Is This It?

Lead with what you love now, as there may not be a tomorrow.

It’s November 2018. A big company wants to experiment with communities of practice and other community aspects of learning and development. A good friend and I have just been asked to help out on the project. Initial signs are positive. Lots of enthusiasm, some clear, seemingly manageable deadlines, and an openness to new ideas. We agree to initial requests for us to respond quickly, and develop and propose a cocreated consultative approach to the work. The quick turnaround is noted by the client, who, upon receiving the proposal on 27 November 2018, promises to ‘revert this morning with any questions.’ Since then – despite several gentle reminders from us, we’ve heard nothing. It also took 70 days to get paid for the initial work we did.

It’s November 2018. An associate and I have just been booked to cocreate some art work and visual minutes at a conference in March 2019. We subsequently exchange regular correspondence with the client about the event. On 30 January 2019, the client changes their mind, apologises for messing us around, and says they no longer want us to do the work. There is currently a reluctance to pay our cancellation fee.

Time and effort has been spent securing this work, planning, helping to deliver, and managing our part in it. The unceremonious way in which work sometimes unravels, is depressing. I wasted time at the start of February 2019 worrying about the effects of such evaporation, and wondering if there are ways to get these things back on track.

It’s 11 February 2019. I run an art class for a group of older people. It’s a satisfying challenge, we have fun together, talking and trying out new things.

It’s 12 February 2019. I sell some art, and I facilitate an evening art workshop in a local pub. The work is full of enthusiasm, experimentation, and joy.

It’s 13 February 2019. I’m at Martin Couzins’s Bar Camp, and I’m live painting. I’m meeting good people, stretching my creative muscles, making art, and more.

It’s 14 February 2019. I’m volunteering at a careers fair, talking to school kids about why art matters, about doing things differently, and what it feels like to run your own business. Unbeknownst to me at the time, news is reaching people of the death of our good friend Cate. I meet a friend for lunch, we share an excellent conversation and he buys some art from me.

It’s 15 February 2019. Fridays start with counselling, a fabulous unhurried opportunity to talk. I prepare this week’s free art drop, a tribute to Cate.

It’s 18 February 2019. I sell some art, and prepare some art for shipping to an exhibition in Germany. I have a commission enquiry to deal with.

It’s 19 February 2019. I meet with someone who runs an interesting community space. We talk about art, and how it makes us think and feel, and reach an in principle agreement to pilot some community art sessions.

I am reflecting on recent events, and it is dawning on me that in recent days I invested time and effort in work that brings joy to me and others. I also learned of Cate’s death, sudden and unexpected. These things ground us. Too often I chase the seductive enthusiasm for new ideas in corporate land, only to find that enthusiasm is rarely followed by action. Perhaps Cate is teaching me that I need to lead with the art now, as there may not be a tomorrow.

Is this it?


As If To Fly

The 100 Year Life

I’m live blogging from the 2018 ChangeBoard future talent conference. Emma Birchall spoke about the 100 year life. I found this session fascinating.

Emma’s Nana is 1 of 14 kids, there are 74 grandkids – that’s Nana’s secret to a long and happy life.

Education/ Workforce / Retirement. A 3 stage life. Organisations could plan and understand around this. Similar cohorts, lock step with peers.

As life expectancy increases – those extra years are added to the retirement phase of life. Someone starting work at 20 working to 60, living to 100 is balancing work and retirement 1 to 1

When Germany introduced a pension for 70 – average age expectancy was 48.

The 3 stage life model is breaking, the stages will blur and blend.

We manage tangible assets like homes, savings, Emma suggests we apply same rigour to intangible assets – productivity, vitality, change/transformation.

Productivity – skills/professions change – how can we anticipate what will be needed? Emma highlighted an absence of development after school, unless you’re senior management, you might get some investment in you then. What signals do we send to each other around learning and development? Look at your own diary, have you made any time for learning? Peer review – support. [During another subsequent talk the UK was referred to as one of the countries in the EU with the lowest investment in personal development per head].

Vitality – more than ‘have I done my mindfulness app this evening?’ Coping with burnout. Rest and recuperation – should we take more sabbaticals? Rethink the sequencing and pacing of working life. Peer network – friends and family. Younger people in particular leave because friendships are hard to maintain. Unpredictable long hours also affect this.

Transformation – historically we move into work and out again – broadly with people our own age. This is changing a lot, we need to get better at dealing with this change, can we reinvent ourselves? Know thyself, what drives you? As someone in his 50s moving more intentionally into the arts, this challenge resonates with me, and excites me too. A diverse network helps, your peers and friends less likely to assist here, they’re too similar to you.

Back To School : What Does Good Work Feel Like?

When I was 13 years old, I had no idea what my career path might look like. Some days I’m still not sure! How about you?

I recently accepted an invitation to talk about my career with some groups of Year 8 students at a local school. Bearing in mind my own lack of career clarity, as I was planning what to say I thought I’d try something a little different. Instead of trying to describe my meandering career path in detail, I decided to invite some discussion among the groups, starting with a conversation about what good work looks and feels like.


Before visiting the school, I posed the question about what good work looks like (which quickly morphed into what good work feels like) on a few social networks. People were very generous with their responses, and I’ve compiled them all into a ‘What Does Good Work Look and Feel Like to You‘ file for you to read and enjoy. At the risk of compressing an excellent series of exchanges too tightly, here are one or two comments which stand out for me.

Good work means I know my effort makes a difference, where I know I am valued, as I am listened to, treated fairly, and where the quality of my work speaks for itself and I and others can see results.

Hey Doug, sorry I’m late to the discussion, and I think I’m more drawn to the question of what does good work FEEL like… I’m reminded of ‘all that glitters is not gold’. So what does good feel like? When I’m involved in something that reflects my values. Also, good doesn’t need to have an outcome… What do you and others think? (‘good’ question! :-))

Leaving formerly unhappy people feeling content and at ease. Doing something that makes people smile like their faces might split. Doing something brave that helps others break new ground. Work that fills your heart as well as your mind. 

A sense of needing satisfaction, of the tension between competence and challenge, and making a difference all feature in the replies. I recommend taking the time to have a read through – it’s well worth it.

Back to School

It’s tempting to think that because I’ve been invited in to speak, I must therefore have some wisdom to impart. I’m usually more interested in what others have to say, and when I asked the students the question about what good work feels like – they were responsive, succinct, and imaginative. It’s interesting to note that in one of the replies above is the comment ‘When I’m involved in something that reflects my values.’ Being involved, doing things with others, not to others – that matters to me, and judging by how the kids chose to respond, I’m confident it matters to them too. Here are just a few of their excellent suggestions about what good work feels like.

  • You put effort into it
  • It’s satisfying
  • You’ve done your best
  • It has a deeper meaning
  • It’s what you want it to look like
  • Makes you think
  • Creative
  • You put your heart into it
  • You put time into it
  • You chose it

Organisational Development and Art

We talked a little about organisational development, and after seeking advice from my 15 year old daughter beforehand, I used the metaphor of a bicycle to describe some of my work. This way we had a common point of reference which made it easier for us to talk about the importance of exploring and improving performance. ‘At first glance – fixing this old bike which has flat tyres might look easy. How might you fix the problem, and what might you do if the bike still doesn’t ride well after the repair?’ We quickly began to appreciate the importance of the whole system: bike, rider, environment etc. Huge thanks to Keira for the inspiration.

We talked a little about art and how it is subjective. I offered up a painting which we discussed and described, quickly realising that although we’re all looking at the same thing, we all see it differently. I suggested that when exploring organisational performance, there are nearly always multiple paths to explore – be open to the possibilities and don’t get too hung up on the need for certainty. We finished with a quick look at the free art project, which I offered up as a way of developing a sense of connection with community.

Thanks to the school kids and everyone who responded to the initial question, you all helped to make an inclusive, interesting exchange. After I left the school, I shared the responses from the classroom with a friend. She replied:

GOOD WORK indeed! I LOVE that. [This exchange] will give them agency all their working life; they will remember. Fantastic energy from the words.

What does good work feel like to you?