In May 1969 Crosby, Stills and Nash released the song ‘Marrakesh Express’ and it went on to be one of their most listened to tracks. Graham Nash who wrote the lyrics took his inspiration from a train journey he once experienced between Casablanca and Marrakesh where he’d got bored of the company in first class and had moved to the back of the train to experience the ‘real’ side of life in Morocco.
Sitting here in at my desk, a mere five days after returning from our most recent Overseas Leadership Experience in Morocco, I find myself reflecting on how much more developed Marrakesh has become since my last visit there five years ago, and the impact that had on me compared to the remoteness and quietness of the landscape we trekked through.
I’m also reflecting on how our journey in Morocco has helped the six senior leaders who took part to disconnect from their hectic, 24/7, permanently connected, immediate-response lives. It allowed them to take time to stop and reflect on who they really are as leaders, what they are trying to achieve in their businesses and how they might gain more control over their personal and workplace challenges.
The Jebel Saghro region of the anti-Atlas in Morocco could not have been more removed from Marrakesh. It was the considered dissociation from the hubbub of Marrakesh, to the simple lifestyle of the Berbers and the inspirational landscape that we trekked through for four days, that allowed our leaders to truly disconnect and reflect.
What was it that helped them to do that so much more easily than if they were at home? It was the space – the physical space and the headspace. No mobile signal, no emails, no decisions to make, but simply the opportunity to engage with the natural environment whilst moving through it and to think, discuss and reflect. The chance to coach with them on the issues they had identified before arrival, in such a naturally stimulating setting, was a real learning experience for both them and me.
It has rekindled a flame in me and encouraged me to return once more to my research into the role of environment on learning. I want to explore further how creating the right environment, both physically and mentally, and in contact with the natural world, has such a significant and positive impact on the learning and insights people have during a developmental experience.