Horrible Histories: When Projects Go Wrong

Horrible Histories: When Projects Go Wrong

Facilitated Conversations about

Risk Taking and Failure.

Exorcise your inner demons.

Offload, unburden, and get some perspective.

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Not all projects go the way we want them too, but we live in a society that tends to be risk averse and squeamish when it comes to talking about failure. Too many people carry untold history, denying themselves, and others, the chance to reflect, learn, and recover.

This is a chance for you to talk about risks you have taken, failures you have endured, and fools you have suffered.

Book now  to share your Horrible History:

  • Small, intimate groups of fellow risk takers (maximum of 4 plus facilitator);
  • Creative-based facilitation model to inspire insights.

What is it about work that has made you wake up at 3am with a pounding heart?

The world of work can be tough to navigate at times. I help people make sense of the emotional labour involved in navigating workplace culture. After a lifetime of working with teams in high pressure environments, I have developed a facilitation model that uses gothic themes and stories to provide both structure and inspiration.

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For this Halloween week, think about the things that have gone bump in your workplace: the Jekyll and Hyde colleagues, the vampires who suck the life out of your projects, the monsters you have created.

This is an opportunity to bring them into the light of day.

Cost: $25 / person
Dates: 29 Oct. – 2 Nov. 2018
Time: 5.30 for 6-7.30 pm
Place: Pop-Up venue in Melbourne CBD (directions supplied after booking)
I am keeping numbers small to keep the conversation intimate, so book soon. 

Book here.

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Resourcing Creativity

Resourcing Creativity

My book Ask for the Moon looks at creativity and innovation in organisations, and the conditions that nurture or constrain these. As a central case study for the book, I chose to look at Shaw Brothers Studios and their production of martial arts movies in the 60s, 70s, and early 80s.

Shaw Brothers had a business and production model that was unique for the time and place in which they operated. Their artistic workforce – directors, cinematographers, editors, martial arts choreographers, performers, writers, production designers, etc. – were extraordinarily creative and some of them even managed innovations in their art form.

The good thing about working for big studios was that you got classy, quality support. Even if you asked for the moon, they could get the moon for you, which was amazing. ~ Shaw Brothers Studios director Chor Yuen

One of the components of the Shaw Brothers production model was their organisation of resources. Whether it was a gobsmacking array of lavish costumes and set dressings, state of the art equipment, or a large and dedicated corps of human talent, Shaw Brothers could, as shown in the Chor Yuen quote above, support the vision of their directors with terrific resources.

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A still from Chor Yuen’s film ‘Killer Clans’. Note the yellow carpet…

They did this by pooling these resources centrally, and then mandating their re-use across a number of films. This kept costs down but, because the resources themselves were of high calibre to begin with, also ensured a decent quality. As a former creative worker and arts manager, I can completely empathise with Chor Yuen’s appreciation of being able to ask for his moon (and I know he got it because I’ve seen it in many of his glamorous looking movies). In my personal history I saw many arts projects get produced on shoe string budgets, and artists frequently worked miracles to produce material despite this, but this isn’t ideal for nurturing sustained creativity or producing good quality and well realised work. Shaw Brothers were able to churn out hundreds of handsome looking films in two and a half decades, of consistently good quality, and their strategy for managing resourcing played an important part in this.

(Producer) Run Run (Shaw) calibrated the resourcing of his production model… and then aligned it with producing a certain quality of product geared towards satisfying a certain audience need. ~ Ask for the Moon

Good, and certainly great, creative work needs to be adequately resourced. If it’s not, then potential is constrained, and your creatives will be distracted by stretching resources rather than doing the very best work they can do.

Shaw Brothers’ production model, and its particular approach to the management of resourcing, did have a down side: Shaw directors were constrained to using the same resources again and again. While they did good work, and this is commendable, this could also limit their ability to experiment and innovate (and this is one of the core things I look at in my book). This led to a certain sameness in aesthetic in the films – the same costumes, sets, actors, and even plots were recycled – and induced a feeling of staleness in some of the filmmakers.

Note the same yellow carpet underfoot in this still from another Chor Yuen film, ‘The Magic Blade’. I have seen this same carpet in every Shaws film I have seen.

Many Shaw Brothers’ films are eye-catching and fun, but only a few of them managed to be actually innovative, rather than just imaginative, under this regimen of controlling resources.

So, the lesson is plain: if you want ground breaking work, resource it properly.

Ask for the Moon is on sale now and you can buy it here.

Great work; not so great work

Great work; not so great work

“He painted all the time to do a really good painting and, like any artist, sometimes he did great works and sometimes he did not so great ones.” Brett Lichtenstein on Brett Whiteley, p. 81, Whiteley on Trial, by Gabriella Coslovich

I am currently reading (and enjoying) Gabriella Coslovich’s book Whiteley on Trial, a fascinating account of the biggest case of alleged art fraud in Australia. As well as providing a detailed retelling of the court proceedings, Coslovich also includes accounts of her interviews with a fascinating cast of characters, all connected with the late artist Brett Whiteley, or his artworks, or the apparent forgery of his style.

The above quote comes from a conversation the author had with the master framer Brett Lichtenstein. It caught my eye because I have been lately ruminating on the willingness of artists (from any discipline) to embrace experimentation and risk in their work. In my life, I have worked in both the arts industry and other sectors. It came as a rude shock to me, when I left the arts to go and work in the community and tertiary sectors, to realise how risk averse a lot of people were in comparison to the artists I was used to working with.

There is a myth that artists are woefully chaotic and badly disorganised, and spend their lives mucking about ineffectually to make all kinds of weirdly arcane stuff. The older I get the wearier I am of hearing this, usually from people who have no experience in the arts industry. The truth is – take it from one who has worked both within and out of the arts industry and can compare – that the percentage of artists who are bimbos and flakes is no higher or lower than the percentage of bimbos and flakes in other sectors.

The process of making art is messy; the process of creating something is full of trial and error. Perhaps this is why, to the outsider, artists look disorganised in their work. Whiteley was a great artist; many of Coslovich’s interviewees call him a genius. But as Lichtenstein attests above – and as Whiteley’s favourite framer he developed an intimate knowledge of Whiteley’s work over the course of many years – this genius “sometimes did not so great” work.

But to get to that “really good painting” Whiteley had to paint “all the time”, had to keep painting pieces that fell a little short until he produced a great work that didn’t. And as Lichtenstein says above, this is “like any artist”. Any of us working creatively are going to churn through this process of trying to find that sweet point where technique aligns with inspiration. In Whiteley’s case, his great works were really great. But even if most of us can never match his outcomes, we can still learn from his process.

The Balcony (2) by Brett Whiteley
The Balcony (2) by Brett Whiteley

On the Brainpickings website, Maria Popova included some insights from writer Ann Patchett on her creative process including the following:

“Forgiveness. The ability to forgive oneself. Stop here for a few breaths and think about this because it is the key to making art, … I believe, more than anything, that this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing.”

I wish, I really really wish, someone had given me this advice when I was a young dancer and choreographer. Being creative is tough. You constantly have to weather the disappointment of not being able to reproduce the inspirational thing in your head as a real tangible outcome, you come up short, or it doesn’t turn out the way you thought it would, or you try too hard and overcomplicate things.

But to make the thing you are capable of making, you have to keep trying, make some bad work, move past that, keep trying, make some OK work, learn from that, keep trying, make some bad work again, reflect some more, keep trying, and then make that capable (even great?) piece. Then move on from that. Keep trying. Make some more bad work. Keep trying. And so on. And so forth.

If you want to experience insight into creativity, especially in how to apply it to innovation, then come along to the Creative Melbourne conference, 18-22 February, which offers a unique experience in creative co-learning. For more information, please look here.

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.

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Apollo on the Sun Chariot by Guido Reni (1575-1642)
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
Enterprises are about logistics

Enterprises are about logistics

“… all great enterprises are about logistics. Not genius…but logistics.”

I read an article called Forensic Logistics: this crime ‘howdunnit’ is sexier than it sounds by John Lenarcic in The Conversation last year. This quote caught my eye:

“Waxing ever more lyrical though, English novelist Tom McCarthy in his first novel, Remainder, had this to say:

‘… all great enterprises are about logistics. Not genius or inspiration or flights of imagination, skill or cunning, but logistics. Building pyramids or landing spacecraft on Jupiter or invading whole continents or painting divine scenes over the roofs of chapels: logistics.’”

I thought this was an interesting perspective, lyrically expressed. These days you can’t spit, so to speak, without hitting an article or blog or website extolling the virtues of innovation for business. To state the bleeding obvious, when we talk about innovation we are talking about a range of activities starting with creative ideation and then progressing through all of the operational processes through which that idea takes tangible form to, somehow, add value to either process or product. In other words, logistics is definitely a part of innovation and the development of creative, value-adding ideas.

And this is not just the case in business either. As someone who started out as an artiste before progressing to arts management work, wherein I helped others realise their creative projects, I am coming to grind my teeth when I hear business folk describe artists as flakey and crazy, inferring that they indulge in wild flights of fancy and lack the practical nous to implement their ideas. Don’t you believe a word of it: good artists, performing and visual, are red hot implementers. Their practice is all about taking their creative ideas and expressing them in tangible or experiential forms. If they don’t do this they are merely day dreamers. While artists may not have the same skill sets as business people, they have their own range of logistics to wrangle and their own different but comparable sorts of ingenuity to get the best results from these.

Do you agree with McCarthy’s view? Feel free to leave a comment below. For me this quote alludes to that alchemical moment during any creative enterprise when you get the imagination and intellect talking together, when day to day processes and real-life circumstances can be lined up or wrangled to facilitate the expression of a new creative idea. What I have always called ‘my choreographer’s brain’, by which I mean a brain that likes arranging people and things in time and space to express something, gets a kick out of this. It’s what makes the area of innovation such a fun thing to play around in. Fun, and for the business world, vital.

Marco Polo's Caravan
Marco Polo’s Caravan
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.