Hot chocolate slops about beside the coffee; the noise is at ‘oo-er’ levels; small groups are munching and studying maps; small hands are being wiped: pretend cobwebs still wisp across firework display posters: it’s half term in the café.
And it’s a living tutorial.
Un-write any applications for organizational behaviour courses, cancel any MBA plans; all we need to know is right here.
Just tune in to a quality within the noise.
There’s no overriding ‘culture’ or mood dominating. Ages, energies, feelings are all mixed up.
That mixed-up-ness is what I see ‘missing’ in most office environments at the moment. There isn’t much difference, or real messy contact, or laughing for that matter.
There’s no child part in the orchestra score.
We all know that work is a serious business.
Or is it?
Plunge a hand into the ragbag of current business vocab and you’ll retrieve words like ‘passion’, ‘inspiration’, ‘creativity’, ‘energy’ and other easier-said-than-summoned qualities. (Are you a teeny bit tired of hearing them?). It’s as clear as a clear thing today in the café that these qualities are linked to play. It also feels very normal and right, as if ‘youngness’ mixed up with ‘oldness’ is not only a potent mix, but just….natural. Perhaps it’s the permission to play that is so productive.
You may have played with a Möbius strip – studied rather than played? – at school. A strip of paper, with one twist as it is formed into a circle, magically creates a shape that while appearing to have 2 sides has but one continuous surface.
I wonder whether work (or our bosses’ style and wishes?) is increasingly forcing us to work with one side of ourselves? Yet those sides are magically and indivisibly part of a whole.
It’s not all sweetness, or indeed light, here today. There are arguments and tears; fights over food and phones and games. It’s not an idyll. But it’s real. The presence of some child-like quality inside us all has been let out, and is abundantly available.
The enduring popularity of The Little Prince (Saint-Exupéry: Le Petit Prince) is often ascribed to an ability to touch that ‘inner child’. Again, it’s not all sugar sweet jolliness. Saint-Exupéry crashed in the desert, and was lost for a week in 1935. He later began drawing and writing to make some sort of sense of that experience. He wrote to process his war depression, and misery at how quickly France fell to Germany in 1940. The child resources were as crucial as the grown – up resources in the process of working through depression and releasing his imagination.
Clearly children have more important things to do than spend time in our workplaces and offices. But perhaps something of the child approach to the world can be re-introduced. Not an adult’s interpretation of a child’s approach (just whimsy and infantilisation?) but real anarchic child energy.
I’d like small people to leave their ‘little prints’ on the contemporary world of work.