Creative Leadership – Essential Reading #4

Reminder: This is a short series of book reviews. The four books in this review series are all about creativity, love, art and leadership (at least that’s what they inspire in me). Separately – each one is a super read. Together – they make up the motherlode. If you are looking for insight and inspiration, I strongly recommend you acquire, and read all four. I’m reviewing the four books in the order they came to me.

Creative Leadership - Essential Reading

First up was 101 Things to Learn in Art School by Kit White – a gift to me from the lovely Carole.

Next came The Year Without Pants by Scott Berkun – a recommendation to me from the lovely Heather.

The third book is Steal Like An Artist – by Austin Kleon.

The fourth and final book in this wonderful quartet is Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace. This book was a gift to me from Neil Morrison.

Creativity Inc. is a really well written story about how Pixar came into being, and at first survived, then thrived. The book is shot through with references to many of the famous films that Pixar has produced, which lends the story an engaging familiarity, and it’s the observations about how to get good work done that really resonate most for me.

There are some excellent ‘Proceed Until Apprehended’ type approaches to problem solving.

‘If we allow more people to solve problems without permission and if we tolerate (and don’t vilify) their mistakes, then we enable a much larger set of problems to be addressed.’

I also really enjoyed reading about people, particularly senior management, getting familiar with  the notion that many opportunities and problems are beyond their sight. Getting over yourself and getting comfortable with cooperating and collaborating are essential requirements for a thriving business.

‘I’m an advocate for humility in leaders. But to be truly humble, those leaders must first understand how many of the factors that shape their lives and their businesses are – and will always be – out of sight.’

There’s a fantastic, brief section at the end of the book with loads of snippets and hints, reminders about what good work looks and feels like. When I first spotted this – I read it and wondered if doing so might somehow negate the need to go through the whole book. In fact – reading the snippets first just served to make me more interested in the whole story.

Indiviadually, each of these four books will enhance your approach to cocreating great work. Together – I think they really are an excellent mix of creativity and leadership. Essential reading.

In Transition

Illinois SHRM 2014 has come to a close.

I’m in the airport lounge at O’Hare waiting for my flight to be called. I’ve spent a stack of my air miles on a business class upgrade although I’m so tired I feel like I could sleep even if they threw me in the luggage hold.

I had high hopes for this trip and they’ve been comfortably exceeded. After a Friday night sitting in a downtown bar enjoying the baseball on the TV and the local beer and pizza, the following day I visited the wonderful Art Institute of Chicago again, this time with Joe Gerstandt.

Joe and I then got to fulfil a long held ambition to work together, when we opened the conference on Sunday with an opportunity for people to explore how they might bring the artist in them, to work. It was an ambitious, emergent collaboration of 100 people.

The Art of Leadership

The experimentation was bold and energetic and enjoyable – I will reflect on it further and maybe write a little more soon.

Sunday night saw a reprise of last year’s fireside unplugged karaoke and a gentle brush with the law after the hotel manager decided to call the cops in order to get us to go to bed around 1am. Why he didn’t just ask us – I’ll never know, but when I suggested to the police officer that this was not a good use of his time, he simply told me the decision to send us to be was ‘unrebuttable’. So I learned a new word, which was nice.

Monday morning came around and I gave a talk on collaboration – an evolution of my ‘We Are Better Together‘ session, which also drew on some of what I learned when I worked with Neil Morrison at Louisiana SHRM earlier this year. The talk was scheduled to take place in the main theatre – and it was a very odd experience being on a stage typically used by the acting profession.

Before The Show

Before The Show

The bright lights made it almost impossible to see the audience and I need eye contact, it’s one of the things that helps me relax, so once I got started, I hopped on and off the stage and wandered about a lot. The response was great – thanks to everyone who came along.

Monday evening we went bowling for fun and to raise money for the No Kid Hungry charity. The bowling was really enjoyable – I managed a score of 153 in one game, take that! John Hudson offered to top the donation up if anyone got a strike in the closing game, by which time I’d gone off the boil – but the incentive briefly reignited me and he had to put his hand in his pocket ;) Back from the bowling Dwane kindly invited a few of us to his room for a sneaky beer or two.

Beers at Dwane's Place

Tuesday morning was spent listening to Jennifer McClure give her session, and then came bag packing and many lovely goodbyes.

The crowd at Illinois SHRM are fantastic. I’ve been thanked more times than I can remember in the past couple of days, the motivation and encouragement are heartfelt, humbling, and gratefully received. Thank you to everyone who has helped me have such a thoroughly exhausting, fantastic time.

I’m in transition. I don’t want to leave and I can’t wait to get home.

The Art of the Possible

A short story about being open to the possibilities.

Joe's Painting #125 - 1965

Joe’s Painting #125 – 1965

My day started early, 05:21 early to be precise. An unfamiliar timezone, and unfamiliar bed, and the oh so familiar nerves and excitement that come with doing something new and unfamiliar.

Today marks a key point on a journey. Today – for the first time, Joe Gerstandt and I get to work play together, for the good people at Illinois SHRM. I first met Joe in the Autumn of 2012, very briefly, at Ohio SHRM. He and Jason were doing a book signing after their conference keynote, and I was in the queue. Jason kindly gave me a copy of their book, Social Gravity, and I bought a copy to give to someone else who was at the conference. Joe was busy, I was holding up the line. Hi and bye – that was about it. Joe and I kept in touch on social media and via Skype, and a few months after we first met, we agreed it would be fun to work together – some day, somehow.

Often when I am away on holiday, I collect little shells and pebbles on the beach, returning many, keeping a few. The idea of working together became one of those pebbles. It was kept, turned over and admired from time to time, and put back in my pocket.

December 2013 I submitted a proposal to speak at the 2014 Illinois SHRM conference. My proposal was a talk based on what has since developed into Art For Work’s Sake. Sabrina Baker responded positively, and offered something unexpected. She suggested that I might develop the proposal into a workshop to take place the day before the conference. Would I like to do that? The pebble was back out of my pocket and looking smoother, and rounder than it ever had before. I responded positively and in our exchange of messages I asked Sabrina if it would be OK for me to approach Joe, to suggest that we might do this work together? Sabrina agreed in a heartbeat and so I contacted Joe and told him I’d found that opportunity we’d spoken about so often. Thankfully, he agreed to play.

Joe and I met up yesterday at the Art Institute of Chicago. We’ve been exchanging thoughts and ideas on how to make our time together useful and fun, for us both, yes – and more importantly, for the curious minded adventurers who have kindly agreed to invest three hours with us today. Joe and I talked and walked – it was great fun to be with someone I respect, in a building I love, admiring the art. Here are two pieces I particularly enjoyed.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Shiraga’s piece has a real depth and sense of action about it – messy play I think they call it at nursery? Kawara uses art to document his days. He has produced over 2,000 works which are either completed on the day, or destroyed. His work is a record of his creative energy, on each day he works. I love the idea behind the body of work and I love that this piece was painted free hand, no stencils here.

It’s now four hours to go before we start our session. I’m writing and pacing the floor in between sentences. I am nervous, excited, and open to the possibilities.

Sabrina – thank you for your lovely idea. Joe – thank you for agreeing to play.