get involved with and while I find myself peculiarly fascinated with the rules and logistics as I of necessity investigate them further, I still feel distant. Growing up in LA you can’t help but have a kind of vague awareness of this industry. The closest I personally got to it was when Elton John played some concerts at the Troubadour which is a very intimate venue and some friends and I sent literally hundreds of postcards to get tickets and we ended up getting so many that we had to sell some of them. So we became temporary ‘scalpers’ at the age of about 15 or 16 and met this very strange man on a street corner somewhere on the edge of Beverly Hills and sold him some tickets at extortionate prices (I am ashamed to admit!) My mother was very keen on me making a profit….and encouraged me to write a story called ‘The Scalper’ about this which I may still have in a box somewhere.
This brief recent foray into ‘the music business’ has led me to feel – possibly inaccurately – what a strange lifestyle it is, how hard it must be to form genuine relationships and friendships, and how difficult it must be to keep a pure love for the art separate from all the other stuff around it, not least the need to earn a living. In a way, that makes me want to scuttle back to my known worlds of organisational stuff and politics and bureaucracy – because at least that’s not about something beautiful at the centre. But then it was the evenings of music and all the warmth and humanity around those which makes it possible to kind of tiptoe round, sweep aside, the other grittier stuff. And this venture, HearthMusic, is all about genuine community development – a real Big Society, not just packaging to save money on the contents.
Where is the equivalent of those musical evenings in our organisational lives – especially at the moment? Not in a building with no toilets and no hot water! I guess I am struggling with that question right now, as I leave the music behind, at least for the moment. Maybe some of you can give me some answers or opinions.
Sorry for the indulgent rant! but I just can’t get rid of this stuff just yet.