Were you ever given a chemistry set as a child? Did it sit in the corner gathering dust, never to be used? If you did get around to using it, did your experiments go off with a big whoosh and a bang and you have no idea what you did to make it happen - or perhaps you ended up with a disappointing whimper and an indifferent fizzle of smoke, despite your best efforts?
This scenario can often be a good representation of our lives. We muddle through, barely in step with events, as they carry us along. We don't seem to have time to grasp hold of an idea or see where it might lead - or we have so many ideas pinging around we don't know how to focus and direct them.
The irony of technological advancement is that, instead of making things easier, we now have much more to do in a shorter period of time. More and more information arrives for us to assimilate and respond to and we are expected to reply quickly. This seems to make time go by much more quickly and the pressure of expectation to grow and grow to bursting point.
It is said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Perhaps insanity is too strong a word – we are all probably guilty at some time or another of throwing the same ingredients into the test tube and expecting a different outcome, by virtue of habitual behaviour. At some point we must realise that we are the matter of our lives, we are the elements being thrown into the test tube.
Conceivably then it might seem apt to spend some time reflecting on just exactly how we go about trying to get the best results. Maybe sometimes we need to stop and actually try to dis-believe our view of the world; really wonder if there are other ways of thinking and doing that might allow different results. What would have made that chemistry set great? Someone who knew how to use it – a mentor, someone who knew how to mix the elements in just the right way. This is where Alembic comes into action.
The Alembic is a vessel, or still, which was invented by a Persian alchemist called Geber. It was used for distillation during the alchemical process in the attempt to transform base metal into gold. With this aim at the heart of alchemy, the process is today viewed with great scepticism.
An alembic gifted to Nick, founder and MD, on one of Alembic Strategy's birthdays
In fact, in its origin alchemy was viewed respectfully as an important discipline by the Greek, Arab, Chinese and Indian cultures. Islamic alchemists went on to develop and refine their knowledge, creating rigorous scientific processes, which resulted in the production of new substances. The stages of production were documented and classified. Translation of Greek and Islamic texts by mediaeval Europeans led to the commercial development of substances which could be used medicinally. Over the ages alchemy then evolved into the science that we now call chemistry.
The word chemistry comes from the Arabic word Al-kimia, which means the art of transformation. Distillation in a chemistry sense is the action of purifying a liquid, but it can also mean the extraction of the essential meaning or most important aspects of something. The elements of life are everywhere and in everything. They shift and transform before our eyes to create everything we see, feel, hear and taste. They are also in all of us and form the energy of our lives.
A fundamental law of physics is that energy cannot be created or destroyed – only changed. This transformation and process of change is happening to us all the time – it is as inevitable as the earth spinning on its axis. The choice we all have then is whether this is a passive, unconscious process where we are tumbled around like some flotsam and jetsam by an indifferent sea, or whether it is a conscious process where we choose to learn new methods to transform and use our energy. We can start again to work out the best ways to interact with our environment producing the best outcomes for ourselves and those around us.
When we wed our inner landscape with our outer life experiences these are powerful moments, when things come together and what we have been trying to achieve now works – more importantly, we know why it has worked. We can move forward on our path, learning about ourselves and strategies for working with others, in a constantly evolving state, in the shelter of the Alembic vessel – be this the board room or privately, guided by the Alembic team.
Of course, ultimately you are the participant in the Alembic and its subject is the essence of your leadership of yourself and others. The Alembic is where you need to find what is essential about you. Ultimately it is you, the leader, that Alembic Strategy as a business exists to support.