Tales Of The Unexpected : Tension and Release

Have you ever given an Ignite talk? The format can feel quite daunting – telling a story while 20 slides whizz by, each one auto forwarding after just 15 seconds. A rollercoaster ride. They’re not for everyone, and they are good for getting disciplined about pubic speaking. Should you fancy giving an Ignite talk a try, check out this great post by Scott Berkun titled ‘How To Give A Great Ignite Talk‘, it’s full of useful ideas on how to get through one in good shape.

I was part of the Ignite team at the CIPD Learning and Development conference in Olympia last week. The subject I chose was ‘The Art of Better Learning’, how we can use art to make learning more of an unfolding inquiry, less of a search for certainty. I drafted my story, drew some slides to illustrate my thoughts and got on with rehearsing. Normally when I give a talk I leave lots of room for emergent ideas – ebb and flow. The Ignite format doesn’t work like that so it’s important to prepare in order to keep things nice and tight. Cue cards work well for me during the prep stage. Thinking through things then writing it down seems to make subsequent recall a little easier. Once I was happy with my story and the pictures, I packed everything up and sent it over to Giorgia, my contact at the CIPD. She kindly confirmed safe receipt and checked over my slides to make sure they worked. Thank you Giorgia.

The Art of Better Learning.jpg


The day of the talk arrived, and in the minutes before the session started I asked to see how the slides would appear on screen. I’m used to working on a Mac and the venue had provided a Windows PC for the session, I wanted to see if there were any key differences. It turned out there was an unexpected key difference. Somewhere between the CIPD and the event, my slides had corrupted, and instead of a series of hand drawn slides, I was presented with a blank screen. No problem, a quick hop onto Dropbox will solve this…

Once the tech guy at the venue had confirmed there was no internet access from the presenter’s pc, I went through an emotional tailspin as follows:

Tension: Directed at myself for not bringing a back up on a memory stick.

More tension: All that hard work drawing slides and rehearsing – wasted!

Panic: Panic: Panic:

Defeated: I’ll just drop out of the line up, no one will know…

Recovery: Hang on a minute, I brought the cue cards with me, and a handful of the drawings. I’ve also got a random bunch of art works made by clients at previous workshops. There are twenty minutes until I’m on, surely I can rework the story in that time…

Reworking The Story.jpg
My Improvised Ignite talk props.

…and so I did.

The talk passed in a blur – I tried to make eye contact with as many people as possible. Having no images to play to meant I relied heavily on the cue cards, and while they kept me on track, they were a distraction too. I kept catching smiles from people when I could, and tried to return them too. The encouragement levels were high and I kept on going – keeping the pace up to remain authentic to the format, and to leave no room for nerves!


After I’d finished, people responded warmly and enthusiastically. A few folk approached me and congratulated me on how I’d set the whole thing up, they thought the tech fail was part of the plan! My heart rate for the next hour or so was proof that this was the genuine article, nerves and all. Looking back a few days later, and given the nature of what I wanted to talk about, the way things unravelled and then reassembled could not have been better. Thank you to everyone who supported me at the event, and online. Without People, You’re Nothing.


There is much talk of disruption in and around the world of work. People throw the term around with much excitement, it’s seen as cool to disrupt. I disagree. The verb disrupt is defined as: to drastically alter or destroy the structure of. True disruption often comes out of the blue, unseen and unexpected. In a way, I experienced a few minutes of disruption last week. I improvised, and whilst I just about coped, I wouldn’t wish to inflict that level of intensity on any one. The next time you call for disruption, spare a thought for the disrupted.

In case you are interested, Ady Howes filmed me giving this talk. If you want to see what the face of a speaker on a white knuckle ride looks like, Ady’s kindly agreed I can share the recording with you here!

The Ebb and Flow of Creativity – V1.3

Creativity is not binary. You don’t just switch it on – you adjust the dials and tease it out. Don’t fear it, play with it, iterate it.

Many organisations desire the benefits that creativity and innovation offer them and yet they are put off by, and often even fear the messy consequences that creativity brings with it. In June 2014 I published the first version of the Creativity Ebb n Flow Meter, a tool designed to help people see past that fear.

Creativity Ebb n Flow Meter

The purpose of this machine is to highlight the fact that creativity is not binary. You don’t just switch it on – you adjust the dials according to your organisation’s prevailing culture, and tease it out. Don’t fear it, play with it.

I received some great feedback when V1.0 was published and I incorporated much of that feedback into V1.2. This is the first time I have shared V1.2 on here, previously it has appeared on Twitter, Google Plus and Facebook, but not the blog. As you can see – V1.2 contains a few improvements, namely a wider choice of beverages, a suspend judgement button, and it is now powered by imagination. Sadly the ham and eggs option had to go – it made a funny smell and was just too messy.

Creativity Ebb n Flow Meter V1.2

Once again I benefitted from a lot of encouragement and feedback when this second version saw the light of day, and I have finally got round to incorporating that feedback into this, the third version of the Creativity Ebb n Flow Meter.

Creativity Ebb n  Flow Meter V1.3

This time the main changes are the inclusion of feedback, a pain dial, a deadline alert and a scarcity slider, necessity is the mother of invention and all that jazz. Wine is also now available. I’ve had a lot of fun designing and evolving this machine, and in addition, the three versions that have emerged also demonstrate the iterative nature of many creative processes. As you can see – I’m getting tight for space now, but if I was to make further modifications, what changes would you suggest?

Creativity – Ebb and Flow

Creativity – identify the tensions and dichotomies in your work and find a way to play with them.

Following yesterday’s post about no agenda, David D’Souza and Ian Sutherland both got in touch to suggest that my thinking was less about having no agenda, perhaps more about cocreating one. I agree.

My thinking on cocreation and agendas was further provoked by Julian Stodd writing about the enemies of innovation in organisations, and in particular his observations about dichotomies, for example the tension between trust and rules. These tensions brought to mind the knobs and dials on a mixing desk, and with this in mind, last night I invented a new toy. Ladies and gentlemen (drum roll) I give you the patented, ‘Creativity Ebb n Flow Meter’ – V1.0.

Creativity Ebb n Flow Meter

As you can see, the device is a series of complex tensions, adjusted through a series of knobs and sliders. On the far left is the all important panic button and a limited choice of beverages is available on the right. All this magic is contained in an old cereal box, which is a bit crunked because I sat on it by accident.

I’m now looking for investors to help me develop a version 2.0 of this product, so if you know any angels, and if you’ve any thoughts about modifications I should make to improve things, please let me know.