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Out with the old and in with the new?

Ramblings from a co-working space

· Reflections

I'm sitting at a co-working space in Phnom Penh called 'The Desk'. It feels incredible.

The chair is so damned comfy and it has that amazing adjustable height function that I'd taken for granted all my life. Sitting here, I reflect on how my arse has been blessed with comfortable chairs all my life and how I've missed it so much since leaving Nomura in July 2017.

Even growing up, my brother and I played computer games on a comfortable desk chair. My father was quite particular about this, being an academic who spent much of his time behind a desk and also a man who appreciated "the good stuff" (good speakers, good trainers, good tennis racquets and so on). I had the privilege of attending a private school (public school, if you're British) with all its amenities that included ergonomic chairs. The university library at Imperial College London, too, had invested in comfortable seating. Following graduation, I then worked for a series of large corporations with its offices optimised to keep bums on seats for as long as possible.

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This makes me drool...

Since leaving London in July 2017, I've been frequenting cafes, hostels and various co-working spaces all over the world. Yes, I admit at first there was the allure of working in cafes, sitting on bean bags or the dorm bunk bed like a real nomad. And when I tried out my first co-working space, I felt somewhat of an entrepreneur! The only thing was... those colourful and pretty plastic chairs were so uncomfortable!

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Pretty...but pretty uncomfortable too!

Which brings me back to 'The Desk'. This is probably the nicest working environment I've had for a long time. I've learned that I'm not really the type now for doing work on trains, cafes, beds or on kitchen tables with our house cat jumping onto my keyboard. I mean, I can and have done, but for me there's no substitute for a good old office desk with an ugly but damned functional ergonomic chair! I mean, for crying out loud, corporations have probably spent millions on optimising the work space.

What's the point of this rant, Joey? What's the lesson in this?

There is a point. Our society now craves and demands new trendy things all the time, thinking that new is better. I agree. It's good to constantly grow and improve. Indeed, that's the pattern of life - if you're not growing you're dead!

However, I think sometimes there is a danger of seeking novelty all the time and at the same time simply discarding the old. You can take the old and re-interpret it, keeping all that was good about the old but making it better. I think 'The Desk' is doing that, bringing in the flexibility and community of the modern co-working space concept but keeping the comfy desk chairs. 

Don't throw away the basics, otherwise you're just left with gimmicks with no substance.

During my time working at Prudential's Group Head Office, I worked under the HR Director. He was a man who helped me a great deal in my career and who I admired and respected. He told me once that it is crucial to get the basics right in life. As an HR function, we need to make sure that everyone gets paid the right amount at the right time. We need to provide the correct information in a timely manner. We had to tick these boxes before we got to do any of the "sexy stuff" like people development or design new performance and reward schemes.

Sure, we need to push the boundaries of the respective fields that we are in, but if we do that at the expense of the basics then it is all for nothing.

Often, when I speak to my (and here I generalise heavily) younger clients and audiences, I am faced with a lot of talent, hunger and desire but also impatience. They do not devote enough time to learn the basic, the rules of old, before they try to break them. There are complaints about the status quo, but there is no recognition of the history and context that led to the status quo. In their discontent they try admirably and beautifully to build something better. But they fail. Why?

"In their discontent they try admirably and beautifully to build something better. But they fail. Why?​"

If you do not understand why things are the way things are, you cannot hope to improve them to the best extent that you can. You might create something that makes the same mistake. You might create something that is better in one area that you're focusing on, but worse in ten others. You might lose everything good about the old thing, which undeniably had points for improvement.

Richard Rohr, a wise man that I follow, speaks of life coming in three stages. First is construction. You have rules built around you, by society, your parents, your bosses etc. Second is deconstruction, when you learn to break the rules because you find that they don't quite fit. Third is reconstruction, when you take the best of the old and re-interpret it in a new way. And you cannot skip straight to deconstruction if you want to be able to reconstruct. You must go through each stage of life as it comes patiently.

In what areas of your life or of society do you want to change in? How do you want to change it?

Is there any value in the status quo that is worth preserving?

Where might you be throwing the baby out with the bathwater?