“Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now,” Bob Dylan, My Back Pages, 1964

Words from another Bob with far more linguistic flair – though my understanding of the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023 is (probably) better than Dylan’s.

It’s been a busy start to 2024. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time working with plenty of folks, helping them to set plans and craft the stories that will lead their organisations into future.
These sessions are one of my favourite parts of the job.
Shuffling through some old vinyl and stumbling across Dylan’s track My Back Pages got me reflecting on some of those conversations.
The song is about a person looking back on his younger self. He’s angry and frustrated about all the things he didn’t know; about how wrong his world view was.
He’s saying, the older we get, and the more we learn, the less sure we are of anything we once knew. 60 years on, the words feel familiar.

“Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

Bob got me thinking about our relationship with the past – as people and as organisations.

How, in a busy world where we’re all racing to write the future, it’s easy to lose track of where we’ve come from.

At times, and especially recently, it has felt like we’re programmed to look back in time through cynical eyes.

To be angry at what we weren’t, not celebrate what we were. To mourn missed opportunities, not celebrate successes.

To reflect on the bumps in the road, rather than the reason we started the journey in the first place.

As people and businesses, we get older and, hopefully, wiser.

We have better data and processes to mitigate risks. Better IT and life admin and HR. More cash in the bank to ride out tough times, and an abundance of world-weary life coaches to steer us away from danger.

From a purely rational perspective, we get better.

The danger is that we lose something along the way. In our pursuit of marginal gains we can, slowly and unconsciously, lose our identity, our personality and the values that have defined us.

They get buried under and avalanche of systems and transformation. We turn a bit beige.

That’s why origin stories are so important. They connect us with the souls of our organisations and can help recalibrate us when we get out of line.

They stop cultural drift and provide a good opportunity for the long, hard look in the mirror that we sometimes need.

They turn ‘optimal service delivery’ into a culture where people know its okay to operate outside the box if it means doing the right thing for the business, a client, a tenant or society.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” goes Simon Sinek’s TED Talk with 60 million views and counting.

We’re still much more comfortable talking about service offers and functional benefits than building emotional connections that last a lifetime.

We love helping people and businesses re-connect with their why and help them bring that to life.

But that story almost always begins with a much younger version of a person or a business.

One that was rationally sub-optional but emotionally bountiful. What we lacked in logic, we made up for in magic. In our ability to imagine a better future.

The ability to knit those two versions of ourselves together allows us to tell our best possible story.

We can be kinder to the younger versions of ourselves. And as plan for the future for ourselves and our organisations, let’s tune in and hear what they would have had to say. In lots of ways they were right and we are wrong.
They might just remind us what it was that started us on this path in the first place.
And as for Dylan? Sorry, Bob, we’ll have to disagree.
And anyway, I always thought the Byrds version of the song was better.

Bobbie Hough
managing director, Hough Bellis Communications