A week in the wood
Posted by
Claire Brayshay at 10:00

I used to perceive the working world as a bit of a "concrete jungle" - a high density, undesirable place. The term infers rigidity and structure, but it infers a sense of adventure and exploration, too. The working world holds both pessimism and promise, and I was intrigued to find out - quite on point with Yellowwood's latest white paper - whether it holds sufficient purpose.

My exploration into the working world began a week ago.

As with any good adventure, I awoke a little nervous. I got my 'hiking boots' on and packed my leather satchel. Ready to enter the wood, I reassured myself that many people had walked this road before. I met Ryan, my guide, wearing his new Bata veld-skoens. I found that appropriate apparel for the adventure. But instead of pitching tents, we spent the day pitching ideas. And instead of sharing stories around the fireside, we shared jokes around our desktops.

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood", starts the famous poem by Robert Frost, "And I took the road less travelled by, and that has made all the difference". These two lines are consistently misinterpreted as a cheesy call to do something different. Many people, myself included, triumphantly declare these lines, professing to be brave and strong and to go where none have gone before. And brands are in danger of doing the same. They are at risk of going in search of their 'unique point of difference', machetes at hand, along the grassy, overgrown and undiscovered path, ready to chop through the clutter that may stand in their way.

Although being different is important, simply choosing the 'path less travelled' without a purpose behind that choice is going to leave your brand out in the woods. This is one of the lessons of Yellowwood's latest white paper.

The mistake that people make in interpreting Frost's poem is that neither of the two paths is 'less travelled by' - they are both worn about the same from the start. When finding your purpose, don't start by looking for one that no one has attempted before, but by finding that which you and your organisation are best equipped to pursue. Yellowwood's white paper mentions that "it is typical for an organisation to make decisions that lead it down paths different from what was originally intended when it was conceived." This is what a lack of purpose will do, and it is much harder, then, to go back and take 'the road not taken'.

I wonder if individuals are guilty of doing the same. Do we know why we choose the path that we do? Or did we, like many companies, simply want to make money? I'm not professing to know the answer (I am only the intern), but if I may return to the introductory analogy in order to give the perspective of a new and, perhaps, unadulterated mind.

As with any adventure, there are moments when you're just plodding along, but there are other moments - the waterfalls, the view from the summit - that make it all worthwhile. When you first start working, these moments give you purpose, but when you have been working for a long time, I assume, you tend not to notice them. The white paper challenges companies to discover their purpose because the single most important thing, which engages people in their jobs, "is making progress in meaningful work."

Purpose isn't comfortably plodding along. It is challenging. It's that feeling you get, when you've spent a week in the woods: you wake up in the morning to unzip the tent corner, still cling-wrapped into your sleeping bag, and feel the warmth of the half-rising sun. As you lie there the sun challenges you to get up.

Purpose is what actually makes you go ahead and do it.



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