This month has a lot of creativity, art, and culture in it. June kicked off with The Art of Innovation talk at the HR Inner Circle, followed by an Art of Innovation election night special at the offices of BDG. Over the next two weekends I am participating in the inaugural Carshalton Artists Open Studios (CAOS) event (my first exhibition), and sandwiched in between the CAOS, I’m in Berlin artistically interpreting a conference. The output from the Berlin event will take many forms, one of them being a 13 metre wide canvas. Go big, or go home!
Last week I got together with my fellow artists to talk about, and prepare for Berlin. Most of our work is improvisational, and that is something we choose to role model, so our preparation has been deliberately loose. We experimented with materials and a few basic ideas and colours.
Here I have taken (an approximation of) the client’s colour palette and abstracted it. We will be using some of these colours in our work, so this piece is a way of playing with different tones, and it may serve as a guide to people in the room who wish to abstract something for themselves during the event. We shall see.
As well as playing with colour – we discussed how we want to be together as a group. This has been a really enjoyable process of listening and distilling, and we now have a short statement which describes us at our best. It’s a useful guide for the three of us and for anyone else we interact with before, during and after the event.
When we are at our best, we are taking care of each other, and our guests. The concept of leadership in our group is a fluid, dynamic force, flowing to where and to whom it is best suited at the time. We listen and respond to prompts from the floor, hand written notes, 1:1 conversations, and to things we spot while wandering about. Our intention is to record and illustrate and abstract key points, not every single detail. Over the days, a body of work will emerge, developed improvisationally, and using a variety of mediums. The pace and rhythm of what we do will ebb and flow, and we welcome participation in our work.
I hope this look at how we are preparing is useful for you. More to follow…
I’m working on a culture of innovation project with a client and some associates. As part of this work, I’ve been thinking a lot about my free art project, and how much it now impacts and influences other elements of my work and life. I recently met with Robert Ordever from OC Tanner and together we enjoyed an interesting conversation about the space where work meets…the real you?
I began the free art project as a curiosity. A key part of my initial motivation was to experience letting go of my work, and the idea of a weekly schedule for giving the work away forced me into a mindset of production, and of needing to adopt the mantra, ‘It’s good enough, move on.’ Anyone who takes a pride in their work may recognise the tension in getting something right, and not necessarily perfect. I’ll come back to that later on.
Robert and I talked about the idea of doing a side project for the sake of curiosity, with no obvious end in mind. We questioned, to what extent would you be ‘allowed’ to do something like this at work? The free art project took a while to develop in any sense of gaining feedback and response. Robert wondered, ‘If you were running an experiment at work, at what point would you have quit?’ It’s a great question – I don’t have an answer and we need to recognise that if we want our colleagues to problem solve, and come up with new, alternative ways of working – figuring out how to create time and space for this, matters.
Although the free art project is ongoing, each week represents a new challenge, a new piece of work to be created. The way I cope with this demand ebbs and flows. Sometimes the ideas are plentiful and I find myself making more than one piece. In turn I may leave more than one art work for people to find that week, and sometimes I hold things back. I now know there will be weeks when I get stuck, and am simply too busy with other stuff – and at those times, having a reserve bank of art to draw from is really useful. I am more resourceful as a result of my side project.
Robert and I got talking about a struggle to move away from what works, towards something which may be better. In a work sense, we often drift into patterns of behaviour which once set, are hard to break from. We might convince ourself there’s no other way to do x, or I’ve tried other ways before and they didn’t work. Running a regular, yet fluid experiment alongside my other work helps to shake up my thinking. I believe it makes me more open to the possibilities. I have become a more responsive opportunist as a result of my side project.
We drifted into talking about ‘Who am I completing the work for?’ Robert suggested usually, an employee is doing something to satisfy their manager. Although I occasionally feel a little pressure in the free art project to deliver on time, I’m not bound by anything beyond my own drive to make and share. If I were to skip a week, no one’s there to mark my appraisal down. As a result, I have become more relaxed, and better at delivering good work.
The free art project operates with minimal rules. I make art, leave it somewhere, and it gets found, or not, as the case may be. I share the location of the art using photos on various social media channels, and though I sign the work, my contact details are hardly ever present. Only once or twice have I left a method of contact on art drops in more distant places, Australia for example. Sometimes I get feedback – and often I don’t. Sometimes I like the feedback I receive, other times less so. But that’s part of the point of learning through art – it is subjective, which releases me, at least partly, from the need for (positive?) feedback. What would happen if your colleagues felt able to develop and work on something in a similarly freestyle fashion? I have become more resilient as a result of my side project.
In closing I want to come back to this idea about getting hung up on our work not being good enough, this need to satisfy our inner perfectionist. Robert offered me a quote from one of the founders of the business he works for. The quote reads, ‘We seek to touch the fringes of perfection.’ The idea behind this is that we don’t know what ‘perfect’ is, and like art, it is largely subjective. But hey – that needn’t stop us reaching for it, even if only to brush against the edges. This reminds me of a recent abstract piece I made, called Edge of Glory.
How do you think your colleagues might respond if invited to seek to touch the fringes of perfection through a side project?
A few observations on what makes for good networking, sparked by #Culturevist
On Wednesday I spent an interesting and enjoyable evening at a Culturevist networking event. A few of my friends have been to some previous Culturevist get togethers – but this was my first one. Networking often gets a bad rap, and we’ve all been to at least one session that’s ended up as a total cringefest, it’s not just me, is it? This event was a little different, so in defence of the art of good networking, here are my first impressions of this interesting group.
On arrival I was immediately made to feel very welcome, by many people. This wasn’t an in your face, full on experience, just plenty of encouragement. Thank you to everyone who helped ease me into the swing of a new social situation.
The name badge I was invited to complete, with the addition of ‘And my favourite thing is…’ was a lovely idea. I figured I was there to meet interesting people, so my badge said ‘And my favourite thing is you’.
That dreaded intro moment
Something about networking that leaves me cold is when everyone stands up and introduces themselves to everyone else. Being a bear of small brain I struggle to remember more than about three names, and when the group is large, I also struggle to stay awake. Tom Nixon offered up a twist, and this time we were invited to simply say our name, and what we needed. This was a great idea – people’s brief responses were helpful and often funny too. Others in the group could then easily spot people they have something in common with, or someone they could be of possible use to. A lovely idea – I will look for other opportunities to try this.
Throughout the evening, a couple of people approached me who have seen me at conferences and gatherings over the past few years and had positive recollections – those interactions were really touching, motivating too, thanks. I learned from this, that when you have a positive memory of someone, It’s lovely to share it with them. They might have forgotten – I had.
Conversation without judgement
I enjoyed the subjects put up for brief talks and subsequent conversations – the theme of the evening was ‘Open Source Culture – What Happens When Everyone Has A Say?’ I didn’t agree with everything being put forward and it was lovely to have a chance to discuss differences in such a respectful way. Too often we seek to brush even the gentlest conflict to one side – I’m a huge fan of open, respectful disagreement, and I did not feel I was being judged when sharing contradictory experiences and views.
I left with a head buzzing full of ideas, having met some lovely people for the first time and caught up with a few friends. Thank you to everyone, and particularly to Matthew Partovi for making things happen.
I hope this post is useful to some of you, and if you have any more suggestions about how to make networking work, please share them in the comments. And if you’d like to see someone else’s perspective on networking, I thoroughly recommend The Quiet Man, a beautifully written blog post by Richard Martin.