Creative Leadership – Essential Reading #3

Reminder: This is a short series of book reviews. The four books in this review series are all about creativity, love, art and leadership (at least that’s what they inspire in me). Separately – each one is a super read. Together – they make up the motherlode. If you are looking for insight and inspiration, I strongly recommend you acquire, and read all four. I’m reviewing the four books in the order they came to me.

Creative Leadership - Essential Reading

First up was 101 Things to Learn in Art School by Kit White – a gift to me from the lovely Carole.

Next came The Year Without Pants – a recommendation to me from the lovely Heather.

Today it’s the turn of Steal Like An Artist – by Austin Kleon.

I met Austin Kleon by chance in an airport bar. We just happened to sit next to one another, two souls travelling in opposite directions, briefly united by bar stools, salty snacks and beer. We talked of our love of all things art, and when the time came to part, he kindly gave me a copy of his wonderful book.

Sadly, I made that up, but it sounds so much nicer than: I’d heard about this book by this guy and so I bought it on Amazon, don’t you think?

Steal Like An Artist is a fabulously doodled, scribbled and sketched list of tips, hints, thoughts and ideas about the world of creativity. It’s a short, accessible book, as easily read from start to finish as it is dipped into at any point, as and when the mood takes you. Rather than walk you through the book, I’m just going to begin at the end, and share two pages titled ‘What Now?’

What Now?

  • Take a walk
  • Start your swipe file
  • Go to the library
  • Buy a notebook and use it
  • Get yourself a calendar
  • Start your logbook
  • Give a copy of this book away
  • Start a blog
  • Take a nap

So – all you need to do now is get hold of a copy of the book and read what goes before this list, then get stuck in. And today, you are in luck. In the previous reviews I mentioned I’ve given away copies of 101 Things and The Year Without Pants. Well I’ve done the same with this book too, and I’m doing it again.


I have three copies to give away in a summer goodie bag. To win the book, and a load of other fun, useful goodies, simply leave a comment on the blog. Everyone who comments goes into the hat, the draw is next week. Good luck.

Want Something? Ask For It

When I watched and listened to Brene Brown updating us on her work and research into vulnerability last year, she said something in her closing remarks that stuck with me:

I ask for what I need. This feels inherently vulnerable, and do it.’

I know where she is coming from. Maybe it’s a typically reserved Brit thing – but I’m often rubbish at asking for something – simply and clearly. Are you?

I frequently see people frustrated at work by an unwillingness to ask for what they need. Complaining about shortages of resources, unhappy that Doug won’t do as he’s damn well told, stuff like that. And often – when you push back, it transpires that the complaint is voiced before any direct request to fix the shortage, and the unhappiness has manifested itself before Doug’s been asked for whatever it is he won’t do.

When I see these frustrations being played, out, I will say, ‘have you asked Doug?’ And usually the reply (accompanied by some beautiful staring at your shoes action) comes, ‘weeeeellll, no – not exactly.’ We’ve all been there, it’s often easier to blame someone and/or something than it is to take action.

This notion of asking for what we need stuck with me so firmly, I included it in Stop Doing Dumb Things.

Want Something? Ask for it

It’s a card that really challenges me – and often they are the ones I like the best.

I’m in Manchester this morning enjoying the fine weather and getting ready to travel home after running an Art for Work’s Sake workshop yesterday afternoon, and enjoying some lovely company at an HR tweet up last night.

Previously when I’ve run open courses, I’ve put together the offer, stuck it on Eventbrite and waved it about on social media. A few people always generously share the news – and often, not much more happens. It was Meg Peppin who suggested that this time – I approach things much more specifically. So this time, in addition to what I usually do, I contacted people who have been to previous workshops and people I thought might be interested. I didn’t mass mail folks, I wrote little personal notes, lots of them. In the notes I asked if people wanted to come along and would they please help spread the word. The response was significant, generous and lovely. People shared the news widely and encouragingly, and many wrote back to me with all kinds of support. Thank you to everyone who came and took part yesterday, and to the many people whose support helped to make yesterday a lot of useful fun, thank you too.

On reflection – I clearly grafted a lot harder to make this session work than I’ve done previously, that’s important learning too. And having a clear message, with a clear request makes a huge difference.

So the next time you hear colleagues moaning that Doug hasn’t done whatever it is he’s supposed to have done, test them out with ‘Want Something? Ask for it.’ And if I can be of use to you – well you know what to do…

Happy Friday – have a great weekend.

Cutouts – Pastures New and Harvest Home

I visited the Matisse Cutouts with a friend again recently, I think I’ve been to see the exhibition seven times so far. I love the scale of the later works, and the simplicity and adaptability of the whole cutout approach fascinates me. When I think about how some of my work projects evolve – I wonder how you could apply some cutout principles to them? Keep it simple, the option to position and reposition stuff as the ideas form, building and developing, iterating and improvising.

My friend is in the process of changing jobs, and as we walked around the exhibition and talked of work and the art we were seeing, part of our conversation was about knowing when to start something new, and knowing when something is finished.

I often carry a small supply of card and markers around with me, and once we’d seen the exhibition and gone our separate ways, these ideas of starting and finishing continued to bounce around in my head. Over the coming days, in snatched moments between meetings, two small pictures began to form – first in my head, and then on paper.

Pastures New
Pastures New
Harvest Home
Harvest Home

These two cutouts are an attempt to represent the cycle of beginnings and endings. I have mixed feelings about working with cutouts. It takes me a long time to make something that looks incredibly simple and basic. This is quite a childish method I suppose, and acknowledging that somehow makes pressing the publish button on these recent cutout pieces, feel awkward. Picasso said it took him ‘four years to learn to paint like Raphael – and forever to learn to paint like a child’, and whilst I’m not even aiming at Raphael like standards, maybe I just need to get over myself and be more comfortable with this kind of work.