Living in cities as so many of us do, it is easy to lose touch with the seasons. As we scurry from train to office, and back again, we may be aware of wet, cold, or sunshine. However, when did you last stop to look at what nature was really doing, and just appreciate the season?
Seeing the season
Gardeners understand the importance of this. They know that in January, it may be cold and wet, but the earth is not dead. Bulbs are starting to appear, and by the end of the month, the first snowdrops will be flowering. The crocuses will be next, with their bright purple and yellow almost hidden in long grass before the daffodils poke their yellow and gold heads up in March. Then the trees will start to blossom, providing food for early insects. There is an inevitability about all this.
After the summer, we see yellow, brown and red start to tinge the trees and leaves, as autumn arrives. Sometimes slowly, sometimes rapidly, but always there. There is a tendency to view autumn as a sad time when everything dies. However, gardeners will tell you that it is an essential part of the year. It allows everything time to breathe and recover—and prepare itself for the next year.
Going back to basics
Our ancestors knew and understood the importance of the turning of the seasons. Festivals celebrated midwinter and midsummer—indeed, many Christian festivals were given their timing to fit much older festivals, such as around the winter solstice for Christmas, and in spring for Easter. The festival of Easter celebrates new and renewed life and takes in traditions from far beyond the Christian story.
In Japan, traditions are more closely bound to nature’s cycles, and less to religious trappings. The week-long festival of cherry blossoms is famous around the world, but less well known is the tradition of ‘leaf-hunting’ or momijigari, looking at the autumn colours. People will simply sit and look at trees to appreciate the sheer beauty of the changing leaves—and then come back the next day and do the same.
The joy of all these festivals is both their predictability and their unpredictability. We know that they are coming, because they come at roughly the same time each year—but at the same time, nature is unpredictable. Precisely when and how trees blossom and leaves turn and fall depends on the weather, particularly the temperature. We value these cycles because we may not know precisely what will happen, but we know it will be worth watching. We watch for when they start, because we want to appreciate them to the full.
Taking business in cycles
However, the turning seasons are not the only things that show cycles. We talk about business or economic cycles: the way that the economy fluctuates over time, sometimes growing and sometimes contracting. Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer in the UK in the 1990s, famously claimed to have eradicated ‘boom and bust’, but it turned out that he was no more immune to economic cycles than anyone else. What caught him out was the changed length of the cycle. The process was predictable, but not entirely so.
Perhaps we are more closely tied to the seasons than we realise, because we have created our own cycles in business. We move from annual budgeting and planning to quarterly results, and then annual results. The timing has predictability about it. Even apparent one-offs like product launches tend to be linked to particular times: businesses often know that there is a ‘best’ time for certain actions.
These cycles serve a purpose. Like the turning seasons, they offer us predictable moments in time to pause and reflect on what has gone, and what is coming next. This may not sound important, but in a busy working life, there are very few opportunities for this. It can be very easy to start to behave like ‘hamsters on a wheel’. Focused purely on what we are doing, we keep running faster and faster and don’t have time to stop and think about whether that is the best way.
An essential break
The pauses and breaks created by the business cycle offer everyone the chance to take stock and think. This is essential for both personal and organisational learning. It is also an opportunity for realignment of actions with priorities—one of the most important actions for any individual or organisation.