Like the rest of the world, I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about the return to physical spaces, and in particular the return to the office.
Offices are valuable not just for their direct influence on work, but because they facilitate social and human connections between colleagues. But are they the only spaces that can do that, and are colleagues the only people we should be looking to for mentorship, friendship, and learning? Is there the opportunity, at this crucial moment in time, for the emergence of other types of space, and if so what does that mean for the office – and for our relationship with work?
As well as home and the office, the world is full of “third spaces” where we build connections with others. If we had more of them, what would that mean for offices – and for work more generally? As we navigate the gradual and halting re-emergence from the pandemic and the new world of work, might we be mistaken in thinking just about home and the office?
A wonderful deep dive by Alex Komoroske into the scaling issues that even the best organisations face as they grow. He looks at organisations as complex systems, filled with autonomous individuals whose individual actions can combine in unexpected ways – even when they’re trying their best.
He makes a surprising comparison: lots of organisations are like slime moulds. But that’s no bad thing!
“Slime moulds have many challenges, but they also have some amazing abilities. Instead of trying to fight it, maybe lean into what they’re good at? Slime moulds are extremely resilient. They can handle complex and changing conditions well. Creative solutions pop up organically. They can create more value than the sum of their parts.”
His final note sums up the wisdom of his approach:
“Focus less on being a builder, frustrated that your building materials refuse to behave. Instead, think of yourself more as a gardener.”
An interesting history of the American tradition of “mischief night”:
“Mischief Night, in my Pennsylvania suburb and in the New Jersey towns of several people I spoke to, involved mild pranks committed on October 30. The perpetrators – typically those who had just aged out of trick-or-treating, so early teenagers – would throw rolls of toilet paper over houses and trees, maybe ring a neighbour’s doorbell and sprint away before the door was opened, maybe throw some eggs at a window.”
Interestingly, the tradition is highly localised to Pennsylvania and part of New Jersey, but it started as a May Day tradition in Northern England, before mutating over time and distance to become the night-before-Halloween tradition it is now:
“Mischief Night, or neet, appears to have been most popular in Northern England, particularly in the counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire. According to Allen, though, it was not originally associated with Halloween, but rather with May Day, a very old festival signalling the beginning of summer. There is already, by the early 1800s, some public panic about the rebellious nature of Mischief Night, which seems to have been (or seen as, by adults) a time for both vandalism and sexual encounters.”
Historically, veterinary clinics were local affairs, owned by their partner vets and part of the fabric of the community. Then private equity came along:
“The company has been on a debt-fuelled expansion in recent years. Since EQT bought IVC in 2016 and merged it with Swedish group Evidensia in 2017, it has been on a clinic-buying spree, snapping up independent practices and small chains and rolling them into what is now Europe’s largest vetcare provider with 1,500 sites.
“‘It’s a giant acquisition machine,’ says a former employee. ‘IVC was just minting millionaires across the UK.’ A vet who sold his practice to the group says he ‘almost fell off his chair’ on hearing how much it was offering. The vet, who requested anonymity, says IVC mistook his shock for hesitation – and increased its offer.”
Predictably, prices have increased, staff churn is higher, and the network of vets’ practices is now a teetering Jenga-tower of debt:
“In the process, the companies typically amass large debts. IVC’s junk-rated net debts and leases total £2bn, or 6.2 times the £322m it earned before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation in the year to March, according to figures that the company shared with lenders.
“The rating agency Fitch has categorised IVC’s debts as ‘highly speculative’, meaning that while the company can currently repay them, there is a ‘material’ risk of future default and its ability to repay is ‘vulnerable to deterioration in the business and economic environment’.”