Busyness as usual?
Dan hasn't baked bread in two weeks. Tom and Steve look a bit worried.Not only are his kids demanding toast, but Tom and Steve know this means that Dan is run ragged. 'Sourdough just needs wheat, water -and time, I know when I haven't had time to bake that things are too nuts'. In fact all three of them are a bit frazzled from 'the bonkers time' they've been having with their new venture, Swarm – which grew out of Good For Nothing. They say Swarm is not a busyness. But as they (along with pretty much everyone else – at least in London) seem to be so busy, asking the difference between what they're doing and traditional 'busyness' seems an obvious question.
Tom describes busynesses as 'high ego, control environments'. This description focuses on the 'how' as much as the 'what', and chatting to the guys it's clear that this holistic view is core to their way of thinking.
They cite studies in social research about the relationship between function and form of innovation, likening GFN's structure to the nature inspired models of Stephen Johnson who thinks that innovation flourishes when our environment has a liquid structure - reflecting that of the brain. These structures are innately flexible, but very carefully balanced: 'New configurations can emerge through the random connections formed between molecules, but the system ins't so wildly unstable that it instantly destroy's its new creations' (Johnson).
This responsive flexibility and openness runs throughout the Swarm's practise, counter balanced with heartfelt care, wisdom, and a light playfulness (Tom refers to the dark side of their approach as 'Jedi moves').
They're always talking about jamming and scatting on ideas, so after kicking off with busyness, the chat bounces through views of leaderships contrasting to busyness 'low ego, high humility, highly skilled, driven by needs of group, not individual'. This morphs into descriptions of hosting, facilitation, sherpering as potential components, as well as the all important act of followership. They're packed with ideas on different approaches as to why, how, what and even where leaderships can manifest, but careful to avoid painting a picture of anything that's 'something firm to hold on to'.
This openness shows up in their approach too. There's a sense of releasing attachment to outcomes in order to be receptive to the journey –although they have a clear sense that 'it's important to get from A to B, but how you get there isn't so important'.
While these are as Steve says 'just ways of working', there's clearly more to it. Not only is how they work important for basic (but often overlooked by busyness) self-care, the 'how' is important for something deeper. As well as talking about nature inspired models,Tom often uses references to natural rhythms; leadership needs to 'sense the time, when to move, flow...people need downtime and reflection'.To say that they value this connection to nature is a bit fricking obvious; as well as partners in Project Wild Thing and setting up theWild Network that grew from it, two seconds on their twitter feeds is enough to see they spend as much time as they can in nature. Why?'Understanding wildness and the connection to nature leads to a much deeper sense of empathy'. Steve says this plays out in the ability to make more human choices', put simply 'it's harder to make harmful decisions' when you're hanging out in nature and feeling at one.
Trying to work out why so much of society seems to be in the midst of a nature deficit disorder epidemic is a theme throughout Project WildThing. As well as the rise of screen time, risk averse society and less green spaces, Steve says that fundamentally 'the idea of wildness as separate to _us _is the problem'. Tom flips this idea, focusing on how to heal this rift 'Wild time is a trigger into the ability to unlock freewill...We've built blocks, the most obvious being the industrial format of busyness'. Instead of reflecting nature's rhythms, the need for down time, reflection, he says 'Busyness ploughs on regardless'.
We talk about how pervasive this busyness is, how releasing from it means 'unhinging yourself from so many different parts of society'.But why is it so pervasive? Steve says 'media has us addicted, [the idea of]doing less has such negative connotations'. Tom adds 'there has been no meaningful alternative'.
This is when Dan - despite his lack of baking time, bounces in, and we start riffing on more existential questions. His sense is that we're'Fuelled by an invisible energy that you can't stop. The problem is no one is being their true self. The system tells us to work more, get a pension, consumer more, but no one knows what's going to happen. The system is eating itself...I think we know it's broken but it's terrifying how do you get yourself out? So instead we take the “better than everyone else approach”. Or just ignore it.It's easier to medicate. If you think to hard you drink, have coffee...or you just step right out. We've lost touch with ourselves'. The guys agree.
Steve adds a mindful observation (they consciously weave nods to Buddhism their approach) 'I don't think you can't be fully happy until you unhook from the past and future, release from worry'.
Then we remember that there are projects awaiting, and we're back to work.But as Dan adds, it's the kind of work that 'taps into your creativity' and helps you feel alive. And that means it's a whole different kind of organisation entirely.