From God’s lips to a jack russell’s ears

The extended Easter holiday is well underway and, as I write this, the peels of church bells chime in the distance. As I hear them, I am reflecting on the fascinating link between the Victorian clergy, business transformation and Jack Russell terriers.

Stick with me on this. It really is fascinating and gives a superlative lesson in modern transformative thinking.

During the Victorian era, 18,000 men were in the clergy, a large percentage of educated men.  The role wasn’t really a calling per se, but a good job for those with a university degree. It was generally that or the military and, during the agrarian height of Victorian England, clergy did well for themselves. Their pay was based on a percentage of output of the farmland their parish sat upon, which in most cases allowed for a very comfortable life. As Bill Bryson said in Home: A Short History of Private Life, “Even the least privileged incumbents were generally well off.”

The job itself wasn’t too taxing either.  Many clergy read their sermons from a printed missal.  So beyond the general tending to the flock, most men of the cloth had a lot of time on their hands.

Now it may seem that I am insulting these fine men, which I am not. In fact, they are to be lauded, for out of this environment of reflection, freedom and security sprung some of the most marvellous discoveries, inventions and innovations. Examples are numerous and include ideas ranging from the first submarine to Malthusian economics.

Why were they able to develop such new ideas and what lessons can they teach us about modern business transformation? I credit three qualities of the clergy culture that contributed to their inspired thinking.


There has been a lot of chatter in the press lately about sitting being the new smoking, but recent research from Brigham Young University shows that our personal connections and community contribute tremendously to our physical health. So is loneliness the new smoking? The research found that people who are lonely are at heightened risk for mortality equal to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, a risk even greater than obesity-related mortality.

But a sense of community doesn’t just contribute to health and wellbeing, it contributes to performance. With every health risk you possess, your “productivity potential” drops. And relationships contribute to employee engagement as well. According to a longitudinal Gallup study on employee engagement, people who reported having a close friend at work were more likely to be engaged in the company mission and even cared more about the quality of their work.

Community, like that which the clergy cultivated and enjoyed, helps make people feel safe, driven and contributory.


Brain scans show that alpha brain waves, which are produced when the mind has time to wander like during meditation or even play, allow people to create new ideas, not just regurgitate old ones. Unfortunately, there is a growing cult of overwork that is killing innovation.

In a HATCH Analytics study of 25,000 global office workers, 71 per cent of employees said they don’t take quiet time during their workday to think or reflect as they fear they would be seen as skiving by their managers. Despite the age-old adage that idle hands are the devil’s workshop, neuropsychology now proves that reflection and downtime aren’t naughty, but rather are necessary to allow the mental space for our transformational eureka moments.


Clergy weren’t incentivised for their innovations, so some might find their drive towards new thinking inconsistent with the modern management approach of carrot and stick. But in Dan Pink’s best-selling book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, he makes the clear scientific case about the factors that drive people – and it’s not a pay check.  Once a person’s basic needs are met, further economic incentives fail to spur on greater results. What drives us?  Autonomy, mastery and purpose. Clergy had the freedom to explore ideas that intrigued them. And with autonomy and mastery comes innovation.

Business transformation depends on more than just key performance indicators and quick wins – it requires an engaged and innovative culture

There is a strong business case to support this thinking. Researchers at Cornell University have found that businesses who gave their staff greater autonomy grew four times faster than their command-and-control counterparts and they also enjoyed 30 per cent lower staff attrition rates.

Business transformation depends on more than just key performance indicators and quick wins – it requires an engaged and innovative culture.

And did you think I forget about the Jack Russell connection? We can thank a member of the clergy for those furry friends as well, for it was none other than the Reverend Jack Russell of Devon who brought us his eponymous breed of man’s best friend.

Want to learn more about your best friend in workplace transformation? Meet our mascot HATCH