Charles Handy proposes a new enterprise based on the idea of a library of experiences
Do organisations have memories? Of course they do – though sometimes they can be a bit faulty.
For a number of years, I was chairman of the Royal Society of Arts, a prestigious British institution, located in a lovely building just off the Strand in London.
Last week, I went back there to listen to a lecture.
When I entered, the receptionist, a very nice young woman, asked to see my membership card.
I said, “I don’t need one,” and I pointed to the panels above her head. I said, “My name is up there, ‘Charles Handy, Chairman, 1987-1989’.”
It was a list of all the chairmen from the past 100 years.
She said, “Oh yes,” in an uninterested voice, “so can I see your membership card?”
Luckily a member of staff passed by just then and was able to assure her I was indeed a fellow and entitled to enter.
The receptionist was unimpressed.
I suppose she was within her rights to stop me, but I couldn’t help feeling very annoyed as I left the building. After years of hard work at the Society – and in my opinion having, in a sense, rescued the organisation from ruin – to be forgotten was quite hurtful.
But then sometimes memories can be annoying.
When I worked for Shell in Singapore, one of my colleagues had spent 15 years in West Africa. And at every meeting, every time I came up with a great idea, he would say, “Oh, we tried that in Ghana, or in Nigeria, and it never worked.” I could curse his damned memory.
But of course it wasn’t his memory, I realised – it belonged to Shell Group of Companies of which there were some 250.
And then I thought, “Hmm, why doesn’t Shell harvest all these memories and record and catalogue them? So if someone comes across a difficult situation or problem, they can input a description of it and see who else has had the same issue and learn from their experience.”
Because that’s how you learn. I’ve always said that learning is experience understood upon reflection. It helps if it’s your experience, but other people’s experiences are almost as good. And Shell had a whole load of other people’s experiences.
In fact, if you could harvest and catalogue them (along with, perhaps, the experiences of other organisations), you’d have a very valuable collection of what you might call case studies.
Indeed – and here’s where this becomes a business thought – one could licence them, so that people would pay a subscription to get access to this library of experiences. Or you could publish the material as a book, or some kind of collection.
Now there’s a thought.
I’m too lazy to do anything about this idea but if any of you wants to start a new business based around the idea of a library of experiences, please feel free to go ahead. I would like some acknowledgement somewhere, and perhaps an invitation to the launch party if you have one.
Such a memory bank of experiences could also be used in a teaching setting, and at the end of the class one could even invite the original people who sent in their memories to come and tell us how it all worked out. Students always love to meet the real actors, I find.
And the idea applies in families too. Going through my photo albums, I couldn’t remember who half of the faces were. But someone else in the family always could…
“Oh yes, that’s Julien’s Uncle,” they would say. “Oh, that’s your grandmother trying to have a pee by the road side after our picnic and her daughter and son were so busy photographing that they didn’t offer to help. And it was beyond my Red Cross training so I felt incapable to do so. But it was a lovely moment, lovely memory of an eccentric lady.”
And so it went on, bringing up memories from the past, sharing them with the family. A family library, very worthwhile.
Once again, if you like my business idea, please go ahead, I’d love to see somebody do it.
This is Charles Handy wishing you a profitable weekend and an enjoyable week ahead.