Life From A Window : Our London

Keira’s school recently had a ‘Take Your Daughter To Work’ day, which we managed to coincide with an experimental day of live painting at the London offices of AECOM. We were invited to explore the theme of ‘Our London’ for the day, and we duly headed into town on the Overground train during rush hour (I was keen to give Keira the full commuting experience!) to get to work.

We set up in the main reception area on the 16th floor, overlooking the city of London. The view from the window is spectacular – even on a wet cloudy day like the one we had. Keira and I were keen to contrast the wide panoramic view of a wealthy city as seen from the window, with a more close up view of the streets immediately surrounding the building we worked in. We also wanted to involve other people in our work.

People began to show curiosity in what we were doing, so we engaged them in conversations about the view, and about their experiences of London and the local area. We spoke about how the view changes according to time of day, seasons, weather etc. Several folk suggested a series of works to reflect these changes. The view at night came up a few times, and we sought to represent that in a painting. We also invited people to take photographs out of the window, without being any more specific than that.

People also spoke with us about the streets of London, and transport came up a fair bit so we made a street scene using paint for the ‘map’ and polaroids taken by Keira at street level, to represent some of what we heard in the conversations.

We made some geometric abstractions of buildings/cityscape – and experimented with some tracing overlays too, as a way of acknowledging the different ways people described ‘Our London’.

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We had planned to turn everyone’s photographs into a collage cityscape, and we ran into some technical printing difficulties on the day, so that part of the project remains a work in progress.

Life From A Window

The idea was to invite people to engage, thank you to the many people who responded to that invitation. We used what we learned to inform and conduct some small experiments, and we observed how we and others responded to what was going on.

We had a really interesting time. There was no grand plan at this stage, just an opportunity to drop something different into the working day, a small stone which set off a series of ripples.

Acknowledgements

This work would not have been possible without Keira, and the support of Malcolm, Hilary, and Sharon at AECOM, thank you all. The team at reception supported us well, and encouraged folk to interact with us, thank you. Thanks to everyone who took time to speak with us, suggest ideas, and take photographs.

When Creative Thinking Meets Creative Practice

The most interesting and challenging work I am involved in, often arises when I’m engaging with people looking to think, feel and act differently in what they do. The business world often applies labels such as innovation and creativity to this work. As the work unfolds, I observe the need for us to be creative in our work is often focused on by people as a thinking process.

Thinking creatively and differently is a necessary part of change, but what about how we feel, and how we act too? People often struggle to talk about feelings at work, seeing them as something to be boxed up and left with security at the front door on the way in, and collected from lost property on the way out.

And when it comes to taking action, people often dream up bold strategies, to which they harness grand intent, before applying the faerie dust of meaning and purpose. Often when we peek behind this visionary curtain, everything appears a bit blurred. I can’t quite see the detail, everything is…specifically vague? Matthew Crawford writes about this notion of organisational opacity in his book ‘The Case For Working With Your Hands’, asserting that corporate vagueness has become intentional, in order to prevent people (typically those hierarchically senior enough to have architected the strategy) from actually being responsible for anything. How depressing.

So how might we take the good intent behind creative thinking, and activate it, give it a better chance of becoming useful? One answer could lie in partnering creative practice with creative thinking, taking the work out of your head and into your hands?

I recently spent time with a group of people who came together to imagine what the future of their workspace (aesthetics, form etc) and workplace (culture, behaviours etc) might look like. The group asked for guidance to create an invitational, encouraging environment for us to make, as well as think. My part in this was to share a few basic principles of creative practice, invite folks to get making, then to a great extent, get out of the way.

As a facilitator, I need to be clear about my role – whilst I am in the room and therefore a participant, I take care not to exert and impose undue influence. This post by Meg Peppin contains some excellent ideas about facilitation design. Before we got started in the room, I spoke about this with the people who hired me, because sometimes my apparent lack of guidance and direction can signal…a lack of interest? Far from it. What I’ve learned is that people are extremely capable, and too much guidance can quickly become patronising. This process may feel uncomfortable at first, indeed one of my sponsors reflected this back to me, saying ‘when you made the invitation for people to get started – we worried, and wondered…will they?’ They did. Trust me, trust the process.

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As the day unfolded, people were asked to think about and discuss a series of workplace related questions – and the art continued to flow. This was not prompted, people simply chose to continue to offer artistic interpretations into the mix.

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These examples are visual representations, and it’s worth noting the art of storytelling became a big part of the work too.

Afterwards the group reflected on what they’d done, and acknowledged the richness of the conversation, enhanced by feeling encouraged to bring creative practice to bear alongside creative thinking. For me – part of the challenge is keeping the practice going, which is one of the reasons why I continue to love my free art project, despite it now being in its 95th consecutive week. Practice, practice, practice. If you want progress, if you want change, you need to keep turning up, keep working.

As a closing thought, I offer you this excellent piece by Rich Watkins called Dignity, Resilience, Vision: The Value In Creative Practice. Rich wrote this after a conversation with myself and several other RSA Fellows, and he asserts that the notion of creative practice in its own right is something we can all benefit from. I agree, and I’d love to hear about your creative practice, and how it shapes you, and those around you.

A version of this post first appeared over at HRExaminer.

Preparation : The Colour And The Shape

This month has a lot of creativity, art, and culture in it. June kicked off with The Art of Innovation talk at the HR Inner Circle, followed by an Art of Innovation election night special at the offices of BDG. Over the next two weekends I am participating in the inaugural Carshalton Artists Open Studios (CAOS) event (my first exhibition), and sandwiched in between the CAOS, I’m in Berlin artistically interpreting a conference. The output from the Berlin event will take many forms, one of them being a 13 metre wide canvas. Go big, or go home!

Last week I got together with my fellow artists to talk about, and prepare for Berlin. Most of our work is improvisational, and that is something we choose to role model, so our preparation has been deliberately loose. We experimented with materials and a few basic ideas and colours.

The Colour

Here I have taken (an approximation of) the client’s colour palette and abstracted it. We will be using some of these colours in our work, so this piece is a way of playing with different tones, and it may serve as a guide to people in the room who wish to abstract something for themselves during the event. We shall see.

The Shape

As well as playing with colour – we discussed how we want to be together as a group. This has been a really enjoyable process of listening and distilling, and we now have a short statement which describes us at our best. It’s a useful guide for the three of us and for anyone else we interact with before, during and after the event.

When we are at our best, we are taking care of each other, and our guests. The concept of leadership in our group is a fluid, dynamic force, flowing to where and to whom it is best suited at the time. We listen and respond to prompts from the floor, hand written notes, 1:1 conversations, and to things we spot while wandering about. Our intention is to record and illustrate and abstract key points, not every single detail. Over the days, a body of work will emerge, developed improvisationally, and using a variety of mediums. The pace and rhythm of what we do will ebb and flow, and we welcome participation in our work. 

I hope this look at how we are preparing is useful for you. More to follow…