Stillness and Reflection

Stillness and Reflection

The etymology of words fascinates me. Sometimes predictable, sometimes surprising, the differences  and nuances in the meanings and context of words throughout their history is something I always find interesting.

Take the word ‘still,’ for example. According to the Etymonline website, its most ancient root comes from the Proto-Indo-European “stel-ni-, suffixed form of root stel- ‘to put, stand, put in order,’ … Meaning “quiet, calm, gentle, silent” emerged in later Old English.”

‘Put in order’ in its connection to ‘still’ resonated with me. As an introvert I crave a lot of time alone, as this allows me to be quiet and still. This solitary time does actually help me to ‘put in order’ my own thoughts and feelings before going out and facing the hurly burly of the world.

Etymonline’s entry on the word ‘reflection’ indicates that it first made its appearance in written English in the 14th century: “reflexion, in reference to surfaces throwing back light or heat.”

Again, for me this resonates. I use my still, quiet times to reflect, to go over experiences and reactions to make sense of them. On the surface of a still mind thoughts can indeed throw back images with more light, affording enlightenment.

It is early January as I write this. Many of us have had some kind of a break over Christmas. I spent mine quietly, which I needed to do after an epic 2019. It’s traditional to make New Year’s resolutions. I don’t do this anymore, but I have been thinking about the sort of year I want in 2020. This has required reflection on the opportunities and challenges brought about by past experiences, and how I can align these with the resources I have at hand.

Claude Monet, Impression, Sunrise 1872
Claude Monet, ‘Impression, Sunrise 1872’

I am hoping that this year will allow me more stable conditions so that I can bring some of the creative work I began in 2019 to fruition, and am determined to engender them. Whatever your wishes or needs are for 2020, I hope that the year brings an abundance of them.



This year has been an exhausting one.

I have been buried under an avalanche of bad news: the near death of one family member, the actual death of another, a work contract going sour due to toxic culture, and other more minor things that, by themselves, were irritants but still served to draw off energy that aforementioned crises had left in short supply.

It was a year of shock, grief, and some anger. My resilience and ability to stay grounded were tested although, as I write this, I do feel sane enough. This was a year about survival, not rapid progression, but some years are just like that.

For some time now I have been interested in resilience, and how to embed it in a practice. 2019 gave me ample opportunity to take mental notes on how to stay resilient, and what undermines this. Other people’s bullshit – never welcome for any of us – was particularly hard for me to bear; my friends’ kindness and loyalty continued to be a blessing.

My own ability to process, analyse, and gain some perspective did stand up to the test, but it was a severe test and there were many days when I knew better than to leave the house and inflict myself on other members of the human race. Or to allow them to inflict themselves on me.

Among the things that helped me have some degree of resilience – among them my creative practice, and my grieving process – was a strong sense of self-awareness, especially around my own energy levels. The feelings of fatigue following my Mother’s death, especially, were off the chart, but dealing with exhaustion has been a general and ongoing challenge during the whole of this year.

Along with being interested in resilience, I have also long (even before this year) been interested in exhaustion and how it can affect a person’s creativity, whether that is in terms of an effect on quality of work or quality of relationship between one-self and one’s own creative identity. These are subjects for other blogs.

The point I want to finish on in this blog is about the necessity of doing nothing much from time to time. As we go into the traditional western holiday season over Christmas, I am getting quietly excited about having a dull vacation. I long to do nothing and to be impacted by nothing. I long to rest.

Etymonline tells us that the etymology of the word rest can be traced back to Old English raeste meaning an “intermission of labor, mental peace.” Interestingly, the

“Original sense seems to be a measure of distance (compare Old High German rasta, which in addition to “rest” meant “league of miles,” Old Norse rost “league, distance after which one rests,” Gothic rasta “mile, stage of a journey”), perhaps a word from the nomadic period.”

So, rest is something you do after a period of journeying, of travailing.

The etymology of the word holiday is not surprising, as it originally meant what it sounds like: a special holy day, a day set aside for honouring the sacred.

We live in a world where busyness, scurrying, bustling, and striving are expected, even valorised. But too much frantic activity, resulting in exhaustion and a drawing off of energy and freshness, is bad for mind body and soul. The wellsprings of creativity and empathy can run dry.

Screenshot_2019-11-27 exhaustion Origin and meaning of exhaustion by Online Etymology Dictionary

Rest and rejuvenation are essential. Thinking about having a holiday can conjure images of lying by the pool and drinking sticky drinks out of a coconut. For me, this year, it will involve going to a small country town and reading books. Regardless of how your break looks to you – fun, restful, entertaining, exotic – if it truly rejuvenates you then consider it as sacred as well.


Thank you for reading my blog.

I wish you a Merry Christmas, whatever that looks like to you, and a safe, abundant, Happy New Year.

Trick or Treat?

Trick or Treat?

I’m putting out my hand – what’s going to be dropped into it?

I’ve just set a goal for myself: to get 12 rejections between now and December 2020. That should average out at one rejection per month on average.

What do I want to be rejected from? Fabulous things! For me, fabulous = writer’s residencies, commissions for articles or interviews, or pitches to interesting publications. Losing out on gigs as a professional interviewer or facilitator in community research or consultation contracts. Being turned down for creative facilitation or presenting at events and conferences. For the rejection to count it has to be something I really really want.

Where did I get the idea for setting the goal for a certain number of rejections? From a tweet I saw somewhere… I forget who the tweeter was, as this was years ago now. I think (think…) the person was an academic. She had set herself the goal of getting a certain number of rejections for publishing, research, or conference presentation opportunities. She reported that not only did aiming for a certain number of rejections embolden her, but she actually technically failed because some of her applications were successful. Thinking ‘here goes nothing’ she submitted for things she thought she would have no hope of getting, and was astonished to find that she was wrong.


So, in selecting the things I am aiming to get rejected for I am setting down the following criteria:

I will apply for things I am not confident I can get but which I would really like. This gives me a chance to stare down my impostor syndrome and at least entertain the idea of what success for me could look like.

I will apply for things where writing the submission will be useful in some way. In other words, will writing the submission force me to do some planning, refine concepts, research some logistics, prepare a budget, review and improve my biography, or some other useful thing? I have always found that this is a good side goal to set when doing some persuasive writing as, if you fail, then at least putting the submission together wasn’t a total waste of time.

I will reward myself each time I send off a submission. When I used to write grants, I would buy myself a bunch of flowers or some cake after I met each deadline. Also, and most importantly, I will do something similar to comfort myself when I receive a rejection. If I apply to fabulous things that could matter to me then it will sting when I don’t get them. There’s no way around that. Gentleness with self is essential to bolstering resilience.


We need hope, not optimism

We need hope, not optimism

The Weekly Sift is one of my favourite current affairs blogs. This blog lays out an elegant but useful distinction between hope and optimism which I found helpful.

The Weekly Sift

As regular readers probably know, when I’m not writing this blog I’m writing for a religious magazine and giving talks at churches. When you have that much religious exposure, sooner or later you end up thinking about hope, because hope is religion’s central product.

Humanistic religions offer hope for human progress, while salvation-oriented religions offer hope for a better world to come, but pretty much every flavor of religion deals in some kind of hope: for miracles, for eternal life, for an escape from suffering, for strength to change, for the eventual triumph of the better angels of our nature, or some other desirable outcome.

Once you start thinking about hope, your reading will fairly quickly bring you to a useful distinction that (for reasons I don’t understand) never catches on with the general public: Hope is not optimism.

The two words often get used interchangeably in conversation, and…

View original post 681 more words

Breaking Up With Your Organisation

Breaking Up With Your Organisation

“Work shapes our identity and is a source of income. It can also be a source of purpose or a way to contribute your talents to a greater good. What is your relationship to work? Where do you want your work experiences to take you across your lifetime?

Self unLimited has been created by Questo with the aim of providing “resources for your 21st century vocational adventure.” These resources include a book, an online community, a podcast, training programs, and articles.

I was recently invited by Helen Palmer, leading light of Questo and Self unLimited, to write an article to be included on the Self unLimited website. She suggested a letter about breaking up with your organisation, a sort of ‘Dear John’ missive…

I had great fun writing this and it is now up on the website. You can find it here.

I have done other writing assignments for Self unLimited, and have enjoyed developing creative material to help illustrate and animate the Self unLimited concept. One aspect, among many, that I have been impressed by has been the emphasis on defining value – not just in financial terms but also in how work can give people a sense of purpose or otherwise add quality to their lives. Interestingly, when I came to write my ‘Dear John Pty. Ltd.’ letter I didn’t focus on money, but found myself instead describing how someone might feel on departing an organisation.

I hope you read and enjoy it.


Showing Fitness for Leadership

Showing Fitness for Leadership

“Abusing yourself is a way of demonstrating your fitness.”

~ Professor Drew Dawson.

The above quote was a wry observation (certainly not a recommendation or an endorsement!) made by Professor Dawson during the Q & A after a recent keynote – ‘Positively Managing Workplace Fatigue’ – he gave at the Victorian Workplace Mental Wellbeing Collaboration’s Business Leaders Breakfast on 1 March 2019.

Professor Drew made the above statement while he was talking about the tendency of too many people to brag about the ruinously long hours they work. He recommended instead that we (and especially workplace leaders) should be modelling healthier behaviours around getting enough sleep and rest, important given the negative impacts that fatigue has on wellbeing and productivity.

But I think this quote could be applied to other unhelpful behaviours we see, especially at management level – things that have been valorised instead of being decried as counterproductive, pointless, or sometimes just downright nasty.

The Lost World (1925) - Bessie Love menaced by dinosaur
From ‘The Lost World’ (1925)

How many of these things have you seen backfire? And I’m going to broaden this to abusing others, as well as ourselves, as a demonstration of supposed fitness for leadership. Because each abuse of leadership does carry some karma with it: instant in that you stand to immediately run down the levels of trust and respect your team might have for you even while you are setting up future bad habits for yourself. Long term in that, down the track, there may be health problems or legal implications of repeated instances of these actions. Here are a few leadership sins:

  • Giving feedback that is frank to the point of rudeness and denigration. If you choose words carefully and put some thought into how you structure your conversation, you can be completely honest with someone with mounting a psychological attack.
  • Having workplace conversations in front of others that should be had in private.
  • Not planning properly, not managing your time properly. Running around like a headless chook will not only burn you out, it will send the wrong messages to your team.
  • Not taking time off if you’re sick but choosing instead to carry on. If you come to work and cough and splutter through your day, no-one else is impressed by your stoicism. We’re just scared of catching your lurgy. And the same goes for mental health issues – I have seen some incredibly awkward situations where workers were conflicted by feelings of sympathy for an obviously depressed or stressed manager and also frustrated by the problems caused by that manager’s inevitable lapses in concentration, focus, and motivation. If you’re unwell, take the time off, seek professional help. *
  • Sticking with a job you hate just for the money. Acknowledged: a lot of workers are pushed into the situation where they have to take any job they can get to keep themselves off the dole queue, support their families, and keep a roof over their heads. Changing jobs – upgrading to a job you enjoy – can take a long time (especially for workers with low or limited skillsets) so workers can be trapped in a job they hate for a long time. But managers, who can point to high level skills and plenty of experience, have less excuse. There is nothing worse than working for a manager who clearly couldn’t give a toss about their work.

Can you think of any others? Leave a comment below.

I created a Wakelet collection of tweets and notes from Professor Dawson’s keynote ‘Positively Managing Workplace Fatigue’ which you can check out here.

*Seriously, depression is a very serious health problem but, with the right treatment, it can be effectively treated. Don’t ignore it. Get help.

Surfacing Forbidden Narratives about Fatigue

Surfacing Forbidden Narratives about Fatigue


On Friday 1 March 2019 I went to ‘Positively Managing Workplace Fatigue’, a keynote delivered by Professor Drew Dawson at a Victorian Workplace Mental Wellbeing Collaboration’s Business Leaders Breakfast.

Professor Dawson advised that organisations should have a Fatigue Risk Management Plan, and that dealing with fatigue is a shared responsibility between indiviuals and the organisations they work for.

Of course, any workplace leader worth their salt should be trying to structure work that is not unhealthily burdensome on their employees. But Professor Dawson also stated that fatigue is inevitable due to the fact that most of us live complicated lives outside of work – we stay up at nights with sick kids or we might need to work a second job…

The trick is to create a workplace culture alongside allowing space within workplace processes for people to be honest about their energy levels and what is influencing them.

Some people, however, might find it hard to broach conversations about fatigue and how it’s affecting their work, especially if the fatigue is not due to a one-off incident, like a virus or being kept awake by the neighbour’s birthday party, but is due to more complex conditions at work in their lives. Both the fatigued worker and their manager may find this an awkward dialogue to navigate.

Professor Dawson talked about the use of structured conversations, “highly scripted interactions” that can help people work their way through these discussions.

I am very interested in the idea of equipping people with something to help them initiate conversations around potentially awkward issues, and perhaps to also reflect on and make sense of those conversations when they’re finished.

I am not sure exactly what Professor Dawson had in mind when he was talking about a “highly scripted interaction”, but whether that conversational aid was a formal checklist, a deck of cards with prompts, some kind of game, or (in my work) creative materials, the efficacy of equipping people with resources makes sense. More sense, surely, than flinging two people into a room for a potentially tricky conversation with nothing but good intentions (if they have them), gut instincts, and any ‘soft’ communication skills they may have picked up over the years (and we live in a society that is quite bad at teaching people those soft skills). Developing or adapting resources or techniques for managers and workers to use can not only lend structure and meaning to a conversation about fatigue (or other issues), but in developing or adapting resources organisations can also embed values and priorities that are pertinent to them.

Fatigue can have such a huge impact on our work, and the way we feel about our work, that any resource or strategy that can help people to talk constructively about it should be welcomed.

A Profound Place to Start

A Profound Place to Start

There are two things that this tweet reinforces for me:

  • Using the word ‘great’ 3 times in one tweet does not show off my vocabulary skills at their best.
  • That failure is not an end but a beginning, and a “profound” one at that.

Some background first: I tweeted the above during the 2018 Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (MSSI) Annual Oration. Given on 20 November by Professor Lars Coenen the lecture, entitled ‘Resilience in the Face of Sustainability Crises: Is Innovation the Problem or the Solution’, was an enjoyably thought-provoking event.

During his oration, Professor Coenen touched on failure – and the things it can teach us – as part of innovation process.

Kate Auty, Chair of the MSSI Advisory Board and MC for the evening, picked up on this during the Q & A, and I especially liked the wording Kate used: “a profound place to start.”

There is a growing trend to encourage people to embrace their failures more, to not be embarrassed by them or in denial of them but to acknowledge and welcome them as a chance to grow. I heartily approve of this, BUT to truly learn from our failures – to find that profound starting place they can lead us to – we must go beyond merely acknowledging them or turning them into war stories. Shrugging stuff of with cries of “Oh shit! Oh well… tomorrow’s another day” and then hurrying off to get drunk won’t do. The growth comes from having the humility and developing the capacity to reflect deeply.

Interior of Denghoog
Taken from ‘Fians, Fairies and Picts’ by David MacRitchie

I have been meditating on some favourite lines of poetry recently:
“Now that my ladder’s gone
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.”

These are from W.B. Yeats’ The Circus Animals’ Desertion, and speak to a need to find inspiration, especially at the moment when inspiration seems to have dried up.
“I sought a theme and sought for it in vain,
I sought it daily for six weeks or so.
Maybe at last being but a broken man
I must be satisfied with my heart…”

In our failures, with our egos bruised and our thinking in disarray, the experience of our failed projects can feel very raw. The potential for gains in status, finances, career advancement, or personal triumph are all stripped away – we are pared back to the bare essentials of our self, our hurt and failing self. The ladder we were climbing to better and brighter things has gone.

The foul rag and bone shop of the heart may not be a place filled with things that are shiny or lovely, but it is filled with stuff nevertheless – the rags and bones are remnants of life lived. In Yeats’ poem, he comments that the great and ‘pure’ images in his famous poems grew out of “A mound of refuse or the sweepings of the street” – beauty or meaning can grow out of compost.

If our failures lead us to the rag and bone shop of the heart, then this is a profound place indeed. For it is the place where all ladders start, and where our next attempt at ascendancy can begin.


I have collected a recording of the oration, a follow up extract, and some other information about the evening into a Wakelet collection. Just click here if you would like to look.


Playfulness, narrative, and branding

Playfulness, narrative, and branding


I caught up with artist and arts administrator Tiyami Amum for a cup of tea recently, and we talked about this and that, as you do, except that our ‘this and that’s’ normally revolve around discussions about what it takes to sustain a micro-business in the arts industry.

The conversation drifted onto playfulness, and three things about its importance in business practice struck me during our chat:

  1. As we all know, playfulness gets the creative juices flowing. It’s great for generating fresh and original ideas and approaches.
  2. Tiyami and I agreed that the fun factor of playfulness is a helpful thing when it comes to sustaining wellbeing. Deriving enjoyment from your work, even if it’s hard or intense work, finding and refreshing your sense of inspiration, making your workload feel beguiling instead of a chore or a to-do list, alleviating stress while you work – these are all ways that playfulness can help sustain good mental health.
  3. (This one is the really interesting thought that emerged, and I am not sure if it even plays out the way I think it might. But…) It struck me during our conversation that playfulness might help to build a narrative around an evolving brand.

During our conversation we had been talking about the challenge of developing a brand that allowed for shifts, adaptations and evolutions as a business grew and matured. The nature of creative work is such that creative people are constantly developing their process. Steering the products of the imagination from light bulb moment to tangible outcome stimulates experimentation, learning, reflectiveness, and innovation. The creative people I know are constantly curious, adding new skills and experiences to their repertoire, discovering new ways of doing things, coming up with new ideas. All businesses need to innovate, but I think creative practice is ultra-prone to shifts and growth.

So how do you develop a brand that at one and the same time marks your business’ identity out as distinctive and coherent, while allowing wriggle room for that business to change services and markets as it evolves. I wonder if you embed playfulness as a central value in your brand, and manifest this in your marketing strategy (say through content marketing?), then you are better placed to nudge your branding strategy in new directions. If you signal to your networks that you are playful – experimental, joyfully random, prone to toying with new things – then those same networks might be more inclined to travel with you as your brand changes.

What do you think?

Why Choose Innovation as a Theme?

Why Choose Innovation as a Theme?

I have written a book on innovation called ‘Ask for the Moon’. In it I use Shaw Brothers Studios and their production of kung fu movies in the 60s and 70s as a case study to interrogate the tension between business model innovation and artistic innovation. People might think that chopsocky and innovation are odd bedfellows. Well, they’re wrong. Read this blog from the book’s website to find out why I chose innovation as a theme.

“An astonishing number of kung fu movies are about innovation. A common feature of the genre, and one that is often held against it, especially by Western viewers, is a recurring plotline that underpins these movies time and time again. If classic Hollywood movies relied on the boy-gets-girl / boy-loses-girl / boy-gets-girl-again story arc (and, funnily enough, this isn’t held against this genre) then kung fu movies often have the following:

  • Villain slaughters hero’s entire family and nearly does for the hero, who escapes by the skin of his teeth;
  • Hero, knowing he can’t beat villain, as he is a far technically superior fighter, goes into hiding and broods on how he can extract revenge on the bastard;
  • Hero has a flash of inspiration and discovers or invents or adapts a technique or weapon that can counter the villain’s technical advantages;
  • Hero kills villain.

Thus, in Executioners from Shaolin (1977)…

View original post 653 more words