Art for Work’s Sake – Manchester Summer School

Art for Work’s Sake Summer School is coming to Manchester – July 24th 2014

Creativity Ebb n Flow Meter V1.2

Would you like to explore some creative ways to make your work more enjoyable and productive? Are you based in or near Manchester? Are you free on the afternoon of July 24th 2014? If you answered yes to all three of those questions – please read on.

Before I take Art for Work’s Sake off to the USA in August and September, I thought it would be fun to branch out a little closer to home, so I’m running a specially priced, Art for Work’s Sake Summer School in Manchester. The workshop will run from 1.30pm to around 5pm, and the ticket price is just £90 inclusive of VAT, Eventbrite fees and all materials. There is also a ConnectingHR Manchester tweetup that evening so if you fancy exercising your creative muscles before a great social event, it would be lovely to see you.

These slides from a recent talk and workshop will give you a feel for some of the techniques and ideas we will experiment with on the day.

Full details including how to book your workshop ticket are on our Eventbrite page. For those who are also interested in the TweetUp – here’s the link for that too. I hope to see a few of you in Manchester – and if you could help by sharing this blog post that would be great! Thanks.

Beyond HR

A round up of our Beyond HR session at Louisiana SHRM

This post is a summary of the talk about collaboration and change that Neil Morrison and I gave at Louisiana SHRM 2014 – on April 9th in Baton Rouge.


Neil and I used Evernote as the place to store and share ideas as we pulled the threads of our talk together. I’ve used Evernote to share my own stuff between different devices for two years now, but this was the first project where I’ve used it as a tool for collaboration between people. We used it to share stuff at distance and to work on different elements of our talk in the same too together. It works – try it.

Another way we prepped was to get to know something new about each other, it turns out we both like table tennis. We found a table set up in Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar, and spent a great fun couple of hours trying to out ping pong one another. We enjoyed some local Abita beer and the company of a couple of locals who briefly teamed up to take us on. An important part of doing some work together (if you can call what we did, work), is the investment in enjoying each other’s company.


The very lovely Robin Schooling introduced us – and then we gave people another chance to see our world famous video. Huge thanks to James Smith for excellent camera and production work. We also briefly introduced each other – and I’ll come back to that later.

Beyond HR

The main thrust of our talk was about collaboration and the importance of relentless, small change. HR and others often plan, invest and obsess about change, and while we recognise the importance of seeing the bigger picture, we think that lots of small change can make a big difference. We also think that HR could be, and indeed sometimes is, best placed to facilitate relentless small change. Small is the new significant, as David Zinger puts it. What’s the least I can do today to make a positive impact? I ask myself this question often, to remind me that change is ongoing, and doesn’t have to be big to matter.

I shared some research on experimentation, collaboration and relationships drawn from The Year Without Pants and Breakpoint and Beyond. I talked about why this stuff is important, and why it doesn’t happen as often as we would like. Neil then shared some fascinating science about how our reptilian, mammalian and human brains work. ‘We don’t have a human brain so we’re using Doug’s as the closest thing we could find’. Nice one Neil!

Neil spoke about the importance of SHED, not as the garden retreat where men scurry to, but rather:

  • Sleep
  • Hydration
  • Exercise
  • Diet

The importance of taking care of yourself cannot be overstated and often when we are operating and leading in periods of change, this vital stuff goes by the wayside – leaving us diminished. Neil acknowledged that even when we are aware of this stuff, and well taken care, of, we can’t perform at our optimum level for long – typically it’s around 90 minutes. I told the tale of The Prisoner, which is about how decisions that can at first seem fair, are often far from it, particularly when we are rushed, and not taking good care of ourselves.

Neil also talked about the SCARF model, key things we think about and react to in life which can enhance or inhibit our ability to collaborate and function effectively.

  • Status: Our relative importance to others
  • Certainty: Our being able to predict the future
  • Autonomy: Our sense of control over events
  • Relatedness: Our sense of safety with others
  • Fairness: Our perception of fair exchanges between people

When you feel that one or more of these things is being threatened, brain wise you are likely to retreat to your mammalian and reptile brains, and become defensive. Can we stop this? Probably not, but we can share this stuff among colleagues and be aware of it. That way we have a frame of reference for when things go wrong. We asked people in the audience to think about stuff that gets in the way of change and collaboration. Here’s what they told us:

Incentives & rewards, power struggles, lack of collaboration, rapid growth, money and people, blame and shame (try looking in the mirror), communication, silos, trust, competing interests, heavy workload.

We shared a couple of examples from our different perspectives of small changes working, and not working and where relevant we threaded the things people told us into our stories.

Neil finished with the story of how Ben Ainslie helped turn around the USA America’s Cup team who were 8-1 down against New Zealand and managed to recover and eventually beat New Zealand by 44 seconds in the final game of the series. The turnaround came as a result of Ainslie’s incredible tactical ability, and the many many small changes he made before, during and after each race. A racing yacht depends on many small things in order to be able to cut the right line through the water, and Ainslie is able to break down the strategy (let’s win this) into its component parts. It was fun being able to close out our session telling an American audience that a Brit helped save their bacon too!

The audience seemed to enjoy the session and we enjoyed putting it together and delivering it too. Teaming up with Neil taught me a lot, particularly around different ways to prepare. After the session people told us they enjoyed our willingness to use some humour (largely at each other’s expense) and they liked the way we reflected on work experiences that had not gone as well as we might have liked. People also told us how they enjoyed the ebb and flow of the session – that feedback was lovely as Neil and I had built a loose framework on which to hang the talk, and intentionally left space, for room to grow.

Reading List

As well as our own experiences, we drew on ideas from the following books as we prepared our talk:


Thank You

I want to hop back – almost to the beginning when I wrote about introductions. As we prepared our talk we agreed that we would each say a few words about each other by way of introduction. Neil went first and said some very nice things about me, some drawn from his experiences, and some drawn from feedback from others on Twitter. Next it was my turn. It’s no secret that I get very excited and a little nervous before I speak – in fact I was literally jumping around the room before the start. In my excitement, my intro of Neil centred largely around how much I appreciate that fact that we disagree often, and that disagreement is founded on respect. Now that’s all well and good, and I do sincerely appreciate that part of our friendship – and there is more to it than that.

I first encountered Neil when he was writing anonymously as TheHRD. I met him in a pub and at the time he was known as Theo. It was all very mysterious. Our next virtual encounter came when Neil asked for help for a friend and I responded. Once theHRD was unmasked we began to see each other more often, and developed a friendship that made the humour in our talk come very naturally. We’ve been camping together (separate tents mind you), got drunk together, shared experiences together, and yes – disagreed together. I’ve met Neil’s family, including his Dad, and through that encounter I see a lot of why Neil and I click. Neil’s willingness to team up with me and invest in our session means a lot to me. Thank you Neil, and thank you Louisiana SHRM.

Cut Out Creativity – Henri Matisse

Excellence doesn’t need to be complicated. Tate Modern are hosting an exhibition of Matisse’s cut outs this year. Would you like to see it with me?

Almost two and a half years ago, I ran a guest blog series on here called Heroes. In all there were a dozen contributions to the series, many of them still get searched for and read, and this one about Mrs Van Gogh is my personal favourite.

The most read post in the series is one about the inspirational artist, Henri Matisse, and it is to him I return today.

Cut Out Creativity

As he aged Matisse became ill and could no longer paint. You could forgive him for calling it a day and sitting back to admire his vast catalogue of work in his twilight years. And you wouldn’t need to.

Confined to his bed, Matisse continued to create great art using cut outs. Some of his most famous and stunning work was created in this final phase of his life.

Matisse snail

The cut out works are often very large. The Snail, shown here, is almost three metres square. It’s part of the Tate collection and I think it’s simply beautiful. This tiny image doesn’t begin to do the picture justice. What it shows me is that excellence doesn’t need to be complicated.


I love Matisse’s work. And what I love most of all is his adaptability. I imagine him thinking, ‘Can’t get out of bed to paint anymore? No problem, let’s make cutouts. I can design and cut them and my team can arrange the pieces just so’. Matisse’s drive to adapt in the face of adversity is inspiring, what a creative leader.

What heroics could you and your team achieve with a little of Matisse’s adaptability?

This One’s For You

Tate Modern is running a major exhibition of Matisse’s work this year, starting in April and running through to September. I’m excited about this and intend to visit it often, and here’s where you come in. My membership at Tate is a plus three, so if you would like, we can visit this exhibition together – with you as my guests. Would you like to join me? If you would – please just add a comment to this post, and we will work on the dates later.