Blog

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.

Art Is Community : Community Is Art

A creative collaboration

The last couple of weekends have been hectic, and good fun. As well as celebrating the third anniversary of the free art project, I’ve been helping to celebrate the launch of some excellent new music, produced by some good friends in the band ELTEL.

I first became aware of their album launch way back in the Autumn of 2018, when the band kindly approached me and asked if I’d make some art for the front and back cover of the album. I had previously sent one of the band members a card which I’d adapted to reflect the ELTEL black and white striped style, and we further adapted that design for the front cover.

While preparing to make the art, I spent time reading through lyrics, and listening to a couple of early track recordings. There are a few food references in the words, so for the back cover, I designed the piece on the right, titled ‘The Last Thing On The Table’. These two 12″ square canvases were handed over to the band in November 2018 and I’ve been sworn to secrecy about their existence, until now.

There were three album launch events over the past two weekends, and I made it to two of them, at The Lamb in Surbiton, and at The Brook in Wallington. As well as getting to hear all the new music live, I also saw a piece of my art blown up onto a 6 foot square banner. On both nights, I was also given the unexpected and unscripted pleasure of introducing the band and the excellent Dirty Carols who accompanied them.

The gig at The Brook was really special, a sold out intimate venue, packed with great music and lovely people. I felt really privileged to see my work on show, and to be able to introduce excellent musicians to an excellent audience. We gathered together for a photo afterwards, and the bands put their producer Andy Brook, and me, front and centre. What a lovely thing to do. Thank you for including me, and thanks also, for trusting me, what a powerful thing to do.

The new album contains ten wonderfully crafted, quirky, beautiful tunes. You can download and listen to it here. It’s excellent.

Art is community : Community is art <3

The Free Art Project : 3rd Anniversary

Be curious. Start something. Keep going.

The We Are All Artists free art project began on April 8th 2016, which by my reckoning, makes it three years old. I’d no idea what I was letting myself in for when I started, and I certainly didn’t look this far ahead when thinking about the possibilities.

Since the project started I’ve made and hidden art to reflect the weather, the local river, the community, seasonal events and more. Sometimes I make art to remember people no longer with us, sometimes the art has a musical theme, and sometimes I really struggle for inspiration – but I keep going.

The free art project has enabled me to run several community art workshops, and a pop up exhibition, bringing art to a wider audience. Art classes have developed, opportunities to live paint have revealed themselves. I’ve become a member of our local artists open studios, shown my work locally, and in Germany and France, and as my practice has developed, people have supported me by investing in my work.

Who knew that making and hiding art for others to find could be such a joyful pursuit, and lead to so many other interesting things?

Occasionally I play with an artistic theme called Passing Strangers – faces in profile intended to represent the briefest of relationships…we saw each other, if only for a moment. In a way – the free art project is a bit like that for me, as I’ve been introduced to many people through the art I hide. Sometimes I get caught hiding it, sometimes people drop me a kind note after they’ve found it. Sometimes I get a friendly wave from someone in town whose path has crossed with mine, as a finder, or someone who plays the game and has yet to find a piece.

This week’s free art drop is titled ‘Passing Strangers : Third Anniversary’. Each one of the three faces in profile represents a year of the project. As this is an anniversary piece, it is larger than usual. The canvas measures 30cm x 80cm, so hiding it may prove a little tricky…but I’ll find somewhere to stash it. Happy hunting and thanks for all your support and encouragement over the past three years.