Where Do Good Ideas Come From?

Interesting Questions

There are a few questions which frequently circle my mind. The patterns, speed and shape of their orbit changes according to what I am working on, but they’re nearly always there, somewhere. Questions like, How much is enough? Why am I not kinder? Is she really going out with him? Where do I find clarity? Where do good ideas come from?

Come and Play

Together with some friends, I am exploring that good ideas question through an emerging project called The Art of Innovation. ‘What’s that then?’ I hear you ask. Very briefly, it is a project designed to explore the space where the arts meet business, in pursuit of changing lives for the better. If you are in London on June 8th – we’re running a workshop and a free to attend Art of Innovation session at a lovely venue overlooking the River Thames. You can find out more about that, and book a place here. OK, enough of that, where was I?


Something I have become much more aware of in recent years, is the idea that doing something different, sparks and prompts other thoughts, ideas, and actions. Take three things I enjoy doing, walking, my art, and my work. Previously, in that elusive search for clarity – I’ve tended to see these things as separate entities. Keep them separate, keep things clear… In December 2015, I began to integrate walking into my work more intentionally, in that I would make time for a regular stroll most days. The trigger was a Fitbit which I got for Christmas, and once I got over my tendency to be gamed by technology, I settled from a hectic ‘oh my god I must walk round the kitchen another 20 times before I go to bed to hit 10,000 steps’ mania into a more fluid, useful rhythm.

In time I began to realise that the walk influenced and affected my work, and vice versa. They blend, not always, but often. Sometimes the blend produces useful ideas immediately relevant to a work problem I am wrestling with, sometimes the ideas are daft/stupid/lousy/beautiful/adventurous, and any combination of all of the above. Sometimes there are no ideas. I dropped my guard, allowed the walk and the work to speak with each other, and as a result, got better at both (trust me, you should see the way I now put one foot in front of the other, it’s awesome).


In April 2016 I began my free art adventure. I walked to the train station and on the way, I placed a piece of art I’d made, outside the local town hall. Attached to the note was an invitation to whoever found the art, to take it home if they wanted to. The project continues, at least once a week I make and leave art in my local community. The adventure is unfolding in so many ways that to write about it here, would a) wear my fingers to stumps and b) risk boring you to death. I will write more about the project, and for now, it’s useful for the purposes of this blog post, to know it exists.

In truth – the adventure started some time before that. What sparked it? Maybe it was the hand painted postcards I made for friends while on holiday, it may have been the first Leap Day I ran in 2012? Who knows – I guess an important thing to note is that good ideas sometimes start from a specific point, other times, they are a combination of almost invisible threads, gradually winding together into a rope which can be more clearly seen.

The free art project began with the intention of helping me learn to let go, to see more beauty in impermanence, and as a way of building some discipline into my previously sporadic artistic adventures. As I continued to work on the project, I let it infuse my consulting work, and vice versa. I’ve used art in my consulting work for years now, so this is not a new thing, but it is now much more intentional. Lowering barriers, seeing what I do as something more fluid, more dynamic, less separated. A recent example of this blending in practice can be seen here, as I used art to relieve some stress, and to help me prepare for a conference presentation. The project has recently won a community award and attracted a small amount of grant funding. It has become a simple and effective way of changing lives for the better.

The more that what I do becomes a series of overlapping, meandering, ebbing and flowing plates, the more interesting things emerge. As I conclude this post, I’m preparing for conference talks, workshops, artist open studios, and an exciting 3 day artistic experiment involving 200 senior managers keen to explore how to apply creativity and innovation in their work. At the heart of this work is a simple yet powerful raison d’etre. The primary reason myself and my associates do this stuff, is to change lives for the better. More to follow, soon.


Sorry, I almost forgot. Where Do Good Ideas Come From? They come from you. And they come from this fantastic book by Scott Berkun.



Making 2017 Better Than 2016. Part 1 : Coming Back From Nowhere.

In very brief summary, 2016 was a poor year.

A look back shows me I didn’t plan sufficiently and didn’t take enough action. I also took my eye off some important things, and spent too much time worrying about things which had passed and/or I had very little/no control over. The lack of control thing will always exist so I need to be and will be more comfortable with that. The rest, I can and will do better at.

I am making changes to my approach, starting with working through ‘How to Have Your Best Year, Every Year’ a workbook by Ann Hawkins. This workbook asks ten questions, the first of which is this:

‘What was your biggest accomplishment last year?’

My work comes from several sources. I’m going to start by acknowledging those sources and grouping accomplishments accordingly. I will then choose what I consider to be the biggest accomplishment of the year from each source.

Direct Sourced Work. Work which I source/attract through my network, and which I am primarily responsible for designing and facilitating, sometimes as part of a bigger event/program.

  • Art for Work’s Sake making it to the finals in the 2016 Learning Awards.
  • Leap Day 2016.
  • My improvised ‘Art of Better Learning’ ignite talk at the CIPD L&D show.
  • Opening the All About People conference in Bournemouth with The Art and Soul of Better Work.
  • Curating the graffiti wall at the Social Age Safari in Bristol.
  • Presenting and facilitating a master’s session at Ohio SHRM.
  • Opening Elmbridge Borough Council Manager’s conference with an art based learning workshop.
  • Facilitating a Leap Day for NHS North West.

Biggest accomplishment : Opening the All About People conference in Bournemouth with The Art and Soul of Better Work.

Why? Having resharpened and adapted my ‘live’ skills earlier on the year at the CIPD L&D show (recovering from misadventure) and at the Social Age Safari (my first time in an artist/curator role), I was given complete creative freedom for this session by Andy Swann, the event organiser. I’ve known Andy for a while, we had the privilege of doing a short European speaking tour together in 2015. There is a high level of trust in our relationship. Andy gave me the space, and the confidence to go all in on this session. This may sound cheesy, but I was at my best, most honest, wholehearted, imperfect self for this adventurous presentation, which combined a 20 minute talk at the start of the event, with a huge piece of cocreated art, made by our guests during the day.

It was an amazing event to be a part of, and led directly to me being invited to do something similar with Elmbridge Borough Council later in the year. This connection shows me that people see something in what I do that resonates with them. I believe I give generously of myself, and that what goes around, comes around. This event and the present and subsequent joy it brought to others and to me, matters. I need to make more people aware of this, and build on it.

Partnering Work. Work which we source/attract through our network, and which I have a role in designing and facilitating, sometimes as part of a bigger event/program.

  • Fringe events at PPMA annual conference with Meg Peppin.
  • Fringe events at CIPD annual conference with Meg, fourth year running.
  • Preliminary design of the Confer product.

Biggest accomplishment : Our fourth year of fringe events at the CIPD annual conference.

Why? Over the past three years, Meg and I have developed an excellent working relationship with Stephen Pobjoy and his team at the CIPD. This coalesced into a highly confident series of fringe events in 2016, which still retained their slightly edgy, experimental feel of previous years. Meg and I worked really well together, and we made great use of the trust the CIPD place in us. This enabled the delivery of some enjoyable, useful work with a creative and gently challenging edge. It’s well worth noting and acknowledging that the work we did at the PPMA conference arose from a positive experience at the 2015 CIPD fringe – so once again, good things are connected. I need to make more people aware of this, and build on it.

Associate work. Work which I do for and on behalf of other legal entities.

  • Becoming a partner at EthosVO and finding a useful and enjoyable role as a member of the People Group, a bit like an HR department, but so much better!
  • Signing an associate agreement with Smith+Co, and supporting a customer experience project with and for a key client.

Biggest accomplishment : Being a part of the EthosVO People Group.

Why? EthosVO is unlike anywhere else I work. It’s a partnership which has “The ability to build multi-stakeholder ecosystems that deliver trust and engagement at the individual level” Whether for customer, citizen, employee. Whether for their work, living or well-being. Building engagement and trustworthiness is the crisis of our current times that needs more attention, leadership and enabling technologies. The People Group, of which I am a member, is a loose approximation of an HR department, though unlike any other I’ve seen. This is partly due to the operating nature of the business and partly due to our desire to experiment with different ways of working.

It’s hard work – we face thorny challenges around recruitment, retention, performance and more. It’s real work too. Sometimes as a freelance consultant it can be hard to stay grounded. Lofty ideas and aspirations are useful and have a place – and they need to knit with the client reality, the day to day grind. Doing this work as part of EthosVO is an enjoyable challenge and gives me something which few freelancers have. I need to make more people aware of this, and build on it.

Artist (Yes. I am an artist)

  • Starting and establishing the We Are All Artists free art project, resulting in over 60 pieces of original art given away at random.
  • Selling over 20 original artworks.
  • Seeing the total donation from my art related work to Arts Emergency, rise over £300.

Biggest accomplishment : The We Are All Artists free art project.

Why? Imagine you could develop a hobby into one of the greatest learning opportunities of your life. An opportunity which would connect you to your community in ways you couldn’t begin to imagine, an opportunity which would see you featured in the local newspaper, see you and your project covered by ITV London Evening News, an opportunity to make new friends, develop your practice, and win a community award. Need I say more?

To conclude part one.

I mistakenly subtitled this section of my plan ‘Coming Back From Nowhere’, that was too harsh. I’m definitely coming back from somewhere. Somewhere interesting, useful, curious, challenging and enjoyable. I’m going to leave the subtitle in to remind me not to be so hasty next time, not to be so down on myself, and to acknowledge and focus more on the good things. Recording this feedback has been enjoyable and useful, it has reminded me that even in a poor year, many excellent things happened. It has also shown me how connected many things are. I need to raise my awareness of this less in review, more in the moment.

More please!

Five Steps to Help You Reach Your Potential

This is an edited version of a post I first wrote for HSBC Bank, primarily for their small business customers. I was asked to write about a few things that I’m doing to help make work productive and enjoyable. I hope you will find something useful here too.

1 Be open to possibilities

In business as in life, there is no right or wrong, there is right and wrong. Absolutes are rarely the answer, and we are never in as much danger of being wrong as when we are sure we are right. At that point, just remember that all your other options go out of the window. Be mindful of the possibilities, and open to the reality of not knowing what comes next. You can plan for the future, but you cannot predict it. I am just like you. I am sometimes right, sometimes wrong. I rarely know which is which and I reserve the right to change my mind.

2 Take care of your body and mind

Never underestimate the power of a short walk to clear your mind or gather your thoughts.
Never underestimate the importance of a decent lunch break, with decent food.
Never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep.

Health and wellbeing are essential – if you are not in good shape, neither is your business. And for me, part of wellbeing is about remembering to be you, not someone else. Apple, Google, Ikea and Accenture are current successful businesses, which have become successful by being themselves. I don’t think the point of going into business is to be like them. What works for them may not work for you. Be yourself.

3 Take risks and experiment

A small business should be agile. The ability to adapt and experiment should be one of your key strengths. After all, you don’t have layers and layers of well-meaning, yet restrictive bureaucracy, do you? No you don’t, so take advantage of that. A key competitive advantage should be your ability to respond quickly. In my role as a consultant to much bigger businesses, I make responsiveness a principle of my work. Let me give you an example.

I ran two business development events for a client, and after the events, I prepared the post-event summary: words, pictures and charts, all drafted and turned around in double-quick time. The speed of response was intended to help extend the post-event half life – and to prevent that inexorable enthusiasm decay that comes after the high of being together and co-creating new work ideas together. As a result of the quick turnaround, people were able to suggest tweaks and improvements while the ideas were still fresh in their minds, and a small group of people formed who were willing to take these ideas to the next level. The result? Stuff got done.

When we extended the project to a third location, I was asked to cut costs. I offered the client the option to dispense with the immediate post-event summary for a small reduction in fees. They accepted, and it subsequently took the client more than a month to process the post event summary, by which time day-to-day work, and the pull of the familiar had got the best of most people. The enthusiasm and action we made use of at the first two events failed to materialise on the third occasion, at least to the same extent. Could we be certain the delay was responsible for this? Not entirely of course, but we were in agreement that it didn’t help.

Did the client really ‘save’ anything from this exercise? I’m not convinced they did, and subsequently we agreed that I would revert to preparing that initial speedy response. I learned three useful things from this experience:

  • Don’t cut your price, reshape your service
  • Sometimes you have to let something go to get it back
  • Always be willing to experiment – we didn’t resist the client request and we all learned form trying a different approach.

4 Aim for “Flow” rather than work life balance

Working in a big business often means sticking to traditions like nine to five and wearing a tie, regardless of whether or not these traditions actually help you do better work. In your smaller business, these traditions don’t have to be compulsory. Be where you need to be, when you need to. Wear what you need to wear, when you need to.

A lot of people talk about the importance of work-life balance, and I’m not a fan. Balance is a tough thing to achieve – try standing on one leg for a while. Stay standing on one leg and start reciting multiplication tables. Now keep those things going and shut your eyes. If you are still with me, the chances are most of you will have fallen over by now. Balance is tough. Instead, think of your life as having flow.

The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly describes flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

So when I’m talking with you, I’m attentive, listening and contributing. I’m not playing with my crackberry (do they still have those?) or staring out of the window pondering my next appointment. If I’m writing something, then my email application is closed. So are my social media channels. I’m focused on writing this, now, for you. And if and when I do start to run out of steam, I take a break.

5 Think about your direction of travel

Having a plan matters. Often I see people invest huge amounts of time and effort into planning, and I’m not convinced they get a good return on their investment. I think there are three reasons for this:

  • Things change quickly
  • We are not very good at predicting the future
  • We get wedded to things we invest heavily in and so are reluctant to change, even when we’re not convinced the plan is working anymore.

What I find works better is this:

  • Have a direction of travel. For example, I help people increase business performance by improving their ability to collaborate. Is what I am doing moving me and my customers along that journey? If it is, I’m not too worried about timescales, if it isn’t, then why am I doing it?
  • Be adaptive. I like using the Business Model Canvas as a planning tool. It is simple to use and quick, and you can use it as a framework to evaluate your whole business, or a particular product or idea.
  • Introduce unpredictability. I find it helps to be open to possibilities and to expect the unexpected. In support of this, I use a set of cards which contain a random set of thoughts and ideas. When I get stuck, I just draw from the cards, and change tack depending on what the card says. It might encourage me to reach out for help via a phone call, or sketch out that problem I’m having, in order to see it differently, or go for a walk to clear my head. The point is that I get snapped out of my rut and often return to the opportunity refreshed and with renewed vigour.

What have I missed? If there’s something you’d like to share about how you’re making work better, feel free to drop a note in the comments section, thanks.