An Open Heart And A Curious Mind

Last week I had the absolute privilege to be back among friends in Ohio for the 42nd annual State HR Conference. I really felt I needed to be there. Why? Apart from the powerful draw of being with friends and the drive to continue to fulfil my conversation with Dad, I felt I owed Ohio. Two years ago I was hugely fortunate to be at the conference for my first time and I had a terrible journey over. Long story short, my flight plans fell apart and I arrived just before I was due to talk having not slept for over 34 hours. People were very kind to me and I got a lot of support but when you look and feel like this:

Doug Red Eye
Red Eye Doug

It’s hard to give your best, and my best is what I expect of myself.

So – 2014 rolls around and I get another shot. This time I facilitated a workshop and talk on Art for Work’s Sake, and gave two talks with some opportunities for interaction, on collaboration. I approached each session with my usual mix of nerves and excitement, and something else besides. I couldn’t put my finger on it in the moment, and whatever it was, it took us on a more adventurous path than I had anticipated. Conversations flowed, experiments were carried out, people talked and people laughed. I’m a big fan of making a conference session as adaptable, as flowing as possible but even so, the nature of this work seemed to push on that edge more than usual.

I’m my own worst critic but a lot of people spoke with me after the sessions and said they were enjoyable because I’d helped them think a little differently. As each year passes, I become more convinced that most good things in life and work are the result of little, incremental differences – so I appreciate feedback like this. I also had a chat with my friend Erin and when I acknowledged that I beat up on myself, she asked ‘Do you care what other people think about you?’ I thought and answered, ‘Yes, I guess so’. Erin replied, ‘What other people think of you is none of your damned business! You do the best you can, and if that makes a difference, even to just one person, that should be enough.’ That observation rattled around in my head as I returned back to the UK.

On my return home, I wrote an edition of my occasional newsletter. In it I observed the importance of people looking up and offering to be of use to one another – little incremental differences. When I write these newsletters, I often get a couple of replies. This time I got a few more than usual, and with the permission of the writers, I’d like to share a couple.

Leah Sprenger wrote back to me:

Hello Doug!

I sat in both of your seminars at the Ohio HR Conference last week! It was wonderful to hear you talk and I love the idea of looking at things with a more creative mind…that is something I definitely wanted to bring back to Crown Battery (in Fremont, Ohio) so I decided to purchase the book of cards “Stop Doing Dumb Things” and have them on my desk. When an employee (we have about 500) comes in & asks about them – I ask them to draw a card, and what they do with it from there is up to them. 

I wanted to share with you one of the results. It’s something this employee sat in my office for about 5 minutes doing – It seems like a long time – but during that time we had good conversation and some laughs. It got him to be creative in his own way – trying to make a face with a limited amount of lines. I enjoyed the fact that he played along – and I actually think he enjoyed the change of pace. After he left my office – he stopped right back in because he forgot to do what he actually came in to do the first time! SUCCESS!

I just want to say THANK YOU for taking time out of your busy schedule to come to Ohio and share your knowledge!

What a lovely note to write. Thanks Leah – I love your approach and I’m grateful to you for sharing. I also heard from Jackie Lewis:

Good Morning Doug,

I must tell you that I am so very pleased to hear from you. I attended your classes and I don’t know if you remember, but I am the girl who you dubbed as being in “Tea Land” after you had us do our sketching session. I still chuckle about that when I think about it.

I want to tell you that my heart was touched deeply when you spoke of your father. I wanted to get up and go give you a hug, when you spoke about your dad’s passing. (I lost my dad unexpected last year as well)….so I understand your deep emotions and the ache it leaves inside. It was an honor that you shared that with all of us in the class, and many were so moved by your story.

As you went on with your presentation, I was really pulled in by your outlook on life, by your perspectives on things, and just your overall kind, caring, genuine and down to earth character.

I was so impressed by the way you used your God given talents of being an artist and a musician, and interwove those in to your teachings in the classes. Because of that, I learned so much from you. I was hoping to win one of your pieces of artwork, I liked the simplicity in the ones you showed us, and I thought that was such a great gift that you gave to those participating, by handing them one of your pieces. Just so unique and memorable.

I just want you to know I think you were a top notch speaker and I am so pleased I got to meet you and attend your classes. You made an impact in my life.

Thank you

Wow! Thank you Jackie. She and I have since exchanged further notes and Jackie’s feedback and  generosity is heartwarming. And here I am now, reflecting on these wonderful recent times, which also include some fantastic work here in London with a lovely, increasingly curious team of people, who are exploring ways to work better together. In that work, just as in Ohio, I’m becoming conscious of the need to balance a solid, well researched approach with that nebulous sense that doing the right thing for the right reason is….right. Coincidentally, Neil Morrison shared this lovely talk by Nicholas Christakis on Facebook yesterday, which compellingly blends the importance of data and social, ‘facts’ and feelings. Maybe this stuff has just always been there, hiding in plain sight?

So why am I sharing these thoughts and feedback with you? Well – I think it’s because after a bazillion years, it is finally dawning on me that the best I can do, for others and myself is offer an open heart and a curious mind. And perhaps I’ve been approaching my work like this for some time and just not felt comfortable to say so? I don’t know. This combination feels risky, and it often hurts, but when it is mixed with a ton of preparation, and it coincides with other open hearts and curious minds – it is rather wonderful.

I hope you will forgive the indulgence of including Leah and Jackie’s notes in this post, and I hope that you too will be the beneficiary of a little, incremental difference today. And if you are, I’ll wager it’s because you’ve already given something little, incremental and worthwhile.

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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