Interview: Giles Hutchins, 'bringing business to the great outdoors'
PUBLISHED: 13:01 08 May 2018
Getting into the great outdoors brings clarity and combats stress in our private lives - so why aren’t more of us doing it in business?
Getting away from it all and being more in tune with nature has long been hailed as a healer for all kinds of stresses and strains.
If we try to do it as much as we can in our private lives to get more clarity and feel more relaxed, why aren’t we doing it more in business to overcome problems and look to the future?
Speaker, author and strategist Giles Hutchins runs One Day Immersion Retreats with the Future Fit Leadership Academy which explore leadership inspired by nature. The retreats, held near his home in the Stancombe Valley, include nature explorations, campfire conversations, guided meditations, peer-to-peer sharing, private reflections and group work to help participants discover how their leadership could be transformed for the better.
Giles, who is the Chair of the FFLA - which brings experts together to offer bespoke services for forward-thinking organisations - was previously Global Head of Sustainability for multinational technology provider Atos and Business Transformation Lead for KPMG Consulting, before leaving London behind for a new life in the country.
Giles and his wife, who is an artist, moved to Devon at first before settling on the Cotswolds last year because of its great links, creative community and to be closer to family.
“Part of what I do is help leaders and business people sense into their organisations as living systems, not machines,” explains Giles, who grew up in the countryside in south Oxfordshire.
“If we lead them in that way, we can actually learn from nature.”
Giles believes nature has vital lessons we can all learn from including being more adaptive, receptive and responsive. Throughout the year he takes small groups of business leaders out into the picturesque Stancombe Valley, near Stroud, who come from all over the world including London, Dubai and Amsterdam.
They sit around a campfire; review their businesses and their role; undertake exercises and are encouraged to explore and reconnect with the natural world. Some of the retreats also involve an overnight stay under the stars.
The purpose is to help people explore organisational challenges, gain fresh insights and empathise better with different viewpoints. Clients who have taken part work for a range of companies including Triodos Bank, a sustainable and ethical bank based in Bristol.
“What I love about the Cotswolds is the wildlife,” Giles says. “Where we are, it’s in your house pretty much and is richer than where we were in Devon. There are newts and toads in the garden, peregrine falcons and owls.
“It’s all very rich and full of life which is great for the children to grow up in and it’s also great to bring people from London or further afield to connect with nature.
“There are lots of studies that show being in nature for more than half an hour improves mental capacity and our social lives. The psychology is something I’ve been interested to explore.”
Giles, a father-of-two, had his lightbulb moment 10 years ago when he was living in London, watching a David Attenborough documentary which warned how the natural world was being irreparably damaged and now was the time to act.
He immediately re-focused his career on sustainable business and started running workshops inspired by nature for organisations such as Kew Gardens, before taking the decision to leave corporate life altogether and move to the South West.
Giles recalls: “After school I had a year off and worked at a yacht club in Salcombe which was part of the reason why I went back to Devon.
“I really enjoyed that year off after A-levels, I spent the whole summer living on a boat in an estuary. I had my own rowing boat and walked along the coast, it really made me come alive.”
Once his gap year ended, Giles went to university in London and ended up staying in the capital for 19 years before taking the plunge to leave to raise a family. The 45-year-old had been writing articles for The Guardian on business inspired by nature and was approached by a publisher to write a book, which he got to work on in his new home.
The Nature of Business: Redesigning for Resilience presents the challenges to the ‘business as usual’ model and explains the pressing need for transformational change. It encourages firms of the future to mimic behaviours and organisations found in nature to enable them to flourish in uncertain times.
Two more books have followed - The Illusion of Separation: Exploring the Cause of our Current Crises and Future Fit, a workbook of practical tips and case studies for entrepreneurs and business executives, encouraging their organisations to be run more in harmony with nature.
“It was a natural follow-on to start doing workshops in nature,” says Giles, who is currently in the process of writing another book and planning more retreats, including a Summer Solstice future-fit nature immersion. He also continues to work with organisations and business schools around the country.
“When I take people out into nature they actually think more about their colleagues, their whole purpose and legacy and what kind of path they leave behind them.
“It’s not just with their business life, but with their personal life too.”