Category Archives: Culture

Learning To Let Go : Change Is Hard

When things are evolving, and change is afoot, people often hanker for the good old days. ‘Things were so much better back then…’. Were they really?

Leaky Pens

When I first left school I was a trainee draughtsman working at a house building company. I drew housing layouts, road and drainage section drawings, and more, on large sheets of coated film using a technical drawing pens. Expensive, high specification, high maintenance pens, the ink distributed perfectly in lines of uniform width. Except when they leaked and scratched, which was often. When the dam burst, and the ink leaked, depending on how much progress had been made, the choice usually boiled down to starting again, or letting the ink dry and trying to scratch and scrape the excess off the drawing film with a scalpel. It was easy to cut yourself during this part of the process, adding blood to the inky excess. Truthfully I can’t distinguish whether the feeling experienced on completing a drawing was joy in my work, or simply relief that me and my pens hadn’t leaked everywhere. Things were so much better back then…

Mutant Tea Urns

One of my earliest office jobs involved a myriad of fascinating duties. My day started by filling the clanky old hot water urn so that people could make tea and coffee at will through the day. This big steaming tin can, with its shiny spout and oddly ear shaped handles brought to mind a mutant, monstrous metal elephant head, steaming with rage. The mutant was hot, and I often burned myself on its metal skin. Things were so much better back then…

The DeathBringer 5000

Once my burn wounds were dressed, it was mailshot time. We used to send letters to our customers, and the envelopes containing the letters were hand printed, by me. As a new customer joined our ranks, I would stamp their name and address, letter by letter, onto a small lead plate and insert the plate into a metal surround and file it away. When the time came to correspond, I took a handful of these metal surrounds and loaded them into a stamping machine. I then inserted an envelope into the machine, pulled the handle and voila! A movement was triggered. A metal surround containing the lead plate went via an inkpad before being forced against the envelope, where it left its mark, a name and address. We might send a couple of hundred letters in a batch and this machine was hand operated and had the capacity for one envelope at a time.

I had to pull the machine handle downwards really hard to create the force to stamp the address. For some inexplicable reason, the big heavy handle had a hook built into it. One day, at around envelope number 146, my mind somehow drifted from the scintillating task, and I became nothing more than a part of that machine. Load, stamp remove. Load, stamp, remove. Load, stamp, remove. Just prior to experiencing the screaming pain which accompanies your thumb nail departing from your thumb, courtesy of being smashed through by a superfluous hook on the handle of the DeathBringer 5000 Envelope Stamper (for that was its name), my reverie was broken by an abundance of blood all over the place. The thumbnail grew back, the mental scars have never left me. Things were so much better back then…

We have enjoyed many improvements to the process of work. Our drawing pens are better, and complemented by technology. Our mutant tea urns are safer, and slightly less angry, and the DeathBringer 5000 is where it belongs, safely behind bars at the Tower of London torture section.

So if it is not the process we look so longingly back at, what is it?

More to follow…

Change Is Hard : Learning To Let Go was inspired by a conversation with Tim Gardner over a pint or two last week. Thank you Tim.

 

Icons and Artefacts

In my office I have a box of icons and artefacts. The contents of this box connect me to powerful people, places and things. My mum’s engagement ring is in the box along with its hand written receipt. There are postcards, concert tickets, thank you letters from clients, photographs, badges, conference swag, all kinds of stuff. I can’t recall ever demoting anything from the box – so I take great care in choosing what goes in there.

Icons and Artefacts

I used to keep many more icons and artefacts. I once had a huge collection of vinyl amassed mainly from the punk and new wave era, with a side order of new romantics and occasional outbursts of rock. I used to keep several guitars too, including this honey blonde Telecaster.

Guitar

I lost the records and guitars, and much more besides when, as a nineteen year old in the mid 1980s, I adopted a nomadic lifestyle for a while. When I stopped roaming, the collection inside the box started and has been coming together since then.

Why am I telling you this? I have something new for the box…

A letter arrived in the post this week containing two very important pieces of paper, our tickets to the 2016 Learning Awards. The event takes place in London on February 4th – and the Art for Work’s Sake project is shortlisted in the Innovation in Learning category.

Learning Awards 2016 Tickets

I’m excited about the evening, and nervous too. Excited because we might go one step beyond the short list, and nervous because – truthfully – I’m not convinced I did a good enough job presenting to the judging panel on the day. I found myself a little overwhelmed to be up against much bigger organisations. That mind of mine which knows how powerfully art impacts learning and is usually open to possibilities, felt unusually closed – just at the wrong time. In the immediate aftermath of the presentation I was frustrated by what I felt was a missed opportunity – and I’m comfortable writing about this now. The decisions have long been made and there’s no fate to be tempted.

Given what I’ve just written, you might be asking why I want to add these tickets to the box. This is why:

I’ve benefitted hugely from the process of applying. I like flowing, improvisational work, and distilling ideas and getting clear on things can sometimes be a struggle for me. Getting the message across in the awards submission forced me to communicate concisely, clearly. I remember showing the completed submission to Carole shortly before I sent it off and she acknowledged it was some of the clearest work I’ve done. ‘I can read this – and understand why people would want and need to work with you.’

I’m chuffed to bits that the work got shortlisted. I know you’re supposed to say that – and it’s true. I’ve no idea how many entrants there were in our category but I know that there were over 300 submissions in the awards overall. I have a good feeling from this progress, and the journey so far adds to the story of why arts based learning is important, as a set of useful tools we can use and as a way of exploring and challenging behavioural aspects of our work.

Based on my experience I’d encourage you to look for opportunities to put your best work up for recognition. Yes – the process is hard, and time consuming, and frustrating! And for the reasons I’ve just described – it’s worth it too. Here’s to an excellent evening on February 4th.

Nail Varnish : Change is Hard

While visiting Manchester recently to take part in the 2015 CIPD conference, I had my nails done. I wasn’t driven by anything in particular, beyond the simple curiosity of trying something different, so I booked myself in for a manicure and off I went. The woman who painted my nails did an excellent job (sorry I cannot remember her name but here’s a link to the salon), and as she worked we talked, and I learned that although plenty of men come in for a nail clean up – I was the first in 18 months who had asked for their nails to be painted. Job done – I left and almost immediately ruined one of my new nails. Looking after these bad boys is hard work! I dashed back and after a quick repair I went on my way again.

Purple Nails

Matching nails and conference bag – on brand 😉

As I headed back to the conference I began to feel extremely conscious of my new fashion accessories and I became aware I was hiding them from view. I checked myself and tried to act naturally, at least as naturally as the first client in 18 months to have a nail makeover can.

As people spotted my nails, I began to receive feedback. The first person who saw them looked straight down their nose, blasting me with a first class Paddington Bear stare, before exclaiming ‘What on earth did you do that for?!’ I fumbled some kind of embarrassed response and excused myself. Others told me I was ‘brave’, and some folk told me they thought my nails looked great.

I kept my nails on for a few days (well I had invested £15 in them) and I was really interested in how I, and others, continued to react. My own prejudices surfaced a few times when I hid my nails from view as, with no evidence, I judged how some people might respond, based on nothing more than a split second analysis.

Nail Varnish

Sunday breakfast – shortly before the demise.

My nails were returned to their former unglory a few days later – this photo above is their final outing. For me – what started as a bit of curious fun, turned into an observation of how we respond to change, and to difference.

My experience reminded me of this excellent story by Bob Marshall, A Difficult Message to Hear. His poignant tale is of his own Mum, who when faced with a need to change her lifestyle for health reasons, chose not to. Marshall uses this powerful example to illustrate just how hard change is, and yet we have come to expect, and demand change from people in an organisational context, almost as if it were as simple as flicking a switch, or turning a tap.

My own ‘lifestyle change’ was simple to apply and simple to remove, and as far as I know, has had no lasting affect on my health. The experience has had a lasting affect on my learning though, through the simplicity of a manicure I’m reminded:

We often rush to judgment
We often react suspiciously to difference
We often find change hard