Tag Archives: culture

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.

My Favourite Thing Is You

On Wednesday I spent an interesting and enjoyable evening at a Culturevist networking event. A few of my friends have been to some previous Culturevist get togethers – but this was my first one. Networking often gets a bad rap, and we’ve all been to at least one session that’s ended up as a total cringefest, it’s not just me, is it? This event was a little different, so in defence of the art of good networking, here are my first impressions of this interesting group.


On arrival I was immediately made to feel very welcome, by many people. This wasn’t an in your face, full on experience, just plenty of encouragement. Thank you to everyone who helped ease me into the swing of a new social situation.


The name badge I was invited to complete, with the addition of ‘And my favourite thing is…’ was a lovely idea. I figured I was there to meet interesting people, so my badge said ‘And my favourite thing is you’.

My Favourite Thing Is You

That dreaded intro moment

Something about networking that leaves me cold is when everyone stands up and introduces themselves to everyone else. Being a bear of small brain I struggle to remember more than about three names, and when the group is large, I also struggle to stay awake. Tom Nixon offered up a twist, and this time we were invited to simply say our name, and what we needed.  This was a great idea – people’s brief responses were helpful and often funny too. Others in the group could then easily spot people they have something in common with, or someone they could be of possible use to. A lovely idea – I will look for other opportunities to try this.


Throughout the evening, a couple of people approached me who have seen me at conferences and gatherings over the past few years and had positive recollections – those interactions were really touching, motivating too, thanks. I learned from this, that when you have a positive memory of someone, It’s lovely to share it with them. They might have forgotten – I had.

Conversation without judgement

I enjoyed the subjects put up for brief talks and subsequent conversations – the theme of the evening was ‘Open Source Culture – What Happens When Everyone Has A Say?’ I didn’t agree with everything being put forward and it was lovely to have a chance to discuss differences in such a respectful way. Too often we seek to brush even the gentlest conflict to one side – I’m a huge fan of open, respectful disagreement, and I did not feel I was being judged when sharing contradictory experiences and views.

I left with a head buzzing full of ideas, having met some lovely people for the first time and caught up with a few friends. Thank you to everyone, and particularly to Matthew Partovi for making things happen.

I hope this post is useful to some of you, and if you have any more suggestions about how to make networking work, please share them in the comments. And if you’d like to see someone else’s perspective on networking, I thoroughly recommend The Quiet Man, a beautifully written blog post by Richard Martin.

Do You Have A Best Friend At Work?


Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend. – Albert Camus

A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out. – Walter Winchell

I’m heading to the Meaning Conference in Brighton this morning. I can only stay for a few hours and the two main reasons I’m going are: the anticipation of being provoked and challenged, and to catch up with friends.

Do you have a best friend at work? So asks question number 10 of the famous (or infamous depending on your point of view) Gallup 12. Gallup go so far as to stay that when it comes to ’employee engagement’ their questions are the only questions you need. Seeing as their question set doesn’t include ‘How much do you love cake?’, I don’t agree with their assertion, but I do like question number 10.

I know people who like to snigger at this notion of friendship at work, and I also know from my own experience that the people I consider friends, are the ones who I enjoy spending time with, and who I can be of use to, at least some of the time. I know from the work I do that people who can develop a sense of friendship, and of getting to know one another better, do better work together. Yet somehow the notion of friendship at work is something that we often don’t readily compute. I can relate to that, and often when I’m struggling to apply something which feels unfamiliar to its surroundings, I first try and think of it in a more ‘natural’ state.

I recently joined a new cycling club, and the club gets a few requests to respond to the media about our interests in the sport. Over the weekend I was asked to consider and briefly write about the benefits of being a member of a cycling club for a feature on a sports website. Here’s the essence of what I submitted:

The people I rode with on Saturday think a good cycling club should be an encouraging place to be, and it should be a nurturing place to be. For example – when we are out for a ride, we regroup often, to wait for the slowest group member, we don’t leave people behind.

Variety is important, so we try and encourage different people to lead rides to different places. We have a few members in our club with an excellent knowledge of great places to ride, so we perhaps are a little spoiled for choice, but we think there’s nothing more boring than cycling to and from the same place every week – so mix it up.

We enjoy a lot of laughs when we’re out together – our sense of humour isn’t for everyone but we think spending time together should be good fun, so don’t take yourselves too seriously.

These brief thoughts – by themselves they aren’t the magic ingredients for great work. Unlike Gallup I don’t profess to have found the answer, or even twelve answers for that matter – and if there is such a thing as culture at work, I think it would be helpful if it were nurturing, varied and fun – among other things. How about you?

photo credit : Jlhopgood