Developing and Sustaining A Culture of Creativity

This is the beginning of a curation of some recent talks, projects and workshops on developing and sustaining a culture of creativity in the workplace. This space will grow into a mixture of words, pictures, and practice, and the first thing I want to share is a series of annotated images, which I used to support short talks at Workplace Trends and Clerkenwell Design Week. There were four talks in all, each one slightly different, yet similar enough that I hope this one set of notes covers all the main points.

In summary the talks focused on:

  • Scene setting : some evidence about why creativity at work is important
  • Reluctance : some thoughts on why we don’t use creative practice more readily
  • Getting started : A few ideas on how to bring business and the arts together
  • Creative prompts : Simple steps to spark and sustain the creative process
  • Age of Artists : An introduction to the evolving Age of Artists framework
  • The Free Art Project : Be curious, start something, keep going
  • Reading list
  • Thoughts on managing a creative culture : Taken from the book Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace

Here’s a link to all the details. Sustaining a Culture of Creativity. I hope you find them useful and if you’ve any questions – feel free to leave a comment or drop me a line.

More to follow…

Clerkenwell Design Week Day One : Finding Henri

I’m currently at Clerkenwell Design Week (#CDW2018), working as the artist in residence for Ocee Design. The event is huge, with over 100 showrooms open to the public. The weather was excellent on day one, and this helped draw a really big crowd.

On arrival at the Ocee Design showroom there was a very welcoming, lively atmosphere, lots of people being really well looked after. It was a lovely mood to start the working day.

I set to work on the first of a series of signed and numbered free art drop prints which are being hidden around the festival. In total I dropped six yesterday, four in the morning and two more in the afternoon. Here are two of them shown in situ.

The time was passing quickly – a short talk I was delivering at 2pm was on my mind, and I had one or two technical glitches to iron out. With helpful people on hand, the set up was completed, and the talk went well. I’ll be repeating the session throughout the week and I’ll post the notes and slides next week.

The showroom continued to buzz – we have a doodle canvas on display for our visitors to add their names, sketches and thoughts to, and while people engaged with that, I felt I hadn’t really clicked into the artistic gear I was looking for. Earlier, while speaking, I had referenced Henri Matisse. In his later years, as his health deteriorated, Matisse displayed great adaptability in conceiving and delivering the idea of his now famous cut outs. During the talk I used him as an example of willingness to change, and I subsequently discovered one of his prints in the showroom. It struck me that I too needed to change my approach.

A sign was made, inviting people to make art with me, and while I waited for people to engage, I began to make. People showed an interest, conversations started, then I found myself making art to order. Things were moving along nicely, and then – it happened. A kind person responded positively to the art invitation, and there we were, talking and making together.

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The day ended with some excellent conversations about what had been made during the afternoon, and some shared ideas about what we can do on day two and day three. I’m heading back into London in a few minutes, ready for another day of using art to inquire and engage – a tool for expression and exploration. Yesterday I spoke about Henri, and then, when I needed inspiration, I found him. I wonder what will inspire us today?

The people at Ocee Design are a real pleasure to work with. They were busy all day and did a great job of keeping the energy going. The enthusiasm and warmth they have shown me and all their guests is appreciated, and I’m confident it points to things getting even better as the festival continues.

Bumps In The Road

Something about my creative practice which often fascinates, and sometimes confounds and frustrates me, is the unpredictable nature of the output. I often start to make without any idea of what it is I am seeking, other than to make something. Even when I do have an idea or two – the process often deviates me from the vision in my head.

Increasingly, the art you see is a result of layering, and overpainting. The art work I submitted to the RA Summer Exhibition underwent some serious changes along the way. You can no longer see the earlier layers of paint – but they are there, bumps in the road informing the final piece in their own way. Here’s an example of a recent before and after piece.

You can make out hints of the earlier design, and if you take a closer look you can see how previous paint effects are visible in the final piece.

This process is part of what makes creative practice so exciting, the uncertainty, the being open to the possibilities.

In my organisational development work, something I often see and which I am cautious of, is a desire for certainty. If we ask question x, then we expect answer y. If we make decision a then we expect outcome b. We seek to exercise control over a situation in order to minimise risk, but in allowing (or is it coercing?) ourselves to do so, we often increase risk, as we blind ourselves to a wider set of possibilities. in the book Creativity Inc., Ed Catmull writes:

There is nothing quite as effective, when it comes to shutting down alternative viewpoints, as being convinced you are right.

I know that keeping this curious mindset open and functioning is hard. At some point we need to start refining what we are learning and take some action, without falling into the trap of making haste in the formative stages.

Later this week I’ll be taking part in the Workplace Trends Spring Summit. I’ll be making art during the day in response to what I hear and feel at the event, before bringing things to a close with a session on creativity at work. Among other things, I’ll be referencing the Age of Artists framework, which is a suggestion developed by the Age of Artists research institute in Germany, of how we can approach our organisational development work from an artistic perspective. The framework has flexibility – the design shifts and reshapes at times, here is a version of the framework which I drew and painted for the event.

Once the conference is over, I’ll come back to this idea of layering, overpainting, being more accepting of the bumps in the road. For now though, here are two further thoughts from Mr Catmull:

Do not fall for the illusion that by preventing errors, you won’t have errors to fix. The truth is, the cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them.

Change and uncertainty are part of life. Our job is not to resist them but to build the capability to recover when unexpected events occur. If you don’t always try to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead.