Author Archives: Doug Shaw

The Art of Innovation : Side Projects

I’m working on a culture of innovation project with some associates. As part of this work, I’ve been thinking a lot about my free art project, and how much it now impacts and influences other elements of my work and life. I recently met with Robert Ordever from OC Tanner and together we enjoyed an interesting conversation about the space where work meets…the real you?

I began the free art project as a curiosity. A key part of my initial motivation was to experience letting go of my work, and the idea of a weekly schedule for giving the work away forced me into a mindset of production, and of needing to adopt the mantra, ‘It’s good enough, move on.’ Anyone who takes a pride in their work may recognise the tension in getting something right, and not necessarily perfect. I’ll come back to that later on.

Robert and I talked about the idea of doing a side project for the sake of curiosity, with no obvious end in mind. We questioned, to what extent would you be ‘allowed’ to do something like this at work? The free art project took a while to develop in any sense of gaining feedback and response. Robert wondered, ‘If you were running an experiment at work, at what point would you have quit?’ It’s a great question – I don’t have an answer and we need to recognise that if we want our colleagues to problem solve, and come up with new, alternative ways of working – figuring out how to create time and space for this, matters.

Although the free art project is ongoing, each week represents a new challenge, a new piece of work to be created. The way I cope with this demand ebbs and flows. Sometimes the ideas are plentiful and I find myself making more than one piece. In turn I may leave more than one art work for people to find that week, and sometimes I hold things back. I now know there will be weeks when I get stuck, and am simply too busy with other stuff – and at those times, having a reserve bank of art to draw from is really useful. I am more resourceful as a result of my side project.

Robert and I got talking about a struggle to move away from what works, towards something which may be better. In a work sense, we often drift into patterns of behaviour which once set, are hard to break from. We might convince ourself there’s no other way to do x, or I’ve tried other ways before and they didn’t work. Running a regular, yet fluid experiment alongside my other work helps to shake up my thinking. I believe it makes me more open to the possibilities. I have become a more responsive opportunist as a result of my side project.

We drifted into talking about ‘Who am I completing the work for?’ Robert suggested usually, an employee is doing something to satisfy their manager. Although I occasionally feel a little pressure in the free art project to deliver on time, I’m not bound by anything beyond my own drive to make and share. If I were to skip a week, no one’s there to mark my appraisal down. As a result, I have become more relaxed, and better at delivering good work.

The free art project operates with minimal rules. I make art, leave it somewhere, and it gets found, or not, as the case may be. I share the location of the art using photos on various social media channels, and though I sign the work, my contact details are hardly ever present. Only once or twice have I left a method of contact on art drops in more distant places, Australia for example. Sometimes I get feedback – and often I don’t. Sometimes I like the feedback I receive, other times less so. But that’s part of the point of learning through art – it is subjective, which releases me, at least partly, from the need for (positive?) feedback. What would happen if your colleagues felt able to develop and work on something in a similarly freestyle fashion? I have become more resilient as a result of my side project.

In closing I want to come back to this idea about getting hung up on our work not being good enough, this need to satisfy our inner perfectionist. Robert offered me a quote from one of the founders of the business he works for. The quote reads, ‘We seek to touch the fringes of perfection.’ The idea behind this is that we don’t know what ‘perfect’ is, and like art, it is largely subjective. But hey – that needn’t stop us reaching for it, even if only to brush against the edges. This reminds me of a recent abstract piece I made, called Edge of Glory.

Edge of Glory

How do you think your colleagues might respond if invited to seek to touch the fringes of perfection through a side project?

We explore side projects and much more in The Art of Innovation. The next live sessions take place in London on June 8th and 9th, and in Berlin on July 4th and 5th. Click the links for more information, too book your place, and learn about our pay it forward ticketing experiment. Hope to see you soon.

The Art of Persistence : Not Giving Up

Persistence : Part One

Back in February 2016, the Art for Work’s Sake project was a finalist in the Learning and Performance Institute’s annual awards, innovation category. The entry fell at the final hurdle, and though I was up against some much bigger hitters, at the time I was disappointed to remain a finalist, not a winner. The LPI gave me a piece of glassware to acknowledge the journey – and after putting it back in its box on the evening of the awards, it has remained there. Until today. Today it’s on display in my office.

I realise I let my disappointment cloud how I feel about my work, and for a while, I backed away from the excitement, challenge, and everything which makes me and my work what it is. I guess I lost some confidence, retreated to safer territories. The trouble is I don’t like safe. In my line of work it’s boring, it’s waiting to be told what to do instead of figuring it out, it’s coercive not coactive, and it’s overcrowded. David Henry once shared with me an excellent Tom Fishburne cartoon which sums things up nicely.

With a little help from some friends, I’ve been working my way back out of the herd again. Running workshops, giving short talks at conferences, piloting new ways of working with clients. Each piece of work, building on the last, a blend of care, preparation and the all important improvisation. The willingness to say ‘yes, and…’. The excitement of having a basic script, and being completely open to tearing it up. To go with the flow, to the uncharted territory where the really interesting and useful stuff lies.

This adventure is back on track, and very soon I’ll share details of the first phase of The Art of Innovation, a collaborative and practical adventure blending organisational development, the employee experience, and art. It all kicks off in London and Berlin this summer.

Persistence : Part Two

IMG_3629The middle of March 2017 marked the 50th consecutive week of my free art project. This milestone was celebrated with a joint free art drop made by Chloe Ray and me. Chloe released her latest EP the same week as the art project turned 50, and I made a painting to reflect a song on the EP titled ‘Not Giving Up’. The canvas is 80cm x 30cm and this is the first time I’ve painted at this scale. I’ve been wanting to scale up my work for some time, and having done so once, within 24 hours of painting this piece I did it again.

IMG_3639.jpg

This time I painted an abstract of the view over London from the 34th floor of the BT Tower. It’s taken me years to find the confidence to paint and show my work at this scale, I’ve persisted with my work – clearly the time is now right.

Persistence : Part Three

A few weeks ago I was encouraged to apply to Arts Network Sutton for some grant funding to enable me to carry out some workshops, an exhibition, and other free art related activity in the coming year. I’ve just found out the application has been successful. This application wouldn’t have succeeded if I hadn’t stopped thinking about free art, and started making it, all those weeks ago. Looking back – I can see threads of the free art project in my work which snake back way before I started painting and giving art away. I have shifted from persistence of thought, to persistence of action.

I’m good at coming up with ideas, and I used to think I was rubbish at bringing these ideas to fruition. This clearly is not the case. Maybe all I’ve been doing for the past 51 years, is searching for the things which really excite and drive me in the service of myself and others, the ideas which matter, which resonate deeply.

Persistence : Part Four

For too long, I’ve been searching for the next big thing, when the signs are right in front of me. This artistic approach to work is where I am most alive, and where I can be of best use to myself and to you. I think I am the primary audience for this post, so if you’ve read this far, thank you and well done!

More to follow, soon.

Overcoming Doubt : Not Giving Up

Running bore alert!

After Dad’s death in 2012, my body reacted in a profoundly painful way. The doctors diagnosed some kind of arthritis and told me I had to stop running. Like most stupid men I ignored the advice and tried to carry on. The subsequent pain, akin to having a hot knife wiggled around under your kneecaps, forced my hand, and I stopped. I convinced myself I’d never run again.

Over time, the pain abated, I stopped taking prescribed pain relief, and since introducing regular walks at the start of 2015, I’ve slowly felt stronger, and simultaneously tried to accept that these walks take the place of the more vigorous activity which I previously enjoyed. My Fitbit slave ring joyfully announced that I’ve walked over 4,000 miles since the beginning of 2015. I enjoy my walks very much. Somedays walking helps me think, others days I just empty my head and stroll, and sometimes I look for the beauty in the every day things I encounter. There is much to enjoy in walking, and yet as my 51 year old girth continues its slow expansion, I feel I need to do more.

This month, I snuck back into running courtesy of a borrowed pair of Carole’s running shoes. I’m assured that off road is gentler on the knees, so I’ve been running at Roundshaw Downs, an up and down grass course. After finishing the first week I could barely move – no arthritic pain, but instead, a profusion of muscle aches the like of which I’d not previously experienced. Since then, I’m remembering to stretch out the tightness immediately after a run, and I feel much better as a result.

I’ve now completed three parkruns and taken just over two and a half minutes off my times since I started.

Whoop de doo and all that. This is all very well, but what really struck me today as I pushed (puffed!) for the finish line, is the realisation that I’m here, doing it. I’m running again. I had written off the prospect of putting on running shoes ever again, and I was wrong. I could now spend time worrying about how much sooner this return may have occurred had I not been so full of doubt, but instead, I’ll give thanks to the volunteers at Parkrun who make the weekly events possible, and I’ll remember not to be so quick and certain to write myself off in future.