The Art of the Possible

A short story about being open to the possibilities.

A short story about being open to the possibilities.

Joe's Painting #125 - 1965
Joe’s Painting #125 – 1965

My day started early, 05:21 early to be precise. An unfamiliar timezone, an unfamiliar bed, and the oh so familiar nerves and excitement that come with doing something new and unfamiliar.

Today marks a key point on a journey. Today – for the first time, Joe Gerstandt and I get to work play together, for the good people at Illinois SHRM. I first met Joe in the Autumn of 2012, very briefly, at Ohio SHRM. He and Jason were doing a book signing after their conference keynote, and I was in the queue. Jason kindly gave me a copy of their book, Social Gravity, and I bought a copy to give to someone else who was at the conference. Joe was busy, I was holding up the line. Hi and bye – that was about it. Joe and I kept in touch on social media and via Skype, and a few months after we first met, we agreed it would be fun to work together – some day, somehow.

Often when I am away on holiday, I collect little shells and pebbles on the beach, returning many, keeping a few. The idea of working together became one of those pebbles. It was kept, turned over and admired from time to time, and put back in my pocket.

December 2013 I submitted a proposal to speak at the 2014 Illinois SHRM conference. My proposal was a talk based on what has since developed into Art For Work’s Sake. Sabrina Baker responded positively, and offered something unexpected. She suggested that I might develop the proposal into a workshop to take place the day before the conference. Would I like to do that? The pebble was back out of my pocket and looking smoother, and rounder than it ever had before. I responded positively and in our exchange of messages I asked Sabrina if it would be OK for me to approach Joe, to suggest that we might do this work together? Sabrina agreed in a heartbeat and so I contacted Joe and told him I’d found that opportunity we’d spoken about so often. Thankfully, he agreed to play.

Joe and I met up yesterday at the Art Institute of Chicago. We’ve been exchanging thoughts and ideas on how to make our time together useful and fun, for us both, yes – and more importantly, for the curious minded adventurers who have kindly agreed to invest three hours with us today. Joe and I talked and walked – it was great fun to be with someone I respect, in a building I love, admiring the art. Here are two pieces I particularly enjoyed.

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Shiraga’s piece has a real depth and sense of action about it – messy play I think they call it at nursery? Kawara uses art to document his days. He has produced over 2,000 works which are either completed on the day, or destroyed. His work is a record of his creative energy, on each day he works. I love the idea behind the body of work and I love that this piece was painted free hand, no stencils here.

It’s now four hours to go before we start our session. I’m writing and pacing the floor in between sentences. I am nervous, excited, and open to the possibilities.

Sabrina – thank you for your lovely idea. Joe – thank you for agreeing to play.

Creative Leadership – Essential Reading #2

A quick review of The Year Without Pants by Scott Berkun

Creative Leadership - Essential Reading

Following a quick peek at 101 Things to Learn in Art School, next up in this mini review series is the epic, The Year Without Pants, by Scott Berkun. This book was recommended to me by the very lovely Heather Bussing (here’s her excellent review of it here) and it’s without a doubt, one of my favourite, most useful and enjoyable reads of all time.

Why do I like it so much? Essentially – it’s just very well written. It has the human touch, lacking in a lot of ‘business’ books, and it’s shot through with some great humour too. It’s about the year(ish) Berkun spent working at, the experience he and others gained and the wonderful shared learning. Rather than offer tons of advice, the book asks great questions – and often encourages you the reader to add your own organisational context. My copy is full of little tabs and markers highlighting little snippets I can easily refer back to. In no particular order, I’ll share a few of those with you here:

On Friday August 24th…I had my first team meeting. It was the worst kind of meeting – the kind where no one knows why they are there.

The only good news was the meeting was short, which is never a mistake. Until the day you can end a meeting where someone other than you says, ‘Wait! Can we meet longer?’ it’s safe to assume the meeting was longer than necessary.

The realisation that everyone is different when you talk to them alone is a secret to success in life.

What assumptions do you have about your organisation that hurt you? And what experiments are you doing to discover them and find better ways to work?

We faithfully follow practices we can’t explain rationally. Why is it that work has to start at 9:00am, and end at 5:00pm? Why are you required to wear a tie of you are a man and a skirt if you are a woman? Why are meetings sixty minutes long by default, and not thirty? We have little evidence these habits produce better work.

I love that when he started his work – Berkun drew up a list of priorities. Here’s his list:

  • Trust is everything

Keeping it real, keeping it simple.

This book has accompanied me to and been photographed on tour in London, Louisiana, Latvia, I had an L thing going on at the time. It has become part of my memory and a truly memorable read. I enjoy it so much I have bought several copies for friends, and happily supported the Kickstarter campaign for Scott’s next book.

Have a great day – next up it’s the turn of Steal Like An Artist

Note to self – this is the 700th blog post on this site. I need to get out more!

Creative Leadership – Essential Reading – #1

A brief review of 101 Things to Learn at Art School – by Kit White.

What’s black and white and red all over?

A newspaper? A sunburnt penguin?

Or maybe…it’s this lot.

Creative Leadership - Essential Reading

These four books which I have been reading and rereading for the last few months have each proved to be outstanding. Rarely do I discover such a rich vein of reading form, and I’d like to share it with you in the form of a brief review of each book, in the order they arrived in my hands.

101 Things to Learn in Art School – Kit White

Carole gave me a copy of this book as a birthday present last year. It’s a thing of wonder, oozing with creativity, simplicity and ideas. Each double page has an illustration on the left, and a thought, idea, practice or provocation on the right. Whilst at first glance this book feels like it’s squarely aimed at the aspiring artist, it’s full of ideas that cross borders into other disciplines too. When applying the book to my practice, I often find myself replacing the word art with the word work, after all – I do believe our art is our work and vice versa. For example:

Making (work) art is an act of discovery. If you are dealing only with what you know, you may not be doing your job. When you discover something new, or surprise yourself, you are engaging in the process of discovery.

Clear sight makes clear (work) art. Observation lies at the heart of the (work) art process. Whether your art derives from mimicking nature or extrapolating a mental construct, your powers of observation are critical. Unless you can see what lies before you, you cannot describe it. Train yourself to eliminate preconceptions and received understandings when observing anything. Try to see what is before you, not what you think you see or want to see.

I have the hard cover edition of the book. It’s a solid, rubber clad, square shaped thing of beauty. I can’t imagine enjoying this volume nearly so much on a Kindle. On the creative leadership dial it points more towards the creative, and I think your work will be all the better for reading it, enjoying it and practicing it. So much has it resonated with me, I have bought several copies of this book for other people as gifts.

Have a great day, next up it’s the turn of The Year Without Pants.