It’s the time of year again when I book my car in for its winter tires and my American friends head home for Thanksgiving. It’s that strange lull between being surprised, yet again, at how fast the year’s gone and the next holiday break when it really is finally all over.  So it was kind of fitting that I should spend a bitterly cold and damp Sunday afternoon driving across Belgium on my motorbike to visit a 1000 year old oak tree.

I guess many of you will be wondering where this is leading, and to be honest, I am too, but visiting the tree was a strange experience that touched a part of me for which I was not prepared. I have visited hundreds of old buildings and castles over the years. And for each and every one of them I have reflected on how they were built and why. But this tree was just a tree, it produces leaves every spring and they fall off again every autumn.  And that was its magic, the fact that it is alive and yet it had witnessed so much over so many centuries.

I use the symbol of an Oak tree in my Change Management lectures. I remind my students that many change initiatives go wrong because we tend to forget that, like an oak tree that grows from only a tiny acorn, every bit of a business comes from the place where it is planted.  What I mean is that a great idea can inspire change but the change itself can only come from the people within the business; the employees, the suppliers, the customers, the investors. A business is like a living organism that either thrives from its resources or suffers from it. It is rooted in one place, regardless of how many offices it might have around the world.  

And so it is, when we return home, we return to a safe place where time changes but stand still, at least for a little while.  I think that visiting the 1000 year old oak tree is much the same experience, except on a grander scale, it doesn’t make us feel big, it makes us feel small and yet in a strange way safe.

Today the tree is looking in bad shape, some youngsters lit a fire in it a few years ago, which I guess didn’t help much. But it is still here producing leaves after a thousand years and that can’t be bad, can it!

Have a good week,

Harley