Tag Archives: working out loud

Tales Of The Unexpected : Tension and Release

Have you ever given an Ignite talk? The format can feel quite daunting – telling a story while 20 slides whizz by, each one auto forwarding after just 15 seconds. A rollercoaster ride. They’re not for everyone, and they are good for getting disciplined about pubic speaking. Should you fancy giving an Ignite talk a try, check out this great post by Scott Berkun titled ‘How To Give A Great Ignite Talk‘, it’s full of useful ideas on how to get through one in good shape.

I was part of the Ignite team at the CIPD Learning and Development conference in Olympia last week. The subject I chose was ‘The Art of Better Learning’, how we can use art to make learning more of an unfolding inquiry, less of a search for certainty. I drafted my story, drew some slides to illustrate my thoughts and got on with rehearsing. Normally when I give a talk I leave lots of room for emergent ideas – ebb and flow. The Ignite format doesn’t work like that so it’s important to prepare in order to keep things nice and tight. Cue cards work well for me during the prep stage. Thinking through things then writing it down seems to make subsequent recall a little easier. Once I was happy with my story and the pictures, I packed everything up and sent it over to Giorgia, my contact at the CIPD. She kindly confirmed safe receipt and checked over my slides to make sure they worked. Thank you Giorgia.

The Art of Better Learning.jpg


The day of the talk arrived, and in the minutes before the session started I asked to see how the slides would appear on screen. I’m used to working on a Mac and the venue had provided a Windows PC for the session, I wanted to see if there were any key differences. It turned out there was an unexpected key difference. Somewhere between the CIPD and the event, my slides had corrupted, and instead of a series of hand drawn slides, I was presented with a blank screen. No problem, a quick hop onto Dropbox will solve this…

Once the tech guy at the venue had confirmed there was no internet access from the presenter’s pc, I went through an emotional tailspin as follows:

Tension: Directed at myself for not bringing a back up on a memory stick.

More tension: All that hard work drawing slides and rehearsing – wasted!

Panic: Panic: Panic:

Defeated: I’ll just drop out of the line up, no one will know…

Recovery: Hang on a minute, I brought the cue cards with me, and a handful of the drawings. I’ve also got a random bunch of art works made by clients at previous workshops. There are twenty minutes until I’m on, surely I can rework the story in that time…

Reworking The Story.jpg

My Improvised Ignite talk props.

…and so I did.

The talk passed in a blur – I tried to make eye contact with as many people as possible. Having no images to play to meant I relied heavily on the cue cards, and while they kept me on track, they were a distraction too. I kept catching smiles from people when I could, and tried to return them too. The encouragement levels were high and I kept on going – keeping the pace up to remain authentic to the format, and to leave no room for nerves!


After I’d finished, people responded warmly and enthusiastically. A few folk approached me and congratulated me on how I’d set the whole thing up, they thought the tech fail was part of the plan! My heart rate for the next hour or so was proof that this was the genuine article, nerves and all. Looking back a few days later, and given the nature of what I wanted to talk about, the way things unravelled and then reassembled could not have been better. Thank you to everyone who supported me at the event, and online. Without People, You’re Nothing.


There is much talk of disruption in and around the world of work. People throw the term around with much excitement, it’s seen as cool to disrupt. I disagree. The verb disrupt is defined as: to drastically alter or destroy the structure of. True disruption often comes out of the blue, unseen and unexpected. In a way, I experienced a few minutes of disruption last week. I improvised, and whilst I just about coped, I wouldn’t wish to inflict that level of intensity on any one. The next time you call for disruption, spare a thought for the disrupted.

In case you are interested, Ady Howes filmed me giving this talk. If you want to see what the face of a speaker on a white knuckle ride looks like, Ady’s kindly agreed I can share the recording with you here!

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

Fragments of The Soul

A post about working out loud, iteration and abundance.

The original of this abstract work of art which you can see above, now resides in the USA. I created it as part of a one-off printing process using acrylic paint. Mixing paints, pressing sheets of paper together and pulling them apart again. There are bumps, ridges and an almost feather like quality in parts of the pictures – a result of the separation of the pieces of paper. You can see that more clearly in another piece of the work I have photographed here.

Fragments of the Soul

After I’d finished the work I was left with more art than I’d originally bargained for – as the separated sheets each formed their own image. What to do with this abundance? I photographed a piece of the work and the image has become the introduction to my current talk, The Art and Soul of Better Work.

The Art and Soul of Better Work

The talk itself has undergone several iterations since I first started writing it way back when. It has even shifted, ebbed and flowed over the last showings in Lisbon and Barcelona, and I’m now heading to Madrid to close this wonderful Spring European tour with another, slightly different version of the talk. Working out loud, getting feedback. Iterating all the time.

I will post the latest version of the slides after the talk, and a question I want to answer now is – what to do with the remaining pieces of the art?

Smaller Fragments

As you can see – they are now mounted, I’m taking them with me to Madrid and I am mindful to give them away. This work, this art, this stuff – it feels like it has become part of my life, fragments of the soul, maybe I should hold onto a piece, for now at least.