In those chaotic times, when it is hard to discern what might come next, what is the right course of action in our personal lives and organisations, I find myself looking back. Looking back at the genesis of things.
A favourite author of mine once said that everything of a relationship can be known from the first encounter, from the first words exchanged. It is the condensed, atomic version of everything that will subsequently unfold. The seed that must explode into a flower. If it is a truthful exchange, leaving behind conventions and judgement, it will create something beautiful. If it is a meeting of roles, a game of thrones, it announces nothing good for the world.
I will always remember my first encounter with The Forest Trust (TFT), now Earthworm. In my first week, three senior managers resigned. One by handwritten letter, two in person. The senior team was composed of seven souls back then. Everyone was visibly and understandably in shock; expect perhaps Scott Poynton, TFT’s Founder, who seemed to respect and accept their choices. It was what it was. I would be lying if I said that this first introduction did not sort of concern me.
That week also included the celebration of another departure, this time planned. Bjorn was the first person employed by Scott and TFT. To send him away in style, we finished the week with a nice meal at a local restaurant. Then we headed to the local bar.
I had joined TFT to take the responsibility of the finances. My previous job was in a Swiss bank and before that I was an auditor in an international audit firm. Let’s say a cascade of senior staff departures followed by an open stream of alcohol without clear business purpose would have raised instant alarms there. At that moment, it certainly triggered my own internal monitoring system.
Here I was, the new financial guy, sent to buy rounds of liquor, glasses filled with increasingly exotic tastes and colours. Where on earth did I end up? Are these people serious? Is this how we are supposed to save the world’s forests?
I never again experienced a week quite like this at Earthworm. We thankfully never had a mass resignation of senior staff nor spent a whole evening lining up shots again. But what stayed with me is the naked truth of those moments. Nothing was hidden, no one pretended otherwise. Key people had left. We did not know what it all meant. We were aching, we were celebrating. However shocking these were to the ethical standards of my auditor self, something in me took a long, deep breath. This was a human enterprise.
What has followed is 13 years of great successes and great struggles, but always with that willingness to make room for what is messy and, at times, broken in us. If I have learned one thing in my professional life, it is that underneath all the layers of talk, structure and processes, there is one message, a faint murmur whose presence or absence changes everything - “I trust you”. At a time when deep uncertainties in our world would want us to tighten our grip, maybe there has been no better time for Earthworm and others, perhaps not to drink our nights away, but to renew our faith in people.