Tag Archives: innovation

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.

The Art of Innovation : Side Projects

I’m working on a culture of innovation project with a client and 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?

The Spaces in Between

Just between us
I think it’s time for us to realize
The spaces in between
Leave room for you and I to grow – Neil Peart

Good architecture is often invisible, but it allows whatever is happening in that space to be the best experience possible – Pezo von Ellrichshausen

Workspace without imagination is just an empty room – Yours truly

Last week I spent a day at the ChangeBoard Future Talent Conference. In truth I’m becoming tired of ‘The Future of…(insert the things you’d like to see improved here)’. It feels too much like an excuse to me – if we could make ‘The Now of…(insert the things you’d like to see improved here)’ better, then to some extent, the future will take care of itself. Too much aspiration, not enough action. Here are a few notes and thoughts from one of the talks which I enjoyed, and which focused more on the present.

Kursty Groves. Founder – Headspace. Space Matters: How physical environment can enhance creativity & innovation in our digital world

Draw a meeting – in 30 seconds. What a great start to a talk – a chance to put pencil to paper. Here’s my response to that lovely invitation.

Draw a Meeting

We need innovation – yet we design for efficiency, and then we wonder why we don’t get innovation.

We often don’t understand the creative environment we are operating in so we borrow from others (Google, beanbags, etc) and wonder why that doesn’t work. You are you. Where you have your best ideas is not necessarily where others do.

What do we know? Nature matters – so does movement. Not a pot plant and a treadmill. Green exercise. As far as I’m concerned – an opportunity to get outside to clear your head think about work, or whatever, is usually worth taking.

When it comes to the workplace, and indeed many other things besides, we assume you have to use what you are given ‘as is’. What happens when we move stuff round? Clear desks out of the way, change the position of stuff. I know from my own experience the dynamic of a team can change purely by changing the layout of the room. If the space you are in affords you the flexibility – try it.

Some numbers – for those who like that kind of thing. Sourced from Reading University I believe. Productivity uplift of 17% when you can personalise a lean desk (hot desk, flexi desk – call it what you will) – this rises to 32% when people feel they can choose where to work and/or have an input in the design.

You can see Kursty’s slides here – which include a selection of ‘meeting drawings’ that previous audiences have come up with. What I really liked about listening to Kursty was that she offers ideas you can experiment with and adjust, now. Not tomorrow, now.

To move forward, people need to be inspired: they need buildings that enhance their creativity and push them to take the future into their own hands. Diebedo Francis Kere