Blog

The Art of Getting to Know Each Other Better

A case study about using creative practice to build trust, and explore new ways of working together.

Productive, successful teams recognise the importance of relationships, not just with clients and customers, but with each other too. Redevco is a retail real estate investment management company, and their London team recently hired me to explore a creative way of getting to know each other better.

When doing something differently, the environment we work in is really important. Encouragement beats competition, process beats outcome, and a willingness to give new things a try, is vital. At its heart, art is simply mark making, something we all do all of the time, whether through doodling in the margins during a meeting, or writing the weekly shopping list. To this extent, art can be demystified, and we can agree that we are all artists. The session begins by setting the scene, including a brief introduction to the tools and materials we will use, before starting work.

As time passes, the work grows, overlaps and reshapes. People ask questions, talk about their experiences of creating something new, and keep going. Eventually we arrive at a single co-created piece.

Working together

We shift to individual work – abstracting using new materials and tools, hardly a paint brush in sight. We keep focusing on the process and make. The session concludes with people sharing some good conversations, and good work.

Brushless abstracts

Afterwards, the folks at Redevco said:

‘Doug came to our office to run an experimental art session with the aim of trying something new, having fun and getting to know each other better.

We started the session working together to produce a monochrome piece. Although daunted by the large piece of blank paper and hesitant to begin with, we soon got stuck in and it didn’t take long before our independent drawings morphed into a collaborative piece (which we aim to proudly display in the office). It was a really great way to start off the session, it loosened us up and got us working as a team. We then experimented using mixed media to create individual pieces, this enabled us to get really creative and meant we could leave the session with a piece of our own.

Doug was really engaging and passionate throughout, which helped put everyone at ease. It was great to see the transformation in my colleagues from start to finish; although apprehensive about their artistic skills in the beginning, with Doug’s encouragement we all finished the session eager to paint more! It was the hot topic in the office the following day, with everyone discussing their work.

Would definitely recommend and book again, Doug fulfilled our brief and then some….’

My experience as an organisational development consultant and artist gives me a unique perspective on how we can use art and creativity to help us think and do things differently, as individuals, as teams, and beyond. I’d love to help you explore this too.

Destroy to Create : The original collaborative work, cut and mounted as 15 new pieces of art.

Lifted

What happens when you surround yourself with talented people working in an encouraging environment?

Something like this:

A few weeks ago I wrote a post titled Identity – an exercise in patience, about my work for a forthcoming exhibition. I continued the theme of identity as I worked, and as you can see, the art is now finished and it has been handed in to the curators.

I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of working alongside a group of talented people. Seeing other people produce really good work has motivated me to push myself and be more adventurous, and the fact that people in the group have been so encouraging has been really helpful.

My adventures with stencils and spray paint began a little over a year ago, when I made a few designs to celebrate Record Store Day.

Record Store Day 2018

These initial works are pretty naive, made using very simple cuts, and erratic spray work. Even so – I like them, they represent the beginning of what has become my vinyl junkie project, something I enjoy very much. Although I still consider myself a novice when it comes to stencil art, it’s good to be able to look back over a period of time and see how my practice is developing. Cataloguing and showing your work is a very important part of working practice for me.

I can’t wait to see all the work under one roof, it’ll be quite a show. I’ll share more information on that once arrangements are finalised. For now though, I simply want to acknowledge the power of working in a talented group where encouragement and cooperation is high, competition is not emphasised, and when requested, advice is freely offered.

In my consulting experience – organisations frequently express a desire to collaborate across teams and departments, yet the way things are structured – reward, appraisals, hierarchy etc – often mitigates against this. I realise this group of artists I’m currently with are only loosely connected, but I wonder what the world of learning and development can learn from us, and how we work with each other?

Working With Uncertainty In Our Organisations

Developing artistic practices to respond to business challenges

I recently spent time talking with Ross Dickie and James McLuckie from Good Practice, about working with uncertainty. The conversation will be released on their podcast soon. Even though uncertainty is all around us all the time, the very nature of it means we tend to shy away from working with it, often preferring to seek to exercise control instead (which bizarrely, often seems to lead to even more of the stuff).

One of the questions James raised in our conversation was how can we help people move past that reluctance? It’s a good question, and I was reminded of some work done by Stephanie Barnes and Age of Artists, who developed a framework to help make it easier to engage with uncertainty. I’ve drawn a version* of it here:

Stephanie wrote a really useful piece on how to engage with and explore this framework, and has kindly agreed to me reproducing her work here.

“The framework works from the outside in towards the middle, using artistic practices and attitudes to offer alternative responses to business challenges. In the model, the organisational situation appears on the left-hand side, while the artistic practices and attitudes are on the right. Possible transformational activities connect the two sides and allow the artistic activities to act upon the situations on the left side.

Circumstances such as dealing with a market, that are complex, changing quickly, uncertain, or volatile are all considered. The traditional response in these situations might be to try to simplify things, in the case of complexity; slow them down, in the case of acceleration; control them, when they are uncertain; or approach them with resistance in the case of volatility. However, by using artistic practices and attitudes in a transformational approach, we can move our organisations to a place which can provide a more balanced, engaged result. We can have diversity instead of simplicity; a sense of purpose instead of deceleration; autonomy in the place of control; and elasticity rather than numerous rules and exceptions, in the case of volatility. 

In adapting a creative mindset, and applying artistic practices to an organisational situation, we start by identifying the business problem we are trying to solve, then decide which practice we want to start with: perceiving, reflecting, creating, or performing. We can start with any of the activities and move through the others as part of the process of arriving at the response/resolution of the problem.

In arriving at a resolution, it often helps if we adopt artistic attitudes, like curiosity (asking why five times, or challenging assumptions), being passionate about what we are working on, being confident there is a solution, and being resilient enough to bounce back when we experience failures or set-backs. The persistence which develops through these activities is often key to finding a solution.

Artists across all genres display a particular artistic attitude, that is increasingly and highly relevant in other disciplines as well. This attitude often consists of:

Curiosity. A general readiness to perceive, receive and to learn.
Position. Holding a personal belief that is articulated with integrity.
Passion. Pursuing what matters with initiative, determination, courage and persistence.
Resilience. Appreciating uncertainty, flexible towards change, robust in conflict and crisis.
Transcendence. Ability to surpass limitations of ego and self-interest in order to create something new.

Curiosity, position, passion, resilience, and transcendence often characterise artists – and these things are clearly not exclusive to them. Everyone can develop several or all of these features since they will emerge through the ongoing artistic practices in which a person engages over time.

Artistic Practice is a non-linear, iterative process that consists of recurring creative patterns that can be observed across most or all art genres and that are applicable to other disciplines. This process includes:

Perceiving. Observing, Listening, Communicating, Exploring, Collecting, Sensing.
Reflecting. Abstracting, Deconstructing, Reframing, Ideating, Challenging, Contemplating, Reasoning.
Playing. Experimenting, Composing, Improvising, Bricolage, Cooperating, Designing, Rehearsing, Doubting, Critique, Orchestrating.
Performing. Creating awareness, Stimulating emotions, Evoking meaning, Inspiring.

Going through this process will enable people to eventually build and extend generic skills in addition to their core expertise.

Acquiring perception skills.
Gaining mindfulness and understanding.
Learning problem solving, design and collaborative creation.
Understanding how to create awareness, stimulate emotion, and evoke meaning.

Artistic attitude and artistic process amplify each other. An artistic attitude enables experiencing the artistic process more profoundly and as a result leads to higher competence levels. Going through the artistic process can change your attitude.”

There are other artistic ways to embrace uncertainty too, including the excellent draw for the bin method, and for those who like a little more structure, at least at the start of the exploration, I think that what Stephanie and Age of Artists have come up with, is very useful.


*Since I drew the sketch, a new version of the framework has emerged, helping to demonstrate the changeable nature of work. In addition, Age of Artists have published a book, Creative Company (currently available in German – English translation expected later in 2019), which describes some of their research in greater detail.