Monthly Archives: July 2016

Gravity, flat-landers, and flat-lining

Do you recognise this start to your day?

“I put on my work clothes. Pressed. No creases. I slip my smooth flat laptop into its flat case, and into my flat shoulder bag. I head for the station. The flat ticket comes out of the flat fronted machine when I put my flat credit card in and punch the purchase code into the flat keyboard. I sit on a flat seat, or maybe stand on the flat floor of the carriage hurtling along the flat, straight rails. I read the news headlines and emails from the glowing flat screen of my smart phone. I look up and see a two-dimensional countryside whizz past through the flat toughened glass windows. Arriving at work, my flat magnetic pass gets me in. I print off a flat agenda and other flat papers and head along the flat corridor to the meeting room. Its made from flat metal and glass. I sit on another flat seat, and place my flat papers on the smooth flat conference table. Others arrive with their flat papers. The meeting starts. The conversation we then have is ….”

Sure, there are lots of great reasons to live and work like this.

But tell me this…

How do you escape the gravitational pull of the flat-lands?

Where do you go to discover mind-shifting perspectives? To do some seriously great thinking? To have truly awesome conversations with the people you need to connect courageously and creatively with? To find and share real passion and energy? To align behind the bold moves you need to make?

Are you flat-lining as a leader, as a team, as a business?

What is the worst that could happen if you were to blast out of your flat-lining flat-lander’s existence for a few days, and do something vibrant and inspiringly different?

We can help of course. And here is one exceptional journey that has worked brilliantly for gravity-defying former-flatlanders.

Your courage. Our creativity. Your call. Let’ go.

Do you recognise this start to your day? “I put on my work clothes. Pressed. No creases. …

Naturally crazy. Give it a go!

We took a business team up Pen y Fan, Southern UK’s highest top, two nights ago. A perfect full moon followed by a perfect sunrise. An inspiring experience in its own right.

During the ascent, friend and Fresh Air Learning Company associate, Jo Bradshaw recounted her experience of summit night on Mount Everest exactly 2 months previously.

A combination of terrain (one tenth scale of Everest, and topographic features she could link to the South Col, Hilary Step, South Summit, and summit etc.), iPad slides – brilliantly colourful in the dark, and the physical exertion of participants themselves, made the experience an Everest talk with a difference.

For our clients, the walk was primarily about achieving something out of the ordinary together. And they did. A grounding and connecting experience. A meaning-full reference point for future conversations.

The Everest story, and Jo herself, provided an interactive layer of metaphors around goals, resilience and teamwork to the whole experience.

So what?

The team was extraordinary in a number of respects.

Not all were outdoor people, only two described themselves as hillwalkers, there was a wide range of fitness levels, no-one had walked up a mountain in the dark before, and no-one had witnessed the magic of a mountain sunrise in their three or four decades.

And yet there was a willingness to give this crazy idea a go. Remember there was no expectation that the weather would be so incredible when they booked this Fresh Air Business Walk several weeks previously.

There was a sense that their personal and working relationships would be enriched by doing something different together; something connected with the outdoors and naturally inspiring; and through Jo’s Everest story, humanly inspiring.

Now what?

When you consider the needs of your team, where are you all on the spectrum of mundane to way-beyond-ordinary when it comes to creating the sorts of relationships that make great performance possible?

And you know that if you always do what you have always done, you’ll always get what you have always got.

Your courage. Our creativity. Your call. What might be possible?



We took a business team up Pen y Fan, Southern UK’s highest top, two nights ago. A …

A return to Nature

(This is a guest blog by a good friend of ours – Andy Milward of Milward: Consulting & Research in Strategic Leadership

We are in the constant grip of unhealthy imperatives

Our quality of life is under assault. Employers exhort us to ‘drive’, to ‘compete’, to ‘deliver’, to be ‘crisp’. They expect us to act not reflect.

The virtual world has increased social distance and reduced personal intimacy. Face to face contact is the exception not the rule. Relationships have become shallow and transient. Trust is rare and suspicion is rife.

The pursuit of self-interest transcends the pursuit of the common good. We behave with reckless abandon, regardless of the damage we cause to others.

Aspirational advertising induces us to strive for things we can rarely attain, and certainly do not need.

We must always look good and never show weakness. If we fall short of the standards expected of us we have failed, not tried.

Life has become a debilitating competition

Perpetual media envelops us in misery with its selective reproduction of bad news and gloomy prognoses.

Press intrusion is making our private lives public.  Governmental intrusion is eroding our liberties.

We face a crisis in health

There is an epidemic of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Young women unable to attain that perfect airbrushed body are afflicted with life-threatening disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia.

Substance abuse is ubiquitous.

The World Health Organisation forecasts that depressive illness is expected to constitute the second largest cause of disease burden in the world by 2020[1]

We are living in a permanent state of existential angst

But we were not intended to live this way. In our efforts to exploit the opportunities the world offers, we have lost sight of what really matters in life. The human and environmental cost is a devastating indictment of our behaviour. We are the architects of our own demise.

However, there is a simple thing we can all do to improve our own and others’ wellbeing.

It does not require decades of pharmaceutical research. It does not need a massive investment of taxpayers’ money. It does not require a revolution in ideology. The solution is all around us. We encounter it every day, but sadly we do not recognise it.

The solution is a return to nature

A return to nature is a retreat from the bruising turbulence of life. There is a great stillness in nature that restores our sense of presence and place.

As the ancients have taught us, meditation, yoga, and similar practices help us to control our attention, and deflect unwelcome thoughts.

A return to nature has the same effect. It is the most natural therapy.

It helps us learn to live in the present moment, not the guilty past, or in an anxious future.

We can learn to see, smell, feel, and hear again

Who is not moved by an early morning mist shrouding the landscape, rays of sunlight piercing a forest canopy, or the fragrance of flowers wafted on a balmy breeze.

Contemplate the serenity of a sunset, the magnificence of ice-capped mountains, or the eternal swell of the ocean.

Nature heals us with its music. The dawn chorus, the splatter of rain on a muddy path, the crunch of freshly fallen snow underfoot. The rustling of leaves in the trees, the crash of waves on the shore, the anguished howl of a gale.

We should learn from the animal world. Watch your pet dog or cat basking in the sun. They do not ruminate about the past, or worry about the future. They live in the present. Their sheer joy emanates from simply being in the world.

The majesty of nature disposes us to curb our self-conceit. It reminds us we are each but a minute part of a vast, mysterious universe. Although we each have a valuable role to play, no one of us is more important than any other.

Nature has the potential to re-humanise our participation in the social world

Our detachment from nature has impoverished our social conscience. By reconnecting with nature we can recover the cardinal virtues we have long abandoned.

Employers, teachers, politicians, anyone able to influence the thoughts, feelings, and behaviour of others, has a responsibility to reconnect with nature. Nature cleanses the mind, elevates the spirit, but above all, it inspires moral action.

A return to nature should be a compulsory element in everyone’s personal development. Unfortunately, it does not feature largely in our educational curriculum. Policy makers take note.

Andy Milward

Milward: Consulting & Research in Strategic Leadership

[1] WHO. (2008). “What is Depression?”   Retrieved 10 July 2016, from


(This is a guest blog by a good friend of ours – Andy Milward of Milward: Consulting & Research …

The CEO burst into tears

Dear CEO,

A friend of mine once asked a CEO colleague when he, the CEO, had last heard bird song.

The CEO burst into tears.

He had been living a life in offices, taxis, trains and planes. Incessantly.

What are you hearing just now?

Intermittent high pitched screeching? The threatening bass riff from Jaws? Maybe an uplifting orchestral film score? Or something distractingly discordant?

Who is the conductor in all of this? Maybe its a happily creative jam session. Or a disorganised cacophony on a loop?

And what of the whispers?

And the lows and highs on the edge of hearing?

How do you attend to those? And what sense are you making of these? Great ideas in the making? Or the fin of an inbound shark?

Back to the tearful CEO.

There’s something right there about being disconnected from something important. Something we are missing in our flat worlds of screens, spreadsheets, tables, flip-charts,  floors, roads and runways. Something that refreshes, inspires, and energises. And a whole lot more.

Dear CEO,  when did you last hear bird song. And savour it? Deeply?

Dave Stewart

Managing Director

The Fresh Air Learning Company

Dear CEO, A friend of mine once asked a CEO colleague when he, the CEO, had last …

Leave the office? Bad things could happen…

Earlier this week we walked with the owners of Valuable Content in the Mendip Hills, just south of Bristol. We do this sort of thing a lot.

Four of us. A short walk. Something like 6kms in under 2 hours. At a pace that allowed for easy talking and laughter. With lots of stops to take in the views, listen to birdsong, and feel the breeze on our faces.

An early sandwich. And then to the office.

Mood changing. Uplifting. Inspiring. Energising.

Gordon Bennett! When did you last feel like this in a business meeting or workshop?

A creative thinking walk isn’t possible for many business leaders of course. Is it? Here are 3 reasons why this is so “evidently” the case. You will know of other excuses reasons. Let me know.

The tail wags the dog!

“Mondays are just SO busy. All those anxious weekend emails, as well as the old smelly lurkers. I need my Monday morning to get stuck into these as well as chair a couple of really important meetings”.

Come on! You are a leader. A shaper of futures. And here you are dancing to the tune of other people’s emails. How about a simple out-of-office message that tells people you will look at emails in the afternoon (or whenever)? You have cleared the space; they know the score; everyone is cool. Be more dog. Own your tail. Don’t overthink it. Just get out and give it a go. What’s the worst that could happen….

Bad things could happen!

“If I am not there to answer questions, give direction, and provide “tone” it could all fall apart!”

Oh really! Sounds like you are a brilliant doer of stuff with a time horizon measured in hours. Not the architect of your business’ future. So here’s an idea. Put something in your diary which says “this morning/day/week I am going to be a leader, do leader’y stuff, do some powerful thinking, have significant conversations, attend to my personal wellness and resilience” etc.. Use your task management skills to task manage your business’ leadership needs!


“I don’t know these people. What if the weather is bad? What’s the value of this investment in my time? I might give it a go someday.”

Great points. You are a leader operating in a complex and challenging business environment. You are expert at balancing risk and opportunity. You understand the need for external expertise and collaborations. And you are constantly looking to innovate. So, here’s what you do. Do some due diligence (start with the almost weekly media articles around the business value of walking, talking, and thinking in the outdoors), personally model the experimentation mindset that underpins your claims to be agile and innovative, and COMMIT. There are seven days in the week and SOMEday isn’t one of them 🙂

And finally…

When you do commit to be more dog and go outdoors, do so as part of a group or one of your formed teams. Large or small, it doesn’t matter. It’s a bit of a cop out to go on your own. Ok, that’s a bit harsh – the point is that there is huge power to be had in bouncing and building fresh ideas with others. But you know this.

Go on, give it a go. Here are some other great reasons to do so.

Dave Stewart

Managing Director

The Fresh Air Learning Company

Earlier this week we walked with the owners of Valuable Content in the Mendip Hills, just south …