Recommended Read: David Bowie – innovator extraordinaire

Recommended Read: David Bowie – innovator extraordinaire

“Musician, actor, icon and entrepreneur. David Bowie was an innovator in every way. He stepped into the vacuum left by the Beatles’ break-up in 1970 and developed an array of strategies that have gone on to become the common sense of popular culture and of business itself.”

So begins Mike Jones’ article ‘David Bowie – Innovator Extraordinaire’. First published on The Conversation on 12 January 2016 (shortly after Bowie’s death) it is an interesting examination of how Bowie was able to meld ground breaking performative and musical approaches with business savviness.

“Through his Ziggy Stardust persona, Bowie united the visual and narrative conceits of science fiction with those of pop in a way that allowed him to at once be and yet not be that invented character. Having gained an audience, it was then a business masterstroke to kill off this successful creation and to trust that his audience was now primed to accept and delight in successive incarnations and their associated musical genres.

This allowed Bowie to always be “himself” (whoever and whatever that was), while enjoying the licence to pioneer different genres of music – whether electronica, funk or emergent dance music. He combined print, stage and video design to create symbolically rich and dramatic settings for his different alter egos, using them to carry and complete his latest incarnation.”

I liked Jones’ choice of Bowie as a case study of an innovator in both the business and creative fields; Bowie’s output clearly does demonstrates how canny and imaginative uses of “visual and narrative conceits” underpin strong branding that positions you as an innovator in the eyes of your stakeholders.

Jones’ highlighting of the way Bowie’s performative personae and musical styles kept evolving is also insightful; during Bowie’s life innovation begat more innovation and his “audience was… primed to accept and delight in successive incarnations.”

You can find the complete article here.

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Image sourced from time.com
Four Tips for Writing Good Plans

Four Tips for Writing Good Plans

I love a good writing exercise of any kind; I am especially fascinated by the challenge that comes from enshrining an organisation’s vision, mission, goals and operations within a business plan.

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If you think about it this is often a process of translation: a business plan writer has to take ideas and frame them as tangible processes and measurable outcomes. Here are some things to bear in mind while you are undertaking that translation exercise:

Write using plain English: No weasel words please and leave out the jargon. Ask yourself if an industry outsider could comprehend the plan as easily as an insider.

Use templates but don’t be ruled by them: A huge array of resources are parked on the internet and available to us via a Google search. Some of this knowledge exists in the form of templates. I dearly love a good template, they provide an excellent springboard and framework on which to stick your ideas or even to guide your thinking.

But don’t be afraid to play with templates. Consider writing the way they suggest – as a challenge to your own thought processes – but then change to suit you. Change the vocabulary, the structure (and thereby the flow of ideas), leave irrelevant headings out and substitute your own. Do what is necessary so that your plan truly reflects your organisation and its culture.

Cross reference: The different components of a business plan should ‘speak’ to each other so that the plan is a coherent thing driving towards an end goal and reflecting a unifying vision. As you write different parts of the plan – financial, marketing, operational, legal, management – take the chance to review other sections of the plan and ask yourself if what you have just written will support or negate them. If you are overseeing a team of people who are developing the plan then this is an excellent chance to get them to consider, and understand, each other’s contribution.

Review and update: Good plans have a tendency to gradually start rendering themselves obsolete from the moment they start being implemented. This is because good plans set things in motion and affect the conditions they define and respond to; they create change.

When you write your plan build in a schedule to review your plan and design processes whereby you can harvest feedback and update your plan so that it can continue its work in creating, exploiting and directing change.

This article was written as an adjunct to my presentation on How to Make Your Business Plan into a Living Document at the 2016 Collins & Co. NFP Conference.

Recommended Read: ‘The Importance of Creating a Culture of Why’

Recommended Read: ‘The Importance of Creating a Culture of Why’

“Asking ‘why’ can help bring greater innovation and avoid disaster, but first we need to reframe the way we think about it.” – Art Markman, The Importance of Creating a Culture of Why, Fast Company, 12 Nov. 2014

This article by Art Markman (@abmarkman) resonated with me a lot. I am a long time fan of asking ‘why’ – never as a way of undermining others or disagreeing by stealth (something that Markman discusses in his article) – but always as a way of trying to get to the bottom of things, to learn and understand. But – Yikes! – it used to get me in trouble when I ‘worked for the man’. I learnt that not everyone is as comfortable with ‘why’ questions as I am.

One of the reasons why I became Dangerous Meredith when I decided to hang up my shingle as a self employed consultant was to provide potential customers with a business name that was a conversation opener that allowed people to ask ‘why?’: “Why did you call yourself Dangerous Meredith”? This would allow me to let them know that I tend to ask the ‘why’ question myself a heck of a lot. Whether or not they found this to be ‘dangerous’ was up to them…

Anyhow, enough about me. Read this article; it’s beaut.

“We need to reclaim ‘Why?’ as a positive force in the workplace. That requires that we start to tell our colleagues about the importance of maximizing the quality of the causal and explanatory knowledge around us. It also means finding another method for disagreeing with coworkers while still being collegial. Finally, it is crucial that when people start to use the question ‘Why?’ at work when they really mean ‘I disagree’ that we highlight that and work to state disagreements more explicitly.” – Art Markman

The business plan as a living breathing document

The business plan as a living breathing document

How do you undertake the planning process so that your business plan lives and breathes as a dynamic document?

Dust gatherer, door stop, tea pot stand…

Business plans the size of regional phone directories. Business plans as compendiums of weasel words. Business plans as mindless tick-the-box compliance exercises. Business plans that leach time, labour and resources to write but which then get consigned to the bottom drawer to gather dust.

I love the planning process. During my travels through the Not for Profit sector I have seen how good plans can anchor, inspire and support meaningful action, and how bad plans can undermine the efforts of even the busiest and best intentioned organisations. In both small organisations and large I have seen the part good plans play ininforming governance, culture and an organisation’s ability to deliver or innovate.

But I have seen plenty of bad plans, those that have been undertaken with inadequate consultation, festooned with weasel wordage, and / or written with an ear to what sounds either impressive or safe rather than doing the following:

Manifest your culture and values:

A good business plan should be a first step to making these important things tangible, both through explicitly articulating them and implicitly describing them through the processes and conditions your plan records. Of course, consultation with your stakeholders, internal and external, is vital to ensure that what you are writing aligns with what is real.

Support planning for change and / or times of uncertainty:

Working in the NFP sector can be a white knuckle ride of adapting to uncertain conditions and lack of resources. As well as anchoring strategy and operations a good plan can, and should, define the times and space (cultural, physical and timewise) for reviewing, analysing, creating and implementing necessary change and managing risk.

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Mapping creative and innovative thought against the planning process:

Following on from the above a good plan can also create space for creative thought and then innovation, pin pointing those phases and operations that either need and / or will support this.

These are just three areas of focus that could help transform a business plan from being a moribund obligation into being a dynamic document that supports, rather than burdens, your work.

This article was written as an adjunct to my presentation – How to Make Your Business Plan into a Living Document – at the 2016 Collins & Co. NFP Conference, March 2016.

10 Reasons Why Men Must Start Reading Fiction Again

10 Reasons Why Men Must Start Reading Fiction Again

I am currently offering a service called Conversations of Intrigue. These Conversations are facilitated discussions revolving around extracts from literature that serve as a filter, prompt and point of inspiration about workplace culture. Reading and talking about literature offers us the chance to use not just our intellects but also our imagination and emotional intelligence. Writer Victoria Dougherty has written this post about why men should read more. All of her reasons are super duper, but, thinking about my service, I particularly resonated with reasons:
“10. Fiction teaches you how to think rather than merely what to think, and this is one of the crucial differences between a leader and a follower.
9. It will make you better at your job…
3. Because in reading fiction, we are able to absorb a greater truth instead of an assemblage of facts.”

Enjoy!

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humphrey bogart readingAccording to recent statistics, men have all but stopped reading fiction. Do they watch great television? Yes. Do they read non-fiction? Some. But the novel – that great interior journey – seems to have been lost to them.

It wasn’t always this way.

The path from boyhood to manhood used to go something like this: Boys got dirty, played with plastic guns, disturbed bee hives, and wandered the streets of their neighborhoods with their buddies un-chaperoned. By adolescence, they were expected to be rowdy and wild – maybe dabbling in the rebel art of cigarette smoking, drawing a sharpie tattoo, and practicing the skill of talking girls into peeling off their panties (beginning with the whole “I’ll give you a cookie” approach and graduating to “Come on, baby, you’re just so beautiful –I need you!”).

Next, somewhere in their twenties, boys began dressing like men – assertively and with a…

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To listen, to hearken

To listen, to hearken

Listening is a passive word. It is a verb that describes what good school children do in class; what people did in Victorian drawing rooms. It is nice, dutiful, tame.

 

Hearken is a more dramatic word, it hints at more a more urgent form of listening or hearing.

 

Hearken travelled to us via old and middle English. It is related to hark, which has a similar provenance and was, among other things, an early noun for “a hunter’s shout to hounds, as to encourage them in following the scent.”

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Hearken also means to listen, but with urgency and focus. It was a word that called to people to draw around a fire that kept them warm from snow and safe from wolves and called them to listen to sagas about bloodcurdling monsters and epic tales. People hearkened to life saving advice, shouted warnings and imperative commands. This word was born of circumstances, I like to think, that demanded that you damn well listen with every fibre of your being. If you didn’t you could miss out on something vital, something that helped you sustain body or heart or soul.

 

Because it is a silent activity we are in the habit, nowadays, of thinking of listening as a meek and subservient thing to do. It is the speaker who is seen as being dynamic and ‘holding the floor’ – that a speaker holds a floor and speaks words that claim our attention speaks of a form of possession, even if momentary. When we talk about this we are describing someone who is momentarily holding a place of psychological ascendancy within our conversation. Is this why so many people are such poor listeners – are they desperate to claim ascendancy, impatient to be gabby, to fill the silence with something, anything?

 

Listening is not passive. I learnt this during a former professional incarnation when I was a dancer and actor. There is nothing passive at all about really watching or listening – really tuning in – to someone else’s flow of ideas. I understood this when I was a performer, physically active in front of crowds of people who were verbally silent but, as a result of their intense attention to me, oh so present and influential participants in the performance.

 

Good listeners confer power on the speaker or performer; this is not something to be claimed by the speaker but rather elicited, bargained for with quality content and respect for the listener.

 

Listening – momentarily suspending your disbelief and really tuning in – is an adventure. Good listening involves risk because you open yourself up to challenging ideas, surprising news, and maybe dark stories.

 

As a performer in the past, and as a trainer and conversation facilitator now, I am interested in those moments when people stop listening and start to hearken – to take in knowledge or ideas with a sort of hunger, or to comfort another with their human focus when that other shares their story.

 

When we come together – professionally or socially – and as we trade, minute by minute, our roles of speaker and listener we need to handle our communication with care; we need to allow each other the chance to hearken – to listen as an act of drawing close and warming our hands by the fire.

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Welcome to the Year of the Monkey!

Welcome to the Year of the Monkey!

“Most admirable about Monkey people is their ability to solve problems. It is difficult to imagine a dilemma wherein the Monkey cannot take the upper hand, wade through the gory particulars, think up new and exotic ways to get at the pith of the problem and come triumphantly, if somewhat the worse for wear, out the other side.” Suzanne White, The New Astrology

Monkey and Wterfall Mori Sosen 1747-1821
Monkey and Waterfall by Mori Sosen (1747-1821)

Happy New Year!

February 8 ushers in the year of the monkey. Hopefully it will be a creative problem solving (and then fun) year for us all. I was born in the year of the monkey, myself, so I am particularly looking forward to investing my problem solving skills into all sorts of juicy stuff!

I’m starting a new phase:

After two long but interesting (very intriguing) years experimenting with various services, formats and markets I feel that my professional practice is now focused on things that allow me to draw successfully on my disparate skills and somewhat colourful and peripatetic work history.

I will be focused on investigating creativity, innovation and the workplace cultures that support or hinder these.

The services that reciprocally work best for me and my clients are:

·         Being a critical friend

·         Facilitating

·         Speaking

·         Writing

·         and Project Design.

Conversations of Intrigue

Having been put through a rigorous development and testing process I am excited to be able to seriously start marketing Conversations of Intrigue, a positively disrupting service that uses extracts from a work of art – literature, film, theatre – as prompts for groups to be able to explore organisational culture and narrative. While I can, and am happy to, work with any material that a client might want to use I can also supply facilitated conversations using extracts from John Le Carre’s masterful thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, as canny a portrait of organisational culture as any I’ve seen.

I have been a boundary spanner all my life…

… and don’t intend to stop now: a major marketing challenge for me this year will be to position myself as someone who is able to work with organisations developing cross sectoral collaborations. I am well used to helping arts and community groups manage relationships and develop projects for social responsibility and / or creative projects and am looking for more of this work.

I am honoured and excited, too, to be continuing to work on the Parallel Fascinations project with Dr Alexia Maddox and Romaine Logere; we look forward to facilitating cross sectoral dialogue and research that supports new research and helps innovators and researchers develop their ideas.

Thank you for following my blog!

I have had a break from publishing over the summer but I do love writing it and look forward to posting some material soon. Look out for articles that will help you reflect on creativity in the workplace, innovation, organisational culture and narrative.

In the meantime, enjoy what is left of the summer and Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Yoshitoshi Tsukioka Jade Rabbit - Sun Wukong 1839-1892
Jade Rabbit – Sun Wukong by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892)