The Art of the Possible – Analog Kid : Digital Man

Analog Kid

The boy lies in the grass with one blade
Stuck between his teeth
A vague sensation quickens
In his young and restless heart
And a bright and nameless vision
Has him longing to depart. N Peart

I was born in 1965, the same year the first ever desktop computer hit the market. The Programma 101 by Olivetti arrived, and overnight, computers went from looking like this:

IBM System:360 Model 30
IBM System/360 Model 30

To looking like this:

Olivetti Programma 101
Olivetti Programma 101

We took a very different view of computers back then. People were ‘a bit terrified of them’, and concerned that computers would be used to control everything and take away freedom.

I don’t recall ever using a computer during my school years. All our work was written in books, drawn on paper, listened to on tape and vinyl. Signals were likely to be distorted, there was interference, and feedback. Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, the pen and the brush were among the devices I used which provided some of that feedback. The signals might be quite subtle, but they were there. The response of the writing and drawing instrument when crafting different letters, different shapes, and shades. You don’t get this subtle feedback from a keyboard or a stylus.

Digital Man

He picks up scraps of information
He’s adept at adaptation
Because for strangers and arrangers
Constant change is here to stay. N Peart

I started work in the mid 1980s, by which time computers looked something like this:

IBM PC 5150
IBM PC 5150

A decade later I was selling computers to earn a living, and they were common place in people’s homes and at work. I remember starting work for BT in 1996 and being surprised to find no computer at my desk. Some of my colleagues were quite happy to still be relying on inter office memos stuffed in envelopes, and though people were given email addresses – there seemed to be no compulsion to use them.

Fast forward to now, and for most people who read this blog, the idea of not being connected to your work through computers and other devices is practically impossible.

IPhone_6S_Rose_Gold

Love them or loathe them, etcetera. And yet…

Analog Kid : Digital Man

…for all the advantages of digital, there remains something distinctly ‘connected’ about working in analog. Those subtle signals I mentioned earlier – the feedback a pencil gives you when you write and draw – that’s a very desirable thing. I recently spotted my friend Euan Semple talking about Blackwing Pencils on Facebook. I followed the crumb trail and discovered you can pay $25 for a box of 12 Palomino Blackwing 24 pencils, produced as a tribute to Pulitzer Prize winning author John Steinbeck. In truth, you’ll be lucky to find these available for sale, they are a limited edition pencil (I swear I had no idea there was such a thing), and seemingly the only way to guarantee a set of these, or at least of future limited editions, is to join The Blackwing Club. Pencils as a desirable collector’s item, how about that?

I digress. Limited edition or otherwise, I believe the humble pencil, pen, and brush remain essential tools to work with. For all the speed with which I can ramble on here, each digit I produce on the screen feels just the same as the last. Q = W = E = R = T = Y. I know from my own experience and from the feedback I gain through arts based learning, that using analog tools to supplement your digital work, creates fundamentally different outputs. When we work like this, I and others see, hear and feel emotions much more clearly, and there seems to be a greater presence of something you might call humanity, when people are creating work together, by hand.

Humanity

I don’t want to get all dogmatic about this, working by hand is not the answer to making work better, it is an answer. Thankfully, not everything follows Moore’s Law.

More to follow…

All About People : Ways to Make Work Better

I’m really excited to be a part of the 2016 All About People conference, a curious, creative, cross-industry, cross-profession event all about how to make work better. The All About People team are curating a diverse mix of people to stir thoughts and ideas over a couple of days in June, down on the South coast. My contribution is in development, and will doubtless be influenced by the arts. In order to help me think about the event and prepare, Andy Swann, the creator of All About People, recently posed a few interesting questions to me. He’s kindly agreed that I can reproduce that conversation here. My answers may have some resonance with you, and more importantly I hope you find the questions useful. How might you respond to them?

Andy : What are you working on at the moment?

Doug : Currently I am working on a book proposal, some experimental client work where we are using the arts to explore and improve how we learn, and I’m making plans to attend and speak at various conferences in the UK and USA. I’m also involved in some community of practice work, some work around change and transition, and motivated by recent sales of some of my artworks, I’m finding time to develop my self taught painting.

How would you define an amazing working place?

Curious, creative, caring, and profitable.

What should organisations focus on first – the right people, the right places or the right actions?

Ask people what matters to them. Ask employees, customers, suppliers, everyone. Then, once you’ve listened and clarified, start to act on the smallest things that will make the biggest differences first. Come back and ask folk again when this is done and evaluated. Lead by example and repeat until forever – show you mean business by showing you mean business.

In your experience, what are some of the main things holding organisations back?

Doubt, fear, arrogance, a lack of trust and a lack of clarity.

How deeply should an organisation’s people be involved in its evolution? What should that look like?

As deeply as they usefully can. I’m a fan of using the World Cafe method for facilitating conversations around evolution and development, and other methods are available. During the conversations, don’t rush to judgement, don’t make assumptions. Be invitational, be inclusive, be gentle. Listen well, agree some action and get on with it – life is short.

What is one thing organisations can do to create the conditions for their people to thrive at work?

Make art, and make time for meditation and reflection.

I’m really looking forward to this event, it’s shaping up to be a blend of great learning, great sharing, great fun and great company. If you’d like to come along, tickets are available here. You can use the code SPEAKERDS to get a 10% reduction in the price when booking. See you at the seaside.

Leap Day 2016 : What’s In Store?

Secret London

Leap Day 2016 takes place – somewhat unsurprisingly – next Monday, the 29th February. This will be the second Leap Day I’ve taken part in, and it is shaping up to be quite different from the first. We are a bigger group of people this time, and we are not dependant on a single main venue. Although most of our creative curiosity will be invested indoors at various places, the weather will shape the day to some extent. It’s been a long time since I’ve looked ahead at the weather forecast with so much frequency and interest.

This time around I’m putting together a rough draft for the day. Timings are approximate and as the day unfolds, things intentionally get looser. I thought you might like to see where I am at right now:

Leap Day 2016 LogoLeap Day 2016 : Curiouser and Curiouser

10.30am…ish : Meet at British Library – Alice in Wonderland exhibition

Check in – cocreate desired mood, tone, expectations.

11.30am …ish : Down the rabbit hole : Surface at London Bridge – Oyster card may be useful here.

Walk to Tate Modern (approx 15 minutes – pass by Southwark Cathedral, Golden Hind, Winchester Place, Clink Prison, Globe Theatre).

Midday…ish : Making Traces:

How do you leave a trace?

  • A footprint, a photograph or a mark of where you were?
  • What do traces tell us about what happened before?
  • What trace would you leave for others to discover?

1.15pm…ish : Lunch – Borough Market. Lots of options – around 10 minutes from Tate Modern

2.15pm…ish : Check in – how are we doing?

Open to the possibilities…Have you brought something curious to explore?

Options:

The Jean Cocteau Murals
Shoreditch Graffiti
The Garden of St Dunstan
Watts’ Memorial
Walk and Talk
Sit and Think
Kind note to self
Kind note to someone else

I’ve put this draft together using a mixture of my own curiosity and imagination, past experiences and conversations, Google, and the Secret London guide. The guide is an intriguing book signposting many unusual places in and around this lovely city of ours, though as I was somewhat sniffily informed by the appropriate help desk (there’s a contradiction in terms), the listing for Henry VIII’s wine vaults hidden beneath the Ministry of Defence, should not have been included.

A truly lovely group of people have agreed to take part this year, and if this looks like a useful, enjoyable way to spend a few hours in London next Monday, there are a couple of places left, at a cost of just £36. Message me if you’d like to come and I’ll let you know how to pay and confirm your place. And don’t worry if you can’t make it, there’ll be another Leap Day along in four years time.