Fresh Starts

They say it’s good for the soul to make a fresh start: you get rid of all the clutter in your life/work/website and feel increasingly free as each piece disappears from your life.

I’ve been doing a lot of that recently: moved house, revamped this site and started on a comprehensive review of company products and services.

There is some truth in it, I can see. Custom and habit can weigh you down, make you cautious, reduce your choices under the delusion that you must conform to prior normalcy. I definitely felt a certain triumph with each box full of stuff that went to the charity shop or tip during the move.

Having said that, there was some degree of desperation in my sloughing off the protective skin of many years’ possessions: choices were being forced on me by a lack of space rather then by a whole-hearted embracing of minimalism. I know friends who have flatly refused to do it: they rent storage space in one of the many facilities springing up in every town rather than throw away anything they have acquired.

Is the decision to hang on to things simply a proof of our conspicuous consumption (we have more than we need) or is it symptomatic of a need to define ourselves by our things rather than our qualities? And when does that become a problem?

I once had a friend who had spent time in Tibet and, influenced by Buddhism, told me earnestly that we should look at our possessions each night and say “I own you. You do not own me.” At the time I was in my early 20s and had nothing that I couldn’t have happily relinquished on the spot without a moment’s hesitation so I didn’t understand her. Today, though, it’s slightly different. A child of my generation, I’m not especially materialistic so am not making choices between items of material worth. What I’ve found tougher by far is getting rid of things of sentimental worth: keys to precious memories; moments from my children’s childhoods; the last scrap of my father’s handwriting; a bit of costume jewellery from a long dead relative. Even so, I’ve done the equation over and again and forced myself to part with lots and lots. In the end, the reality is that we can’t live our lives twice over, once in the living and again in the recall. Or, rather, that it isn’t particularly healthy to do so: the more we cling to the past the less time we have to live the present.

So, what’s the business lesson to be drawn? (I always like my little musings to have some business relevance.)

Well, I think it is that we should constantly – but not necessarily ruthlessly – review our business “possessions”. I’m not talking about pencils and paper here, or even computers and the latest technologies. No, I’m referring to the attitudinal possessions which define us. Are we keeping only those that are valuable?Are we discarding those that don’t fit the times? Are we making space for new ideas, products and attitudes?

Of course, there will always be some things that we treasure: excellent customer service and good inter-personal relations will never go out of fashion; positivity will always be an enabler; realism may save us from foolish chasing after the impossible, while determination and motivation can help us achieve that which is merely highly improbable. But with these treasures at our backs, we need to make room for new ideas and with them new products and services.

Onwards and upwards!

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