I am a member of a Facebook group called New Business : Next Steps, run by Ann Hawkins and Ed Goodman, authors of an excellent book by the same name. Ann often bookends our working week with some good questions about what we’d like to achieve, and how we’re getting on.
Lately I’ve been feeling lost, and somewhat withdrawn. These are things that happen from time to time, that’s life, etcetera. I’m no complaining, just acknowledging. When I feel like this, I tend to withdraw from responding to Ann’s questions too. Lately I’ve been nurturing a bias for action, so today, I chose to reply to this prompt from Ann:
Check in Friday: What was the most useful thing you did this week that made a difference to your business?
Here’s how I replied.
Wrote 4,000 words towards my book.
Asked people in my network for help with some questions to provoke more content for the book.
Kicked off plans for a Berlin/London art meets work mini tour.
Made a conscious effort to stream my thinking and to do stuff, it’s been far too messy lately.
Wrote a farewell email to a group I’ve been working with.
Attended the quarterly business review of a partnership I joined a few months ago. Doing this helped me see first hand and in more detail, the exciting work we can do together.
Shared a video of my talk about the art and soul of better work from this year’s All About People event.
Made what I think is a lovely piece of art for my weekly local free art drop.
Clearly I cheated, this is not the most useful thing I did this week, it is several useful things. Are they the right things? Who knows, and what they are, is evidence that in among the doubt, I am taking action. Thank you for the prompt, Ann.
A story about showing your work, adapting your work, and being open to the possibilities.
I recently wrote about the art of the possible, and how analog tools (pencils, paintbrushes etc) still have powerful relevance in a digital world. I wasn’t suggesting that one is somehow better than the other, rather that both matter. An analog, artistic inquiry of our work can be a very powerful thing. Equally, lots of the work I love to do is generated through connections initially made online, and then nurtured in real life, and the idea of working out loud, something I love to practice, is made simpler thanks to the digital spaces we inhabit. Analog and digital. Both matter.
Last year, my friend Neil Usher kindly agreed to give me some feedback when I was compiling some information about my work to share with people interested in hiring me. Part of this work was a series of visual images, which I gathered together using the haikudeck presentation tool.
The simplicity of the deck worked well enough, and Neil suggested that I could make it stand out more by creating another version. ‘Use your own stuff – not stock photo type images’, Neil offered. I took the idea on board and began what became a long process of drawing, tracing, and colouring my own version of the slides.
Though the general idea remains the same – there is a big difference between the two pieces of work. The second one is better. It’s me, showing my work, and what you can expect of me. I’m grateful to Neil for the suggestion.
I figured that was it. The work was done, things move on, and I was wrong. Crystal Miller, another friend in my network spotted my hand made slides and asked if I would consider drawing a set for one of her clients, who was seeking a visual representation for some values/principles. We talked, agreed the creative basis of the project, and some general terms, then I got on with it. Part of the deal was that I could represent these ideas as I saw fit. At first, I struggled to get going with such an open remit. Would the work be liked? That question quickly took me to all the usual ‘I’m not good enough’ places we experience, particularly when doing something new. My client was very supportive and though I wobbled a few times – the work began to flow. In time, a series of 16 images emerged.
I learned a lot from this process. Some days the pens moved freely, some days not. At times when I got stuck, I asked for help, and I got it. Ideas, nudges, confidence – many things came from asking. At times I practiced the art of ‘it’s good enough, move on’. And at times, I redid images completely. Trying to balance satisfaction with deadlines can become an interesting tangle, and what emerged is a body of work the client is really pleased with. So am I.
Importantly, if I hadn’t responded to Neil’s suggestion, if I hadn’t been open to the possibilities, and if I hadn’t worked out loud, we wouldn’t be looking at these pictures now. And if I can work like this, you can too.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.