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Chill out, take a breath, and don’t worry about wasting time

This piece by Michael Hayman originally appeared in City A.M, see here

Shrimp salad and a gin and tonic for lunch, then back to bed for a snooze.

The relaxed recipe for creative genius, as told by Liccy Dahl at a literary event last week, on the work routine of her late husband, Roald.

It got me thinking. In a world focused on the need for speed, to go fast and break things, what is the cost to the human experience?

We are in the era of dog years: a world where, like our canine friends, each new year is worth seven old ones when it comes to the speed of technology adoption and the pace of change.

Thinking of establishing a startup and taken a year to get there? You need to get a move on. That’s well on the way to a decade in old money.

Instant gratification is the name of the game, and you’d better be quick about it if you want to provide a product, service or solution.

Burned-out, frazzled, overcooked. Sound familiar? Words used by many who get to the point where the intensity turns out to be too much.

Founder fatigue is a very real issue for many entrepreneurs, who have had to use super-human strength to keep the show on the road.

And it’s a challenge that faces the entire working world, driving burgeoning new industries on the one hand but raising issues around mental health on the other.

Lloyds Bank chief executive Antonio Horta-Osorio, commenting on his own experiences with stress, said “it nearly broke me”. He has since been at the heart of business efforts to address issues surrounding mental health and wellbeing.

According to the Global Wellness Institute, the health and wellness industry is now worth $4.2 trillion and represents 5.3 per cent of global economic output. Entrepreneurs are creating billion-dollar wellness brands, like Michael Acton-Smith with Calm, the meditation and mindfulness app.

Speaking to the BBC earlier this year, he said: “21 months ago there were nine of us in a one-bed apartment – now we’re the world’s first mental health unicorn”. The world is waking up to the need for wellness.

Elsewhere, much is being made of the need for the nation to take its time. In the investment industry, despite the travails of Neil Woodford, patient capital is a thing: a movement of voices warning against the endemic short-term pressure on businesses to turn a fast buck and deliver urgent returns.

What if you could evolve the notion of what matters? What if you could begin to equate the need to deliver in the short term with the support to get it right over the long term? Taking time to breathe, to think. Sure, you might lose some of the galvanising power of the urgency of the now, but it might help you get it right when you consider the what comes next.

Taking the long-term view was the stock in trade for Paul Polman in his time as chief executive of Unilever.

Here was a leader who realised that businesses need to be long-term players in the life of the planet, not only because it was the right thing to do, but because ultimately the market would demand it.

His response was the Sustainable Living initiative, which spoke to a major rewiring of the business and a decisive shift towards pro-sustainability products.

I remember at the time listening to a much-admired business leader explain why the whole initiative represented nothing more than corporate vanity, ego, and a CEO unable to focus on the immediate needs of his business.

Today, the Sustainable Living brands are growing 46 per cent faster than the rest of Unilver’s business and delivering 70 per cent of its turnover growth in 2018. It’s a long-term game that strives to benefit the environment and address rising consumer awareness – and in doing so boost the bottom line. Using purpose to deliver profit has proved to be well worth waiting for.

So, next time somebody tells you that time to think is a waste of time, chill. Roald Dahl put it like this: “Watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.” Happy holidays.

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