Category Archives: Creative

Noise Annoys

I often hear noise being described as ‘unwanted sound’. As someone who grew up listening to a lot of punk music, I’m not sure it’s quite as simple as that. Sitting upstairs in my bedroom, I was frequently yelled at to turn off the noise noise noise, stop kicking up a racket, etc. This stuff wasn’t (and still isn’t) unwanted to me, and I readily accept it’s not everyone’s idea of good music.

Fortunately for you – I usually enjoy my music when I’m working alone, or with headphones on – so it needn’t trouble you, but what about the noise that’s not so easy to avoid? How does that affect you, particularly when you’re trying to work?

I met Paige Hodsman at the Workplace Trends conference last year. Paige works for Ecophon who specialise in acoustic solutions to improve the working environment, and we got to talking about how noise and sound affects your ability to be creative at work. After the event our conversation continued, and continued, until we decided to offer up an interactive workshop for people, to explore and experience how changes in the environment affect our ability and desire to be creative. That workshop is called The Art of Sound, and it takes place in Central London on June 7th. Would you like to come and take part? You can book a place here. It won’t cost you any money, and we’ll provide lunch and all the materials you’ll need. It would be lovely to see you.

Purely by chance, since Paige and I decided to run this session, I have come into contact with Chris Moriarty from Leesman, a company which gathers and shares all kinds of interesting data to help people understand their workplace performance. Chris has kindly shared some data with me which shows the extent to which people are concerned by noise at work, and how it impacts creative thinking and a host of other things besides. I’ve not had the data for long, and I can already see that of the 160,000 people who have currently responded to the Leesman Index survey, just over three quarters of them indicate that noise levels at work are important to them.

On average across the Index only 55.8% of people agree that the workplace enables them to be productive. However, when you look at those that have indicated that noise levels are important and they are happy with them, you see that number rise to 82.2% against those that are dissatisfied with noise down at 32.7%. A 49.5 percentage points difference.
Noise is also impacting enjoyment, this time there’s a 37.8 percentage points difference (78.2% satisfied vs 40.3% dissatisfied). These are big gaps. If we are to improve the workplace and make it more conducive to creative, and enjoyable working, then understanding this stuff is important, for people in workplace design and implementation, and for HR people too.

I can also see that noise is affecting many of the tasks we need to perform at work, and I’ll keep digging through what Chris has provided and share some more details at the event on June 7th. I hope to see you there, and until then, I’ll leave you with The Buzzcocks doing what they do best.

The Art of the Possible – Analog Kid : Digital Man

Analog Kid

The boy lies in the grass with one blade
Stuck between his teeth
A vague sensation quickens
In his young and restless heart
And a bright and nameless vision
Has him longing to depart. N Peart

I was born in 1965, the same year the first ever desktop computer hit the market. The Programma 101 by Olivetti arrived, and overnight, computers went from looking like this:

To looking like this:

Olivetti Programma 101

Olivetti Programma 101

We took a very different view of computers back then. People were ‘a bit terrified of them’, and concerned that computers would be used to control everything and take away freedom.

I don’t recall ever using a computer during my school years. All our work was written in books, drawn on paper, listened to on tape and vinyl. Signals were likely to be distorted, there was interference, and feedback. Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, the pen and the brush were among the devices I used which provided some of that feedback. The signals might be quite subtle, but they were there. The response of the writing and drawing instrument when crafting different letters, different shapes, and shades. You don’t get this subtle feedback from a keyboard or a stylus.

Digital Man

He picks up scraps of information
He’s adept at adaptation
Because for strangers and arrangers
Constant change is here to stay. N Peart

I started work in the mid 1980s, by which time computers looked something like this:

IBM PC 5150

IBM PC 5150

A decade later I was selling computers to earn a living, and they were common place in people’s homes and at work. I remember starting work for BT in 1996 and being surprised to find no computer at my desk. Some of my colleagues were quite happy to still be relying on inter office memos stuffed in envelopes, and though people were given email addresses – there seemed to be no compulsion to use them.

Fast forward to now, and for most people who read this blog, the idea of not being connected to your work through computers and other devices is practically impossible.

IPhone_6S_Rose_Gold

Love them or loathe them, etcetera. And yet…

Analog Kid : Digital Man

…for all the advantages of digital, there remains something distinctly ‘connected’ about working in analog. Those subtle signals I mentioned earlier – the feedback a pencil gives you when you write and draw – that’s a very desirable thing. I recently spotted my friend Euan Semple talking about Blackwing Pencils on Facebook. I followed the crumb trail and discovered you can pay $25 for a box of 12 Palomino Blackwing 24 pencils, produced as a tribute to Pulitzer Prize winning author John Steinbeck. In truth, you’ll be lucky to find these available for sale, they are a limited edition pencil (I swear I had no idea there was such a thing), and seemingly the only way to guarantee a set of these, or at least of future limited editions, is to join The Blackwing Club. Pencils as a desirable collector’s item, how about that?

I digress. Limited edition or otherwise, I believe the humble pencil, pen, and brush remain essential tools to work with. For all the speed with which I can ramble on here, each digit I produce on the screen feels just the same as the last. Q = W = E = R = T = Y. I know from my own experience and from the feedback I gain through arts based learning, that using analog tools to supplement your digital work, creates fundamentally different outputs. When we work like this, I and others see, hear and feel emotions much more clearly, and there seems to be a greater presence of something you might call humanity, when people are creating work together, by hand.

Humanity

I don’t want to get all dogmatic about this, working by hand is not the answer to making work better, it is an answer. Thankfully, not everything follows Moore’s Law.

More to follow…

All About People : Ways to Make Work Better

I’m really excited to be a part of the 2016 All About People conference, a curious, creative, cross-industry, cross-profession event all about how to make work better. The All About People team are curating a diverse mix of people to stir thoughts and ideas over a couple of days in June, down on the South coast. My contribution is in development, and will doubtless be influenced by the arts. In order to help me think about the event and prepare, Andy Swann, the creator of All About People, recently posed a few interesting questions to me. He’s kindly agreed that I can reproduce that conversation here. My answers may have some resonance with you, and more importantly I hope you find the questions useful. How might you respond to them?

Andy : What are you working on at the moment?

Doug : Currently I am working on a book proposal, some experimental client work where we are using the arts to explore and improve how we learn, and I’m making plans to attend and speak at various conferences in the UK and USA. I’m also involved in some community of practice work, some work around change and transition, and motivated by recent sales of some of my artworks, I’m finding time to develop my self taught painting.

How would you define an amazing working place?

Curious, creative, caring, and profitable.

What should organisations focus on first – the right people, the right places or the right actions?

Ask people what matters to them. Ask employees, customers, suppliers, everyone. Then, once you’ve listened and clarified, start to act on the smallest things that will make the biggest differences first. Come back and ask folk again when this is done and evaluated. Lead by example and repeat until forever – show you mean business by showing you mean business.

In your experience, what are some of the main things holding organisations back?

Doubt, fear, arrogance, a lack of trust and a lack of clarity.

How deeply should an organisation’s people be involved in its evolution? What should that look like?

As deeply as they usefully can. I’m a fan of using the World Cafe method for facilitating conversations around evolution and development, and other methods are available. During the conversations, don’t rush to judgement, don’t make assumptions. Be invitational, be inclusive, be gentle. Listen well, agree some action and get on with it – life is short.

What is one thing organisations can do to create the conditions for their people to thrive at work?

Make art, and make time for meditation and reflection.

I’m really looking forward to this event, it’s shaping up to be a blend of great learning, great sharing, great fun and great company. If you’d like to come along, tickets are available here. You can use the code SPEAKERDS to get a 10% reduction in the price when booking. See you at the seaside.