Tag Archives: art

The Art of Innovation : Side Projects

I’m working on a culture of innovation project with some associates. As part of this work, I’ve been thinking a lot about my free art project, and how much it now impacts and influences other elements of my work and life. I recently met with Robert Ordever from OC Tanner and together we enjoyed an interesting conversation about the space where work meets…the real you?

I began the free art project as a curiosity. A key part of my initial motivation was to experience letting go of my work, and the idea of a weekly schedule for giving the work away forced me into a mindset of production, and of needing to adopt the mantra, ‘It’s good enough, move on.’ Anyone who takes a pride in their work may recognise the tension in getting something right, and not necessarily perfect. I’ll come back to that later on.

Robert and I talked about the idea of doing a side project for the sake of curiosity, with no obvious end in mind. We questioned, to what extent would you be ‘allowed’ to do something like this at work? The free art project took a while to develop in any sense of gaining feedback and response. Robert wondered, ‘If you were running an experiment at work, at what point would you have quit?’ It’s a great question – I don’t have an answer and we need to recognise that if we want our colleagues to problem solve, and come up with new, alternative ways of working – figuring out how to create time and space for this, matters.

Although the free art project is ongoing, each week represents a new challenge, a new piece of work to be created. The way I cope with this demand ebbs and flows. Sometimes the ideas are plentiful and I find myself making more than one piece. In turn I may leave more than one art work for people to find that week, and sometimes I hold things back. I now know there will be weeks when I get stuck, and am simply too busy with other stuff – and at those times, having a reserve bank of art to draw from is really useful. I am more resourceful as a result of my side project.

Robert and I got talking about a struggle to move away from what works, towards something which may be better. In a work sense, we often drift into patterns of behaviour which once set, are hard to break from. We might convince ourself there’s no other way to do x, or I’ve tried other ways before and they didn’t work. Running a regular, yet fluid experiment alongside my other work helps to shake up my thinking. I believe it makes me more open to the possibilities. I have become a more responsive opportunist as a result of my side project.

We drifted into talking about ‘Who am I completing the work for?’ Robert suggested usually, an employee is doing something to satisfy their manager. Although I occasionally feel a little pressure in the free art project to deliver on time, I’m not bound by anything beyond my own drive to make and share. If I were to skip a week, no one’s there to mark my appraisal down. As a result, I have become more relaxed, and better at delivering good work.

The free art project operates with minimal rules. I make art, leave it somewhere, and it gets found, or not, as the case may be. I share the location of the art using photos on various social media channels, and though I sign the work, my contact details are hardly ever present. Only once or twice have I left a method of contact on art drops in more distant places, Australia for example. Sometimes I get feedback – and often I don’t. Sometimes I like the feedback I receive, other times less so. But that’s part of the point of learning through art – it is subjective, which releases me, at least partly, from the need for (positive?) feedback. What would happen if your colleagues felt able to develop and work on something in a similarly freestyle fashion? I have become more resilient as a result of my side project.

In closing I want to come back to this idea about getting hung up on our work not being good enough, this need to satisfy our inner perfectionist. Robert offered me a quote from one of the founders of the business he works for. The quote reads, ‘We seek to touch the fringes of perfection.’ The idea behind this is that we don’t know what ‘perfect’ is, and like art, it is largely subjective. But hey – that needn’t stop us reaching for it, even if only to brush against the edges. This reminds me of a recent abstract piece I made, called Edge of Glory.

Edge of Glory

How do you think your colleagues might respond if invited to seek to touch the fringes of perfection through a side project?

We explore side projects and much more in The Art of Innovation. The next live sessions take place in London on June 8th and 9th, and in Berlin on July 4th and 5th. Click the links for more information, too book your place, and learn about our pay it forward ticketing experiment. Hope to see you soon.

The Art of Persistence : Not Giving Up

Persistence : Part One

Back in February 2016, the Art for Work’s Sake project was a finalist in the Learning and Performance Institute’s annual awards, innovation category. The entry fell at the final hurdle, and though I was up against some much bigger hitters, at the time I was disappointed to remain a finalist, not a winner. The LPI gave me a piece of glassware to acknowledge the journey – and after putting it back in its box on the evening of the awards, it has remained there. Until today. Today it’s on display in my office.

I realise I let my disappointment cloud how I feel about my work, and for a while, I backed away from the excitement, challenge, and everything which makes me and my work what it is. I guess I lost some confidence, retreated to safer territories. The trouble is I don’t like safe. In my line of work it’s boring, it’s waiting to be told what to do instead of figuring it out, it’s coercive not coactive, and it’s overcrowded. David Henry once shared with me an excellent Tom Fishburne cartoon which sums things up nicely.

With a little help from some friends, I’ve been working my way back out of the herd again. Running workshops, giving short talks at conferences, piloting new ways of working with clients. Each piece of work, building on the last, a blend of care, preparation and the all important improvisation. The willingness to say ‘yes, and…’. The excitement of having a basic script, and being completely open to tearing it up. To go with the flow, to the uncharted territory where the really interesting and useful stuff lies.

This adventure is back on track, and very soon I’ll share details of the first phase of The Art of Innovation, a collaborative and practical adventure blending organisational development, the employee experience, and art. It all kicks off in London and Berlin this summer.

Persistence : Part Two

IMG_3629The middle of March 2017 marked the 50th consecutive week of my free art project. This milestone was celebrated with a joint free art drop made by Chloe Ray and me. Chloe released her latest EP the same week as the art project turned 50, and I made a painting to reflect a song on the EP titled ‘Not Giving Up’. The canvas is 80cm x 30cm and this is the first time I’ve painted at this scale. I’ve been wanting to scale up my work for some time, and having done so once, within 24 hours of painting this piece I did it again.

IMG_3639.jpg

This time I painted an abstract of the view over London from the 34th floor of the BT Tower. It’s taken me years to find the confidence to paint and show my work at this scale, I’ve persisted with my work – clearly the time is now right.

Persistence : Part Three

A few weeks ago I was encouraged to apply to Arts Network Sutton for some grant funding to enable me to carry out some workshops, an exhibition, and other free art related activity in the coming year. I’ve just found out the application has been successful. This application wouldn’t have succeeded if I hadn’t stopped thinking about free art, and started making it, all those weeks ago. Looking back – I can see threads of the free art project in my work which snake back way before I started painting and giving art away. I have shifted from persistence of thought, to persistence of action.

I’m good at coming up with ideas, and I used to think I was rubbish at bringing these ideas to fruition. This clearly is not the case. Maybe all I’ve been doing for the past 51 years, is searching for the things which really excite and drive me in the service of myself and others, the ideas which matter, which resonate deeply.

Persistence : Part Four

For too long, I’ve been searching for the next big thing, when the signs are right in front of me. This artistic approach to work is where I am most alive, and where I can be of best use to myself and to you. I think I am the primary audience for this post, so if you’ve read this far, thank you and well done!

More to follow, soon.

The Art of Resilience

Wednesday 8th March 2017. I stood at the front of the stage, facing bright lights and about 200 people. Alongside me stood some of my art.

My friend, and conference chair Neil Usher introduced me. He said some lovely things about me, none of which I can remember!

I told the audience how nervous I was feeling. I did this as part of my coping mechanism, and also to explain that we all have a story to tell, and if I can stand there, overcome my nerves and tell my story, you can choose to do that too.

As a member of the Women’s Equality Party and with it being International Women’s Day, I felt compelled to say something about the speaker line up. I thanked Clare and Flick, the two women presenters among the line up of seventeen people, and thanked and encouraged the conference organisers to continue down this path in pursuit of a more balanced line up in future.

Introductions over, it’s time to get started. I’d been asked to deliver my session in the Pecha Kucha format. 20 slides, each one on screen for just 20 seconds. This is a tough presenting discipline, it requires a lot of planning, and distillation.

 

Here is a rough transcript of the talk:

What is resilience? In a search for the meaning of life, I approached Facebook and Twitter, asking, I say resilience, you say…?

I was overwhelmed with responses – almost all of them different. Too many to list and I hope to distil some in the next few minutes.

Writing in the New Yorker, Maria Konnikova says:

‘Whether you can be said to have resilience or not largely depends, on the way your life unfolds. If you are lucky enough to never experience any sort of adversity, we won’t know how resilient you are. It’s only when you’re faced with obstacles, stress, and other environmental threats that resilience, or the lack of it, emerges: Do you succumb or do you surmount?’

I take issue with this either or/binary approach – for me, part of resilience is being open to the possibilities. I use art in my consulting work because it invites inquiry, Its subjective nature helps us let go of our addiction to certainty.

The human brain holds many thoughts – let’s use more of them to nurture ourselves, and each other, in pursuit of better outcomes.

I’m going to briefly touch on my experience of resilience in relation to three important things.

  • Coping with loss
  • Connection and creativity
  • The beauty of impermanence

In 2012 when my Dad died, after the post death rush of the funeral, I tried to get over the loss. The harder I tried the more I failed.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and John Kessler wrote

‘The reality is you will grieve forever. You will not get over the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but, you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.’

Once I grasped this, and it took years to do so, I could then appreciate I am not the same, nor do I want to be.

We need to stop telling each other to get over loss, and encourage healing and rebuilding instead.

[My friend Stephanie Barnes suggests: This feeling need not occur just around the death of a loved one, but divorce, loss of a job, sudden/unexpected change in life circumstance. They are definitely not all the same magnitude, but they do go through a similar mourning/grieving process. Mourning the life you thought you were going to have, for example.]

Tash Stallard, a dear friend, suggests that when we undertake those simple things which bring us joy – taking a walk, reading, and in my case, painting, we dissolve the need for resilience. There’s real power in this idea. I love Tash and how she thinks.

As my art develops, my need for resilience may dissolve? I slowly become more confident, with colour, shape, and texture. I start to experiment with themes, currently I’m exploring a form of elemental art. Connectedness borne of what we come from, and what we need to survive. Each element; earth, water, air, fire, is made tangible in geometric forms, using acrylic paints, gold and silver leaf. I also find the confidence to share different, emerging work with you. I rebuild resilience through experimentation, and the sharing helps strengthen connections.

In April 2016 I began to make art and give it away in my local community of Wallington and Carshalton. So far I’ve made and given away 75 art works. The connections made with my practice, with community are invaluable. The people in my home town know each other better, in part thanks to the art. And it’s not just my immediate community – I’ve left work in Australia and the USA, as well as other parts of the UK too.

I’m starting to approach the community for ideas – what should I paint this week? These exchanges, small though they are, build connectedness, and resilience among us. As my resilience grows around the project, I take on ideas I wouldn’t have dreamt of previously. I’m asked, can you paint a turtle? It would appear the answer is yes.

There’s a lot of love in and around this project.

My third observation is this. There is beauty in impermanence and imperfection, and our resilience helps us see this.

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer containing powdered gold. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of the object, rather than something to disguise. Kintsugi pieces are prized precisely because they have been broken. The cracks you see in these pieces represents how the broken lines themselves are so beautiful, and so important, that they are rejoined with gold instead of glue.

In our lives, we often try to repair our broken places with glue. We quietly work to piece our lives back together after life-changing events, hoping that if we do a good enough job, the cracks won’t be readily visible. Sooner or later, we all carry scars, whether they be internal, external, or both. We will all break in different places, and in different ways. To me, resilience means acknowledging the beauty in those breaks, not trying to deny their existence.

But what really matters, as I learned in my search, is what’s important to you. I hope you find more of that here, today.

People responded in a lovely way, both immediately after the talk, and through the rest of the day. Yes it was a nerve racking experience, and I’m glad I did it, and I’m pleased to have been asked.

A version of this post originally appeared on The Art Sensorium.