Creative Leadership – Connections Part Three

This is the third and final post drawn from my recent talk and shared experiences around connections and creativity at the Illinois SHRM conference 2013. The first part of this series is about music, vulnerability, diversity and conversations, the second is about transparency and seeing the whole picture, and this third piece is about presence and art.

Be Here Now

We talked about the importance of presence as a way of reinforcing connections, and about that good feeling you get when you know you have the attention of the other person. Someone in the audience referred to this as ‘Be Here Now’, and as we talked through what this meant to people, other words like focus, appreciate and mindful came up in our conversation. We talked about how crappy meetings get in the way of doing good work and we shared a few ideas about how to make crappy meetings better.

Art for Art’s Sake

I spoke briefly about my ongoing artistic endeavours, and how my experiment with painting started purely for enjoyment. And the more I played – with paints, pencils, and inks…

Art for Art's Sake

Art for Work’s Sake

…the more I began to realise that the very act of artistic expression, is a gateway to better work. Importantly, this gateway is open to all, regardless of the level of proficiency. I am not an artist, but I have discovered and am discovering ways of using art both as an individual and in groups with clients, to help with gaining different perspectives, aiding divergent thinking and improving problem solving.

Art for Work's Sake

The form the art takes can vary. Photography, painting, drawing, mark making, sketching, collage, poetry, and adaptation of the work of others (the head shaped example above is cut from a piece of work that CreativeConnection recorded at a previous event we ran together), are all ways of helping you experiment, think more creatively, and find new answers to problems.


The curtain came down on our time together at Illinois with a reminder of the importance of trust, and with that we went our separate ways to make more connections and learn and share more experiences together.

The Trust Overlap

I hope this review of connections and creativity has been useful. If you have any questions – or would like to explore anything I’ve written about in more detail, please get in touch.

Additional Resources

Here are the slides I used for my talk in full

Here is a link to the work on Humanizing Employee Engagement that Paul Hebert shared with us in Illinois. This was my favourite session of the conference, partly because it linked to some of the connections stuff we spoke about, but more importantly, because Paul is a smart guy who thinks a little differently. If you’re not already connected with Paul, hopefully this link will encourage you to do so.

Creative Leadership – Connections Part Two

A few days ago I wrote about some of the conversations we were having in Illinois at the very excellent annual State SHRM conference about connections and creativity. As promised, here’s a little more on that subject, and there’s more to come next week after the August Bank Holiday.

Transparent Connections

We all want to be kept informed right? Wrong. We all need to be kept informed. Nobody works well in isolation, and the timely flow of information is vital for doing good work, yet it’s hard finding a company that doesn’t wilfully keep secrets from itself. Strictly Confidential, silos, and locked doors all serve to stifle the oxygenating effects created by a free flow of information. I’m not really interested in ‘Thinking Outside the Box’ on this one, I think we need to be more radical. Just open the box, unpack it, and throw the box away. Rather than coming at this challenge from where we are now, with most things hidden from most people, what if we were to start with complete openness and work back from there? Scary? Yep. Exciting? Definitely!

Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant write compellingly about this approach in Humanize, which I shamelessly referenced again for my Illinois SHRM talk, and in it they suggest a number of key things about transparency, two of which I want to highlight here. First, it’s vital that you can be really clear why transparency is important to you. Second, when you are figuring out what to share, and someone blocks with the challenge ‘we’ve always done it that way’, that is no longer good enough.

Small Picture, Big Picture

I firmly believe that a part of what delivers world beating performance, is when everyone can clearly see the goal and can clearly see all the information they need to be able to contribute to that goal. So the woman who makes the screw which fits the seatpost to the saddle, onto which Bradley Wiggins places his skinny butt so he can PLF (Pedal Like F*ck) and together with Mark Cavendish win the Madison final at the World Championships at 2008. She knows precisely how to make that tiny piece of kit and someone else knows just how tightly to do it up, and so on, and so on. Transparency – it matters.



World Champions

Photo Credits:

Bicycle Photo – yours truly

Bradley Wiggins  and Mark Cavendish

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.