Today I’m en route for Aracena, an hour north of Seville, and our tenth successive year running the Dark Angels advanced course.
We’ve grown to love the sprawling red-roofed finca in the mountains, the early sun burning off the mist that hangs over the surrounding cork and chestnut woods; the cock crow, fractious dogs and braying donkey in the valley below; and the scent of aromatic plants refreshed by dawn rain.
We gather in the shade of a little brick pergola at one corner of the courtyard, The Temple of Learning, as we’ve christened it. There, miracles of the imagination take place as people discover words and ideas they didn’t know they possessed, rhythms and forms they didn’t know they could command, and new and enlivening approaches to the all-too-frequent drudgery of writing in or for business.
In recent years a highlight of the course has been a visit to the studio of renowned local sculptor, Alberto German. Alberto is a passionate person who understands what we’re about and is generous to us with his time and energy. His visual sense of the world is both a compliment and a challenge to our literal one. To celebrate our tenth anniversary we have commissioned a sculpture from him which has just been installed in the grounds of the finca. Tomorrow we will see it for the first time.
In the evenings we dine out on a vine-roofed terrace overlooking distant lakes. As the wine flows and the candles burn down, some of the conversation will doubtless turn on the potential of language as a force for good in the world of business. This thought springs from the same source as another that I was reminded of last week, a contentious one perhaps in this cynical age we inhabit: that business itself can be a force for good in the world.
At the Edinburgh International Book Festival I chaired an event with Michael Hayman and Nick Giles, founders of communications firm, Seven Hills, which was recently voted the word’s best corporate consultancy. They are the authors of Mission, a book about how businesses with what one might call ‘soul’ are enjoying astronomical success and leaving all others standing.
These are companies such as Whole Foods, Airbnb and, more controversially, Uber, whose founders see themselves not only as businessmen and women but as agents of social change, impassioned campaigners whose customers are also their followers.
Reading the book reminded me in turn of the weekend I spent a couple of years ago in Cochin at INK, the Indian TED conference; and how inspiring it was to listen to the young Indian entrepreneurs who took the stage one by one to tell us how they were using new technologies to improve the lives of millions of their fellow countrymen, while making a decent return for their backers along the way.
Michael Hayman and Nick Giles go so far as to suggest that in time it could be businesses rather than governments that become the most effective creators of change, and that the trend towards the kind of citizen entrepreneurship facilitated by the likes of Airbnb and Uber could be leading the charge.
One of the many distinguishing characteristics of companies like these is that they have realised the need for simple, direct language. It’s impossible to campaign in corporate-speak; there must be something of the milk of human kindness in the words they choose to connect with the world. For the next five days in Aracena I expect that quality to flow as freely as the evening wine.
Speaking of campaigners, a sad departure yesterday with the death of Tessa Ransford who founded the Scottish Poetry Library. Tessa was a fine and sensitive poet, and a passionate and dedicated champion of poetry. She was also a regular reader of this blog. I will miss her frequent and generous responses.