Things Used To Be So Much Better…

I’ve just listened to an interview on the radio with Paul Lambert, a former Scottish international football player and manager. The Scotland team are on a particularly poor run of form just now, having lost six of the eight games they’ve played so far this year, and the mood of the interviewer was very downbeat.

The interviewer positioned things as ‘not good’, ‘terrible’. Lambert suggested a big part of the problem is expectation levels. ‘People go by what happened in the past, we’re not there anymore. We need to accept what we have now and support the team’. I think Lambert’s right, yet to me, this inability to shake the past feels like our need for certainty, holding us back.

Things used to be so much better then…therefore they should be just as good (if not better) now?

While there clearly are things we can learn from what’s gone before – it feels pretty pointless to me to base our performance expectations on previous versions of ourselves and others. By doing this we risk setting ourselves up for additional stress and a reluctance to deal with failure. I come across this harking back to bygone days when working with teams and organisations, and I wonder, how can we acknowledge the past, remember the good stuff, and break free from the unrealistic expectations these associations often cause?

Maybe we need some sort of ceremony, a way of putting the past to rest? Not so much a funeral, but a celebration, a recognition, and a moving on.

Our Working With Uncertainty workshop takes place tomorrow afternoon and I’m curious, tempted to ask people if they want to play with this quandary of respecting the past without hanging on to it, as part of our work.

More to follow…maybe?

A Gift Inside A Gift

I recently agreed to donate a piece of art to a fundraising event for Wallington Animal Rescue (WAR), an excellent local good cause, run tirelessly by Neil and Amanda. As the event drew nearer, I got more nervous. A painting of a cat had been requested, a subject I’ve only tackled once before now, and on that occasion I took a rather unconventional approach.

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I didn’t want to repeat the previous cat portrait, I needed to find something different. A few days ago, after a few failed attempts at cat painting using ink on paper, with uncertainty levels rising I found myself turning a small box over and over in my hands. The box was a gift from Simon Heath, containing some sketching charcoals. Simon gave me this gift several years ago, it’s a lovely little box with a sliding lid, containing six different coloured sticks. Over the years I have opened and closed the box many times, reluctant to disturb its miniature perfection by using it. On this occasion I broke the spell, took the sticks from the box and began to work. A vaguely cat-like shape began to emerge, and I pressed on. I ended up with a rather relaxed looking feline, and decided to title the art work, ‘Peace’. Uncertainty overcome, the good people at WAR appreciated the donation and Peace now has a new home.

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‘Peace’ in the studio, accompanied by the now used sketching sticks.

I told Simon I had finally got round to using his gift, and he kindly replied with a lovely short story, which I’d like to share with you here.

“My favourite teacher at school was, perhaps unsurprisingly, my art teacher. He was not your conventional idea of an art teacher. He had served in the merchant navy during the Second World War. He was torpedoed and his ship sunk during the Malta convoys.

He was an evocative storyteller. He did not spare us the hardships and horrors of his service. He had a wealth of tales of all kinds and liked to set us drawing and painting projects provoked by different types of music. He used to jokingly threaten us with “The Persuader”. A table leg studded with nails and drawing pins akin to Captain Caveman’s club. He had a favourite scary story called Skull Island. It was terrifying and accompanied by grotesque sound effects.

He brought in plaster replicas of works of the great classical sculptors like Michelangelo. He liked to think that the figure already existed within the marble. The sculptor’s art was releasing that figure. I’ve always cherished that idea. And so, thank you for patiently reading this story and understanding why I love the idea that your cat was sleeping within the charcoal this whole time. And you’ve now released it into a wider consciousness. My teacher’s name was Peter Clay. He died some years ago but his stories didn’t. He was brilliant.”

I love the idea that sometimes our work is already there, it just needs releasing. That’s a notion I shall seek out again, next time a goal is proving elusive.

I hope you enjoyed this piece of writing as much as I enjoyed handing the finished artwork over, and seeing Simon’s story. If the idea of working with uncertainty interests you, come to the next Working With Uncertainty workshop in London on October 16th, and explore new ways to do things differently, in a safe, encouraging environment. See you there.

 

Stretch Your Canvas

This is one of many lovely art works I’ve collected over the years, made by people who I work with who tell me they cannot draw. Apologies, I don’t currently know the name of the artist, but what we have here is a visual response to the question ‘what brings you joy?’.

A lot of my work is about encouraging folk who talk about creativity and innovation, to talk a little less, and do a little more. Take some action – convert your thoughts and ideas into objects and artefacts, learning from what that feels like. Something I observe in the work, is it needs repeated practice. Doing things differently often doesn’t come easy, and when you and I cannot respond positively to the ‘so when was the last time you did something you felt uneasy about?’ question, we undermine our ability to encourage, to influence.

In the coming weeks I am particularly busy, playing in the space where people’s desire to progress meets the stalling effects of uncertainty. For me – I feel better equipped to help people move through these feelings, into participation, when I am also pushing myself. In order to refresh this desire, at the beginning of last week I decided to take part in an open mic event at The Brook, a lovely venue just down the road from me. As the big day drew nearer I realised that this was no ordinary open mic night. A band called Love Zombies were visiting the UK to record a new album at The Brook, and the venue announced the band would be taking part in the open mic evening.

I arrived and the place was packed. I nervously approached Dan, who organises/encourages/sets up/pretty much does everything to make these evenings work well, and asked for a slot. 9.15pm it is then. At 8pm I take my seat and watch the venue come alive.

Love Zombies played first, then a series of talented local musicians took to the stage, as each one concludes their short act, my time of reckoning draws nearer. Heart thumping, 9.15pm comes and goes, things are understandably overrunning a little, it’s hectic in here. I lost my bottle at around 10pm, and went to find Dan to apologise before leaving. He said sorry for the delay, I realised I was being a chump, and we opted for a 10.15pm start.

At the reallotted time I took to the stage, nervously, and played two songs. I fluffed the first (When I Grow Up – by Tim Minchin), picked myself up and finished it, and the second (Where In The Hell Did You Go With My Toothbrush – by The Reverend Horton Heat) came out better, in the right order at least! I did what I set out to do. Sure, I made some mistakes along the way, and I got it done. I’m as certain as I can be that further mistakes will occur in the coming weeks too, and I’m also certain that when someone asks me ‘so when was the last time you did something you felt uneasy about?’ I can respond positively, currently, and authentically.

Whatever you’re up to this week, go well, have fun, and maybe even make a mistake or two? 😉