Live Painting at Workplace Trends : Psychological Safety

Last week I was at the Workplace Trends Research Spring Summit. I was there to learn, to do some live painting, and to give a talk on creative practice at work. This is a short blog post about a piece of art I made on the day.

Early on in the presentations, I listened to Nicola Gillen and Charlotte Hermans talking about how AECOM is undertaking new research to investigate predictors of wellbeing and performance in populations of office workers.

AECOM is testing to identify the most influential factors of work (e.g., job design, management, culture) vs. workplace (e.g., quality of work settings, noise, air quality) in predicting physical, mental, social, intellectual, spiritual and material dimensions of wellbeing, performance and satisfaction. Something which caught my attention was Nicola’s observation of the importance of psychological safety. In particular she spoke of the idea of being your ‘whole self’ at work, and how potentially harmful it can be in a workplace where this doesn’t feel possible.

I know from personal experience and from listening to many stories, how tricky it can be in some places to be yourself, to be open and honest about what you see, and how it’s making you think and feel. As I considered how I might get over that sense of reluctance when things are a little unclear, I began to paint. The blurred background indicates uncertainty, things moving at speed, not being quite sure what’s going on. The winged creature indicates a guardian within – open arms encouraging that sense of being sufficiently confident to speak truth to power, to be myself at work. I chose to title the piece ‘Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself Again.’

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Above are photographs of the piece as it was finished and displayed in conference, and a couple of close ups so you can see some of the detail. It took me all morning and some of the lunch break to paint this, each line on the wings is a single free hand brush stroke. Patience was required to complete the piece, and at times during the making, I felt like quitting and starting again on something easier. I’m glad I persisted, people gave me lots of positive feedback on the finished piece and it sits well alongside some of my other recent works.

I’ll share more live painting from the event soon, and some slides and speaker notes too. For now, thank you Nicola for the spark of an idea which brought the art into being.

The Art of Wellbeing : Passing Strangers

We were talking, passing strangers
Moments caught across an empty room
Wasted whispers, faded secrets
Quickly passes, time goes, time goes by too soon – Passing Strangers : Ultravox

The Art of Wellbeing

We gathered together, a group of curious people, many of us meeting for the first, and only time. We talked in response to the question ‘What does wellbeing mean to you?’. We shared our thoughts, verbally, drawn, and written. There was an incredible openness among the group – we talked frankly and kindly about illness and death, as well as joy, art and good health too. Here are some snippets of our conversation, and some drawings too, reproduced anonymously, with the kind permission of the group.

What does wellbeing mean to you?

An inquiry – it will lead to more questions.
Being here, in this lovely place, sharing.
Working with anxiety – health – mood.
Is it wellbeing, or being well? The latter feels more active, less corporatised.
Creating (art) helps you feel well.
Craft and creativity – in flow.
Sharing is part of wellbeing.
Wellbeing is moving – fulfilment – progress.
Sharing feelings with strangers.
See the clock, want to beat the clock
London – it’s too much. Great to visit – wouldn’t want to live here.
Lines/strands – and where they take us.
Seeking to extrapolate that which cannot be extrapolated.

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One hour later, as quickly as we had gathered, we dispersed. Lots of smiles, lots of handshakes, lots of thanks, and goodbyes.

We were talking, passing strangers
Moments caught across an empty room
Wasted whispers, faded secrets
Quickly passes, time goes, time goes by too soon

I spent yesterday afternoon working in The Reading Room at The Wellcome Collection, a wonderful place in London which describes itself as ‘the free destination for the incurably curious’. The Wellcome Collection runs an Open Platform series of events, and kindly accepted my proposal for this pop up Art of Wellbeing workshop. Anyone can apply to run one of these sessions, I thoroughly recommend you give it a try.


The staff at The Wellcome Collection looked after me and the group really well, making it really easy for me to facilitate an excellent conversation and much more. Thank you to them, and to Valerie and Nick in particular. Thank you to Kev Wyke who spotted the opportunity to work at The Wellcome Collection and flagged it to me. Thank you to everyone who came and took part so wholeheartedly.

Experiments in Wellbeing – Appreciation

I’m writing this post on the morning of day two of the CIPD annual conference and exhibition. I’m here working with Meg Peppin providing opportunities for conference delegates to reflect and connect, experiment and enjoy good conversation. The experience is enjoyable, in part because I am being mindful of the need to appreciate the curiosity and investment in time people are making when being with us. In return, many people are being generous and honest with their support of the work we are cocreating. Thank you.

Appreciating the contribution you and others make, matters.

I sometimes struggle to see the good in what I do, particularly in the heat of the moment. Last night we finished a creative networking session called The Art of Conversation, and as people were leaving, lots of kindness was being exchanged. Paul Taylor gave me some lovely feedback about his experience and told me how well he felt the session went. How did I respond? I began to pick holes in the experience and list things that could have been better. Paul stopped me and gently suggested I might want to take his feedback and acknowledgement in the spirit it was intended. Paul did a lovely thing for me there and I shifted my thinking as a result.

Appreciating the contribution you and others make, matters.
Accepting the appreciation in the spirit it is intended matters too.

Thanks Paul.