BrightTALK Battle on the Thames
I can say that I’m now recovered after the BrightTALK London office got together on Friday to race dragon boats at the Docklands Sailing and Watersport Centre. I was on a boat that came in second (1 min and 24.78 sec – robbed by a tenth of a second). My arms were jelly as we came in to the finish line after two races in a row and it was genuine “retch inducing” physical exertion as one of our oarsman noted. It was funny to see how the “team building” exercise brought out the competitiveness in people but given the situation and with boats named “HMS Victory” and “The Black Pearl,” it was hard not to be competitive. But it was light hearted fun with banter about strategies to take out boats with key personnel and wonderings about the effects of extra ballast and tobacco usage. For a short while eight people had to work as a team as we tried to leave the others in our wake.
After a well-earned barbecue, we were having some refreshments in the club house that overlooks the water, and one of my colleagues looked up to our left at the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf. “I used to work on the 15th floor of one of those buildings,” he said. “Even with all of the thousands that work there, I think it is one of the loneliest places on earth.” Assigned to his cubicle, he hardly spoke to anyone in the office, everyone communicated by email and ate lunch on their own sitting in the plaza looking up at the thousands of windows. It was a sad reflection on some of the workplaces where we spend enormous parts of our lives.
As the London BrightTALK office has grown, we’ve spread across multiple floors and it has become harder to have regular banter with colleagues outside of our immediate teams. Our kitchen “water cooler” moments have become more fragmented and most of our workday communication is generally about client issues, can you send me this file, book this, etc. Colleagues send emails when sometimes a quick conversation would probably suffice and then at the end of the day our personal lives and families take priority. It has become harder to have conversations with colleagues that don’t directly relate to specific work issues. Coincidentally later this week I’m producing a video for a fund manager who makes his investment decisions outside of the office environment that he finds noisy and distracting. He works with a colleague from a shed at the end of his garden in rural Cornwall where a stream runs nearby and he can focus on the investment decisions. The office may be a good place to do business but it makes one wonder if the office is the best place to foster innovation.
Maybe it’s the Irish in me, but I believe a lot of creative ideas have been sown in discussions around a pint in the pub. “Write drunk, edit sober,” Hemingway wrote, but I believe it’s as much the creativity that comes from the atmosphere of the pub as the inebriation. The pub has traditionally been the environment where people from all walks of life could talk about their job, challenges, dreams, and ideas. A free environment where you could be told “you’re off your head you eejit” or “hang on, you might have something there.” But with the price of a pint ‘n all even the Irish aren’t drinking like they used to and the British pubs are closing at an alarming rate. Looking at the bobbing dragon boats in the docklands, we noted the once mighty British Navy has even dispensed with the sailor’s traditional daily ration of rum.
They say coffee shops are replacing the pubs, but the average Starbucks is generally a reflection of the plaza underneath the skyscrapers, individuals with headphones tapping into a laptop, tablet or phone. James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” one of literatures greatest tomes involves a bit of a literary pub crawl where the hero remarked that “a good puzzle would be to cross Dublin without passing a pub” (a puzzle incidentally solved earlier this year by an Irish software developer.) I wonder if “Ulysses” would have been the same if Joyce had twittered a feed when he stopped in Davy Byrne’s pub for his glass of burgundy and a gorgonzola sandwich? Our digital toys have in one way isolated us from others by bringing the office away from the office. It makes company organized events outside the office even more important where we can freely collaborate and where often crazy thoughts can lead to some genuinely innovative ideas.
As we looked down from the club house at the next dragon boat race event, a gathering of lawyers from one of the Canary Wharf skyscrapers. We timed their race. “1min 44sec… Hah – we would have KILLED those lawyers.”