How To Fit Four Years of Experience Into One Minute

Dealing with self-inflicted complexity


I recently had the pleasure of being included in a team of people pitching for the 2023 London Borough of Culture award. Sutton, the borough I’ve lived in for most of my life, has been shortlisted for the award, and the council chose to involve two members of the community in the pitch. I am fortunate to be one of them.

Our instructions were simple. Deliver a ten-minute presentation to a panel of experts, then engage in a detailed question and answer session. At a previous planning meeting, we agreed I would take up to 60 seconds to illustrate the excellent grass roots arts and cultural scene in our borough. To support my words, I asked for a visual backdrop, a montage showing people in our community engaging with the arts and cultural scene, and then I got to work.


As a community artist and executive committee member of Arts Network Sutton – I am in a fortunate position to have good visibility of much of the excellent arts and cultural work being carried out across our borough, but as I soon realised – this was as much a curse as a blessing. I started doodling and making notes, and it quickly became clear I could easily take up the whole session enthusing about the many good things happening locally. I got a bit stressed by the challenge I faced, ‘How can I do justice to all this good stuff in just 60 seconds?’


I’ve recently reacquainted myself with my Stop Doing Dumb Things cards – a device I created back in 2013 to help people like me and you when we get stuck in our work. I shuffled the deck and pulled a couple of cards. One of them read:

‘How much of your complexity is self-inflicted? Simplify Relentlessly.’ 


That first phrase took me back several years to an unconference I facilitated at Target Field, Minnesota. I was working with Thomson Reuters global project management team at the time, and we got together to explore that particular community’s wants and needs, and to make cocreated plans for the future. Two people gave short presentations at the start of the event.

Dave St Peter – President of the Minnesota Twins, talked about the importance of family, both in relation to the team’s fans, and a sense of togetherness among the non-playing and playing staff in the Twins organisation. This was a useful spark for some of the community conversations we subsequently had.

Rick King, a senior executive at Thomson Reuters also spoke, and it was he who uttered that phrase, ‘How much of your complexity is self-inflicted’, during his talk. Bearing in mind Rick was addressing around 200 project managers, this particular line was a ‘pin drop’ moment at the time, and to this day I’ve never forgotten his words. Thank you Rick.


Fast forward to 2020 and I got back to work on the pitch – writing, cutting, focusing, repeat. I chose to speak about my experience of Arts Network Sutton, as discovering them back in 2016 was a pivotal moment in my artistic adventures. My job was to set the scene of a local grass roots arts scene, doing good things, and keen to do much more with the support of the award. My family were invaluable in making time for me to rehearse in front of an audience, and after a great deal of hard work – I simplified my message while keeping it effective, and timely. I used 58 of my allocated 60 seconds, so the rest of the team got 2 bonus seconds returned to them!   


On the day we were given space and time to rehearse and talk things through. That was useful – and we quickly got to a place of readiness, without going over the top. With our presentation delivered, we got stuck into an intense question and answer session and worked well as a team, fielding questions, supporting and contributing where relevant. Our previous work together gave us the ability to respond dynamically, knowing where specific strengths lay in the team. The adjudication panel were friendly and tough – but in a way that conveyed genuine interest and a desire to hear how we could be, at our very best.

Be Thankful

I felt exhausted once our work was done – and we slowly drifted our separate ways, happy that we’d worked well together. Life carries on, until we meet again at City Hall on Tuesday 11th February to find out more. I am grateful to be included in this project, and to have had the opportunity to simplify relentlessly.

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

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