Tag Archives: Leadership

Good Things

Being With Friends

I caught up with Robert Ordever recently, we enjoyed some art, some great conversation and good food together. One of the things I admire in Robert is his ability to spot, and focus on the positive, on what is going well. He doesn’t do this in a chintzy way, or in a way which is blind to other things which need attention, Robert’s approach is simple, and genuine. I appreciate him very much.

We shared stories of our recent adventures, and what Robert helped me realise, is that I’ve been involved with some great projects this year. I don’t like to shout about what I do yet Robert helped me realise I can reflect and share in a suitable way. I’m writing this as a way of reminding myself of some excellent work, thanking those people who support me, and reviewing what I’ve been up to this past year. In case you’re worried, this is not a prequel to a ‘Predictions for 2018’ post, I wouldn’t do that to you!

Customer and Employee Experience : Smith+Co & eNett

I spent a week in Melbourne Australia, delivering some workshops designed cocreatively to join some of the dots between the customer and employee experiences. I’ve long believed that the two are intertwined, and for the customer to feel good about their relationship with an organisation, those working there have to feel that too. This work was the culmination of a couple of months of designing and delivering, and it was great fun. The client was full of energy and pace – they had a great eye for design, and though they stretched us, they looked after us really well too. Our key objective was to help move the customer’s net promotor score in the right direction, and we exceeded their expectations which was lovely. Equally lovely was the chance to explore a city I’d not visited previously, and catch up with a few old friends. What an amazing start to the year. Thank you to Flora Marriott, Tim Wade, the folks at eNett, and to Carole and Keira for encouraging me to slightly extend my stay.

The Art of Resilience : Corenet

Neil Usher is a fellow artist and mischief maker. He approached me with a request, could I step in at a week’s notice and take the after lunch slot at the forthcoming Corenet conference in London? Neil’s a good friend so I accepted, put the phone down, then had a mild panic about how I might approach the subject of resilience, the theme around which the event was based. On the day I gave a very short talk which explored the main subject from three approaches:

  • Coping With Loss
  • Community and Creativity
  • The Beauty of Impermanence

I stepped so far out of the comfort zone bubble I thought I was going to suffocate at times, and of course, I didn’t. I survived, and on reflection – this piece of work now represents a pivotal moment for me. It was the first time I’d been seen in public with my art and was instrumental in helping me realise that I am, in fact, an artist with a fascination for organisational and people development, not the other way around. Thank you Neil, and the audience at Corenet.

The Art of Innovation : Sponsored by Herman Miller

Mark Catchlove and I have a long standing relationship – both as client/customer, and as friends. We also share a curiosity in exploring how we make work better, and it was this shared curiosity which enabled a series of Art of Innovation sponsored events to take place this year. I partnered with Stephanie Barnes and Phil Dodson for this work, which included:

  • Live painting in Euston
  • A creative workshop hosted by BDG in London on election night
  • A two-day deep dive workshop into creative practice in Berlin
  • A creative workshop hosted by Babbel in Berlin

This was a fascinating body of work, touching on diverse subjects including what it means to be creative at work, playfulness, mindfulness, creative practice, and more. The work informed my artistic and facilitation practice and was a great learning and doing experience. Thank you to Mark Catchlove, Andy Swann, Stephanie Barnes, Phil Dodson, Antje Hein, Hermann Hafele, and everyone who came along to help us explore.

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The Art of Innovation : HR Inner Circle

My friend Niki put me in touch with Daniel Barnett, a barrister who runs the HR Inner Circle. It was a very kind introduction which led to me talking to a conference full of HR people about art and creativity, and how we can use these things to make work, and life in general, better. The conference itself was very well facilitated by Daniel – people I spoke to felt welcomed and included. A good atmosphere was created and I was given the opportunity to build on and speak about the earlier work done at Corenet and with Herman Miller et al, and integrate my free art project into the mix. Thank you Niki, Daniel and everyone who came to the event.

Saint Gobain International Forum : Gameshift

I met Chris and Philippa from Gameshift toward the end of last year. Two lovely people having interesting adventures with successful, curious clients. Together with a couple of associates, Jess and Beatrice, I spent three hectic days working with Gameshift at a senior leadership event in Berlin. During that time, Jess, Beatrice and myself delivered all manner of artistic collaboration and output. Some of it was representational, some abstract. Some of our work was participative – taking and sharing ideas and artistic contributions with those around us. We embodied leadership as a dynamic force, letting it flow to where it needed, rather than rest with a named person. This was a hugely creative expression. Challenging, satisfying and exhausting. Thank you Chris, Philippa, Jess, Beatrice, Valerie and the team at Saint Gobain.

Carshalton Artists Open Studios (CAOS) : Neal and Helena Vaughan

I took part in my first artist open studios event this year. Our house was open to all for two weekends, and we filled some of it with my art, and the ongoing story of the free art project. This was a fascinating time, occupying space with my artistic work – greeting strangers and friends, showing people round or not as the case may be – I tried not to be pushy! I made a commemorative short run print series for the festival and learned so much about what it means to be an artist in my community. Thank you Neal and Helena for including me. Thank you to all my fellow artists and everyone who came to visit. Special thanks to Carole and Keira for being OK with our house open to all for two weekends.

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Creative Practice : Walt Disney Company

I first met Jose Franca on Twitter. We stay in touch – meeting up from time to time in galleries, and occasionally over a G&T. Jose called me over the summer asking for help. He was working with a team of people immersed in strategy and planning. The work they were doing was necessary, and quite cerebral. Could I help unleash some of the team’s latent creativity – get them out of their heads and into their hands? We spent a little tie talking, most of the time making. My observations included some wonderful silence as people worked, times of laughter, playfulness, relaxation, sharing what feels important, reflection, and more. This work really amplified a key learning point for me – creative thinking is often what I get asked to include in my work – and the real power lies in blending thinking and practice. Thank you Jose and the team at Disney.

Live Painting : Workplace Trends

Building on the success of the Saint Gobain event, I took easels, canvases, brushes and paints to London to live paint at Workplace Trends. Workplace Trends is organised by Maggie Procopi and Nigel Oseland, both of whom I’ve known for a while now. Their events are often a little different from your run of the mill conferences, and they’ve kindly supported some creative collaborations between myself and Neil Usher before now – how would this one work? I had an excellent day, listening to speakers and interpreting their work into artistic output. It was great fun, a real challenge (fear of the blank canvas), and the work stimulated some lovely conversation. I loved being a part of this, thank you Maggie, Nigel and everyone at the event.

Future Workplace : NATS

I’ve known Debbie Sanders for a few years, we don’t see each other much and we do stay in touch from time to time. A couple of months ago I received a call from Debbie which led me to some really interesting work with National Air Traffic Services. The organisation wants to think and plan ahead to what a future workplace looks and feels like, taking into consideration a wide range of needs. Function, form, purpose, aesthetics, behaviours, interactions, a real broad sweep. They want to do this inclusively and creatively, so we gather together, and explore a series of questions. We do this in a less than usual way, starting by setting the mood and tone together, then we make work designed to help us get to know each other better. We share food together, and we talk and make some more, a lot more. Together we create a huge body of work, full of ideas, art, doodles, sketches, maps, lists, icons, and more. We facilitate lightly, trust the process, trust each other, and get on with it. Shortly before this event I read Meg Peppin’s excellent post about OD and facilitation design, reflected on it and integrated some of her thinking into my work. Meg and I have worked together a few times, she is very thoughtful and considerate and I see her holding space for people to think, feel and act. Powerful stuff. Thank you Debbie, Jo, Darren, Sean, Meg, and everyone who got stuck in so enthusiastically.

Enjoyable Life Series. What’s Your Story 2017 : Yetunde Hofmann

At a meeting with Yetunde earlier this year – I shared some of my story around the free art project, and Yetunde kindly asked If I would be a part of an event she was running later in the year. For anyone how has yet to meet her, Yetunde has a kind enthusiastic way of encouraging folk to say yes (many more people have since shred this observation with me) and so it was that on Friday 8th December, I was one of the many people who took part in the first ‘What’s Your Story?’ I can honestly say I’ve never been to a conference like it. Several things stood out to me. The stories, and the tellers of those stories, had power, authenticity, and diversity the like of which I have not seen at any other event. I often find myself in discussion with conference organisers highlighting a lack of diversity and inclusion in their speaker line up. Not this time, this time it was a joy to be part of a genuinely diverse group. I enjoyed that hugely, and it served as a reminder that I need to keep raising this as an issue, until far fewer older white men like me are given air time at the expense of others. I live painted at this event too, though not much as the stories I heard were just so absorbing. Thank you Yetunde, all the story tellers and everyone in the room.

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We Are All Artists : Free art

I could go on for ever about the free art project. A simple idea about making and giving away art, started in April 2016, and persisted with ever since. I’ll cover this over at my artsensorium site in more detail. Suffice to say for now – this project is transformational. Thank you to everyone who voted for me at our recent community awards, and thank you to every single person who has searched for the free art – whether you are a finder or not, you help bring this adventure to life and I’m truly grateful.

In closing.

I’ve done other things besides the above this year, and these are the times where I’ve really felt things shift, excite, challenge, and fulfil. I realise I’ve already rabbited on for over 2,000 words, so if you’re still here, well done and thank you. Thanks again to Robert Ordever for the suggestion I write this. Thanks to Carole and Keira for your unending support and thank you to everyone who has commissioned me over the past 12 months. I have some exciting plans forming for 2018 and if having read this you think we could do good work together too – I’d love to hear from you. I’m always keen to explore ways we can cooperate and help people make work better, together.

Have an excellent break and an adventurous 2018. xx

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Taking Responsibility

A friend recently pointed me in the direction of a short TED talk by Barry Schwartz (8 minutes), titled “The way we think about work is broken.” Schwartz observes that we’re not used to challenging things which have become socially acceptable, and over time, the blandification which sets in as a result of this reluctance, makes more and more work soulless and demeaning.

Schwartz’s short talk strikes a painful and necessary chord for me. I spend a lot of time taking deep breaths before asking those awkward questions. In so doing, I offer a challenge to the so-called ‘socially acceptable’ stuff. I seek to do this with kindness, yet observing and inquiring about those “elephants in the room,” frequently brings forth dissonance.

I’m both privileged and cursed by my late Mum who brought me up this way, to take responsibility for what I see around me, and to ask why. The initial responses I get from people in these inquiries often include shock, disbelief, sometimes even anger. I understand and appreciate the nature of the responses I get because very often, the awkward question I’m asking, however simple it may seem, challenges my own beliefs too.

To disagree with the norm puts people at risk. At risk of social exclusion, maybe even the risk of losing your job. A good friend recently introduced me to a group of people with these words: ‘Doug is someone who has an ability to ask challenging questions, openly and honestly and in a way that acknowledges his own shortcomings too. It’s powerful, and it’s why some people can’t wait to work with him again and why others never want to see him again’.

People say they want honesty and openness, until they look me in the eye and see my own and their own inadequacies reflecting back at them. At that point, it becomes easier to blame someone or something – in preference to owning (at least a share of) the responsibility for change.

I’m working with a group of people who are gathering some data about their performance, from people the group provides a service to. Prior to starting the exercise, the group reports feeling undervalued. The initial signs from the data relating to responsiveness, quality of work and other things, is strongly positive. There seems to be a mismatch? People self-select into small groups during some brief time we have together and agree a plan to self-organise, meet and discuss the data, then reconvene and share observations, findings, and suggested actions for improvement.

We gathered again several weeks later for the review, and it quickly became clear no one had met to talk. No one at all. Reminders had been sent, offers of assistance had been made, and nothing seemed to have happened. I was keen to understand why, and no one had any answers, at least none they were willing to state to the group. Maybe I should have gently persisted, gone deeper, but I didn’t. Maybe the sense of feeling undervalued which the group expressed is part of their own way of not taking responsibility? We ended up having the discussion together when the original intention was to have a review of things already discussed, and progress from there.

These things happen sometimes, and in this case, there was frustration expressed by people, both in the room and afterward, at the lack of progress. By way of an example, someone fed back, anonymously, that the whole thing was a “pointless waste of time because no one contacted me to arrange the discussion.” It apparently hadn’t occurred to this person they could have chosen to be the catalyst.

Subsequently, I reviewed the situation and asked myself what I could have done differently. What pieces of the process could I have taken better care of, could I have taken clearer ownership for? I spotted a few things, and I also wondered, did I expect too much that this group might self-organise and make something happen? After all, they were used to working in a typical hierarchical way, which often involves waiting to be told what to do. I’m not sure, and what I did observe, was that all the feedback from the group was about apportioning blame, rather than taking responsibility.

Enthusiasm, encouragement, support – these are all helpful, lovely, necessary ingredients which go towards co-creating a good working experience. And they’re not enough. At times, we need to take a deep breath and ask the awkward, challenging questions, and acknowledge our own shortcomings and those of others too. Not with the intention of shaming anyone, but in pursuit of a better outcome next time. We also need to take responsibility too. The clearer we can be about this the better. Clearly defined ownership of specific actions beats vague high level sweeping statements from which we can all abdicate from. Without finding the courage to do that, my concern is that all the rest, all that other good stuff, is surely just a waste of time?

 

Where Do Good Ideas Come From?

Interesting Questions

There are a few questions which frequently circle my mind. The patterns, speed and shape of their orbit changes according to what I am working on, but they’re nearly always there, somewhere. Questions like, How much is enough? Why am I not kinder? Is she really going out with him? Where do I find clarity? Where do good ideas come from?

Come and Play

Together with some friends, I am exploring that good ideas question through an emerging project called The Art of Innovation. ‘What’s that then?’ I hear you ask. Very briefly, it is a project designed to explore the space where the arts meet business, in pursuit of changing lives for the better. If you are in London on June 8th – we’re running a workshop and a free to attend Art of Innovation session at a lovely venue overlooking the River Thames. You can find out more about that, and book a place here. OK, enough of that, where was I?

Blending

Something I have become much more aware of in recent years, is the idea that doing something different, sparks and prompts other thoughts, ideas, and actions. Take three things I enjoy doing, walking, my art, and my work. Previously, in that elusive search for clarity – I’ve tended to see these things as separate entities. Keep them separate, keep things clear… In December 2015, I began to integrate walking into my work more intentionally, in that I would make time for a regular stroll most days. The trigger was a Fitbit which I got for Christmas, and once I got over my tendency to be gamed by technology, I settled from a hectic ‘oh my god I must walk round the kitchen another 20 times before I go to bed to hit 10,000 steps’ mania into a more fluid, useful rhythm.

In time I began to realise that the walk influenced and affected my work, and vice versa. They blend, not always, but often. Sometimes the blend produces useful ideas immediately relevant to a work problem I am wrestling with, sometimes the ideas are daft/stupid/lousy/beautiful/adventurous, and any combination of all of the above. Sometimes there are no ideas. I dropped my guard, allowed the walk and the work to speak with each other, and as a result, got better at both (trust me, you should see the way I now put one foot in front of the other, it’s awesome).

Sparking

In April 2016 I began my free art adventure. I walked to the train station and on the way, I placed a piece of art I’d made, outside the local town hall. Attached to the note was an invitation to whoever found the art, to take it home if they wanted to. The project continues, at least once a week I make and leave art in my local community. The adventure is unfolding in so many ways that to write about it here, would a) wear my fingers to stumps and b) risk boring you to death. I will write more about the project, and for now, it’s useful for the purposes of this blog post, to know it exists.

In truth – the adventure started some time before that. What sparked it? Maybe it was the hand painted postcards I made for friends while on holiday, it may have been the first Leap Day I ran in 2012? Who knows – I guess an important thing to note is that good ideas sometimes start from a specific point, other times, they are a combination of almost invisible threads, gradually winding together into a rope which can be more clearly seen.

The free art project began with the intention of helping me learn to let go, to see more beauty in impermanence, and as a way of building some discipline into my previously sporadic artistic adventures. As I continued to work on the project, I let it infuse my consulting work, and vice versa. I’ve used art in my consulting work for years now, so this is not a new thing, but it is now much more intentional. Lowering barriers, seeing what I do as something more fluid, more dynamic, less separated. A recent example of this blending in practice can be seen here, as I used art to relieve some stress, and to help me prepare for a conference presentation. The project has recently won a community award and attracted a small amount of grant funding. It has become a simple and effective way of changing lives for the better.

The more that what I do becomes a series of overlapping, meandering, ebbing and flowing plates, the more interesting things emerge. As I conclude this post, I’m preparing for conference talks, workshops, artist open studios, and an exciting 3 day artistic experiment involving 200 senior managers keen to explore how to apply creativity and innovation in their work. At the heart of this work is a simple yet powerful raison d’etre. The primary reason myself and my associates do this stuff, is to change lives for the better. More to follow, soon.

Footnote

Sorry, I almost forgot. Where Do Good Ideas Come From? They come from you. And they come from this fantastic book by Scott Berkun.