Developing Art For Work’s Sake

The Past

I facilitated another Art for Work’s Sake session in Milton Keynes a few days ago, and it went down a storm. Something that really interested me about the session was how we enabled a mixture of conversation and emergent thinking and action to develop around a framework, albeit a loosely structured one. We also cocreated a safe space in which to talk, work and experiment which certainly helped.

The Present

Here is some of the learning from recent Art for Work’s Sake sessions, pulled together for you in a SlideShare. I hope this stuff is helpful to you, feel free to download and play if you would like.

The Future

I can also confirm that I am off to Chicago again in the Autumn. I will be delivering an Art for Work’s Sake session for the people at the Illinois 2014 Society for Human Resource Management conference, with my co facilitator, Joe Gerstandt. I’m hugely excited about the work itself and about collaborating with Joe. Joe and I have been in touch for a good while now – patiently impatient – looking and waiting for a chance to do something epic. We haven’t rushed it – we’ve kept in touch – we’ve shared the good and bad in the process. And we are now ready to serve. More details on this soon.

And if that wasn’t enough, I received confirmation from Ohio over the weekend that I will be heading their way in September to do likewise. I love the way that the HR community is responding so positively to this creative and artistic way to improve the way we work.

I’ve received a lot of requests to run further sessions. Even though I am London based I’m very happy to travel to help spread the word, I think this work, this use of artistic practice to make work better, is important. So if you’d like me to come to your town or workplace – drop me a line and let’s talk.

And finally, to celebrate the great start to 2014, we are giving away our 2014 tour t shirt, a copy of the very excellent book, 101 Things To Learn In Art School, by Kit White, and a set of Stop Doing Dumb Things cards. We have three sets to give away. To win, all you have to do is leave a comment on the blog and say you’d like to go into the draw. We’ll draw the winners at random in a few weeks and then get in touch to ship your goodies to you.

Prize Draw

Lost and Found


Paul Shaw


After Dad died, we had to clear his house and get it ready for sale. In doing so, I came across this little pouch.

This Old Pouch

As you can see, it was old, perished and dishevelled, and inside was it a broken Illinois pocket watch. The pouch and the watch very nearly ended up being disposed of, and at the last minute I decided to hold onto them. I made a few enquiries, and after parting with more money than the watch was worth, I had it fixed. It worked, after a fashion, ticking loudly and keeping time for several hours before needing winding up again.

Illinois Pocket Watch

When I learned that my proposal to speak at the 2013 Illinois State HR Conference had been accepted, I knew what I was taking with me as my timekeeper. An Illinois watch going home to Illinois, there was no other choice. The talk went well and I finished on time.


As I packed my bag for the journey home it dawned on me I hadn’t seen the watch for a while. In between carrying the watch around with me, I’d been keeping it in a particular place in my room and it was no longer there. I turned the room and my bag inside out and upside down twice. I unpacked and repacked everything. The watch was no longer in my room. I checked the bar area where we’d been the night before, I called the restaurant we visited and spoke with friends at the conference and the hotel reception, and asked people whose cars I’d travelled in to check for it. Nothing. The watch had disappeared. Despite having only had the watch in my possession for a short while, in that moment I felt sick at losing it. I wasn’t sure but I think it must have simply slipped out of my pocket at some stage. What a crappy way to end a fantastic trip you might think. For a while, I certainly did.


As I said my goodbyes and au revoirs to everyone I also set to reconciling my feelings about the watch. And it all boils down to this. Less than two years ago I didn’t know the watch existed. We lost Dad, I found a watch. I lost a watch, Illinois found a watch. Susan gave me a ride to the airport and I went home, happy that in a round about way, the watch had come home too.


My friend Vandy made an offer to paint pictures of precious artefacts for people, so I got in touch and she kindly painted a picture of the watch for me.



Creative Leadership – Connections

I’m having a blast here at the 2013 Illinois SHRM conference. Kudos to the gang of volunteers that energise and galvanise these events, I feel privileged to be here.

Musical Connections

Thanks to the organisational skills of Dwane Lay and Jonathan Brewer, and the generosity of John Hudson, guitar provider par excellence, things got off to a lively start with a pre conference camp fire singalong on Sunday evening. This was a great way to catch up with old friends and meet some new ones too, and Dave Ryan was on the ball and captured a flavour of our musical time together for posterity.

The theme and purpose for the conference this year is all about HR helping HR – and we are being encouraged to discuss and suggest and encourage different ways of working better together. I chose to approach this challenge by preparing a session about connections, communication and creativity.


We looked at how we currently learn and work and how this seems to drive up convergent thinking and drive out creativity and divergence. I shared a little of what I’d learned from the recent RSA talk by Ken Robinson to help illustrate this. We also looked at how we react to experiences that make us feel shameful and the impact that often has on creativity too. Here’s a little something I learned from Brene Brown and Heather Bussing on this important, and yet little talked about aspect of vulnerability – an essential ingredient of creativity.

Vulnerability - Brene Brown

Vulnerability - Heather Bussing


We spent time talking about the benefits of investing in building a diverse network. Being able to connect, share and learn with and from people is increasingly easy, particularly with the technology available to us (we looked mainly at Twitter, blogging and Instagram as tools to help with this). And we explored how much more interesting things get when you reach beyond people you might typically associate with and strive to learn from others less like you too. Diversity is another essential ingredient of creativity.


We looked at Starbucks and Qantas and their ill timed #SpreadTheCheer and #QantasLuxury campaigns as examples of what happens when social goes wrong. Both of these examples could have been prevented , and we discussed how organisations that choose to work in a more conversational, open and transparent cross departmental way often minimise the chances of making these kinds of dumb mistakes. And if HR has a role to encourage smarter working in the business, and we agreed it does, then why not take the lead and be the oil in the machine. Conversations – essential ingredients of creativity.

I’ll come back to this subject after I’ve flown back from the US, and I’ll also take a look at some of the new thinking that Paul Hebert shared with us, some of which fits neatly in this connections space too. For now though, I’m off to enjoy Dwane Lay’s talk and the rest of the conference. Have a great day.