Workshop: Harnessing Creativity Through Project Planning

Workshop: Harnessing Creativity Through Project Planning

“Innovate or die” is an exhortation that has become familiar to many organisations. Underpinning innovation is creativity; creative ideas provide the concepts that inspire innovation. Much advice that is written around creativity is focused very narrowly on ideation or being more imaginative without addressing how these ‘flights of fancy’ can be applied to real life situations.

On 9 August 2016 I will be offering a day long workshop ‘Harnessing Creativity Through Project Planning’. This workshop provides project managers and their teams with concrete and workable approaches that they can apply to preexisting and embedded operational systems or project planning templates. This workshop helps participants understand more about creativity and how it works, and how creative thinking can be used to enhance planning and delivery of projects. During this interactive workshop participants will learn how to make space for creative thinking within a project plan without allowing the free-ranging nature of imaginative thought derail project plans and measures.

Cost:

  • General public $400
  • Members of Association for Tertiary Education Management $300; Affiliates $340

Venue: Deakin University, Melbourne City Centre

Bookings close 3 August. Places are limited so BOOK NOW.

To register or find out more information please go here.

800px-Guido_Reni_-_Apollo_on_the_Sun_Chariot_-_Google_Art_Project
Apollo on the Sun Chariot by Guido Reni (1575-1642)
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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.

6033d9bodysuit
Image sourced from time.com
Deep Diving into the Creative – Part 2

Deep Diving into the Creative – Part 2

Last week I responded to an article in The Conversation by Laura D’Olimpio entitled Philosophy for the People: Commencing a Dialogue. In part D’Olimpio wrote about how works of art like literature and films can be used to deepen empathy. I wrote:

“I am also deeply interested in how creative works such as films, works of literature, plays can be used to encourage critical, empathetic and creative responses from those who experience them and, further, how discussion of and reflection on these responses can be used as learning experiences.”

For the rest of Part 1 of this blog please click here.

“Human curiosity is an incredible driving force and we connect with others by telling stories.” (Laura D’Olimpio)

I am right now working on putting together the frameworks for a series of facilitated conversations I hope to offer sometime in the future. These conversations revolve around using extracts from literature as a filter and a prompt to examine aspects of organisational culture and function.

Talking about these things can make many people feel defensive and even judged; this is certainly not my intention but it is something that can readily happen. On the same day that I read D’Olimpio’s piece I also read an opinion piece in The Guardian by George Monbiot called How a corporate cult captures and destroys our best graduates. The title is self-explanatory and I do get where Monbiot is coming from but the many comments seem to reflect that the people who read the piece took it quite personally (many of them appear to work in the corporate culture that Monbiot is describing in damning terms). Some of the commenters are receptive to Monbiot’s angle, but there are plenty who sound defeated and resigned and even more who sound defensive and angry. Monbiot is trying to talk about something systemic, but many of these commenters are hearing a personal judgement levelled at them. I really don’t think this was Monbiot’s intention but I can understand this response; most of us, if we’re honest, would react the same way.

Kittens. That's the ticket. Look at kittens if you feel defensive or upset.
Kittens. That’s the ticket. Look at kittens if you feel defensive or upset.

So here’s the thing: how do you get people to reflect on, analyse critically, address creatively, and engineer change to the systems, cultures and paradigms in which they are embedded day by day. How do you get them to do this without feeling that they need to defend their personal decisions to be working within these parameters? Once people start to feel defensive then the shutters get intellectually and emotionally flung up and reflection and learning (and perhaps shifts in perspective) become impossible to achieve.

“…artworks provide us with a great stimulus for such discussions…” (Laura D’Olimpio)

My theory is that if I take a literary extract into a discussion and ask people to talk to it, and not necessarily about themselves, it will allow people to engage with ideas on an intellectual, imaginative and emotional level while also allowing people to sidestep the need to defend themselves; the artwork is under scrutiny, not them.

It’s hard to get perspective, to surface for air, from the day to day lives we find ourselves immersed in. We all need a framework or some kind of sheltering structure or protective entity to work through. Fortunately these things exist. They’re called artworks.

The Globe Kittens (1902)  by Ernest J. Rowley
The Globe Kittens (1902) by Ernest J. Rowley
Recommended Read: ‘cooperation makes us human’

Recommended Read: ‘cooperation makes us human’

“Automation of procedural work is accelerating” writes Harold Jarche as the opening sentence to his elegant and succinct piece ‘cooperation makes us human’, published 21 April on jarche.com. He then goes on to explicate why he thinks that “Interconnected people have the ability to adapt to a world dominated by machines and algorithms”. In describing the qualities that make humans unique and which cannot be replicated by computers Jarche goes on to write one of the most balanced and even hopeful responses to the increasingly widely circulated idea that technology is radically changing the ways in which we work, how we work and even why we work.

There is plenty of gloomy speculation as to the effects that increasing automation will have on industry and society; among the more alarming is the idea that at some stage many people will be left without work as many jobs will simply cease to exist, having been absorbed into the range of technological activity performed by super-duper robots. My personal view has always been that if, IF, we, as a society, undertake to be adaptable, broad minded, and socially just, and if we can bear to leave behind old fashioned notions of what work ought to mean and how labour ought to define us, then we have nothing to fear from the drastic changes to our society that will be wrought by this onslaught of technology.

“We can never be better computers. People cannot become more efficient than machines.”

Jarche has not written an anti-technology piece by any means, and that is one of the things I like about it. But he goes onto say that “All we can do is be more empathetic, more passionate, more creative. Our social connections reflect and reinforce our humanity. Cooperation is social. Collaboration is a temporary agreement to get something done. Amongst trusted people, collaboration is the easy part. Machines cannot cooperate.”

Cooperation, empathy and creativity cannot be automated. We have nothing to fear.

Image sourced from www.leonardo-sa-vinci-biography.com
Image sourced from http://www.leonardo-sa-vinci-biography.com
How to wrangle a millennial:

How to wrangle a millennial:

Millenials blog

You don’t.

Millennials tend to be described either as paragons of empathy and creativity or narcissistic over-indulged brats. To borrow a phrase from Jane Austen, they “deserve neither such praise nor such censure”*. They’re just people. Respect them and talk to them in the same way you do with your Boomer and Slacker reports and colleagues. If your normal way of managing, co-working and communicating doesn’t provide the optimal conditions for a Millennial to function creatively and collaboratively then the bad news is that your normal way of working has not provided the optimal conditions for anyone of any generation to fulfil their potential.

I have come across articles from time to time mentioning the differences between the generations. I feel as if there is a theme I am spotting where millennials are being praised for their super-duper capacity for empathy and creativity. There is a lot of well-meaning advice out there for folks (it seems to be pitched at boomers and slackers) who feel they need to hire and then manage these millennials so that the young’uns can work their magic and create innovative STUFF for the businesses these old folks own and / or manage. I have been wondering why I find these articles so damned irritating. I don’t find millennials irritating. I have worked with lots of millennials in my time and had a ball doing it**. But these articles irk me; recently I realised why.

There are amongst us oldies out there a cohort of people who figure they have an issue or problem in that their companies need to ‘innovate or die’. They figure they can help to address this by hiring packs of millennials who, so they are told, are extra creative. I think my problem with this line of thinking is that it offers a solution to a problem that allows current managers to ignore an underlying problem.

Which is this: You can hire millennials by the truckload, but if you insert them into the culture or hierarchies that already exist in your business then you are not going to be able to harvest the insights or ideas from them that you crave. If you figure that your current staff is so bereft of the ability to innovate that you have to outsource this most human of functions to a whole other new generation then the problem is not that your current staff are a pack of dullards. Your problem is that you treat them as if they are. You, as a manager, have failed to generate opportunities for your fellow Boomers, Gen-Xers and the older millennials already on your staff to engage with innovative process. Your work culture, your communication processes, your hierarchies, have all worked to estrange or silence innovative people on your staff. Your problem is not that you don’t have the most creative millennials on your staff. Your problem is that you have been unheedingly walking past the most creative boomers and Xers on your staff every day for years and not doing a bloody thing about that. Unless you address that failing, all the promising young talent in the world is not going to be able to make their ideas known to you.

Am I oversimplifying things? Of course I am! This is just a one page blog, after all. But I really can’t shake the feeling that older business leaders and their managers are working themselves up into a lather over how to hire and then how to communicate with these rarefied beings called millennials; article are written and talks are given in the same fomenting but hushed tones certain people might use in describing that time they saw an extra-terrestrial or a unicorn gambolling on their front lawn.

Futurist Jeremy Scrivens has a wonderful story he tells (see the YouTube clip  below) about how a company dealt with a sudden challenge by reaching out to, and then discovering new things about, their existing staff. Watch it and have a ponder about just how well you know your own staff. Do you think they could surprise you? Instead of looking outside your organisation and assuming the answer to the future lies in people as yet unhired, do you need to actually look closer to home first?

I wrote (and then forgot about) this blog months ago, actually. It was a companion blog to one I wrote at the same time and posted last year – On Problem Solving and Black Mould.

*Lizzy Bennet dealing with Miss Bingley in Chapter 9 of Pride and Prejudice.

**For the record – as a contractor I worked at student services departments at RMIT University from 2003-2010 doing stuff that ranged from project management, volunteer management, event management, arts administration and included supporting and / or mentoring student leaders. Lots of fun! Number 1 tip for working with millennials? Um… treat them like any other human being? Empathy and respect works for anyone of any generation.

Ramblings from a self confessed structure freak

Ramblings from a self confessed structure freak

I have always described myself as a ‘structure freak’, that is to say someone who is fascinated by the shape of things and the frameworks we develop around our activities to express our ideas. When I was working as a choreographer I was as intrigued by the challenge of developing the structure of the narrative or flow of impressions of a piece as I was with coming up with the right combinations of movements.

'Sarabande pour Femme' from Receuil De Dances, dance notation by Raoul-Auger Feuillet, pub. 1700. Image sourced from publicdomainreview.org
‘Sarabande pour Femme’ from Receuil De Dances, dance notation by Raoul-Auger Feuillet, pub. 1700. Image sourced from publicdomainreview.org

As much as I am this structure freak so too am I creative, in love with ideas, my own as well as those of others. I started moving into project and business planning and strategizing via working in arts management, where I was supporting other creative minds in realising their projects even when I wasn’t working on my own.

In working with various groups and organisations in different contexts I experienced and witnessed how much power underlying structures could have. “Culture follows structure” (Craig Larman) does the rounds a lot on Twitter, and culture is not the only thing.

But the imagination doesn’t follow any damned thing and new ideas can be odd, awkward, engrossing and compelling things that take some careful handling when they emerge out of the glorious protective sanctuary of someone’s head and start getting manhandled through brainstorming sessions or operational procedures, being judged, all the while, against a context and agenda set by the structures defined by an organisation’s governance model or business strategy.

The trick is to come up with structures that define space into which new ideas can emerge, and then provide a supportive and protective framework within which these new visions can be worked on. If the structures are too rigid, tight or proscribed then any creativity will be squelched; too lax or inconsistently applied then unproductive chaos can ensue.

Getting the balance between structure and creativity can be tricky, especially when by ‘structure’ you could mean governance or business models. These things belong to the world of logic, and can seem to be opposite to the world of creativity (although some of us creative find an organic flow between the two as was the case with my own choreographic practice). I have come across both business people and artists who talk as if the two were mutually exclusive.

There is often a tension between addressing the need for both structure and creativity but I don’t believe that this has to always be an unhealthy tension. The right kind of tension can, itself, be a spark that ignites more innovative thinking and elicits intelligent problem solving. I think the answer lies in thinking deeply about both. Spend the time understanding what the glorious images on that cinema screen inside your head are really trying to tell you. Don’t treat choosing your governance structure or writing your business strategy as a tick the box activity; do your research and think about the ramifications.

My workshop – Getting to the heart of running a social enterprise – is part of the Changemakers Festival. It is free and will take place at 6pm on 24 October 2014. For more information look here; RSVPs are required and you can do that here; to check out the Changemakers Festival program go to their website here. The workshop venue is at Naturalis Clinic, and you can find their website here.

Another of M. Feuillet's beautiful notations
Another of M. Feuillet’s beautiful notations
Darkly wise, rudely great

Darkly wise, rudely great

A short wild stumble through ideas about ideas, how they are used and where they come from.

 

Man: “… placed on this isthmus of a worldly state, a being darkly wise, rudely great.”

Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man.

 

Recently I attended a session of the Third Place Meetup Group for learning professionals. There was a small group of us, all from diverse backgrounds, chatting about this and that. One member had attended a Meetup group for people who work in developing virtual reality technology and he was talking about some of the amazing stuff they create and the variety of places in which it is used. A nice man, he somewhat blushingly and reluctantly(1) referred to the way that some virtual technology is finding a ready home in the porn industry. Of course, this started me off on a lovely train of thought about ideas, the seemingly higgledy-piggledy(2) ways in which they pop into our heads and the different ways and places they make it out into the world.

As my brain started rummaging around the “rag and bone shop”(3) of its storage banks it first dragged into the light a remembrance of a terrific blog by Jeff De Graff called ‘Innovation Starts in Dark Places’. “The most radical innovation in video streaming started in the pornography industry…Why does innovation often start in dark places? When you’re working in the fringes, the normal risks and rewards associated with radical change suddenly become different: you have a lot less to lose, but you can also gain a lot more.”

I then couldn’t get out of my mind a YouTube clip that I saw in one of my favourite current affairs blogs The Weekly Sift(4). In this clip, somebody had attached a camera to a drone and sent it into the middle of a fireworks display to capture footage that is breathtaking and very lovely. And yet drones have a certain notoriety about them that comes from their use as killing machines in war. I have often thought that this is a typically human thing to do, and is our curse and our blessing. We are cursed with the inventiveness to create a flying robot for remote controlled murder; and we are blessed with the inventiveness to look at this same machine and figure out that it can be used to film something beautiful and make art.

 

And this made me think of the quote “… the falling angel meets the rising ape…”. I felt I knew where I had seen this quote before – it was in a book by Terry Pratchett called Hogfather. I decided to make sure, though, and, not having the book with me threw myself on the combined resources of the Twitterverse to make sure. Philosopher Damon Young replied to my question with a tweet containing the beautiful quote from Pope “… placed on this isthmus of a worldly state, a being darkly wise, rudely great” which contained a similar idea(5).

 

So… in this blog so far I have rambled between quotes from poetry and fiction, discussions at Meetup groups, the blog of a thought leader in innovation, a current affairs blog, and a news story. Information and stimuli have been garnered from face to face conversations, Twitter, youtube, blogs and print media.

 

We all do this every day – our brains and instincts ping from a chat to an article to a tweet to a half heard news bulletin. Magpie-like, we collect concepts, impressions, and little bits of information. Ideas come to us out of a strange convex of need, opportunity, yearning, applied cleverness and primal instinct. The imagination is a bugger, really. It doesn’t care where it gets its stimulus from or how that might make its host (i.e. you or I) feel. It’s an amoral function. The images get splashed vividly across the screen inside our heads; if and how we manifest those impressions externally, and in what moral context, is up to the rest of our being.

 

And that’s where the fun really starts. Coming up with ideas? Pfft! That’s the easy part – we are primed as a species to have ideas. But what dark wisdom or rude greatness do we apply to expressing them, developing them, to allowing each other to share ideas, to act on them, to use them to look after our own needs and / or the needs of others. How do we get the balance right?

 

When businesses talk about creativity and innovation it is the conditions that surround the realisation of these things, and the values that those conditions betray or reveal, that interest me. This is where the apes are separated from the angels, and where rising and falling takes place.

(1) And on behalf of the Sisterhood I gave a nod of approval at this

(2) Although there is much great work being done on how to create conditions and methods on optimizing creative thought; so if creativity cannot be controlled the capacity for creative thought in individuals, organizations, societies can be boosted and nurtured.

(3) With apologies to W.B Yeats, whose splendid “Rag and bone shop of the heart” line from the poem ‘Circus Animals Desertion’ comes to me so often and in contexts that poor old Yeats probably never envisaged.

(4) The Weekly Sift covers US current affairs. I really recommend it. It is beautifully written and contains some very insightful in depth analysis.

(5) Google search indicated that it probably was Pratchett who had written “the falling angel…” quote.