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.



Creative Leadership – Essential Reading – #1

A brief review of 101 Things to Learn at Art School – by Kit White.

What’s black and white and red all over?

A newspaper? A sunburnt penguin?

Or maybe…it’s this lot.

Creative Leadership - Essential Reading

These four books which I have been reading and rereading for the last few months have each proved to be outstanding. Rarely do I discover such a rich vein of reading form, and I’d like to share it with you in the form of a brief review of each book, in the order they arrived in my hands.

101 Things to Learn in Art School – Kit White

Carole gave me a copy of this book as a birthday present last year. It’s a thing of wonder, oozing with creativity, simplicity and ideas. Each double page has an illustration on the left, and a thought, idea, practice or provocation on the right. Whilst at first glance this book feels like it’s squarely aimed at the aspiring artist, it’s full of ideas that cross borders into other disciplines too. When applying the book to my practice, I often find myself replacing the word art with the word work, after all – I do believe our art is our work and vice versa. For example:

Making (work) art is an act of discovery. If you are dealing only with what you know, you may not be doing your job. When you discover something new, or surprise yourself, you are engaging in the process of discovery.

Clear sight makes clear (work) art. Observation lies at the heart of the (work) art process. Whether your art derives from mimicking nature or extrapolating a mental construct, your powers of observation are critical. Unless you can see what lies before you, you cannot describe it. Train yourself to eliminate preconceptions and received understandings when observing anything. Try to see what is before you, not what you think you see or want to see.

I have the hard cover edition of the book. It’s a solid, rubber clad, square shaped thing of beauty. I can’t imagine enjoying this volume nearly so much on a Kindle. On the creative leadership dial it points more towards the creative, and I think your work will be all the better for reading it, enjoying it and practicing it. So much has it resonated with me, I have bought several copies of this book for other people as gifts.

Have a great day, next up it’s the turn of The Year Without Pants.


Visualising Your Work

This morning I gave a talk and facilitated a short workshop on the Art of Leadership for the 2014 Learning Skills Group. I will publish more information on the session soon, but I’m flat out right now and just have time to share some work we cocreated today.

Here is some visual thinking around what the future looks like for learning and development. These images were cocreated by groups of people many of whom had not previously met. They were on a tight time constraint and were encouraged to go for it – and to show their work. I’m really impressed with what the teams came up with in such a short space of time.

If you prefer – you can view the images on Flickr too.