Martin and Mark

A post about being in a hole, and finding a way out.

Suddenly I stop
But I know it’s too late
I’m lost in a forest
All alone – Robert Smith

The impulse is pure
Sometimes our circuits get shorted
By external interference
Signals get crossed
And the balance distorted
By internal incoherence – Neil Peart

Change is the only constant – A. Smartarse

Sometimes, work sucks. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fortunate compared to many people, but sometimes, work sucks. Projects get deferred, postponed, parked and abandoned. Plans made carefully over time, can drift apart in seconds. We all now how that feels. It’s quite common for things to shift, and it’s thankfully less common for so many things to slip at once. Right now, I find myself in the middle of a lot of this stuff. A few short  weeks ago I felt like I was on solid ground, currently it feels more like quicksand. I’m not complaining – just noting this is how it is some times, and it gets me down. I’m only human.


I caught up with Martin Couzins earlier in the week. Martin is a great guy and we had a lovely, lively conversation. We spoke about all things good and bad, challenging and frustrating, uplifting and depressing. We spoke frankly and honestly. Martin is a great listener, generous in spirit and also with his time. We parted company after a little over 90 minutes, with me in a very different place to when I arrived. Thank you Martin, you are a good friend and I needed to see you more than I realised. My work doesn’t suck so bad.


As I walked to the tube station to start my journey back to the office, I passed by a guy and his dog, sitting on the pavement near Gloucester Road tube. I saw some sketches at his feet. I stopped to admire the artwork, sat on the pavement with the guy, and we started to talk. Mark is homeless, he’s been on the streets for three years. When he found himself homeless, he couldn’t bring himself to beg, and he didn’t want to start drinking, so he decided to make art instead.

Family Tree

As you can see, he’s quite the artist, though he assured me that when he started drawing three years ago, ‘it was all stick men’. I showed him some of my pictures, and he showed me more of his. Two artists (and a dog) sitting together on the pavement outside Gloucester Road tube. I gave Mark a few water colour pencils – treasured possessions of mine, time to pass them on. He offered me the picture of his which I had been admiring, I took it and insisted on paying for it. I tucked £10 under his pencil tin, and he put it away. ‘There are a lot of people on the streets who will have that away if I leave it in sight’. We talked a while longer about our art as our work, and parted company. Thank you Mark, for helping me reconnect to my work and realising, it doesn’t suck so bad.

So what?

Things go wrong all the time. When this happens, I have a tendency to keep things bottled up. This is partly because I’m an optimist first and foremost, and partly because I feel a sense of pressure to comply with a culture of ‘Everything is Awesome’, which often pervades my social networks.

The truth is, you cannot know joy without despair, happy without sad. Life is a wonderfully mixed bag, and to deny this, is unhelpful, even dangerous.

Conversations with good people are a great way to put things in perspective and move on. My day concluded with me finishing a key part of an important project. Thank you Martin and Mark.


What Brings You Joy?

As questions go – at first glance this seems an unusual one to ask people at work, at least it does to me. We often refrain from linking such expressive language to the person in the workplace, for example it might be alright to talk about how much you love:

  • Your job
  • This latest app
  • Those shoes

But dare to express love for another person, and you can imagine that the next steps of that conversation will involve a stern talking to from HR. Maybe the L word is a bridge too far for work, so for the time being I will retreat to the comparatively safer territory of joy.

What Brings You Joy?

I’ve wanted to ask this question of people more and more lately, and occasionally I’ve managed to ask it out loud, though it’s usually followed immediately by something more tepid like ‘You know, what do you like to do?’ No sooner have I uttered the question than I’m withdrawing to what I perceive to be a safer (more boring?) place. A few days ago I was facilitating a group of people gathered from across the world, and my brief was simple. Help this group get to know each other better and encourage them to work in teams. In under two hours. I had initially thought we might play ‘What’s My Thing?’ but as I stood with this group of enthusiastic people, I decided to go a little further.

Draw for the Bin

After an initial exploration of drawing for the bin, instead of playing What’s My Thing? I invited the group to explore ‘What Brings You Joy?’ I did not seek to explain the question any further. In small groups, people talked about the question, illustrated the question and then told stories about their responses to the question.

This flipagram slideshow is a very brief look at what the group cocreated. I hope it conveys a hint of the energy, enthusiasm and yes, the joy in the room. After the session the group decided to mount all the pictures at their global HQ and send copies out to whoever in the group wanted them.

I’m glad I got past my own reluctance about using the word joy in a work context as it’s very often these little tweaks that make the big differences. What is it you really want to ask people and how might you frame it in a way that elicits a more engaged, useful and human response?