Practicing : Part One

Is the work ever done?

A friend of mine got in touch last week to let me know they love my Twitter bio. Currently it reads…

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

I thanked my friend, and noted it’s taken me ten years to write those two short sentences (good work reveals itself slowly). I can’t remember exactly what previous iterations of my Twitter bio look like, and I do know there have been several. Things change.

For a few years I wrote my bio as a credo, ‘a statement of beliefs which guide someone’s actions’. I forget the exact details of it now, but it included things like: productive beats busy, we are all artists, and something about conversations… Trust me it made more sense at the time, and when it came to the attention of a certain researcher whose work I admire, I readily admit I was pleased.

I became very attached to the credo, sticking with it for a long time, changing very little, if anything about it. Yet all the time, my work shifted and moved, because I kept practicing.

Part of the challenge that comes with labels, is knowing when to use them and when to change them. In the last couple of years I’d become stuck in lots of ways, before coming to a decision to be more intentional about letting my consulting and artistic practices overlap and inform one another. In truth that’s been happening for a while, but I’d felt reluctant to to acknowledge this publicly. Last year, Richard Martin suggested I bring my art and my consulting web sites together, which I did. Combining these two things felt odd for a while, as I suppose does anything new, yet I resisted the temptation to unwind and separate things again, and now, it just feels right. For the time being, my Twitter bio is spot on.

Meg, thank you for your note last week. I am pleased you noticed, and I wonder how long it’ll be before another change…Is the work ever done?

Part Two of ‘Practicing’ will be about how a small experiment in January 2018 is growing into one of my most important bodies of work.

A Review of ‘The Power of Vulnerability’ by Brene Brown


Brene Brown – The Power of Vulnerability – 2013

Happy Friday? Sad Friday? Fearful Friday? Blame Friday? Creative Friday? Loving Friday? Hateful Friday? Empathic Friday? Vulnerable Friday? Me Too Friday?

Friday represents the end of the working week for many people, and often there’s a lift in the mood as we think ‘yay – here comes the weekend’ or similar. And just as often, Friday, or any other day in the week for that matter, represents all kinds of other challenges and questions too, questions to which we often don’t have answers for. Today’s post is much more about questions and much less about answers.

I wasn’t in the room for this latest RSA talk – but the live stream worked just fine and so I got to listen to one of my favourite speakers update us on her thinking and research into vulnerability. Here’s some of what I heard.


Brene Brown (BB from now on) started by asking us to ask ourselves two questions:

1               What should I be afraid of today?

2               Who is to blame?

Or put another way, what should scare me and whose fault is it? BB suggests these are dangerous questions that we often centre our lives around – and they come from a culture of not enough, of scarcity. When you open a newspaper – typically the news will say, ‘here is why you should be afraid and here’s whose fault it is’. These questions often become the focus of conversation at work, ‘Who hasn’t worked in an office where this is asked?’ No one’s hand goes up.

At the heart of this problem is that we believe there’s never enough. Never perfect enough, never relevant enough, never good enough, never loved enough, never extraordinary enough. An ordinary life has become synonymous with meaningless.

Armour Up

BB then asks, ‘So how do we deal with this? We respond by putting on armour – we go out and kick some ass and stay safe, not showing our true selves.’ She suggests we get lost in perfectionism, intellectualising. For example, BB’s TEDx talk – The Power of Vulnerability, was going to be called something like, ‘Variables Mitigating Self Actualising…’ blah blah, blah, she lost me before the end of the previous, awfully dull, intellectualised title, which I thought was a great way to make the point. We armour up to protect ourselves from being hurt.

And the worst news from BB’s research – our capacity for wholeheartedness can never be greater than our willingness to be broken hearted.

Crushing Creativity

Vulnerability is the path to love, to belonging, to innovation, trust and creativity. 85% of interviewees for BB’s research (13,000 people interviewed in total) can recall a time in school that was so shaming it forever changed how they thought of themselves as learners – 50% of those recollections related to art and creativity.

Empathy is the Casualty

Empathy is greatest casualty of vulnerability. BB asked the audience, ‘When you share vulnerability and the other person gets it, how do you feel?’ People replied with words like ‘Awesome’ ‘Reassured’. Opposite feelings surfaced when the other person doesn’t get it, and that drives scarcity.

Empathy fuels connection sympathy drives disconnection

What is empathy? Empathy – is perspective, is staying out of judgment, is recognising emotion in others and communicating that, feeling with people.


A lack of empathy drives blame.

Blame – Brene drops a cup on a tile floor, smashes into a million pieces and sends coffee everywhere. She immediately thinks, ‘Damn you Steve!’ Steve is Brene’s husband and last night, he got home late, which in turn made me oversleep, late, rushed, dropped the cup.

Blame gives us a semblance of control, but blame is simply discharging discomfort and pain (anger), and has an inverse relationship with accountability.

Blame = we don’t listen because prepping our blame story.

Back to Empathy

Empathy is being present with someone. Rarely does an empathic response begin with the words ‘at least’ – that’s just silver lining it.

I had a miscarriage. At least you can get pregnant.
My marriage is falling apart. At least you have a marriage

You don’t have to have the answer, very often something like ‘I don’t even know what to say right now except that I’m so glad you told me’, is just what we need to hear.

We worry about saying the right thing and being helpful – sometimes a hand on a hand is just what you need…followed by two simple powerful words. Me too.

BB sits down to enthusiastic applause.


These last few lines are snippets of the Q&A that followed. I’m a fan of RSA talks, but I think they could be improved by encouraging the Chair to get the conversation going between audience and speaker more quickly. Too often – the Chair goes on a bit and the audience stuff gets compressed in the end. So – this next bit is very sketchy, sorry but I was losing concentration and I can’t really recall what the questions were that drove these comments – blush – but I felt they were worth including.

Shame – perceived as weakness.

Shame and guilt are different things. Shame – I am bad. Guilt – I did something bad.

Social media is like fire, use it to warm yourself when freezing, use it to burn down the barn. Live tweeting your bikini wax is not vulnerability. Social media is great for communicating. Connection happens between people in person, don’t mistake communication for connection.

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

I really enjoyed listening to Brene Brown speak. Not only is her subject one that fascinates me, but she is funny, she engaged the audience really well, and shared lots of new stuff too, resisting the temptation to replay earlier success. I’ve not tried to draw any conclusions from what I heard – I just wanted to play it back so you can enjoy investing a bit of time thinking about vulnerability. If you are interested – you can see the unedited video (just over 1 hour in total) of the talk here.

photo credit 

Vulnerability – A Hot Ticket

Brene Brown - Vulnerability

Vulnerability – this exciting, scary, beautiful and yet somehow oddly misshapen word has been featuring in my mind and work a lot lately. When we think of doing something that makes us feel vulnerable, we typically associate vulnerability with weakness, and when we see someone sharing their vulnerability, we usually associate that with courage. When it comes to vulnerability and how we roll with it, we’re our own worst enemy.

I think vulnerability is an important part of doing authentic work, and as someone who likes to challenge the way people work, and to lead by example in encouraging people to do things differently, I’m familiar with the anxiety it brings. It’s an essential ingredient of creativity, just ask anyone who has stared at a beautiful, pristine sheet of gloriously white, flat, smooth 200 gsm paper with a pencil in hand just prior to bringing the two together, and they’ll give you a sense of what vulnerability feels like. And although it’s nerve racking, vulnerability can be exciting too.

Speaking of exciting – we have a rare opportunity to experience cutting edge thinking on vulnerability today. Dr Brene Brown, who was catapulted into the front line of vulnerability thinking after her 2010 TEDx talk on the subject went viral, is speaking on vulnerability at The RSA today at 1pm UK time. Understandably the auditorium is full, but the good people at The RSA are live streaming the talk. I know where I’ll be at 1pm today, how about you?

photo credit