Chris Read: In search of those sunlit uplands

Chris Read, the group CEO of Dunstan Thomas, provides his latest lockdown thought of the week in his regular series for Retirement Planner

Try this for an uplifting moment – download or stream the national anthem of the USSR and play loud, no, really loud.

It’s a fantastic piece of music with grandeur, poise, focus and precision.

“Sing to the Motherland, home of the free, Bulwark of peoples in brotherhood strong”. The lyrics go on to sing: “Through tempests the sunrays of freedom have cheered, along the new path….”

You would have to make it apolitical, stripping out the bits about Lenin and Communism, but what a rousing piece with those heartfelt words. Words that are as meaningful today as they were 100 years ago as the Russian Revolution ripped apart the old order.

As the lockdown eases, we have become actors in our own revolutions, be they personal or national.

Once freewheeling, highly mobile, materially-aspirational global citizens, we are now constrained, stationary, passive bystanders, stunned as the props around us are repositioned and blocked.

Simmering contempt of the political process lingers as every day a new chapter in the breakdown of our past gives way to the “abnormality”.

It is not a “new normal” to socially isolate or distance ourselves. Today our lives are an abnormality, a discontinuity from before the revolution, a deviation, a defect.

I can only but hope that like other discontinuities, it is the line that designates change. For students of geography you may remember the ‘Moho’, or Mohorovicic Discontinuity.

This is the boundary that designates the separation of the Earth’s crust from the mantle some 40 to 50 km below our feet, where the density of rocks increases as it spirals towards the core.

The mantle reflects a depth and density more complex than the crust. In some ways, the veneer of our time before Covid-19 has given way to the depths of our own spiralling mantles. Our super sensitivity to the gravity of the pandemic has uncovered feelings, profound thought process and ideas that will channel us along a new path to the sunrays of a new freedom.

For many, the new freedom will be the return to working in the office. As part of our preparations, I had spent some time this week in our office at the Lakeside Campus on the outskirts of Portsmouth.

In previous times, this campus was the IBM headquarters, now it is the home for several technology businesses including my own. It is wonderful setting with a lake, migratory birds, and wildlife. The lake was originally designed to act as a coolant reservoir for the IBM mainframes on site. Today it is the playpen of ducks, carp, and pike.

Surveying the sea of desks and empty rooms left me with an uneasy feeling. Change is needed before the return of our staff. Not just the change of re-designating the layout of the office, doors to enter and doors to exit.

We need to build an office space that protects against fragility and fear. We need to build a space that is joyful and happy. A place of security and safety. A place of personal and collective success, a thing of the future where we can again be aspirational, mobile and uplifted.

Chris Read is group CEO of Dunstan Thomas