In the middle of 2013 I met a wonderful lady as I was wandering around attending networking meetings in London. Usha Chadha was a soul who seemed to have been looking for her place in the world but had found it. I asked her why she was so contented and she told me the secret was working with an organisation that she loved.
Having heard that before from others who really didn’t mean it, I parked it. In January 2014, after a specially hard and emotional breakdown of communications with my business partner, I was looking for another way of working and remembered Usha’s smile. She quickly introduced me to the CEO of an organisation called Ethos VO, Robert Pye, and it was not long till I was sitting with him at his home having a cup of tea and looking out of his windows over the rolling Surrey countryside.
Rob sparked something in me. He was passionate about what he was doing. I mean PASSIONATE. Not the ‘I-have-to-have-passion-about-what-I-do-because-I’m-paid-a-lot–of-money-to-have-it’ type of passion that my previous CEOs have had. He had a real passion to change the world for the better and he was brimming over with excitement
about what he could achieve with the small team (including Usha) that he had around him at the time. I spent 3 hours there sucking up his positivity and dreams until I was thrown out by his wife when their evening dinner was ready and Rob had to sit down with his children. That in itself told me a lot about the man and his work ethics.
I remember the trip back on the M25 that evening vividly. My mind was more alive than I remember it ever being. I desperately wanted to be involved with something like this. Those who know me, know that I hold ethics, respect, hard work and love at the very core of my being. I had never met a company that met my core values until that date. Was this one any different? Was Rob really talking about a company that valued the outcomes of business more than they valued the profit?
Since early 2014, I refused to believe that such a company could exist. I’ve had 30 years of working at various levels for typical ‘glass and steel’ corporations whose company report statements had absolutely no relevance on how the company was run. So, I’ve sat on the sidelines and watched.
I found that easy to justify as Rob could not pay for my services and I’d been bought up to believe that if you aren’t paid for your value then your client is not really serious. So I found reasons not to get involved. You know how that goes; doubting what I would get out of it, other commitments, long way to go, prefer to be watching the Rugby or (in my case) health excuses.
I’ve watched the organisation from afar while they attracted some absolutely fabulous people from almost every walk of life. A group of people with just one thing in common : A desire to be different and to leave a positive imprint on this world.
Ethos throws open its virtual doors (it has no central office) on the first Wednesday of each month and I attended them every so often to meet the people. My intent was very selfish: I wanted to see if they could help me with their contacts and see if I could sell my services to them. Invariably I failed. I now know that it was not because they did not value what I did but rather that they were a very different type of organisation .
Rob and a growing number of others recognised me every time I went and welcomed me with both open arms, open hearts and open discussions. I (much too) slowly learnt that the success of the organisation was not in some secret sauce that they jealously hid. I learnt that their success was due to their open, welcoming everyone and every thought, collaborative, flat culture. Every idea expressed to them had its merit and none were ignored. Over time, I started to really, really like the organisation.
But at the same time, I felt like a stalker. Peeking in through an opaque window at the interesting stuff that might be happening within. It felt like I had to be in the ‘in-crowd’ to really be involved and live in the heavily acronymed world Ethos has created. I had many a frustrated skype call with Usha about this. In fairness she pointed me in various directions and I took none of them.
Finally, earlier this year, I decided to get involved. I made people aware and sat back and waited for the organisation to engage me. I eventually heard something being whispered, leaped in and played the ‘corporate game’ as it was the only game I knew. I was desperately hopeful that this organisation was something different and and was so concerned that I was not ‘getting it’ that I messed up my first collaborative project with a classically hastily sent email. Luckily the talent of the others in the group rescued the situation. Ethos lets you make your own mistakes. I backed out to reconsider.
Fair to say that I was very unsure of myself at this time. I had tried to engage with an organisation that I had thought I had spent my life searching for (without knowing it) and I had messed up my first interaction with them. So I took a month or so, spoke to Usha, Rob and a newly acquired friend, Mike Davis-Marks, about the situation and how I needed to work at Ethos.
In August 2015, a good 3 months since my last attempt, I responded to to a call for people to join a team called ‘Ethos Health’. An aspirational project to attempt to change the way that the elderly were provided health care in the UK. I joined in that project with enthusiasm and quickly found myself completely at home exchanging ideas with people of wisdom and expertise way beyond mine. That whole experience, from beginning to end, was so very different from anything I had done before that I need to (and will) blog about that in the future.
But, I was still not at all sure if I was willing to dive into this new type of organisation and leave the old world behind.
What I wanted to get to in this blog was my experience at a quarterly business meeting I had with some of the Ethos partners last month.
You see, that meeting changed my mind.
Meeting the group of 20 and more fellow partners in one small, slightly sweaty, room and listening to the amazing projects that we were working on was one of those few moments in life when I could lean back and say “Prem, you have made a few superb decisions and many absolutely crap decisions in your life. Getting further involved with Ethos will be one of the very best…”
The energy, passion, openness, experience, wisdom and grey hair (virtual in all the women present obviously!) was better than my daily dose of Modafinil. It woke me up. It showed me that I was missing so much by faffing around for so long before plunging into Ethos.
The organisation has come such a long way and, true to its principles and core social values, has sought to take the high and difficult road in order to get the structure right for all of us. Rob, Tony Clarke and the whole founding / early life team should be very, very, proud of the shape they have hewn out of an ‘amorphous idea lump’ in Rob’s brain many harvest-moons ago.
Over the past 18 months and more, I have been very guilty of moaning at Usha and others that I was feeling that I was ‘not involved’ with Ethos. Then, sometime during that meeting, I must have learnt the secret of how to engage with the organisation. But I didn’t know it.
Not quite a ‘Eureka’ moment (lucky for my neighbours sensibilities) but I did wake up early the next morning and say “Ah. I get it.”. The fact is that involvement at Ethos comes with effort. I had been sitting back and waiting for someone to say “Hey Prem, help us with this…” and that was the perfectly wrong way to get involved with this organisation. What I learned was that the right way is to say “I would like to do this….”.
That evening, listening to the amazing progress that we are making on various projects, I realised that Rebecca Lovelace, Martin de Heaver, Lamont Kirkland, Fran Mullins, Annabelle Lambert and the others in the room (physical and virtual) had realised this a long long time before me. They are leading the charge to build the organisation’s future.
So, that’s it. I’m in. You have me, Ethos.
I’ve already started to talk to people about some of my crazy, society-changing ideas and am getting some great feedback from amazing people who not only want to but can make a difference.. It’s been a week and already the talents of the people who are coalescing around these ideas are dwarfing me. Where this will all go, I have no idea but I am pretty sure that the ride will be incredible, energetic, fun!
I think I’ve been sucked into something positive and immensely satisfying.
Do yourselves a favour and allow yourself to reinvent your working life by having a look at this organisation.
After all, this is The Future of Work. Now
Embrace it earlier than I did if you can. What’s to lose?