Social Business News

Reflecting on working 12,5 years at Enviu

No watches or pens, but with flowers and cake, Wouter Kersten, our Innovation Manager, reflects on being at Enviu for 12,5 years. Is it long or not, and is that the right question to ask?

This month saw a celebration at the Enviu office which was unique in its history, will take some years before it can be repeated, and in many ways shows that we have matured. And in this day and age it is a small miracle that it happened anyway. The title contained a bit of a spoiler, so let’s cut to the chase: What happened on that illustrious early July day 2017? Well, I will tell you.

The 1st of January, 2005, Enviu started with its first two paid (part-time) employees, besides the founder Stef van Dongen. And whaddayaknow? 12,5 years later, they still work at Enviu. Yes that’s right boys and girls, it’s the 21st century, but it still happens. Company loyalty. This here is my personal account of how it came to this. The story of my Sister in Arms, Josine Janssen, deserves its own piece.

What’s wrong with you?!

So, 12,5 years. No watch, no pen. Flowers, cake, and priceless shared memories. For some people that’s enough. But now the more serious part: I already hear the unspoken question in some people’s heads. How indeed is it possible, in this day and age that people still hold on to one job for such an ungodly period? Ok, last century that was common, but now? Come on!

This is Wouter, with flowers and cake. And he happens to be standing on Energy Floors’ first prototype made back in 2006!

What kind of ride?

Why 12,5 years at the same employer? Was it by any chance an easy, lazy ride? Well, anyone who knows anything about the history about Enviu knows it was never, ever, easy. And laziness is forbidden in this city. Heck, it often was not even a ride, more a succession of bumps intertwined with curves left and right and periods of being airborne. Unvoluntarily. We never followed the crowd. We may never have led them either. But we were there. Actively. Running. Stumbling. Dancing. Turning it on. At the forefront of social entrepreneurship in the Netherlands. Before the term pretty much existed here. Which was symbolic because we never could find the right box to tick when we were filling in whichever form, be it for a funder, a subsidy or just any arbitrary survey. We defied existing choices. For better, or worse.

And that is perhaps the more important point. Throughout the years my own role evolved towards something that on a business card is called Innovation manager. In my personal presentations I started to refer to it as Chief of Making New Connections (“No I don’t work in Telecoms anymore”) and later Chief Curiosity. That’s more than just a cute joke, it’s eerily close to what I think is the core of innovation.

Asking a different question

So let me give you some more information about the past 12,5 years and then ask you a different, curious question: Since the start we did experience several waves, at least three, which in ordinary circumstances might as well have been three separate successive organizations. It was always about entrepreneurship, changing the world for the better, doing things differently, and mobilizing unusual groups. But the main activities and focus evolved, and not in a smooth line. Starting with a focus on community and co-creation, slowly shifting to more focus on the actual venture creation, and now again shifting to changing entire systems from a more holistic point of view. And in the meantime, we keep searching for the best tick boxes to choose, and as always we barely manage. Meanwhile, I have not experienced any two days that were similar.

When deciding whether 12,5 years, or even more to the point, any number of years, is “too long”, perhaps the question should not revolve around time, or receiving a pay slip with the same employer name on top, but on these questions: “Are you still experiencing new things every day, have the feeling that you are part of something special, and that you contribute to it?” If you got three Yes’s, is that perhaps not more relevant than being obsessed with a silly number?