My Kind of Town

In just over a month’s time I’ll be stepping onto the runway at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, Illinois SHRM 2013 is getting closer.

One of the most exciting things about conference going is catching up with friends. I can’t wait to say hi again to Dwane, Susan, Sabrina, Broc, Laurie, Nicole, Crystal and John all of whom I’ve been fortunate to meet before, and to have the chance to say hi to the likes of Paul, John, Kris, Andi and hopefully many others for the first time. I’m going to channel my great friend Steve Browne and try to meet as many people as I can, and more importantly, encourage others to do likewise.

I’m excited to be talking on the Monday morning about connections, and how HR can become better connected with colleagues and customers alike. Neil Morrison and I often talk about HR as the oil in the machine when we see each other, and I want to play with that idea, and explore aspects of creativity and vulnerability as powerful connection points too. I’m looking forward to listening to other speakers also, and to enjoying many good conversations.

I visited Chicago earlier this year for the first time, and it left a wonderful mark in my memory. I shared a lovely lunch with Susan, Sabrina and John, I walked along the frozen edge of Lake Michigan down Lakeshore Drive (from where I took the above photo), and I was bowled over by the Picasso exhibition that was running at the Art Institute, and the fabulous giant sculpture Picasso donated to the city which stands in the Daley Plaza. This picture below is of Francoise Gilot, who Picasso met in 1943. They had two kids together during their ten year relationship, and this lithograph, made in 1946 is for me a wonderful example of how a great artist can capture so much from a few simple lines.

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of the USA, I think I’ve visited seventeen states so far on my travels across the years, and from my experience they all have different things to offer. So I’m revisiting Chicago both with the expectation that I will again see at least part of what made my last trip such a powerful experience, and the hope of something new too. As I once watched Frank Sinatra say in a video as he introduces ‘My Kind of Town’, ‘What a wonderful moment is it when you get to sing for a real live, right now, breathing type audience’. Illinois SHRM – live in Chicago – 19th and 20th August 2013. Bring it on.


Creative Leadership – Memorative Art

My latest trip to the USA was great fun. I met a lot of friends, saw some fantastic sights and did some really interesting work. All these things are memorable, and is there something that really anchored the trip in my mind?

Maybe it was that I happened to be in Chicago at the same time the Art Institute was showing an exhibition of Pablo Picasso’s work? I’m a huge admirer of Picasso. I find his work often moves me to tears, it’s incredibly powerful stuff. Bold, abstract, conventional, unconventional, prolific. The exhibition in Chicago is a remarkable walk through the life of Picasso. You get to see aspects of every kind of art he produced and although the exhibition contains mainly lesser known pieces, its breadth and depth is outstanding. The exhibition also referenced a piece of public art I was previously unaware of.

Untitled by Picasso

Picasso donated this untitled sculpture to the city of Chicago in 1967 without ever explaining what the sculpture was intended to represent. I got talking to a woman at the exhibition who told me most people think it represents a horse. She also explained where the statue is located so I headed off to take a look. Checking in at 50 feet tall and weighing over 160 tons, it is huge, quite a sight to behold. You can walk right around it and I did, stopping here to appreciate its beauty from another angle.

Untitled by Picasso - Side View

It is this image which now evokes memories of all the other interesting and exciting experiences I had in Chicago.

This visual, artistic experience led me to think that often when we endure a presentation – there are lots of words on the screen. This creates a disconnect between the audience, the presenter, and the material as people tend to focus on either the slide or the presenter. Using a handful of words and a few relevant images to support your talk usually creates a much more powerful, memorable encounter. Often people will recall to me a talk I’ve given in the past, and their memory of it will be drawn from one or two pictures and phrases that have stuck firmly in the mind.

I think this has somethnig to do with Memorative Art. This method, which has been around for thousands of years includes ‘the association of emotionally striking memory images within visualized locations, the chaining or association of groups of images, the association of images with schematic graphics or notae (“signs, markings, figures” in Latin), and the association of text with images.’

I already use some of this thinking in my work, and I expect plenty of you do too, even if you weren’t consciously aware of the Memorative Art method. It’s a powerful example of the connection between art and work, and is part of what we can usefully employ when exploring pathways to creativity and collaboration.

What a Load of Rubbish!

There are lots of reasons why I love my neighbourhood. Keira’s school is less than a mile away, the local shops and train station with regular connections into Central London are just a little further down the road. There are lots of open spaces nearby and the country side is just a short mountain bike trail ride away. The immediate environment in which I live is also really clean. You rarely see any litter on our local streets, and I think its absence is one of those small things that make a big difference.

I appreciate the ease with which I can travel into London. Lots of my work is based in London and it is oozing with history and culture which makes it a place where there’s never a dull moment. It’s also dirty, filthy dirty in places. There’s litter and trash everywhere, it’s unsightly and it’s messy and I think it speaks volumes about how Londoners and visitors to London really feel about the place. And it’s not just London that has this problem. Despite the efforts of our diligent team of street cleaners, there’s litter on the streets of my local town Wallington, and plenty of other places too.

Some of you may recall how in the mid 1980’s, Margaret Thatcher became ‘appalled’ at the state of London’s streets. UK 2000 was established soon afterwards under the high-profile chairmanship of Richard Branson with the instruction to “clean up Britain”. It quietly folded four years later and the problem persists to this day. And as a global population part of our collective legacy for future generations is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which some reports suggest is ‘twice the size of the continental United States’. Way to go people of the world, that’s one helluva dump we’ve built there eh?

It strikes me that littering is something we’re quite divided on. Some do it, some don’t. I was in a local town a couple of years ago when someone walked past me and dropped their fast food bag at my feet. I picked up the bag, said ‘excuse me you dropped something’ and handed it back. I was met with an unexpectedly angry outburst – the woman whose rubbish I returned threw the bag back at me along with a side order of multiple swear words. She stomped off in a rage and before I could react – an older guy picked the bag back up, ran after the woman and rammed it down over her head. Cue much applause from the growing crowd of bystanders and much embarrassment for the bag lady.

Part of the problem with litter is it’s one of those big things that provokes a reaction like ‘Why should I bother to pick up that discarded plastic bottle over there, what difference will picking up that one thing make?’

On my recent visit to Chicago I was impressed by how clean the city appeared. When I met John, Susan and Sabrina for lunch we spoke about this and it turns out there was a concerted campaign to tidy the place up in readiness for the bid to host the 2016 Olympic games. For now at least, even though Chicago was unsuccessful in the bid, the clean up seems to have worked. And in The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell writes about how the New York subway was transformed from a crime ridden unwelcoming place into a thriving transport system after a persistent effort to clean up the carriages and rid them of the graffiti that had blighted the place for years.

I’d like to close today’s post by telling you about a conversation I overheard on the train yesterday. An elderly couple who didn’t know each other said hello and started to chat. At some point the conversation turned to littering and the woman said, ‘When I’m out walking I take a carrier bag out with me and when I see a plastic bottle, or a glass bottle, or a can, I pick it up, put it in the bag and recycle it. I keep a little note in my diary of how many of these things I collect and at the end of last year I tallied it up.’ She went on to tell her conversation partner the numbers. I didn’t note them exactly in my head – but they were in excess of 1,200 plastic bottles, 1,000 cans and 1,000 glass bottles. She closed by simply saying ‘And that’s just me, in one year. Imagine if we all did that.’ Imagine indeed. 

photo credit