Comment: Scotland’s rural landscape is an ace up its sleeve

No one needs to convince me about the merits of taking stock of your career – or that Scotland is the right place to do it.
Bulloch is creating what he says is Scotlands first 'Business Decelerator'. Picture: contributed.Bulloch is creating what he says is Scotlands first 'Business Decelerator'. Picture: contributed.
Bulloch is creating what he says is Scotlands first 'Business Decelerator'. Picture: contributed.

I’ll tell you why in a minute. But without sounding like I’m representing Scotland’s tourist board, there are many reasons why it’s even easier today to combine career, health and wellbeing and be in one of the most beautiful parts of the world.

In the mid-1980s, I left my childhood home in Rothesay on the Isle of Bute and set off to study in Glasgow before taking the well-worn path to the bright lights of London. So-called “brain-drain” has affected many rural communities, not only in Scotland, but across the world. It’s a trend that has continued throughout my working career. I was saddened to hear of Argyll and Bute’s population dropping by a staggering 4 per cent in 2017 alone. At the same time, Edinburgh saw double-digit growth in its population, while London continues to act as a lightning rod for young professionals from north of the Border.

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Despite these worrying statistics, I’d suggest that the grass may no longer be greener in the concrete jungles of our modern cities. Bute’s isolation, lack of access to employment and rural tranquillity were clearly underlying factors in the ongoing exodus of its younger generation. But with modern connectivity, we’re entering the age of the “digital nomad” – individuals who can connect to the global economy to make a living, irrespective of their physical location. The lure of affordable housing and a safe, cohesive community could offer the island something of a renaissance – rebalancing the urban mix.

But in a paradoxical twist, I believe it’s the very isolation and ability to completely detach from the demands of a digital age that might offer the greatest potential for regeneration. I’m convinced these erstwhile drawbacks could, in fact, become comparative advantages that should be capitalised upon.

The lure of a life in the business fast lane and a well-paid corporate job comes at a price. As companies have downsized, those who are “lucky” enough to be kept on find themselves in ever-expanding roles and a 24/7, always-online lifestyle that doesn’t respect weekends. Small wonder that there’s a mental health crisis emerging in the workplace – a topic where I have a bit of form. The constant distraction of technology, results, busy roles, and tight deadlines means that the business world is suffering from a kind of collective Attention Deficit Disorder. What if we were to slow down a little – take the time to breathe and to focus less on what we’re doing and more on where we’re going?

Last year, I decided to trade my two-bedroom flat in London for a derelict farm on Bute that I am renovating as Scotland’s first “Business Decelerator” – a place that offers busy executives the chance to temporarily disconnect from their day jobs to reconnect with themselves. The space will create a fusion between big business and the transformative power of art, music, nature and community. Craigberoch is a venue that seeks to balance the typical business professional’s bias for doing, with the power of just being.

So, why here and why now? Scotland has a proud history of applying innovation for the benefit the planet – from Sir Alexander Fleming’s penicillin to the television invented by John Logie Baird. Besides the obvious benefits of resilience, wellbeing and employee engagement, I envision the business decelerator being a catalyst for social innovation – in our “always on” culture, it’s well overdue.

Scotland could be key in awakening a generation of dormant Elon (Mac)Musk-type social intrapreneurs and innovators inside the corporate world – unlocking commercial value for our companies and social and environmental impact for the planet. On a personal level, I hope that Craigberoch plays a part in that important journey.

Gib Bulloch is author of The Intrapreneur: Confessions of a corporate insurgent and founder of Craigberoch Business Decelerator