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The importance of a hat

Do you suffer from emotional attachment to inert objects?

My Mum was an amateur artist. She would spend hours and days painting every week. She was involved in local art clubs, she exhibited at local and national exhibitions. She regularly went on painting holidays in the UK and abroad.

She had a favourite 'painting hat' which you can see in the photo above. When she was alive, this hat held no value to me. When she passed away in 2007 this hat suddenly held new meaning. I still have this hat 14 years later and cannot bring myself to throw it away. It sits proudly on top of the wardrobe.

Why am I telling you this story?

Because it is a prime example of what is called ‘continuing bonds’ theory, developed by modern bereavement studies. We see previously old-fashioned and unnecessary ephemera taking on new meanings and becoming problematic, not because of their material or aesthetic value, but because of their mnemonic power. We humans develop emotional attachment to even the most mundane objects.

Those of you that are regular readers of my social media posts, will be familiar with my strange way of making connections between seemingly unconnected things.

I was reading an article recently about this kind attachment theory. It got me thinking about how, when it comes to strategic property asset management, people and organisations can form emotional attachments to some properties - often for no real reason. Such properties are often described by some as 'family silver'. In many cases, the truth is that such properties are far from being 'family silver'.

I recall one conversation at a property committee when I was working at Bristol City Council, on this very subject. There had recently been a change in Portfolio Holder. He was new, young, bright and dynamic. He wanted to bring about real change in the way the Council managed its property portfolio. I had a lot of time for him.

One of his plans was to slim down the size of the property estate to make it more financially sustainable. In those days the Council did not have a reputation for selling property. It was going to be an uphill task. The whole idea of selling property was not well received. This was when the 'family silver' retort saw the light of day.

I remember well, the response from my Portfolio Holder. He said: "We are not selling off the family silver. We are selling off the rusty old iron, so that we can invest in the family silver." This went down a storm and he won the day.

Building emotional attachments to properties is not the only way that organisations can hold back good strategic property asset management. They can also form unhealthy attachments to work processes and the way things are done.

Being strategic must involve throwing off emotional attachment, challenging yourself and others, challenging processes and procedures, challenging established policies, challenging governance arrangements and the way decisions are made, challenging bad habits and, above all, challenging the belief that the way something has been done in the past has to be the way it is done in the future.

Phrases such as "We have always done it that way" or "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" are signs of this unhealthy emotional attachment to ideas and processes. It is the role of the Asset Manager to challenge that, wherever they encounter it.

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