Category Archives: Brand

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.

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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.

The Art of The Possible : Working Out Loud

A story about showing your work, adapting your work, and being open to the possibilities.

I recently wrote about the art of the possible, and how analog tools (pencils, paintbrushes etc) still have powerful relevance in a digital world. I wasn’t suggesting that one is somehow better than the other, rather that both matter. An analog, artistic inquiry of our work can be a very powerful thing. Equally, lots of the work I love to do is generated through connections initially made online, and then nurtured in real life, and the idea of working out loud, something I love to practice, is made simpler thanks to the digital spaces we inhabit. Analog and digital. Both matter.

Last year, my friend Neil Usher kindly agreed to give me some feedback when I was compiling some information about my work to share with people interested in hiring me. Part of this work was a series of visual images, which I gathered together using the haikudeck presentation tool.


What Goes Around – Principles of Work 

The simplicity of the deck worked well enough, and Neil suggested that I could make it stand out more by creating another version. ‘Use your own stuff – not stock photo type images’, Neil offered. I took the idea on board and began what became a long process of drawing, tracing, and colouring my own version of the slides.

Though the general idea remains the same – there is a big difference between the two pieces of work. The second one is better. It’s me, showing my work, and what you can expect of me. I’m grateful to Neil for the suggestion.

I figured that was it. The work was done, things move on, and I was wrong. Crystal Miller, another friend in my network spotted my hand made slides and asked if I would consider drawing a set for one of her clients, who was seeking a visual representation for some values/principles. We talked, agreed the creative basis of the project, and some general terms, then I got on with it. Part of the deal was that I could represent these ideas as I saw fit. At first, I struggled to get going with such an open remit. Would the work be liked? That question quickly took me to all the usual ‘I’m not good enough’ places we experience, particularly when doing something new. My client was very supportive and though I wobbled a few times – the work began to flow. In time, a series of 16 images emerged.

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I learned a lot from this process. Some days the pens moved freely, some days not. At times when I got stuck, I asked for help, and I got it. Ideas, nudges, confidence – many things came from asking. At times I practiced the art of ‘it’s good enough, move on’. And at times, I redid images completely. Trying to balance satisfaction with deadlines can become an interesting tangle, and what emerged is a body of work the client is really pleased with. So am I.

Importantly, if I hadn’t responded to Neil’s suggestion, if I hadn’t been open to the possibilities, and if I hadn’t worked out loud, we wouldn’t be looking at these pictures now. And if I can work like this, you can too.

On Being Kind

Be Kind

An opportunity arose this week for me to give a talk at the Chartered Institute of Marketing. My friend Sukh had been due to speak, and for family reasons he needed to be elsewhere. I was therefore offered a chance to help a friend and stretch my creative muscles – thank you.

The brief for the talk was “how can marketers challenge the status quo within their organisations – specifically how to discover the hero inside yourself and become an agent for change within your own organisation”. I confess I’m not big on heroes – most of mine are flawed, and there’s a danger of aspiring to these seemingly mythical creatures. But change agency, that’s my life. It’s what I do, it’s what I am.

I didn’t have the luxury of time to build something from scratch and rehearse it, so I used my Principles of Work as the backbone for the talk. Relevant, simple, handmade visual aids. I am an artist (keep saying it, keep saying it – one day it won’t feel wrong).

I was on after Eamon Fitzgerald from Naked Wines who gave an interesting talk on how Naked Wines is changing the wine business through its angel investment model, and how employees are trusted to deliver a great customer experience. Eamon did a great job – nothing like a little gentle, self inflicted pressure excitement to get the adrenalin going.

I’m on my feet, and in the moment I decided to pass the hero challenge back to the audience. I invited them to talk – not about their heroes as individuals, but rather to discuss the behaviours that heroes demonstrate. We were in a large room at the University of Westminster – there are an abundance of whiteboards on the walls so I asked people to transcribe the essence of their heroes conversations for all to see. In those moments, we cocreated a story.

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I added this to the mix…

Simple does not equal easy

…and off we went.

I’ll not bore you with the detail, but the time passed in a blur – we covered listening, experimenting, presence, leading by example, cocreation and more. Above all – three things stood out.

Small things make a big difference. The importance of gentle, repeated persistence.

Taking responsibility – in fact, embracing it. Absorbing negative feedback and blame, offering thanks in return, and finding ways to improve myself, yourself first. Don’t get me wrong – this is really hard – and if you can endure the initial desire to protect yourself and shift from apportioning blame to taking responsibility – you, and those around you will discover and do great things.

Kindness – in particular the ability to be kind to yourself. You know I struggle with this – and last night I had surges of imposter syndrome, even though people were smiling with me, talking, taking notes and cocreating an engaging environment. And in my head, the occasional scratch at the door of doubt…why am I here…why are they listening…I’m not good enough.

The talk over, I stayed a while for some informal Q&A, as did Eamon. People were kind to me, and I lent heavily on the words thank you as a way of accepting that kindness.

I got home late – and this morning in my inbox there’s some lovely feedback:

Hi Eamon and Doug

Many thanks for two riveting sessions tonight – it’s not just me saying that, I’ve attached the results of the feedback survey and you’ll be very pleased to see a plethora of 5s for both of you. Two of the best sessions of our current events season!

Someone, I don’t know who, added this.

Loved Doug’s speech. Innovative and simple content made it perfect. Truly inspiring.

Normally I’d come up with a dozen reasons why I don’t deserve this, but not today. To the person who sent this note, I say thank you for your kindness, I am happy things went well.