(An introduction to The Slow Movement)

I’ve always struggled with the accepted definition of work/life balance. For most people this involves a clear division between ‘work’ and ‘life’, ensuring the two remain separate and that one is not encroached upon by the other. 

But for me, and many of my self-employed friends, work is life, and life is work. The idea is to blend all aspects of life in a way that delivers an appropriate level of balance for whatever is happening in my life right now. So whether I’m earning money (work) or spending money (life), my focus is to make me and my tribe feel happy and fulfilled. My tribe includes my family, but it also includes my clients and colleagues. This means that my working life and family life have always been way more blended than most people’s – until now. 

Now, millions of people are being forced to blend! ‘Work selves’ and ‘life selves’ have become bed-fellows overnight, and this is freaking a lot of people out. For some people, these two versions of self were never really meant to meet, let alone morph into a single being around the family dining table. Every. Single. Day.

Of course, everyone’s experience is different, but this trend from separating to blending is happening across the world. It’s challenging, but it’s also an opportunity for us all to do better.

In the last 10 weeks, I’ve seen more genuine empathy from businesses than ever before. I know more about my clients’ partners and families than ever, we schedule calls flexibly, based on individual needs, and communications are very human, honest, and respectful.

(Jane from Jet2, who called to cancel my holiday last month wished me well, and I honestly believe she meant it. The same could not have been achieved through an automated message or chatbox. Jane spoke to me as a real person, not just a booking reference).

But the opportunity is bigger than simply being kind. The magnitude of change must force brands, employers and public organisations to deeply consider the needs of these new blended selves. Companies can no longer get away with seeing us as 2D work-personas or mum-personas. We’re now more mixed up and complex than ever, and the organisations that listen most effectively to our new needs and respond most authentically will win.

And so, whilst swift innovation and the automation of physical interactions will be an essential part of getting society moving again, there is also a real need for businesses to slow down, to consider the real human needs of their employees, customers, partners: to listen, learn, and incorporate this new knowledge into their success strategies.

And this change is essential. Until now, emboldened by ever-more powerful and affordable technology, organisations have placed increasing emphasis on speed, efficiency and automation. In doing so, many have sacrificed real human engagement for swift interactions and cheap data which, in the long-term, could be damaging for both people and profits. 

It is against this trend that the Slow Movement has arisen, challenging the notion that faster is always better, and imploring us to place greater value on real human connection.

So, briefly, what is the Slow Movement? 

Well, In 1986, McDonald’s opened a restaurant near the Spanish Steps in Rome, and people were outraged! One protester – a journalist called Carlo Petrini – directed his rage into the foundation of the International Slow Food Movement: an uprising against fast food’s culture of quick preparation and consumption, cultural homogenization, harmful farming techniques and unhealthy ingredients. Those involved in the movement believed that food is better, more healthy, if it’s cultivated, cooked and consumed locally at a more natural pace. They argued that speeding up processes makes it harder to be ethical, responsible, good. 

The Slow Movement has since spread into the areas of cities, travel, shopping and, more recently, into the worlds of design and technology. It’s a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better. It’s a belief that an extreme focus on speed and efficiency and an over-digitisation of our world is endangering our innate human needs to connect with other people, to be heard, to be valued as an individual. 

The Slow philosophy, though, is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed – savouring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting. Carl Honoré coined the phrase ‘Slow Movement’ in his 2004 book, ‘In Praise of Slowness’ and, if you’re interested to know more, you should watch Carl’s TED Talk here

I personally believe that the Slow Movement is now more important than ever, for individuals and organisations. I believe it’s a useful lens through which we can understand how life is changing and how we can work through it to be better and do better. I recorded a chat about this with Sam Richardson and you can watch it here if you’d like to know more or get involved.

By Di Gates, founder Stick Theory