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Ditch the baggage for more agility

Returning to work after the summer break, LSCA president Helen Brennan finds she has to move desk, but sees this as an opportunity to offload excess baggage and boost flexibility.

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Helen Brennan

October 2018

I returned to the office after two weeks’ holiday to the news that I have to move desk. This isn’t an infrequent occurrence – I reckon I’ve moved desk seven times in the 10 years I’ve been based in Canary Wharf. While it’s a minor inconvenience, the upside is that each move prompts me to tidy my desk and empty out my desk drawers.

There’s a lot of useful stuff on and in my desk, including hard copies of the professional standards I use most often and interesting examples of corporate reporting. There’s also a lot of stuff that should have been securely disposed of much sooner.

Hanging on to too much clutter or baggage – literally or metaphorically – can stop us from being as agile as we need to be. That is to say, it can hold us back from reacting rapidly and flexibly, so as to maintain effectiveness in a changing business environment.

In literal terms it can mean we have desk drawers full of unstructured data that could become powerful knowledge – business contacts, answers to frequently-asked questions, performance data - if we filtered, sorted and used it. It can also mean we’re reaching for the guidance and examples nearest to hand even though those are not appropriate to the situation we now face.

In metaphorical terms, it can mean we’re developing useful experience, but not making time to unclutter mentally and reflect on how we can re-apply that experience, more effectively, to upcoming opportunities. It can also mean we stick to doing things the way we’ve always done them, without considering whether changes to the business environment demand a change of mindset as well as newer, better approaches.

However, I’m not about to stop altogether putting things in my desk drawers. In particular, I find it’s always useful to have a literal – and metaphorical – place to store the issues that are better left to cool off. I’m thinking about those issues, emails especially, to which it’s tempting to fire off a quick and inflammatory answer.

There’s everything to be gained by putting those issues into the “desk drawer” at least overnight, and perhaps for even longer, until the right response becomes clearer.

The interesting times we’re facing demand great agility – adaptability, creativity and continuous learning. That inevitably means letting go of what doesn’t work, whether that is beliefs, assumptions, business practices or literally piles of paper.

Helen Brennan is President of the LSCA.

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