Practicing : Part One

Is the work ever done?

A friend of mine got in touch last week to let me know they love my Twitter bio. Currently it reads…

Artist and consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

I thanked my friend, and noted it’s taken me ten years to write those two short sentences (good work reveals itself slowly). I can’t remember exactly what previous iterations of my Twitter bio look like, and I do know there have been several. Things change.

For a few years I wrote my bio as a credo, ‘a statement of beliefs which guide someone’s actions’. I forget the exact details of it now, but it included things like: productive beats busy, we are all artists, and something about conversations… Trust me it made more sense at the time, and when it came to the attention of a certain researcher whose work I admire, I readily admit I was pleased.

I became very attached to the credo, sticking with it for a long time, changing very little, if anything about it. Yet all the time, my work shifted and moved, because I kept practicing.

Part of the challenge that comes with labels, is knowing when to use them and when to change them. In the last couple of years I’d become stuck in lots of ways, before coming to a decision to be more intentional about letting my consulting and artistic practices overlap and inform one another. In truth that’s been happening for a while, but I’d felt reluctant to to acknowledge this publicly. Last year, Richard Martin suggested I bring my art and my consulting web sites together, which I did. Combining these two things felt odd for a while, as I suppose does anything new, yet I resisted the temptation to unwind and separate things again, and now, it just feels right. For the time being, my Twitter bio is spot on.

Meg, thank you for your note last week. I am pleased you noticed, and I wonder how long it’ll be before another change…Is the work ever done?

Part Two of ‘Practicing’ will be about how a small experiment in January 2018 is growing into one of my most important bodies of work.

How Did You Get That Gig?

I’m packing my bag getting ready to head for home. I have a 13:00 local time departure from St Paul, then an 18:00 from O’Hare which is due to get me into London Heathrow at 06:45 Thursday morning. I’ve had a great time meeting some friends in real life for the first time and I’ve enjoyed some fascinating work and learning with the project management community of Thomson Reuters and beyond. When I get home I’ll write more on both of these things.

For now though – I want to try and answer a question I’m often asked, namely ‘How did you get that gig?’ In all honesty I don’t have the answer totally nailed, but here are a few things that seem to bear fruit, eventually.

Be open to possibilities. I think social media can be a great enabler for this, and I love the chance to forge lots of weak ties (as written about by Malcolm Gladwell, Joe Gerstandt and Jason Lauritsen), some of which will strengthen in time.

Be patient. I choose to come from a place of trust, that is to say that my tendency is to trust you first, and ask questions later. However when you’re engaging with others who act on behalf of their professional body, or their company, they may not have that latitude. Give them the time and the means to get to know you and see the trust you place in them. Don’t push it…too hard.

Hustle – very gently. Neil Morrison once referred to me as the least pushiest sales guy you’ll ever meet, and whilst I like that, I also need to remember that it’s OK, maybe even essential to nudge things along at times. I’m rarely that important to someone in a busy working environment, and neither are you. So don’t take it personally, but do take the time to check in.

Practice your ass off. The feedback I get is that people appreciate the adaptable and flexible nature of working with me. And that flexibility is only achieved through hours and hours and hours of practice. Most of what you practice you’ll probably never need, but whether you are speaking, facilitating or consulting, you need to be confident that you are the best prepared person in the room. That way you can relax (a bit!) and both give, and help co-create great value.

Be humble. My work is all about you. I exist to serve and I consider that a huge privilege. I have never knowingly accepted work unless I genuinely believe it is in the client’s best interest. I’ve turned opportunities down and walked away from an assignment when it became clear that the time for me to add value had expired, even though the client was willing to continue. For it to be right for me – first it has to be right for you.

So there you have it. Five things that sometimes, kinda seem to work. And yet here’s the rub. I’m often wrong, I’m often right, I rarely know which is which and I reserve the right to change my mind. If you are happy to share what works for you, I and others would I’m sure appreciate that. And if you have experiences of me you are willing to share, particularly if you think I can learn and improve from them – well that would be great.



Laurie Ruettimann
Laurie Ruettimann

Good ideas are all around us. We miss most of them, and a few stick. 2012 is transformational for me because I spotted an idea in 2011 and I acted on it.  The idea was a reminder, a reminder of the importance of practice. It came from Laurie Ruettimann (pictured above) in a blog post she wrote called Public Speaking Tips. You can read the whole piece here, and the part that really struck home for me was:

I practice like crazy. Other speakers advise me not to over-prepare and I tell them, “Mind your own business.” Malcolm Gladwell tells us that we need 10,000 of practice before we become rockstars. Maybe you don’t have to practice because you’re awesome. That’s great. Good for you. But we don’t let our children get behind the wheel of a car without extensive practice. Why would I stand before a group of busy, smart, talented people without extensive preparation? My audience deserves a strongly executed performance. I want to deliver. You should, too.

Laurie’s post was written on September 21st 2011 and just a couple of weeks beforehand I had accepted an invitation to speak at the CIPD Social Media in HR conference in December 2011. I musta read Laurie’s post about a hundred times, over and over and over. And then I applied that same level of interest and practice to the talk I was going to give. I built the talk, I destroyed the talk, I rebuilt it. I bashed it crashed it, mashed it, bashed it. Practice, practice, practice. Hell I even practiced leaving a couple of pieces to free flow, because you never know how your audience is going to react and if you’ve tied down the whole thing then you’ve kinda got nowhere to go.

The day came. I was nervous. I’m always nervous, and I always tell folks this. See, I did it again just there. After lunch I stood up and did my thing. I nailed it, and others felt I nailed it too. People like Neil Morrison, Alison Chisnell and Natasha Stallard. People I respect because I know they are authentic. And if they think I’m doing a good job, well that will do for me.

Wind the clock forward to today and I am humbled and excited by the speaking opportunities and possibilities that are presenting themselves since the day I nailed it. You can see some of them, including my September trip to Ohio (pinch myself) emerging here. And I’m currently doing exciting work with some great people at Careergro, helping them bring their product to market here in the UK. Last December, one of the Directors of Careergro was in the audience at the conference and heard the talk I gave. How cool is that!

So what?

First I want to thank the CIPD for inviting me and in particular I want to acknowledge Laurie’s part in my recent success. Not only did she write a fabulous, timely blog post, but she has also reached out to me a few times since and given generous support. Thank you Laurie, and if ever I can do something for you, just ask and I’ll do it (so long as it doesn’t involve looking after Scrubby. I’m not big on cats – sorry).

Second, if I can spot these things and act on them, so can you. I encourage you to think for a few minutes. An idea will have caught your eye recently. Have you grabbed it? Are you acting on it?

Third. When you act on it and achieve what you wanted, please don’t forget to acknowledge the person who gave you the idea. Always remember, what goes around, comes around.