Happiness At Work #122 ~ People: our greatest resource, now as it has always been

We are more and more recognising that the ‘soft people skills’ are neither unimportant nor inevitable, and we fail to give them our best attention and expertise at our peril.

“…given the chance, brilliant people want to do brilliant things for and with their own community, because our greatest resource is now, and always has been, people.”  Stella Duffy

Our headline post for this new Happiness At Work collection takes its words from Stella Duffy, writing about the real power of brilliant everyday people to make brilliant things happen – and yes, that would be all of us.

What last year’s very first Fun Palaces experiment discovered, heightened and celebrated was the huge talent, enthusiasm, energy and abilities of people to make something together when there is the right mix of invitation, belief, openness, trust, and recognition.

A Fun Palace is a 2hour or 2day (or somewhere in between) event that is Free, Local, Innovative, Transformative and Engaging.

80% of the 3,000+ people who made them and 80% of the 40,000+ people who took part in last year’s Fun Palaces across the UK and in other countries were experiencing arts activity for the first time.  And 90% of makers believed their Fun Palace made people very happy or happy.

And there is much we might learn from this to take into our organisations, teams and work relationships, as the article about relationships at work collected here all suggest.

Fun Palaces 2015: realising the excellence of local people

Try reading this imagining that Stella Duffy is talking about your organisation, even if you are not a professional working in the arts, science or community engagement…

The 3,183 people across the UK who signed up to make local Fun Palaces last year did so for many reasons…

For most, whatever their initial reason for getting involved, it was the local aspect that proved crucial: working with neighbours (many of them not already friends), local councillors and public buildings, often for the first time, to make great, inclusive work – and making it locally.

One of the things we’re proudest of with Fun Palaces is that it’s not about outside experts. Contrary to many subsidised engagement programmes, this project doesn’t fly in experts to make a difference. It does not look for experts to tell a group how best to function, nor does it believe that experts are best-placed to inspire communities to create their own arts and sciences events. We do not bring in world-class orchestras or top-ranking scientists to work with Fun Palaces; we couldn’t afford to, even if we wanted to – and we don’t want to.

The local person – perhaps not well-known or known at all, but expertly and compellingly enthusiastic – is a role-model who says: “I am from here, I am like you and that means you can do this too.” The local enthusiast, rather than the flown-in expert, underlines the possibility that we can all be creative.

Joan Littlewood said she believed in the “genius in every person” – and we do too. We believe that everyone can make great work, in every field, and that what is lacking is not willing, hard work – nor the brilliance necessary for ordinary people to become expert – but opportunity and encouragement…

What we learned from our Fun Palaces pilot in 2014 was that the experts are already in communities, that excellence of engagement is far more valuable than a subjective excellence of artistic quality.

We also learned that, given the chance, brilliant people want to do brilliant things for and with their own community, because our greatest resource is now, and always has been, people.

Real people, ordinary people, the people: the ones who know their own community’s needs and wants, because they live in it, offering engagement and participation far from Westminster, from the grassroots up.

Maybe you can make something brilliant during this year’s Fun Palaces where you are?  Fun Palaces, 3–4 October 2015, is now open for registration.

Read the full article here

7 workplace myths disproven by research [infographic]

Admittedly this is a real potpourri of seemingly random bits and pieces of research, but it has been made up into an intriguing provocation to some of the assumptions and beliefs that w might need to let go of in the new world of work we are making for ourselves.

Read the full article here

Where To Start On Empathy? 5 Essential Reads

Nathan Wiltshire writes

During the course of my work and life, many people ask me for advice on where to begin their own explorations into empathy. Having personally consumed hundreds of articles, books, blogs, and video content, I thought I would help de-clutter and put on a platter some of the best sources to not only get started, but to challenge your thinking. Happy reading!

1. Empathy: A handbook for revolution by Roman Krznaric

Out of all high-level discussions on empathy, this is by far the most ideal introduction to the topic. As an inspirational yet very accessible read, I suggest this as the ideal stepping-stone into empathy. By approaching the exploration from a philosophical lens, the author provides a high level overview of empathy, interwoven with many excellent historical illustrations and practical real-world examples. Also, there is a great TED talk previewing the book.

2. Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell

I like this book as the strongest practical demonstration empathy, in which Orwell immerses himself in a homeless life. For me its impact comes as much from the descriptions of lived experience on the street, as it is for knowing that this was a transformational period for the writer. The reader really gets a strong sense for how this experience provided Orwell with the deepest of insights into humanity, which he would use as the basis for later seminal works that remain relevant today – 1984 and Animal Farm. This might even inspire you to seek immersion in your own life, to intensify your own empathic exploration beyond your usual comfort zone. It is suggested second on this list deliberately as you will find it easier to make the connection between the author’s empathic journey if you start the book with an understanding of empathy basics provided by Roman Krznaric.

3. Zero Degrees of Empathy by Simon Baron-Cohen

This was the first book I ever read by a neuroscientist. I chose this because it seemed logical that in order to really understand empathy, it is necessary to get to the very source – the human brain. Zero Degrees turned out to be an easy to read and fascinating account of the conditions that leave some people without the neurological capacity for empathy. For anyone interested in empathy, this is a key insight as it demonstrates that the vast majority of us can be empathic.

4. Empathy: A motivated account by Jamil Zaki

After reading the first three, this will be a slightly more testing read as the author provides a more technical account of empathy. This has been added to the list mainly because it will make you consider what brings people to empathy (or not). It discusses the selectiveness of empathy, that it is dependent on several personal and situational factors, and that we even avoid empathy under certain conditions. Why do we act when a family member is in need of help, or even a fellow countryman, but not the millions living in poverty in far away places? These are fundamental questions we all need to ask ourselves. It may seem overly technical for some – however, those who can stick with it will gain new levels of insight.

5. Well Designed: How to use empathy to create products people love by Jon Kolko

Having read the first four on this list, you’re probably thinking, ‘Great, I now have some understanding of empathy… but what the heck am I supposed to do with it?’ One of the great challenges I see at the moment is the rapidly developing thought leadership in the clinic sphere, coupled with a relative dearth of advice on applied empathy. Well Designed takes steps towards a practical framework for applying aspects of empathy in product design. The author combines his background in design thinking and develops it to address the need for robust empathic insights. To do this he leverages ethnographic techniques and an immersive account of empathy, which indicates that observation is an essential starting point. The steps contained with this book are simple enough for anyone to try – not only in product development, but also in service or process design.

Read the original article here

10 Ways to Make Employees Happier in 2015

Derek Irvine, employee recognition expert and co-author of The Power of Thanks, suggest his top ten tips to reinvigorate employees, and build and foster a more dynamic company culture…

One simple way to breathe new life into your workforce and culture is by focusing on “thanks” and social recognition.

According to Globoforce’s Spring 2014 Workforce Mood Tracker survey, 73% of employees who are recognised at work feel happier in their jobs. Thanking your employees daily and, in turn, encouraging them to consistently thank each other, will go a long way; as will implementing a recognition program that can help streamline and track moments of “thanks” in your company.

By saying “thank you,” you will not only have happier employees, but employees who are more engaged, motivated and loyal to you as their employer.

Here are 10 ways to create a culture of recognition, and make your employees happier in 2015:

1. Thank your employees every day

While “thank you” is instinctual, it’s most powerful when it occurs repeatedly, and in a timely manner. Focus on recognizing employees on a consistent basis throughout the year.

2. Foster friendships at work

According to Globoforce’s Fall 2014 Workforce Mood Tracker survey, 89% of employees say work relationships matter to their quality of life.

Work friendships inspire and motivate employees, make employees feel more loyal and connected to their company, and provide the foundations for building trust among colleagues.  By encouraging friendships at work, you create a happier employee and also an employee who’s more productive and committed in the workplace.

3. Pay attention to employees’ needs

Some managers are more task-focused than people-focused. Instead of looking at their employees and their needs, they’re looking at their to-do lists.

By keeping your head up, you’re not only in a better position to see and acknowledge your employees’ needs, but also their contributions, which puts you in a much better position to reward their work.

4. Nurture your company’s culture

Choose the values that define your company, and then encourage your employees to express those values in their everyday behaviour.

Instituting a recognition program can help breathe life into these values and make them actionable for employees every day.

5. Encourage employees to celebrate each other

Every company is a collection of communities and of human beings, bonded by their connection to each other through their work.

By giving employees the opportunity to congratulate and thank each other for their work, a culture of recognition naturally emerges through associative behavior.

6. Create better leaders

There’s an old adage that people don’t leave companies, they leave their bosses.

By encouraging people to thank their teams often and, in turn, encourage the same behaviour among employees, a palpable rise in employee happiness will occur.

7. Show employees empathy

The importance of humanity in the workplace cannot be overstated. It’s one of the critical components of developing and retaining employees because, as humans, we have an incredible need for acknowledgement and compassion.

Listen, support and protect your employees, and encourage the same behavior among all teams by celebrating instances where great connections occur.

8. Prolong the honeymoon

New hires love their jobs, are more engaged and feel appreciated and acknowledged at work. However, after passing the one-year mark, these feelings tend to wane.

In order to keep employees happy, make every year feel like the first year. Recognise and appreciate your employees as often as possible so their enjoyment and engagement in the job starts high and stays high.

9. Unite your team

Today’s multigenerational workforce calls for an adaptable culture that is functional for a variety of different styles and approaches.

Understanding people’s motivations and work styles, and being sure to make room for all of them in a united workplace, will help you make great strides in energizing your team.

10. Give “thank-you” gifts

Everyone loves receiving gifts. So why wouldn’t the same apply in the workplace?

Consider giving employees a gift with tangible value, such as a choice of merchandise or gift card, which will in turn improve their engagement, motivation and happiness.

Read the full article here

What Does Your Communication Say About Your Culture?

Are you aware of how your communication style impacts your culture?

Is it the impact you want?

What one change in communication style would make if it returned a better outcome?

Leadership expert 

There are several ways we, as a society, currently communicate:

  • Verbal: Face-to-face, words, tone;
  • Written: Email, text, tweet;
  • Non-Verbal: Body language;
  • Interpretation of environment: Atmosphere, cultural styles.

Your current and future leaders need to be able to communicate in all these ways because today is different from yesterday and it will be different tomorrow. It is a continual change.

However, no matter what method you communicate through, there are some things that will not change.

Perception is reality

How others hear you and how they see you is reality to them, not your interpretation of the situation.

Perception is reality, and whether or not you are listening intently while staring off into the distance during a conversation, the individual you are engaged with will interpret you as disinterested, rude, and disengage quickly.

Organisations must invest in their people to improve self-awareness, understand that perception is reality, and proactively deal with impact of communication on their overall culture.

Don’t kill the messenger

First impressions represent 80% of what people think of you – period. This occurs within the first 90 seconds or less.

To change an impression requires a lot of work over many hours, sometimes even days. You have heard that one “Oh, S***” will replace 50 “Atta boys!” in five seconds! This is the same with first impressions.

In today’s world of speed, your words or letters and their delivery will either capture their attention or eliminate it.

Body language tells its own story. Awareness of your facial expressions, your stance, and your eye contact (to name a few) can create a perception that is very negative or very positive and inviting.

In addition, behaviours are interpreted as actions, whether they are verbal or not. What is your organisational culture telling you if during a manager’s meeting everyone is sitting around the table with their arms folded and checking their phones?

Learning more about non-verbal communication may actually help you reach your return on investment (ROI)!

Big Bang explosions create lasting scars

We mentioned earlier that change is constant. If an organisation wants to meet their revenue targets, they must be able to live through constant change and reduce any type of chaos associated with how work gets done differently.

Some company cultures that experience continual change have often felt that the Big Bang style is the best; as everyone is an adult, they need to get over the past, live with the modification, and get on with it. They proceed to toss all modifications on the table at once and basically tell their people accept it or move on.

But experts say this causes people to wish for the past and how things use to be, blocking them from moving forward and slowing down your team and productivity. Leaders of tomorrow must learn the techniques to eliminate the scaring effects of a Big Bang explosion.

These are just a few examples of how communication can impact your organisational culture.  For companies that are truly serious about their future, it becomes part of their leadership development as they grow leaders for the changing needs of their company’s future.

Read the full article here

Life as a Gymnasium, Trading and Investment as Workouts

When Positive Psychology starts being applied to finance you know it’s being taken seriously!

Although written specifically for finance professionals, especially traders, Brett N. Steenbarger’s ideas here lift easily across and into many of our professional lives, and offer some strengths-based ways to treat ourselves with greater humanity, recognition and appreciation…

My initial post introduced positive psychology as a bridge between the real and the ideal–between who we are and who we aspire to be. The radical paradigm shift of positive psychology is that we don’t cross that bridge simply by solving problems and resolving conflicts. We evolve by building upon our strengths: by becoming more of who we are when we are at our best.

Imagine that life is a gymnasium filled with exercise machines and equipment. One station provides us with a workout for joy and happiness. Another station exercises our capacity for life satisfaction, fulfilment, and gratitude. Still another station pushes us to higher levels of energy and vitality. Creativity, mental toughness, love and friendship,mindfulness – all have their workout spaces in life’s gym.

The notion of life as a gymnasium suggests that how–and whether–we develop hinges on the quality of our workouts. In life, as in the weight room, it’s use it or lose it. We either exercise and develop our strengths or we allow them to fall into disuse. That perspective yields a very different way of looking at our daily calendars and weekly planners: What have I exercised this day, this week? What strengths have I strengthened and which have I neglected? Am I working out, exercising the best within me? Or am I merely coping, keeping head above water in status quo mode?

Development requires expansion, not shrinking. In any gym it is only when we push our boundaries that we expand, becoming stronger, faster–more fit.

Work As Gymnasiums

Because of the need for continuous adaptation, [21st century work] requires ongoing workouts of our psychological capacities. Successful [professionals] must maintain a steady discipline of risk control, a self-confident capacity for decisive action, and also an unusual open-mindedness and flexibility when change occurs. Opportunities are ever-changing, which means that successful [professionals] must be analytical and creative, optimistic and cautious. On top of it all, skilled [professionals] must manage themselves as well as they manage risk and reward. If we fail to maintain focus/concentration, emotional balance, and self-control, our decision making suffers and we can fail to profit from even the best ideas.

Making Your Workouts Work For You

Positive psychology suggests one powerful strategy: dissect, analyse, and study your most successful decisions and actions. Reverse engineer your successes and you will discover your principles for peak performance.

This is what is known in psychology as a solution-focus. To bridge real and ideal, immerse yourself in what you do when you most closely approximate your ideals. If you unearth a great idea and manage it well, break down how you generated the idea, how you turned the idea into an successful strategy, how you managed the risk and reward, and how you managed yourself to sustain good decision making.  If you study your own work over time, patterns emerge. You’ll see errors you need to correct, but you’ll also observe strengths you can build upon. In studying your successes, you will realise that, at times, you already are well along that bridge toward your ideals.

You can’t sustain great workouts if you don’t know your best practices. Exercising your strengths requires that you know what your strengths are. If you begin to catalogue your best work, you will observe your patterns of success: the ways in which you leverage your strengths.

Read the original article here

Also on this theme…

Science Proves That Hugs Can Boost Your Immune System

We know that hugs make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. And this feeling, it turns out, could actually ward off stress and protect the immune system, according to new research from Carnegie Mellon University

Why Managers Need To Focus On Employee Happiness

If managers were smart, they would focus on employee happiness, and allow employees to naturally come up with great ideas and provide great service.

Happy employees are more productive. If an employee is happy, they’ll be more likely to be engaged, and go above and beyond to perform well.

And this has now been proven by research…

Happiness At Work edition #122

You can find all of these articles, and more, collected together in edition #122 of Happiness At Work here


Action Learning – a better way to collaborate and communicate together…

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3194 photo: Mark Trezona

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3194
photo: Mark Trezona

Here are my newest thoughts about the discipline and magic that make Action Learning so potently transformational…

I had lunch last week with Alison Johns, a wonderful friend and colleague who I first met nearly twenty years ago when we were completing our MAs in Management Learning & Leadership. This was when I first discovered Action Learning, the framework that has changed my practice forever, as much, I confidently dare to believe, as it has transformed the lives and accomplishments of many of the people who have participated in its process.

In the Shaky Isles Theatre Company we have used Action Learning as the main framework for coming together to grow and sustain the company for a year now.  And more and more we are also using Action Learning inside our performance making process, as well, to sustain and nourish our creative learning alongside our show creation.

I am also currently facilitating Action Learning with a group of Rajni Shah Project artists to support their co-creation activities, and here, too, the discipline and framework of Action Learning is weaving across and into Board meetings, producing some really exciting new conversations and ways of working together.

In another application, Nicki Maher is starting to use Action Learning as a way to develop and grow Opaz, the Turkish music ensemble she leads.

And I am about to work with Tesse Akpeki to deliver training in using Action Learning for people who support or lead Trustee Boards.

These newer applications of Action Learning are continuing to amplify the belief, trust and joy that I have always found facilitating this process with very many very different groups of professionals and leaders, teachers and artists, teams and freelancers – not to mention my own invaluable membership of an Action Learning group that have been meeting regularly together since 1998.

With this in mind I wanted to try to uncover some of my newest thinking and insights about the disciplined magic that is Action Learning, and, alongside this, to provide a jumping off point for you to try it for yourself with the people you either work with or feel drawn to spend some time with uncovering fresh ideas and new ways to progress the things that most matter to you.

Sky Through Soundpod (Chelsea College of Art & Design, 2013)  photo: Mark Trezona

Sky Through Soundpod (Chelsea College of Art & Design, 2013)
photo: Mark Trezona

A Practitioner’s Guide to Action Learning

Reg Revans invented Action Learning to provide a ‘clean space’ in an overly noisy and overly directed world, to give people enough freedom and enough solid framework to be able to uncover and discover our own best thoughts and insights to become freshly inspired to act, fuelled by our own creative expectations and sustained by our continually expanding capabilities.

Revans was convinced that for an organisation to survive its rate of learning must be at least equal to – and ideally greater than – the rate of change in its external environment – this became known as Revans’ Law: Learning must be > or = Change.

The Action Learning process has developed over the last sixty years as a method for individual and organisational development. As a process Action Learning can be challenging and informative. Within organisations Reg Revans described it as “the outward communication of doubt” – an opportunity for people to engage with and work through what is unfamiliar, uncertain and not known and identify action which could make a positive difference to their own and the organisation’s effectiveness. For example, he was one of the first to introduce to the National Health Service the idea that nurses, doctors and administrators needed to listen to and understand each other – and action learning groups offer the opportunity.

In any attempt to describe Action Learning, it is essential to say that Revans rightly advises us that the only way to really know what it is, is to do it. With that in mind, here are the instructions we follow in our practice, which we hope will give you enough to be able to try it for yourself.

In the form of Action Learning we use, the available time is divided first into two parts: a first part for Action Learning itself, and the second part to work the ideas and progress the material that has emerged out from the individual contributions.

The Action Learning time itself is divided equally among the individuals present. Each person then has that amount of Clean Space time to bring to the table whatever is most live and prescient for each of them.  And during this time the rest of the group cannot interrupt or comment in any way. Once each person has said as much as they want to, the rest of us offer them open creative thinking questions for whatever Clean Space time remains.

The Clean Space Process


1. A continuous area or expanse which is free, available, or unoccupied

2. A stretch of time

3. The amount of material used or needed to write fully about a subject

4. The freedom to live, think, and develop in a way that suits you best

Before you start agree how much Clean Space time each person will have and who will keep time.

In your Clean Space time…

1 ~ Say whatever you want to say. Be as selfish as you can be about what you want to bring to the table.  Talk from your own head and heart and don’t worry or care about what anyone else needs to hear. 

No interruptions, comments or questions from anyone else during this phase.

2 ~ Once you have said all you want to say, you respond to open creative thinking Questions given to you by the rest of your group.

Again, be completely selfish about how you want to respond to any question you get: you decide what it means and how you want to answer it, if at all.

The rest of the group seek to bring you moments of spontaneity – questions that open you up to fresh new thinking and insights.

Resist saying anything except Open Questions during this phase. The best questions will be a gift for the person who receives it, and they will feel and often say “That’s a great question…”

Use “Why…?” questions sparingly.

3 ~  (optional and only if time –at least 2minutes of each person’s Clean Space time) 

You ask whatever you want to from others in the group.

If there are no questions you want to ask people, use this time to draw together the thinking and ideas you are going away with.

Allow about 10% of Clean Space time for this, but shift into it sooner if the person who has the Clean Space is repeatedly saying “I don’t know…” to your questions.

Helpful Capabilities for Action Learning

o   Being fully present

o   Alert, neutral, open, heightened listening

o   The Fine & Difficult Art of Asking Really Great Open Questions

o   Being utterly selfless and tuned in to what the Clean Space holder is trying to get when it is not your Clean Space time

o   Being supremely selfish about what you want to bring and get from your own Clean Space time

o   Wondering your not-knowing out loud: bringing what you don’t know to the table

o   Being open to surprise

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3191 photo: Mark Trezona

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3191
photo: Mark Trezona

This set of simple rules sets up the conditions for a very different way of thinking and communicating that lead almost inevitably to new insights and fresh possibilities for action.  When repeated over a series of meetings it replaces our usual default ways of listening and thinking with better ways that are far more open, expansive, diverse, inclusive, and actively engaged.  And over time, the disciplines and capabilities it demands from us start to become easier, more natural, and much more our new ‘normal’.

We shift our perspective; we shift our balance…

…from only paying attention to the information that immediately interests us to listening out and trying to pick up much more of what is being said and its many nuances;

…from narrowing the conversation down and heading off too quickly on a particular tangent, to exploring the situation in greater depth and from a wider range of perspectives;

…from talking more about things and re-presenting conclusions and ideas that we have already decided upon, to uncovering what we think and feel during the act of talking about it;

…from bringing our certainties and defending our established points of view, to bringing more of our uncertainties and opening out what we don’t know or yet have answers or solutions for: dialogue means discovering the meaning through communication;

…from only having the ‘need-to-have’ conversations, to unearthing extraordinary and surprising insights and solutions from conversations that arise out of what matters most to each of us;

…from tending to get most of the input from the more talkative amongst us, to getting and thus profiting from, an equal contribution from all of us, realising and optimising the inherent diversity that otherwise lies hidden and buried underneath our different communication styles and preferences;

…from prescribing the desired goal or outcome and restricting our thinking to what seems to be most relevant and strategic to its achievement, to keeping more open to discovering higher value aspirations that emerge and progress organically from the material of what people bring to the table;

…and from excited intentions that are too soon forgotten or lost to louder demands, to achieving ever widening results that spiral up from our collective learning ~ out to action ~ back into heightened learning ~ and out to new action ~ and so on in an increasingly reliable and self-powered momentum.

Perhaps the most surprising discovery to be made in Action Learning is that, very often, our greatest joy and discovery comes less from what we bring during our own Clean Space and much, much more from what we get from the ‘enforced’ listening we give during other people’s.

It is also helpful to know that Action Learning is not only for a team of people who want to use it to make work together, but equally powerful and potentially transformative for a group of individuals who choose to come together to hear and widen each other’s thinking entirely in terms of each person’s own personal agendas.

Action Learning and Collaboration

I have been thinking a lot recently about just what it is that makes Action Learning so enjoyed and successful and surprising and special, especially when it can be experienced by a group over a repeated series of get-togethers. These reflections have drawn out these five attributes:

  1. In-Betweenness 
  2. Listening In-ness
  3. Slowness
  4. Togetherness
  5. Connectedness

1 ~ In-Betweenness

This quality is not so much walking blindly through fog, as the more delightful experience of flying through clouds, up in the air and above it all, happy and trusting that we will get to where we want to get to without having to see ahead to our destination.

This is the ability to inhabit the grey areas between boundaries, to hold ambiguity and complexity with far less need to define it, fix it, bolt it down, categorise and name it.  It involves being simultaneously inside and outside the flow of thinking, both alert to what others are saying and what matters to them while at the same time aware of the live fresh dancing of our own thoughts colliding with what we are hearing.

This quality is especially enhanced when we can keep our not-knowingness wide open and transmitting, sensing out rather than seeing straight ahead, wondering out loud, teasing out our unformed ideas, uncertainties and barely yet understood intuitions.

2 ~ Listening In-ness

This quality is about hearing in real time (rather than anticipating ahead of what is being said and so hearing only what we expect).  It demands that we stay with the material as it unfolds in the here-and-now instead of projecting our own versions of reality on to things. This is the capability of tuning in with the deliberate intention to notice more and receive more fully.  It is HD hearing that picks up the finer inflexion, nuance, repetition and other poetic aspects of our thinking.

It requires us to lean in, bringing a particular kind of presence and concentration to stay with what is being said as it is being said, resisting our usual inclination to decide quickly on what is meant from the smallest fragment of information.

This needs our fullest energy, commitment, presence and attention. But, when the conditions of Clean Space are activated, it seems to happen with remarkable ease and reliability.

3 ~ Slowness

The listening we do in Action Learning recognises that…

…you can’t flick through sound;

…you can’t take a meaningful still of sound;

…you can’t glance at sound;

…you can’t sensibly hear sound backwards, or broken up, un-sequenced;

…you just have to start at its beginning and stay with it through to its end.

Mindfulness, a deliberate, disciplined, meditative practice of slowing down and tuning in, is becoming a mass practice across the globe, perhaps filling in and replacing our older religious rituals with something more secular and better suited to our times.  But, perhaps too, its popularity is building from a growing awareness that we need times of slowness, stillness and quietness that reconnects us into the rhythm of our breathing selves as a counterbalance to the incessantly turned on, turned up, turned out lives we are now living.

Stopping, and making a quieter stillness to listen and notice better are premium qualities in Action Learning. And much is yielded from the heightened waiting and trusting this gives us.

4 ~ Togetherness

Action Learning gives us a new way of co-creating – making something from the collective material that emerges from us all – and a better way of collaborating – making joint decisions and sharing out the work.

The material we uncover to work with is always richer and more multidimensional than any ordinary discussion could give us. This happens without force in a process akin to the sculptor’s art – drawing out and revealing and shaping and clarifying and heightening and unifying what is most fine and delightful and compelling from inside what we already have amongst us, waiting to be discovered.

5 ~ Connectedness

In Action Learning meanings, ideas and solutions emerge from making patterns. As humans we make sense of things by forging connections: that thing to the thing we already know (or think we know); this thing with that thing with the other thing to make the new thing.  Then the more we repeat, reinforce and practice anything the more strongly it becomes ingrained into our integral circuitry.  The repetition and cyclic iterations of uncovering and revealing and testing and rethinking we get in Action Learning deepens and strengthens our commitment to the ideas we most connect with.

Action Learning demands a kind of patient urgency – a different kind of dynamic that still has to move us forward with a sense of necessity and compulsion, but alongside a more careful, intimate and delicate holding on and out for what is still unfolding

Action Learning creates and sustains our propulsion from…

…the avoidance of rush and fixing too fast and hard alongside the necessity to make progress;

…the avoidance of jumping too quickly into action alongside the necessity for application and getting things done;

…the avoidance of the usual imperative to define desired outcomes and set the focus on the Vision alongside the necessity of getting somewhere worth arriving at.

Action Learning and Making Great Audience Experience

All of this I have come to know and trust from my many years sitting inside and outside dozens of different Action Learning groups since I first found it.

What is new for me is to start to wonder what might come from the explicit aspiration, or even the gentlest intention, to try to make the qualities we experience in Action Learning with our audience – whether they be our beneficiaries or our customers or our partners or our stakeholders or our public…

Audience: the people who come to give us their hearing.

What if… we could come together as a community of listeners?

And return to listen together again and again, each time able to listen better?

What might our better listening lead us on to do better?

What if…?

What next…?

What now…?

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3193 photo: Mark Trezona

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3193
photo: Mark Trezona

Do please feel welcome to contact us if you would like to know more about how to make Action Learning part of your work or learning.

This post was developed from the one I originally wrote for Shaking Out, the Shaky Isles Theatre Company blog

Happiness At Work edition #90

If you enjoyed this, you may also find more stories and techniques for becoming more productive, happy and creative in this week’s new Happiness At Work collection, our weekly collection of the best stories about leadership and learning, mindfulness and happiness at work, resilience and self-mastery.



Happiness At Work #70 ~ creativity and finding the happy space to play in

photo credit: orangeacid via photopin cc

photo credit: orangeacid via photopin cc

This week’s Happiness At Work #70 headline theme considers the power and importance of creativity and play to our happiness and success.

What does playing mean in a work context?

What new ideas can we get about how to ‘play to our strengths’?

What are the benefits – for ourselves, for our organisations, for the people we play with and the people we play to – of making more time to be creative, for fun, and for finding a space in the middle of the circle?

And, if we are convinced of the worth of any of this, how might we go about trying out and extending and mastering any of these practices?

To help answer these questions, here are some of our favourite articles from this week’s collection…

photo credit: Photosightfaces via photopin cc

photo credit: Photosightfaces via photopin cc

Happiness Means Creativity: One Company’s Bet On Positive Psychology


Rather than just fix what’s ailing you, positive psychology looks to actively improve individual and organizational well-being. Here’s how Havas Worldwide is working to build a happier, more resilient–and ultimately more creative–workforce.

Cultivating a more positive outlook is a better way of boosting creativity than indulging a tortured genius, according to consultant psychologist and professor Neil Frude who has begun working with ad organization Havas Worldwide London to provide “positive psychology” training to the agency’s staff.

It’s all about creating a virtuous circle.

“There is a strong relationship between employee happiness and a workforce that is productive, creative, and flourishing,” he says, pointing to lab studies designed to test creativity after participants have been made more and less happy, which shows creative levels improve when people are happier.

Furthermore, the positive effect of creative satisfaction produces, in turn, a further emotional uplift that feeds what’s known as “contagion of emotion,” which benefits a group of people as a whole–be that an organization or simply a collection of friends and acquaintances…

“‘Positive psychology’ is about playing to strengths–enhancing positive emotions, rather than the old approach of using psychology to fix problems,” Frude explains.

“How we are using it is to demonstrate skills that help boost an individual’s sense of well-being–for example, ways of building resilience, or becoming more positive, or better managing your emotions in a positive direction by understanding what boosts or rewards you can give yourself to generate a positive emotional uplift.”

Build happiness and well-being among staff and an organization will benefit from a more emotionally intelligent workforce: people who not only understand their own and other people’s emotions but can more effectively manage their own and other people’s emotions, too.

photo credit: markchadwickart via photopin cc

photo credit: markchadwickart via photopin cc

Which is what inspired Russ Lidstone, CEO of creative agency Havas Worldwide London–whose clients include Credit Suisse, Santander, and Durex–to bring in Frude and his company, The Happiness Consultancy, to help boost levels of happiness, well-being, and resilience in his agency’s 240-strong workforce…

“The notion that 40% of your brain can be trained to adapt is an interesting one. Another selling point for me is that a liberated mind in a more confident and secure individual is more likely to feel free to express itself in different, innovative, and ultimately more creative ways.”

What all this means in practice is that, between now and the end of the year, every member of the 240-member staff based at Havas Worldwide’s offices in London and Manchester will undertake a four-week course in positive psychology run by Frude…

“This isn’t about ‘fixing’ a specific problem but making the organization work even better,” Professor Frude insists.

“It’s about empowering individuals to get more out of their lives and enabling managers to recognize the potential positive (and negative) impact that can come from putting people with a particular outlook into a team. And it’s about providing those involved in communications with sharper tools to understand and engage through the positive messages they create.”..

“My hope is for a wave of little interventions across the agency over time that will lead, in turn, to both a healthier outlook and better output for us all–as a business and also at a personal level–by getting the best out of ourselves and each other.”

Or to put it another way, Frude adds: “Learning to manage your emotional well-being is like teaching a person to fish–a skill that will keep you going for a lifetime.”

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: VinothChandar via photopin cc

photo credit: VinothChandar via photopin cc

One of the essential elements of positive psychology is Engagement – what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has termed ‘flow‘ to describe the ecstatic state of being completely at-one with and absorbed in what we are doing. It is when we are stretched enough to feel challenged and stimulated but not so far beyond our confidence that we become over-stressed and anxious.

photo credit: anoldent via photopin cc

photo credit: anoldent via photopin cc

It is worth knowing that Csikszentmihalyi began to develop his model from the question: “Where in ordinary people’s lives are they really happy?” He went and talked to a great many creative people and noticed how very happy they were when they talked about their work, and how ready they were to continue what they were doing for years and years despite having little hope of ever achieving any fame or fortune. Despite any hardships and difficulties their work brought them, these artists and scientists reported a very high level of happiness in the sense of meaning and purpose their work gave to their lives, and often described working as a kind of ‘ecstasy’. Ecstasy in the original Greek meant ‘to stand to the side of something’, but it has come to mean a ‘mental stepping into an alternative and heightened realty.’

Here is how one of the artists Csikszentmihalyi interviewed talked about his experience composing music:

You are in an ecstatic state to such a point that you feel as though you almost don’t exist. I have experienced this time and time again. My hand seems devoid of myself, and I have nothing to do with what is happening. I just sit there watching it in a state of awe and wonderment. And [the music] just flows out of itself.”

Often, when in this state of complete flow, our emotions are in fact neutral and in it is only afterwards that we will remember back and feel we have just been having a wonderful time. This is because our concentration and consciousness merges with what we are doing, we have no self-consciousness, and we lose all sense of time.

Csikszentmihalyi goes on to explain that there are a range of different states we can find ourselves in, made up of the mix between our level of skill and the level of the challenge in what we trying to do:

  • too little skill mixed with too high a challenge and we feel anxious
  • too little challenge mixed with a surfeit of skill and we feel bored
  • high challenge matched with high skill and we have the possibility of feeling in flow

flow diagram

There are two states that are most easy to lean ourselves into flow from:

  • pushing ourselves over the edge of control and we can fall into flow. This is the optimum condition for leaning out beyond our comfort
  • and adding the ignition of discipline – a technique or structure or rule – can optimise our state of arousal into a flow state. This explains why absolute freedom – or only going with your instincts – are not sufficient to optimum engagement.

The Psychology of Flow

Applications and Examples of Flow

While flow experiences can happen as part of everyday life, there are also important practical applications in various areas including education, sports and the workplace.

Examples of Flow in Education: Csíkszentmihályi has suggested that overlearning a skill or concept can help people experience flow. Another critical concept in his theory is the idea of slightly extending oneself beyond one’s current ability level. This slight stretching of one’s current skills can help the individual experience flow.

Examples of Flow in Sports: Just like in educational settings, engaging in a challenging athletic activity that is doable but presents a slight stretching of one’s abilities is a good way to achieve flow. Sometimes described by being “in the zone,” reaching this state of flow allows an athlete to experience a loss of self-consciousness and a sense of complete mastery of the performance.

Examples of Flow in the Workplace: Flow can also occur when workers are engaged in tasks where they are able to focus entirely on the project at hand. For example, a writer might experience this while working on a novel or a graphic designer might achieve flow while working on a website illustration.

photo credit: Emily Raw via photopin cc

photo credit: Emily Raw via photopin cc

The Benefits of Flow

In addition to making activities more enjoyable, flow also has a number of other benefits.

Flow can lead to improved performance. Researchers have found that flow can enhance performance in a wide variety of areas including teaching, learning, athletics and artistic creativity.

Flow can also lead to further learning and skill development. Because the act of achieving flow indicates a strong mastery of a certain skill, the individual must continually seek new challenges and information in order to maintain this state.

photo credit: Thundershead via photopin cc

photo credit: Thundershead via photopin cc

My favourite illustration of flow is improvisation, whether they be jazz musicians or actors or dancers playing together. Improvisation is a set of disciplines and techniques that can be learned and mastered to deliberately deployed to generate and sustain a state of collaborative creative flow.

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

Paul Z Jackson is the man who taught me the first skills of improvisation, and he has just launched a new training facility: The Improvisation Academy. In his new blog he writes:

Habits or Choices – A New Perspective From Improvisation

We are all creatures of habit, and one of the great benefits of improvisation is how it can call habits into question. We can make choices when we notice ourselves up against the automatic, the habitual or the scripted.

An improvised moment is one when we are asked for a new response. We are either facing something we’ve not experienced before or we are doing something different in the same old circumstance.

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

Many of the best improvisation activities create just such moments of choice. For example, the members of the group stand facing each other in a circle. The aim is to take the place of another person by calling their name and walking into their place in the circle. You can take their place only after they have moved away, but they cannot move away until a space is opening up for them. So there is a chain of name calling, which creates a strong – some might say irresistible – impulse to move before you are meant to.

The game puts your attention into that moment of choice: to move or to resist the urge. And by enjoying the game – in which mistakes have absolutely minimal consequences – we can build our skills of paying attention, interrupting habitual responses and making a mindful decision of when to take a first step.

There are clear overlaps here in the philosophy and practice of improvisation with the Alexander Technique and Mindfulness. So is it time for you to build some good new habits?

Link to read the original article

photo credit: daystar297 via photopin cc

photo credit: daystar297 via photopin cc

Improvisation is a skilled form of play and brings with it all the potential for abundant joy and delight that we get from play for both its players and its audience.

Play is something that most of us seem to unlearn as we get older, but there is a growing case for why this might be to our disadvantage…

Don’t Be All Work and No Play – Liven Up Your Workplace


Humans are designed for play and I think its important to incorporate elements of fun into your daily routine. First and foremost I think it allows others to get to know YOU as a real person and second I think it actually helps to improve productivity. You’ll need to help to shape and define what is appropriate in your environment and culture for your employees, but also help to provide some outlets for release and rejuvenation for your teams and employees.

In the past, whenever I heard “have fun at work,” my mind immediately went to “team building activities” — which often involve some kind of trust fall (which I always hate doing and then when I try to opt out I feel like not a being a team player) or some kind of “party” off-site. But let’s face it, off sites and trust falls take time and money which means that its not always feasible to do all the time. Even if you’re fortunate enough to do such an event once a quarter, I think it still “falls” a little short.

Those larger off site events are still important — if you’re doing them, don’t stop. However, I’d suggest finding some other smaller events and activities to help stave off the dullness… and it doesn’t have to cost an arm or a leg. The key is to be regular and consistent.

First get a good understanding of your team and what kind of activities they enjoy and how they like to be recognized and engaged. Consider taking a quick survey of ideas from your team’s “favorite things.” Keep them on file when you need ideas or as reminders about what individuals prefer. Another cool idea — and way to engage your team — start a “fun jar” where your team can put in ideas of things that they’d like to do as a group. You’ll just need to provide a jar and a short template of requirements (i.e. budget, length of time for the activity) for their suggestions and then some guidance on how and when to pull an idea from the jar…

Link to read the original article and Andrea’s 10 suggestions for making fun at work

photo credit: pierofix via photopin cc

photo credit: pierofix via photopin cc

The Key To Happiness: A Taboo for Adults?

writes about the power of play for our creativity, engagement and happiness…

It’s a vision problem that no laser surgery can cure, a hyperopia that keeps us from seeing the central source of happiness right next to us. That problem is called adulthood. Those who are afflicted with this condition have trouble focusing on nearby objects of amusement and the realm that delivers the most enjoyment per square inch: play. Adults are oblivious to what they knew as kids — that play is where you live.

Grownups aren’t supposed to play. We have problems. We’re too busy. We have important things to do. It turns out, though, that there are few things more important to your happiness than frequent doses of play. As a study led by Princeton researcher Alan Krueger found, of all the things on the planet, we’re at our happiest when we’re involved in engaging leisure activities…

We live in a culture obsessed with wringing an external result from everything we do. Play doesn’t operate on that metric. It’s not about the end but the experience. This has made play one of the last remaining taboos, an irrational deviation from gainful obligation. What we don’t realize, though, is that it’s precisely the lack of a quantifiable result that allows play to tap a more meaningful place that satisfies core needs and reveals the authentic person behind the masks of job and society.

Anthropologist Gregory Bateson believed that the fixation on making everything productive and rational cuts us off from the world of the spontaneous that is home to real knowledge. Wisdom, Bateson believed, is to be found in the realms outside intentionality, in the inner reaches of art, expression and religion. “The whole culture is suffering from overconscious intentionality, overseriousness, overemphasis on productivity and work,” psychologist and cultural explorer Bradford Keeney told me. “We’ve forgotten that the whole picture requires a dance between leisure and work.”…

Studies show that play reflects more of who you are than your work. When you’re engaged in activities of “personal expressiveness,” ones that are self-chosen and that reflect intrinsic goals, you’re operating from the “true self,” says Alan Waterman of the College of New Jersey. This leads to optimal psychological functioning (i.e., happiness). We’re talking about something far from tangential to your existence. Play scholar John Neulinger called passionate play pursuits none other than the “central life interest.”

Play brings you back to life — your life. “Adults need to play because so much of our life is utilitarian, the University of South Alabama’s Catherine O’Keefe explained to me. “We need to reconnect with the things of our lives that ground us in who we really are and why we like our lives.”…

…the animating spark of play is the fast track to happiness. There is no quicker transport to the experiential realm and full engagement than through play, which brings together all the elements you want for the optimal moment.

  1. Play is 100-percent experience.
  2. It’s done for the intrinsic pleasure, for the participation.
  3. With no judgment or outcomes needed, play grounds you in the now.

Researchers say that the more absorbed we are in activities we like to do, the happier we are. Abraham Maslow and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi pinpointed the power of full involvement in the moment to produce optimal experiences. Maslow called optimal moments the time when we are most attuned, “more integrated and less split, more perfectly actualizing.” He argued that these instants of sublime activation had all the hallmarks of the religious or mystical but were triggered by intensely felt, secular experiences.

photo credit: Egui_ via photopin cc

photo credit: Egui_ via photopin cc

Contrary to stereotype, engaged play is the gateway not to time-wasting but to times that let you contact deeper realms. When you paint a canvas or play volleyball, you’re in a creative improvisation that calls on inner fortitude and commitment and that reflect your values through self-expression. Play satisfies core self-determination needs, such as autonomy and competence, as little else can, connecting you with your mandate to explore and challenge yourself. That’s the integration Maslow was talking about. You tap the true you, not the performance identity of the job or the presentation identity that we display to others. Play relieves you of the burden to be someone you’re not. There’s nothing on the line; it’s just play. Just you.

When it comes to beefing up your happiness, it’s hard to do better than engaged play. Not only does it align you with your deepest needs and deliver fun in the moment, but the social component of play is a huge predictor of increased daily well-being, the research shows. Participating in recreational activities has been connected to increased positive mood and experiencing pleasure. And play increases the odds that you’re going to have more fun in your life because it’s a huge stress buffer, reducing strain and burnout, boosting your immune system and pumping up vitality and energy.

When you’re stressed, the brain’s activated emotional hub, the amygdala, suppresses positive mood, fueling a self-perpetuating cycle of negativity. Play can break you out of that straitjacket. It also cut through stagnation at the office. Studies show that playfulness can increase performance on the job and stoke creativity by breaking up the mental set that keeps us stuck. It resets the brain.

This tonic we write off as trivial is a crucial engine of well-being. In its low-key, humble way, play yanks grownups out of their purposeful sleepwalk to reveal the animating spirit within. You are alive, and play will prove it to you.

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

This passion and belief in the power of play is shared by Stuart Brown in this TEDTalk:

Stuart Brown: Play Is More Than Fun

“The opposite of play is not work. It’s depression…” Stuart Brown

photo credit: Felipe Morin via photopin cc

photo credit: Felipe Morin via photopin cc

I have been trying out the method surgeons use for washing their hands after seeing this – and the amount of germs we carry on our hands when we haven’t washed them thoroughly – on Dr Michael Mosley’s BBC Four programme: Pain, Pus and Poison: The Search for Modern Medicine. Apparently surgeons are taught to sing “Happy Birthday’ through twice to time a complete hand wash.

The surprising and quite unexpected result has been to find every time, in the very pleasurable relaxation of sinking in to the duration of the song twice through, is that all sorts of of creative ideas have fallen into my head at the same time.

And here is some of the science behind why this might be…

photo credit: Arlington County via photopin cc

photo credit: Arlington County via photopin cc

6 Purely Psychological Effects of Washing Your Hands

Wash your hands, wash your mind: recover optimism, feel less guilty, less doubtful and more…

Washing your hands doesn’t just keep you healthier; it has all sorts of subtle psychological effects as well.

Hand washing sends an unconscious metaphorical message to the mind: we don’t just cleanse ourselves of physical residues, we also cleanse ourselves of mental residues.

Here are six purely psychological effects of washing your hands…

1. Recover optimism

In a study by Kaspar (2012) participants who failed at a task, then washed their hands, felt more optimistic afterwards than those who didn’t.

Unfortunately washing their hands also seemed to reduce their motivation for trying the task again.

Still, hand washing can help boost optimism after a failure.

2. Feel less guilty

One study had participants think about some immoral behaviour from their past (Zhong & Liljenquist, 2006). One group were then told to use an antiseptic wipe, and another not.

Those who washed their hands after thinking about an immoral behaviour felt less guilty. The antiseptic wipe had literally wiped away their guilt.

3. Take the moral high ground

When people in one study washed their hands, they were more disgusted by the bad behaviour of others (Zhong, Strejcek & Sivanathan, 2010):

“…”clean” participants made harsher moral judgments on a wide range of issues, from abortion to drug use and masturbation. They also rated their own moral character more favorably in comparison with that of their fellow students.” (Lee & Schwarz, 2011)

So, when people feel clean themselves, they take the moral high ground and are harsher on the transgressive behaviour of others.

4. Remove doubt

Sometimes, after people make the wrong decision, they try to justify it by pretending it was the right decision.

It’s a result of cognitive dissonance, and it’s one way in which people lie to themselves.

However, hand washing may wipe away the need for self-justification in some circumstances, leaving you better able to evaluate your decision the way it really is (Lee & Schwarz, 2010).

5. Wash away bad luck

When participants in one study had some experimentally induced ‘bad luck’ while gambling, washing their hands seemed to mentally wash away their bad luck (Xu et al., 2012).

In comparison to those who didn’t wash their hands, hand washers carried on betting as if their bad luck was forgotten.

6. Guilt other people into washing their hands

A public health study flashed different messages onto the walls of public toilets as people entered, including “Water doesn’t kill germs, soap does,” and “Don’t be a dirty soap dodger.” (Judah et al., 2009)

The most effective overall message, though, was: “Is the person next to you washing with soap?”

So it seems when you wash your hands in a public toilet, you help guilt other people into washing theirs as well.

A clean slate

All these studies are demonstrating that when we wash our hands, we also wash our minds clean:

“…the notion of washing away one’s sins, entailed in the moral-purity metaphor, seems to have generalized to a broader conceptualization of wiping the slate clean, allowing people to metaphorically remove a potentially broad range of psychological residues.” (Lee & Schwarz, 2011)

Link to read the original article in full

5 Tips to Tap Into Your Creative Self

Psychiatrist Carrie and orthopaedic surgeon Alton Baron, authors of The Creativity Cure, believe passionately in the power of using our hands to unleash our creativity and allow our happiness to flow.

In THE CREATIVITY CURE: A Do-It-Yourself Prescription for Happiness, husband-and-wife physicians Carrie and Alton Barron draw upon the latest psychological research, a combined forty years of medical practice, and personal experience to reveal that creative action is integral to easing depression and anxiety and to fueling long-term happiness and wellbeing. The need to create – to produce something using our minds and hands – is fundamental. It connects us to our inner selves and to our environment and offers the deep satisfaction of accomplishment. But too often, in our technology driven, fast-paced society, we neglect this need. The Barrons show that creative processes facilitate insight and healing, connect our mental and physical selves, supply satisfaction and meaning and thereby yield life changing results.

The five steps of THE CREATIVITY CURE—Insight, Movement, Mind Rest, Using Your Own Two Hands, and Mind Shift—lead the way to a more meaningful, fulfilling life by simultaneously developing self-understanding and self-expression. With the Barrons’ detailed tools and strategies for cultivating creative outlets, overcoming unconscious fears and barriers to happiness, and linking internal thought to external action, readers will build the mindset and habits for happiness and positive change…

photo credit: J. Star via photopin cc

photo credit: J. Star via photopin cc

David B. Goldstein on creativity and playing to your personality strengths

We discovered David B. Goldstein this week and his ideas correlating the intelligence we can get from knowing our Myers-Briggs Personality Type and understanding the nature of our own individual creativity. This provides more detail about creativity we all have within us, and and the many different ways of being creative.

photo credit: sgs_1019 via photopin cc

photo credit: sgs_1019 via photopin cc

Everything You Thought You Knew About Creativity Is Wrong

We tend to think that creativity is innate — you’ve either got it or you don’t. Our “creative type” friends are artsy, full of wonder and always wanting to dig into something deeper. The rest? They’re investment bankers.

Contrary to popular belief, no one is born without a creative bone in his or her body, and not all creative types are starving artists. In other words, we’ve all got it, but our personalities play a role in the kind of creative we are, and how we best feed into it.

“Our creative process is how we see the world and how we make decisions,” David B. Goldstein, artist, researcher, management consultant and the co-author of “Creative You: Using Your Personality Type to Thrive” told The Huffington Post.

While we might typify creativity, Goldstein says this is limiting. “There’s more than one way to be creative — everyone is creative and can be creative in their own way.”

In his book, Goldstein reveals 16 different paths in which people can unearth their creativity, all of which depend on their psychological preferences. The author connects the personalities dictated by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment, a test developed on the basis that we all have particular preferences in the way we translate our life experiences and values…

Goldstein also challenges Some of the myths we might hold about creativity:

Stepping “outside of your comfort zone” is the best way to elicit creativity.
“Creativity comes from finding our comfort zone and standing in it,” Goldstein says. “When we’re comfortable and acting in our preferences, we have the courage to take risks.” The artist explains that when you’re not comfortable, you’re less likely to take the risks that could lead to that bright idea.

Plus, some of our best ideas come in the most unexpected places – like in the car driving home — where we feel mighty comfortable. These physical locations aren’t new to us, but they give our minds the “OK” to wander…

Brainstorming sessions are the best ways to come up with brilliant ideas.
Some, namely extroverts, feel most alive when surrounded by a group of people. But this is not the case for all – especially the introverted types who experience a sense of draining when they’re around others for too long, Goldstein explains. The trick is to find what setting works best for you…

Being creative means being spontaneous.
Some of the most inspiring, creative works came with a set of plans. Painter Henri Matisse, for example, constructed all of his paintings before he began. He even wore a suit and tie while he created – not exactly the splattered, ragged overalls we associate with artsy folk…

Creative people must invent something new.
Only 30 percent of the population have the personality of the “intuitive types.” These are the Einsteins and the Edisons – big picture thinkers who create something out of nothing. (The lightbulb, for example, did not exist until Edison decided it should.) Goldstein says these kinds of thinkers are abstract and impractical – they contemplate the future and solve “future problems.”

And yet, the “sensers” – the majority of us – aren’t any less creative, just a different kind. Sensers create by combining existing ideas. Think of Henry Ford, who didn’t invent the car, but thought up many ways to improve it.

Of course, a person isn’t necessarily strictly a senser or an intuitive: “There’s an overlap,” Goldstein explains. “The intuitives can pay attention to detail and do think in the moments, and sensers can look into the future and see the bigger picture.”

Creativity means having a finished product.
You don’t need to create something worthy of display to be considered creative. Those with a “perceiver” personality type tend to never see things as entirely complete, because they’re always inspired to add more. “If you’re a perceiver, you prefer endlessly modifying, editing, repainting and revisiting since there is an unlimited and continuous flow of data to consider,” Goldstein writes in his book…

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: Sam Ilić via photopin cc

photo credit: Sam Ilić via photopin cc

Increase creativity at work and still have work life balance

Cindy Krischer Goodman writes:

Do you wish you were more creative? Creative people get ahead in business. They’re always coming up with a new way of doing things. For some of us, creativity flows easily. For others, we have those days where we struggle with it and it zaps our time and energy. Guest blogger David Goldstein is co-author of Creative You: Using Your Personality Type to Thrive. which addresses how personality types influence our creative abilities and how we can get better at it. David is an artist, entrepreneur, and researcher with a science and business background. He also writes a popular blog Courageously Creative.

…today, creativity isn’t just for people doing art or advertising – it’s for all of us and it’s about inventing better ways to do our jobs. Whether we realize it or not, we’re all naturally creative and by acting more creatively at work, we can be more engaged and happier.

One simple way to do this is to know your creative style — and this can help you get unstuck when you get blocked. While there are so many different ways to be creative, there are just as many ways to feel blocked in expressing ourselves…

The first way to overcome a block is to relax and not let it get the better of you and realize that we can’t always be inspired. Next, knowing your personality type is like having jumper cables to give you the spark to get going again.

Knowing your personality type can help you find your own balance. It can also help you to unlock your creativity and lead to happiness at work — it’s just a matter of balancing the right amount of information we take in with the decisions we make.

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: © Salim Photography/ www.salimphoto.com via photopin cc

photo credit: © Salim Photography/ www.salimphoto.com via photopin cc

22 Tips To Better Care for Introverts and Extroverts

by Belle Beth Cooper

‘[We] should not strive to eliminate [our] complexes but to get into accord with them: they are legitimately what directs [our] conduct in the world.’ -Sigmund Freud

…If we go a bit further back, we find that the terms introvert and extrovert (originally spelled extravert) were popularized by Carl Jung in the early 20th century. Unfortunately, their meanings got confused between then and now, and we started thinking that everyone belongs to one camp or the other. But actually, Carl’s point was that these are the very extremes of a scale. Which means that most of us fall somewhere in the middle.

There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum. – Carl G Jung

…introversion and extroversion actually relate to where we get our energy from.

Or in other words, how we recharge our brains.

Introverts (or those of us with introverted tendencies) tend to recharge by spending time alone. They lose energy from being around people for long periods of time, particularly large crowds.

Extroverts, on the other hand, gain energy from other people. Extroverts actually find their energy is sapped when they spend too much time alone. They recharge by being social.

Research has actually found that there is a difference in the brains of extroverted and introverted people in terms of how we process rewards and how our genetic makeup differs. For extroverts, their brains respond more strongly when a gamble pays off. Part of this is simply genetic, but it’s partly the difference of their dopamine systems as well…

The nucleus accumbens is part of the dopamine system, which affects how we learn, and is generally known for motivating us to search for rewards. The difference in the dopamine system in the extrovert’s brain tends to push them towards seeking out novelty, taking risks and enjoying unfamiliar or surprising situations more than others. The amygdala is responsible for processing emotional stimuli, which gives extroverts that rush of excitement when they try something highly stimulating which might overwhelm an introvert.

More research has actually shown that the difference comes from how introverts and extrovertsprocess stimuli. That is, the stimulation coming into our brains is processed differently depending on your personality. For extroverts, the pathway is much shorter. It runs through an area where taste, touch, visual and auditory sensory processing takes place. For introverts, stimuli runs through a long, complicated pathway in areas of the brain associated with remembering, planning and solving problems…

For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating.

Introverted people are known for thinking things through before they speak, enjoying small, close groups of friends and one-on-one time, needing time alone to recharge and being upset by unexpected changes or last-minute surprises. Introverts are not necessarily shy, and may not even avoid social situations, but they will definitely need some time alone or just with close friends or family after spending time in a big crowd.

12 quick tips to better care for an introvert (graphic)

photo credit: dogrando via photopin cc

photo credit: dogrando via photopin cc

On the opposite side of the coin, extroverts are energized by people. They usually enjoy spending time with others, as this is how they recharge from time spent alone focusing or working hard.

10 quick tips to better care for an extrovert (graphic)

Ambiverts exhibit both extroverted and introverted tendencies. This means that they generally enjoy being around people, but after a long time this will start to drain them. Similarly, they enjoy solitude and quiet, but not for too long. Ambiverts recharge their energy levels with a mixture of social interaction and alone time.

Though ambiverts seem to be the more boring personality type, being in the middle of everyone else, this balance can actually be a good thing.A study by Adam Grant, author of *Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success found that ambiverts perform better in sales than either introverts or extroverts. Ambiverts actually closed 24% more sales…

Most of us will be one or the other, but writing with your right hand doesn’t render your left hand inert. Similarly, an extroverted person can still do things that aren’t typically associated with extroversion. Meanwhile, introverts can learn to adapt to more extroverted scenarios, even if it might not come as naturally.

“The absolute worst thing you can do with either type is use a single word to define your approach.” Understanding the tendencies of ourselves and others is just the beginning. Effective communication means we need to take into account each person’s personality as well…

Link to read the original article

photo credit: jurvetson via photopin cc

photo credit: jurvetson via photopin cc

Finding the X Factor – the neuroscience of presence

Jan Hills writes

You will have experienced the feeling of a person, maybe a leader, shop assistant or friend who is completely focused on you and your needs. Their level of connection is palatable. For me it is best summed up in the words of a West African greeting, ‘Sawa bona,’ which translates to ‘I see you.’

The traditional response is ‘I am here’.

This exchange denotes that until you are ‘seen’ you do not exist and when you are seen you are brought into existence. This is the skill of deeply connecting to another and giving them attention. Many believe this speaks to a basic human need to be seen or validated. For many of us it is the X factor in business; people who can be present also connect deeply with others. It is an invaluable skill whether you are an HR leader, business partner or in shared services.

Everyone is capable of this level of connection. When we achieve it we understand more of what is going on in the business, are more influential, and increase engagement and ultimately productivity within the team.

Presence is a feeling state and one of the characteristics is that the experience feels spontaneous. There is no power play, posturing or self-consciousness and past experience is not interfering with the interaction. There is also an element of energy.


Research by the Institute of HeartMath shows that the heart, like the brain, generates an electromagnetic field. Director of Research Rollin McCraty says that: “The electrical field as measured in an electrocardiogram is about 60 times greater in amplitude than the brainwaves recorded in an electroencephalogram.” One of their significant findings is if people intentionally generate positive emotions by changing their state the electromagnetic heart information also changes.

According to the US National Institutes of Health in the USA the study of bioenergy is receiving increasing scientific attention. This research looks at the effect of electromagnetic heart fields that result in levels of heart-rate synchronization. It has been established that mothers synchronize with their baby’s heart rate.

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

What stops presence

The ability to connect therefore should be a learnable skill. But what gets in the way of achieving presence? In our discussions with clients we find these are the main issues:

  • Distractions: This covers a fairly broad area including people checking their mobile phones.

  • Internal dialogue: There is a lot of noise in most peoples’ heads. This ranges from self-conscious worry to planning what to say next, through to wondering what the other person thinks of us.

  • Threat response: Being emotionally comfortable is important to staying present. You may start being engaged with the person but lose it when you feel “threatened.” The CORE model helps here both to manage and to diagnose triggers.

  • Judgment: This often separates us from others. It blocks our ability to listen, closes down curiosity and reduces empathy. We judge all the time. The issue is hanging onto judgements; letting them interrupt the connection and break the presence.

  • Habit: It’s my theory that we can get into the habit of not fully connecting, and only through practice will this habit be overcome.

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

The research

Psychology has for many years emphasised the importance of not just the words but also the body language and tone of voice that goes with communication. People watch and make judgements on what is real, what is important and what is for show. This is intuitive but research from Sandy Pentland at MIT is able to verify and even put numbers on these factors. He has found that we act on and are influenced by the ‘honest signals’ people send. That is, the unconscious and non-verbal language including tone and energy. His team have developed a means of measuring these signals using an electronic badge.

Pentland says honest signals impact the success of individuals and teams and can account for as much as 50% of the performance of a group. …He found that a particular type of person is most effective in teams. He calls these people ‘charismatic connectors’ and they have many of the characteristics we associate with presence. They talk to everybody and drive the conversation around a team. They mainly work to connect people and information. The other interesting discovery Pentland made is that people can be trained to modify their honest signals to put in more energy or to communicate more effectively with their non-verbal signals. Making these changes improves the productivity and success of the team potentially by as much as an extra 8% in productivity improvements in call centre teams. You can see Pentland talking about his work here

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

Presence requires practice

I believe these are the elements that create the ability to be present.

  • Personal Awareness: Being aware of ‘What do I do, how do I do it and why do I do it?’ You can’t be present to others if you are not self-aware. Because presence depends on your emotional state at any given time, increasing your ability to change your emotional state is also critical. Mindfulness can help here and practice noticing your state and naming it.
  • You speak through your body and as Pentland found people pick up on this and respond both consciously and unconsciously. Everyone needs the Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote, “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you are saying,” somewhere close to hand. Like in our exercise, going into an interaction in the right state with the right degree of energy and relaxation in the body helps to achieve presence.
  • Emotional control: Read my HRZone article on emotional control and success for more about this. Presence requires a willingness to be honest with yourself about what is going on in the moment. The most skilled are able to step outside the immediate interaction and sense that is working and what is not and make minute adjustments. Being curious is a great aid. It is nearly impossible to disconnect, judge or listen to your own internal dialogue if you are deeply curious about the other person. This is especially hard but crucial in conflict, which is when you need it most.

Further evidence that adopting the right attitude and body language works comes from research by Amy Cuddy. When people adopt new postures such as appearing more powerful or more interested in others, the brain also starts to change and the adopted approach can be integrated into everyday behaviour. This is useful evidence for any development programme suggesting that we can help people to change their style and their presence, not just what they do. You can watch her excellent video on her research here which investigates how people perceive and categorize others. Warmth and competence, she finds, are the two critical variables. They account for about 80% of our overall evaluations of people (i.e., Do you feel good or bad about this person?), and shape our emotions and behaviors toward them. Her warmth/competence analysis illuminates why we hire Kurt instead of Kyra, how students choose study partners, who gets targeted for sexual harassment etc.

My message is, presence takes practice and intention. Monitor your own impact; when you are present with someone versus when you are distracted. Note the difference in results on your influence and understanding. This will motivate you to identify the triggers, adapt and practice ‘seeing’ the other person..

Link to read the original article

photo credit: { pranav } via photopin cc

photo credit: { pranav } via photopin cc

Patsy Rodenberg – The Second Circle

One of our great voice expert heroes is Patsy Rodenberg, author of several great books including Presence: How To Use Positive Energy For Success In Every Situation. Presence for her lies in the middle of three circles:

  1. In First Circle we are closed in on ourselves and failing to communicate out beyond our spheres. This is the withheld personna.

  2. In Second Circle we are in a dynamic state of balance between enough sureness about ourselves and what we have to bring and a concentrated alert attention and responsive to the people around us, constantly and minutely adapting to connect with what we receive. This is presence.

  3. In Third Circle we are pushing ourselves out into the world with such a force that have not attention or energy left over to receive anything back from from it. This is the overly presented personna.

A Working LIfe: The Voice Coach

writes in The Guardian

From actors to execs, Patsy Rodenburg’s mantra of psychology and Shakespeare helps them to master the power of speech

…After the lesson, she leads me to a tiny office. As she sits in a white rocking chair, it becomes clear that for her, training the voice is a complex business, involving not just breathing exercises, but a fair amount of psychology and lashings of Shakespeare.

“The voice encompasses so many things,” she says. “Everyone comes on to the planet with a fantastic voice, but people lose it. The voice is about communicating, engaging, how you show yourself, how you speak, how you listen.”

photo credit: MrAnathema via photopin cc

photo credit: MrAnathema via photopin cc

She gives a quick overview of her concept of “the three circles of energy”. The first is where a person withdraws into the self. The opposite is the third circle, the loud and boorish. The second circle is the ideal state, where a person’s energy is focused.

“It moves out towards the object of your attention, touches it then receives energy back from it,” she explains in her book, Presence. “You are living a two-way street – you reach out and touch an energy outside your own, then receive energy back.” …

She emphasises the importance of breathing from the lower abdomen, saying that a person’s voice should come from that part of the body: “The body houses the voice and the breath energises it.” …

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: josef.stuefer via photopin cc

photo credit: josef.stuefer via photopin cc

Are audiences killing art and culture?

If the most important thing about art is its newsworthiness, says Sarah Kent, how do we engage with it on any other level?

…This is one of the questions to be addressed in BBC Radio 3‘s Free Thinking festival at the Sage Gateshead on Sunday in a panel debate: Are audiences killing culture?

Art is often promoted as a leisure pursuit, something fun to see on a wet Sunday afternoon. And it is achingly fashionable. On the first Thursday of each month, galleries in east London stay open late – hundreds descend on Vyner Street in Bethnal Green, sparking a street party complete with food, beer and sound systems; the event is so cool that even school kids hang out there…

Nowadays, artists are caught between a rock and a hard place. Market domination stifles creativity by seducing artists into producing glitzy commodities that shriek: “Buy me! Buy me!”…

Since an important part of their remit is to attract large audiences, museums and galleries unwittingly create a trap of a different kind – encouraging artists to woo the public with accessible art. Often the result is bland mediocrity; mirrored maizes are my bête noire. Occasionally, though, an artist responds with something both playful and profound.

When Olafur Eliasson projected a yellow disc onto the far wall of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2003, hundreds came to bask in the light of the artificial sun. The Weather Project tapped into the collective psyche by encouraging people to dream, which is what good art can do – visitors wore swimsuits, brought picnics and lay on towels as if they were on a beach in midsummer. The work demonstrated the power of illusion and people’s willingness to play.

If you visit Derry-Londonderry over the next few months you can earn a couple of quid discussing the market economy with some locals. Not down the pub, but at the Turner Prize exhibition where Tino Sehgal is staging This is Exchange…

If Seghal wins the Turner Prize it won’t be because his performers argued well or told moving tales, but because he provokes questions about the nature and value of art and the institutions that house it. Audience participation may be crucial, but pleasing the crowd is not; you may enjoy it, but his work is not about having a good time.

Antony Gormley‘s invitation in 2010 for people to take their place on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square was similarly memorable not because someone struck a fine pose or told a good joke; it was not Britian’s Got Talent. Fundamentally it was a conceptual piece that held up a mirror to our lust for celebrity, our desire to be in the frame. And it highlighted the fact that no-one has the faintest idea any more what public monuments and public art are for. What or who is worth commemorating?

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: Pensiero via photopin cc

photo credit: Pensiero via photopin cc

New thinking and ideas about the relationship and potential collaboration between artists and their audiences is part of this interview, too:

Arts Head: Henry Little, Chief Executive, Orchestras Live

Interview by

…it’s interesting to think for a moment about what we consider a “concert” to be. The notion of a concert is quite a formal construct that makes people (and not just young people) immediately think that it might not be for them. Orchestras talk about “concerts” because that’s what they mostly do.

We talk about activity and events and sometimes they take the form of a traditional concert, but more often than not, they don’t. For example, we are working with young people in Cumbria on an event that could well see an orchestra performing in the local cattle market!

Our starting point is always the audience. We see programming as a two-way process involving both promoters and orchestras. We work with a wide range of British symphony and chamber orchestras, from early music ensembles to contemporary music groups, and we gather a complete picture of their plans to discover programmes that suit our partners’ needs. This can cover the full spectrum, from a traditional concert setting right through to a community performance involving hundreds of participants….

There’s a perception that teenagers and orchestral music don’t mix or that when they do, it’s a bit like oil and water. Many in our business lament the fact that audiences for classical music are getting older and that young people appear not to be interested in attending concerts. However, the fact is that they are and they do, so long as you involve them by allowing them to choose what music is played, how it is presented and when and where it takes place.

We also recognise the research that tells us that exposure to music from an early age is key to lifelong engagement and for us, enabling very young children to experience live orchestral music remains a priority. For me, it comes down to the question of with, rather than by and for. I think there’s too much of the latter when it comes to British orchestras’ approach to work with young people…

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: Denis Collette...!!! via photopin cc

photo credit: Denis Collette…!!! via photopin cc

How To Slow A Racing Mind

An agitated mind leads to stress and a whole host of health problems, such as high blood pressure and heart disease. It even disrupts our relationships and sleep.

Fortunately, there’s a simple solution to this problem. No matter how fast your mind is racing, you can learn how to cultivate a calm and serene mind, and the good news is that it’s a lot easier than you might think…

There are four main sources of mental agitation: 1) Too many commitments, 2) background noise, 3) painful memories, and 4) worrying. There are short-term solutions for dealing with too many commitments and background noise. Painful memories and worrying will take more time to overcome, but they will resolve themselves through a regular meditation practice.

1. Too many commitments

…With many of our commitments, we have no choice in the short-run. We can’t quit our jobs or abandon our families, but we can consider more carefully what we truly need to survive and be happy. For example, do all our material possessions really make our family happier, or do they take us away from our loved ones? With mindfulness, we can determine the real sources of happiness and strive to incorporate them into our lives.

2. Background Noise

…There’s nothing inherently wrong with watching TV or listening to the radio. The problem arises when we simply use them as background noise. Of course, we should also use some discretion concerning what we watch or listen to. Remember, whichever seeds in your mind you water, those will be the ones that grow.

I would suggest turning off the radio or television (or any other entertainment device) when you’re doing something else. This will help you concentrate on what you’re doing. Try it for a week. I think you’ll be surprised at how much of a difference it makes…

3. The Calming Power of Mindful Breathing

Mindful breathing is a simple tool for keeping your mind from racing out of control. Practicing mindful breathing is very easy and doesn’t take long, and it will interrupt the acceleration of your mind. This will enable you to think with greater clarity, since you’ll have less mental agitation.

All you have to do is stop occasionally and take three to five mindful breaths. You don’t have to strain to concentrate on your breathing, but rather just pay attention to it…

4. Mindful Walking

Practicing mindful walking is also very easy. Most of us do a great deal of walking through our daily activities: at home, work, school, or when tending to our family’s needs. These are all wonderful opportunities to practice mindfulness, instead of allowing ourselves to get lost in our thoughts, many of which are either worrying or simply rehashing the same thoughts repeatedly.

When doing mindful walking, we generally walk more slowly than usual. Make your walking a smooth and continuous movement, while being mindful of each step. This can have a tremendous calming effect because it forces your mind to slow down.

As with mindful breathing, simply pay attention to your walking. With each mindful step, observe the sensation on your feet, the contraction of the muscles in your legs, or even the sensations of your clothes against your skin. Not only will this calm your mind, but it will also help you return to the present moment…

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: katiecooperx via photopin cc

photo credit: katiecooperx via photopin cc

A Classroom In The Now

IN THE EARLY 1990s, scientist, writer, and world-renowned mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinnencountered Cherry Hamrick, a teacher in the small town of South Jordan, Utah, who wanted to bring mindfulness—the act of paying attention on purpose in the present moment—into her elementary school….

Cherry Hamrick taught mindfulness through techniques such as ringing a bell and having the students slowly raise their hands when they could no longer hear the sound of it; having them carefully eat a small portion of a candy bar and notice the way sugar sparked their taste buds; and setting aside time for “mindful walking,” in which they strolled around the school yard in silence and simply noticed each step. Gaining self-awareness through these types of exercises, Kabat-Zinn pointed out, is crucial to managing stress and finding success both inside and outside the classroom in a world where children are constantly bombarded with technological stimuli such as texts, e-mail, and Facebook.

“Self-distraction is at absolutely epidemic proportions—and it’s not the iPhone, it’s the thought of, ‘I wonder if anybody texted me,’” he said. “There’s always this digital domain—this virtual reality—and kids are even more challenged [to pay attention] than we were when we were young.”

The founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulnessin Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Kabat-Zinn has been a strong supporter of groups like Mindful Schools that use mindfulness to teach children how to focus, manage their emotions, handle their stress, and resolve conflicts. Instead of simply telling children to pay attention, for example, Kabat-Zinn said that adults should show children how to pay attention through direct experience, because that allows them to make wiser decisions in the heat of the moment, rather than only in retrospect. “Mindfulness is like a muscle, and without exercise it will lose its strength,” he said. “Our world is so much about doing that the being gets lost.”

With stress in children in the United States at high levels, incorporating mindfulness into school curriculums is imperative, he asserted, adding that students can tap into “their profound capacity” for awareness if they are taught to do so.

Although Kabat-Zinn pointed out that mindfulness is becoming more mainstream—displaying a chart that showed the number of publications and studies on the subject rising drastically in the last 10 years—he said he hopes it will gain even more steam and become a part of every school curriculum. “Many kids come to school and they haven’t had breakfast, or they’ve seen acts of violence, and [yet] they are expected to learn optimally,” he said. “If you are going to be in an environment like a classroom, why not help [students] actually get into an alignment, calmness, clarity, and emotional regulation where they can be open to what is available for them? Then you create a community of learning.”

Link to read the original article

Happiness At Work Edition #70

You will find all of these stories – and more – in this week’s new Happiness At Work collection…

I hope you find things to enjoy and use to carve out at least a little more space in the middle – to play, to think, to connect, to create, to be happy…

Beyond Glorious – what made this symposium so very special and extraordinary

Sheila Ghelani's conversation starters: http://sheilaghelani.co.uk

Sheila Ghelani’s conversation starters: http://sheilaghelani.co.uk

Beyond Glorious: the radical in engaged artistic practices

Thursday 30 May to Sunday 2 June 2013, Birkbeck College and Artsadmin, London

What is the place of art in acts of social re-imagination and repair?
What languages can be found to articulate such practices?
Is it possible to break new ground within the realm of engaged artistic practices?

This symposium marked the end of Rajni Shah Projects’ Glorious.  It brought together people from different spheres of life to discuss and experience the meanings, methods and effects of art in relation to engaged and radical practices.  Using Glorious as a starting point, events explored the potential of engaged artistic practices, not in terms of a reductive understanding of the ‘efficacy’ of art in the world, but as a complicating, delicate, nuanced, uneasy journey towards new ways of thinking.

What to say to capture and keep for memory about an event that lived and breathed through its quiet gentle generous friendliness?

Not just this.  This makes it sound too much like a tea party.  Which it was.  Its tea-and-cakeness was a vital part of its spirit and its lightness.  But it was so very very much more as well.

One of the symposium’s central questions explicitly tried to open out this difficulty of expressing the intangible, articulated in the question What remains?

Elizabeth Lynch (independent producer and external evaluator for Glorious), Mary Paterson (writer, producer, creative documentation for Glorious), Sarah Spanton (Waymarking), and

Chloé Déchery (theatre-maker, writer, co- artistic director of ÉCLATS Festival) opened a series of conversations around questions about what and who matters, needs to be held up and out in testament to show the worth and value out of work that makes and finds its intrinsic liveness in quiet nearly invisible and usually disregarded moments of connection, relationship, insight, inhalation.

From this session I remember the word ‘traces’ being important – as something slight and nearly gone that remains after the rest of its bulk has disintegrated, and also as something that we might use as a guide to trace out a new form from what has been left for us to follow.  We talk about when something is ‘gone without a trace’ but in doing so somehow keep still a trace of what it was that has gone.  But these subtle nuances are badly unequal to these shout-y times of unquestioning demands and unambiguous agendas.

I remember, too, the question: who gets to decide the value and worth of what was done? and I remember thinking, and am thinking still, this must be the people we hoped to bring some value and worth to, to make something that they find valuable and worthwhile.  And worrying that too seldom we go to these people to ask and listen to to decide the worth of what we have done.

But these are big questions that took the concentration of this whole symposium, as well as the work of Glorious itself, as well – as I discovered through this event – as well as a great deal more work that is being made quietly and unchampioned out there in the world amongst its peoples.  These are questions too big for this piece to try and sensibly answer.

Start again.

What I am remembering still about this experience are moments of easy unexpected encounter that tumbled joyfully out from alert interest and invitation and into depths and diversity of conversation.

I remember the warm friendliness and easy friendly warmth that was begun and renewed each day by Rajni waiting at the gate, or the outside door, to greet and welcome people as they arrived.  When I joined her in this quiet ritual for the last brunch event I discovered for myself how personal, charged and engaged this made me feel.  A small act done with great love that I am convinced sent out a ripple of similar welcomings and greetings across the whole event.

I remember the repeated joy of surprise encounters.  Sometimes these came from extended conversations with the people I was working alongside to make the backroom support.  Sometimes this was a stranger asking me to join them for lunch and drawing me lightly into their conversation.  Sometimes it was the joyful ‘aha’ of hearing the wisdom of another’s experience or the sharp brightness of their questioning inside the sessions.  What made these encounters so exceptional was their unusualness – I seldom have this same experience at other events – and their frequency.  I don’t believe it was my Glorious team member’s badge that made the difference, but rather that a mood and expectation and curiosity and readiness for surprising encounters that was woven through the DNA of this whole event: in its themes and its processes and its design and in the behaviours and values if its makers.  You get what you go looking for and something was in the water we were all drinking at this symposium that made us all more heads up, eyes open, ears widened…

I remember too the luxury of space…

…the space of time from 2hour sessions and 2hour lunch breaks with local restauranteurs who greeted us like they knew us and made us feel this meal would be special.  This elongated time that allowed for an unfolding discovery of dialogue rather than the more usual forced smash of ideas through too little time, too tight an agenda, too squeezed a set of objectives and expectations;

…the space and spaces made by questions that created openings and extensions rather than the more usual objectives that push for reductive thinking and positioning, driving and herding us into conclusions and certainties (as if there could be any, but how often are we asked, anyway, to just let go of our intelligent beliefs that our situations and ambitions are way too complex to carry the heavyweight load of certainty?);

…the physical space of being able to inhabit different spaces, to choose a session that involved walking after lunch each day, to, at any time, come into the coffee-always-ready-and-several-varieties-of-tea-room to sit, take time out, chill, or make your own conversations.

I remember, too, and maybe this above all else, how all the espoused values we, as the company, and we, as this makeshift community, were championing, advocating, advancing were every bit in evidence in the practice and experience of this event:  qualities of generosity and friendliness and inclusion and welcome and giving and gifts and relationship and exceptional experience at every moment and being fully present in every moment…  all these qualities were alive and active.  This is rare, and, sadly, it is a kind of truism that whatever is held to be most important for the people we work to benefit, we are least likely to be doing well for ourselves.

Blossoms on Branch

There is something more to say about this symposium, and this about the depth and range and interrogation of the inquiries that were the thread and weave of this symposium.  I have so far, perhaps, made it seem like a collusive gathering of the smug and complacent.  But its questions and the responses people bought were challenging and original.  And the provocations that started each day were provoking, not in a way that antagonised or tore at us, but rather they invited a kind of positive disruption, nudging us to think bigger, better, wider, more keenly.

One of the symposium’s most difficult acts to pull off – and that it did is further testament to its great success – was that many of its participants came without any prior knowledge or experience of  Glorious, the project on which it was built, and yet in conversation after conversation there seemed to me an equal sense of ownership and involvement and engagement and trust and uncertainty in the material, irrespective of how much immersion in Glorious you came with.

So my learning to take away in a memo to ourselves:

…continue, when preparing events, to devote time and creativity and care and minute attention to what will help to make a great experience for the people who will come.  Because, just as we have always believed, this matters immensely, and, because we might just dip into believing that we are already doing this enough.  And this experience has shown me that there is much more that is simple and wonderful that we could be doing.

A note: lest I seem to be bragging intolerably about this event I should say that I take no credit for its many successes.  I was there and helped to make it work, yes, but the things that it made it so very special and exceptional belong to a whole team who made it and especially the people who imagined and led it.  And, yes, to Rajni herself for the light gifted way she held it and us so potently open.


A beautiful bespoke publication that contains Mary Patterson’s  exquisite reveries about Glorious, and Elizabeth Lynch’s storytelling consideration of what Glorious achieved for the people who inhabited it, as well as two films made in response to Glorious – Becky Edmunds‘ collaged palimpsest made from different shows, and Lucy Cash’s Six Actions:

rajni glorious - Dear Stranger, I Love You

Dear Stranger, I love you

the ethics of community in Rajni Shah Projects’ Glorious

Dear Stranger, I love you offers an in-depth exploration of artist Rajni Shah’s Glorious, an experimental performance project that began with a series of conversations between strangers and ended in a large-scale theatre production involving local residents and musicians in each location where it was presented…

The publication brings together four ways of looking at Glorious: a short film made in response to six performances of Glorious by filmmaker Becky Edmunds; a music video shot in and around Lancaster and Morecambe by Lucy Cash; a critical overview of the process behind two iterations of the project by Elizabeth Lynch; and The Glorious Storybook, a collection of memories from throughout the process, edited and contextualised by writer Mary Paterson…

The London Picture ~ A New Direction Conference

My highlights and reflections…

Scott Noppe-Brandon.jpg-large

Scott Noppe-Brandon at ‘The London Picture’ (photo by A New Direction)

Films from The London Picture event (Thurs 28 March 2013)

Education, young people and the changing landscape for culture in the city.

about The London Picture

On 28 March 2013, A New Direction brought together senior leaders from across London’s arts and cultural sector to discuss innovative models for working within a changing education landscape. The event was streamed live via our website, enabling those who were not at the event to view and interact online.

A New Direction brought together senior leaders from across London’s arts and cultural sector to discuss innovative models for working within a changing education landscape around the the themes of:

  • Community

  • Family

  • School

  • Work

Venue: Central Saint Martins, King’s Cross

Gallery of pictures from the day

See also:  What if?

Conference organiser Holly Donagh shares her reflections after the event


Home Is Where the Heart Is 

@michaelejudge ponders before the event how cultural organisations can make a difference on young people.

Introduction – Steve Moffit

CEO of A New Direction

How can we help you to be part of the conversations?

It is really important to know our stakeholders.

Our emphasis is about collaboration.  The future is going to be about partnerships.

Munira Mirza (A New Direction)

Munira Mirza: “The arts should not be seen as oppositional to other subjects’ (photo: A New Direction)

Munira Mirza

Deputy Mayor, Education & Culture

The arts, like every other subject, need to raise their game.

Three issues:

  1. expertise – not enough use of subject skills and expertise.  “I don’t want to guide the students too much as it will restrict their creativity” is wrong.  More challenging work that stretches outside student’s comfort zones could be presented in schools.
  2. cultural experience is not the same as cultural education
  3. the arts have let themselves be classified as alternative education for non-academic children.  Until this changes the arts will always be seen as lower status.  We should be campaigning to be seen as real academic subjects as well as meeting a participation agenda.  The arts are for all children and all abilities.

What the arts sector can do together as a community.

Important to see the bigger picture – why education needs changing.  1 in 5 children are leaving school without good literacy skills. 40% are leaving without GCSE’s.

Mayor’s Office Initiatives:

Excellence Fund – £23million to raise teaching excellence in science and maths, english and languages and ‘other subjects’ (left deliberately vague to see what comes forward)

London Curriculum – to use London itself to help teach the national curriculum and come up with a range of resources.


Steve Moffit introducing Scott Noppe-Brandon:

We need to have international perspectives.

Scott Noppe-Brandon

Author of Imagination First and former Executive Director of the Lincoln Centre Institute, now Co-Founder/Director of Squiggle Consulting LLC.

The challenges:

  • The changing global economy that demands an imaginative, innovative and creative workforce equipped with skills that cut across traditional academic disciplines

  • Mastering and capitalising on technology as a power for transforming learning and enabling the youth to give voice and visibility to their knowledge, aspirations and achievements.

We talk a lot about nouns but we forget about the verbs.  How do we achieve change by not trying to achieve change?  But rather because it’s the right strategy, the right context for change?

At the Lincoln Centre, education was not there to promote the culture of the parent organisation.  We wanted to have students not only learning about the arts, but learning about themselves and about learning itself.

We need to be pragmatic optimists.

Ask yourself: are you optimistic or pessimistic about what you are doing and what is happening?

If you are optimistic you are right, but if you are pessimistic you are a pragmatic realistic.  

How can you be both without each cancelling each other out?

In front of students you have to be optimistic for the possibilities of each of them.

We have to be counter-logical and think about things in a way that goes against what seems to be how they should be and yet still makes sense.

imagination ~ the ability to think about things as if they could be otherwise ~ asking “what if…”  This can be taught and learned.

creativity ~ imagination enacted.  You need to know how you do what you do. This too can be taught and learned.

innovation ~ when the form is pushed and changed; pushing the limits so something new is created, made or made to happen.

enterprise & entrepreneurialism ~ when you do something in the world with what you have newly created.

All of these elements work together through commerce, culture and education:

imagination ceativity innovation graphic 2 copy

John Dooley talked about an ‘aesthetic education’ – the opposite of anaesthetic, making it so that that life is not dull.  But this won’t sell, so we have to reframe it.  We have to look at the question of how time, effort, and resource are monetised.

You can’t continue to do work because it is good for people alone otherwise it will not be valued.

Talking with Scott 1Talking with Scott 2

Who’s challenging me?

Who’s asking me the questions that I don’t know how to ask myself yet?

I have this idea of ‘civic dialogues…’  If you want to be relevant, you have to be having relevant conversations.  So I went to talk to people I wasn’t already talking to … the military (who are incredibly insightful and articulate about the role of creativity); spiritual leaders; neuroscientists…  We piloted with 12 civic dialogues across the country to find out if people were interested.  These dialogues led to new discoveries for all, harnessing the diversity of these atypical combinations, which was then translated into action:  making ‘Friday conversations’ that are still meaningful on Monday morning… and in ways that have commerce, culture and education working together.

Cezanne Card Players

Cezanne:  The Card Players,  1890-92, Metropolitan Museum of New York

“Your eyes see the front of the picture, and your imagination curves to the other side.” Cezanne

Creativity and imagination are more and more part of commerce and business schools: how do you create?  From rich content knowledge how to curve round the corner into imaginative thinking and action.  This needs to be driven by social good and economic benefits.

10 Capacities (or Principles) for Imaginative Learning

These are what we expect students to become expert in:

  • Noticing Deeply
  • Embodying
  • Questioning
  • Identifying Patterns
  • Making Connections
  • Exhibiting Empathy
  • Creating Meaning
  • Taking Action
  • Reflecting/Assessing
  • Tolerating Ambiguity


Panel Discussion highlights

Francis Augusto, Sociology Student & member of Dare London:

Young people should be here in more numbers…

It is very simple to find out what young people think.  Go and ask them…

Stella Barnes, Director of Participation, Ovalhouse:

Young people don’t believe they have a voice.

We need to make a case for the arts and we need to make it in a very loud voice.  We can do this by sharing rather than being competitive and fighting each other over resources.  And we can share our learning.

This is the moment that we have to come together.

Rys Farthing, Policy & Research Officer, Child Poverty Action Group

Recent research findings from surveying 399 young people form three socio-economic groups revealed:

  1. 25% of 11-18 year olds getting free school meals, out of work parent(s)…
  2. 15% of 11-18 year olds from families in poverty, low income households…
  3. but only 8% 11-18 year olds from above poverty households…

…did not select a course because of price.

These courses were mostly creative subjects, including and especially:

  • art
  • photography
  • design & technology
  • food technology
  • music

See also panel member Charlie Tim’s post after the event:

What Can Culture Do For Young People?

Panel (Phillip Flood)

The Panel (l-r) Francis Augusto, Stella Barnes, Tony Sewell, Giles Fraser, (Rys Farthing not visible), Charlie Timms (photo: @Philip_Flood)

Simon Mellor: A Daydream for the Arts

What problem do we solve in the arts?

What we do will only be truly valued when the public believes and starts to demand arts investment in order to solve a problem they care about.

Steve Moffitt: Closing Thoughts

We have to envision the future we want and we have to do this in the context in which our work takes place.

We are all going to have to broaden who we talk to.  We have to engage in a different way than we have before.  There is some territory here that we have to fill.

There are some things we, at A New Direction, will encourage you to do.

We have to be brave.

And we have to have Scott’s pragmatic optimism.

Some of my reflections . . .

Imaginative extension ——————> can we dream up together our ideal communities, families, schools and work with the arts and creativity at their heart?

What if we we could…?

What if we did…?

We have to find better ways of having these conversations without using the blanket term of ‘young people’, as Mushana from Young & Serious said from the audience during the panel session.  We would be outraged to hear ourselves bundled up as old people, or even older people, we would be fast and loud and strident at insisting on our uniqueness and our individuality, and so, too, we must find better ways of talking that draw out these same distinctions, multiplicities and distinctiveness when we talk about people under the age of 25.

It would be wonderful to be part of any version of Scott Noppe-Brandon’s ‘civic dialogues’ ~ surely this is a potent(ial) next action: to reconvene around these themes and questions with people who span a much wider diversity of age, profession, passion and preoccupation; to start to learn together from each other about what matters, what we all care deeply about being and becoming as a creative aspirational 21st century humanity, and what we might make and do together to create an ideal emergent future that stretches the limits of all of our dreams and imaginations and creative capabilities.

And of course this will require us to learn – to discover and develop different ways of thinking and doing things and different things to do and think.

Why do we, of all people, forget this?

We are naturally biased in the arts in talking about desirable futures and aspirations that are worth striving and reaching towards, but more and more research is suggesting that we humans are most driven and compelled to act in response to threats and problems that move us to get away from – it is our focus and attention on undesirable and dangerous threats and difficulties that galvanise our decisions and spring us into our most instinctive and unstoppable action.  If we want to be relevant, to be in the mainstream conversations, we need to become much better at being able to speak about why we matter in terms of the problems, threats, worries and dangers we can help to avoid, lessen, reduce and overcome.  This doesn’t mean changing our values and what we care about most passionately.  Rather it is learning to talk of these things in the language of the people we seek to convince, at least as well as we talk about the potential we are capable of enabling and the enrichment we are expert at realising.

It is perhaps also worth remembering the necessary rudimentary aspects of what people need to become persuaded to act:

Monroe’s Motivation Sequence

Developed in the 1930’s by Professor Alan Monroe,  this sequence has five steps that follow the psychology of persuasion:

  1. Œ   Attention – they want and feel they need to listen
  2.    Need – an aroused sense that some real action is needed
  3. Ž   Satisfaction – clear connections can be seen between how the proposed solution satisfies the need
  4.    Visualisation – vivid imagery is conjured up so that they can literally see how they will benefit from taking the proposed action
  5.    Action – strong persuasive appeal that effectively calls people to action

The Ladder of Influence:

Put another way, these are the 5 essential steps a persuasive speaker or advocate must achieve in order for their audience to progress from receiving a message to becoming compelled to act on it

5th ~ and so they ACT

because they want and feel compelled to do as proposed

4th ~ they CARE 

they can see real personal value in what is being proposed or called for

 3rd ~ they BELIEVE 

both speaker and messages seem fully credible and connect with what they believe already to be true  

2nd ~ they UNDERSTAND 

what they hear makes sense to them

 1st ~ they HEAR

they feel that they want and need to listen

I believe there is also much that we might learn from the research and advocacy that is being successfully forged in happiness and wellbeing and resilience studies and strategies.  The arts share many similar characteristics of apparently intrinsic, unquantifiable and indefinable values, and yet these areas are fast and emphatically developing a growing and compelling rhetoric that is getting attention, resource and commitment from global, national and local ‘people with the power’.  I would argue, based on our work helping to develop mastery in these fields, that these areas share more similarities than difference with the arts and creative learning.

And so why should not the United Nations be considering making a minimum arts offer as indispensable an entitlement to every human on the planet, (as we now accept about learning to communicate and to read), in the same way as they have now sanctioned entitlement to happiness in this year’s first ever just celebrated UN International Day of Happiness?  Imagine if these had been the Secretary-General’s words (which I have only slightly re-written from his message for the day):

I am encouraged by the efforts of some Governments to design policies based on comprehensive artistic indicators. I encourage others to follow suit. On this first International Day of the Arts, let us reinforce our commitment to inclusive and sustainable human development and renew our pledge to help others. When we contribute to the common good, we ourselves are enriched. Artistic excellence promotes happiness and will help build the future we want.

The arts could have an extremely persuasive case to make for the contribution we make to people’s lasting and self-sustaining happiness, resilience and wellbeing, increasingly so now that more and more convincing research is finding that:

  • happy people are more successful, productive and creative, as well as making better relationships, staying healthier and living longer, and and and…


  • we can all learn to become happier: only 50% of our happiness seems to come from our genetic inheritance, and only 8% from our current circumstances of health, wealth and security.  At least 42% of our happiness comes from how we choose to think and act.

The UK now has an emerging set of indicators under research feeding into a new notion for a Gross National Happiness (GNH) Index informed by what they have been doing for some years in Bhutan.  Surely this might be an area where we can find ourselves a place at the table, amongst a gathering of listeners who we might cause to feel that they really need to strain in to hear and understand what we have to bring?  Consider these ideas from a Bhutanese teacher quoted in the Guardian article Gross National Happiness in Bhutan: the big idea from a tiny state that could change the world

The infusion of GNH into education has also meant daily meditation sessions and soothing traditional music replacing the clang of the school bell.

“An education doesn’t just mean getting good grades, it means preparing them to be good people,” says Dukpa. “This next generation is going to face a very scary world as their environment changes and social pressures increase. We need to prepare them for this.”

One of the leading organisations influencing government and social policies in the UK is the new economics foundation.  In this extract from their report National Accounts of Well-being notice the resonances with our own aspirations and agenda for change:

National Accounts of Well-being uses comprehensive data from a survey of 22 European nations examining both personal and social well-being. Personal well-being describes people’s experiences of their positive and negative emotions, satisfaction, vitality, resilience, self-esteem and sense of purpose and meaning. Social well-being is made up of two main components: supportive relationships, and a feeling of trust and belonging. Together they form a picture of what we all really want: a fulfilling and happy life. With National Accounts of Well-being, policymakers have a new compass to guide us. 

It is extremely easy to see where the arts and creativity can play a vital role in the new economics foundation’s prescription for 5 Ways To Wellbeing:

  • Connect
  • Be Active
  • Take Notice
  • Keep Learning
  • Give

Why is any explicit reference to the arts mostly missing from these studies,  indexing and conversations?  Why aren’t the arts already seen to be an essential component of any happiness and wellbeing strategy?

What if they were…?

We are getting surer and more confident in articulating a set of artistic disciplines (or principles, or capabilities, or areas of expertise) that can be learned and nurtured and mastered.  For instance, the 10 Disciplines that Scott Noppe-Brandon listed correlate strongly with the creative capabilities we know from Ken Robinson’s ideas that many of us learned and worked with through our work in Creative Partnerships.  This is our adapted version of these:

  • imagining
  • original thinking
  • experimentation & risk-taking
  • problem solving
  • challenging & questioning
  • listening & noticing
  • reflection
  • collaboration
  • resilience

And here again is Scott Noppe-Brandon’s combination to compare and connect across:

10 Capacities (or Principles) for Imaginative Learning

what we expect students to become expert in:

  • Noticing Deeply
  • Embodying
  • Questioning
  • Identifying Patterns
  • Making Connections
  • Exhibiting Empathy
  • Creating Meaning
  • Taking Action
  • Reflecting/Assessing
  • Tolerating Ambiguity

Compare these with Martin Seligman’s 5 Essential Elements of Flourishing ~ a new understanding of happiness and wellbeing and how to achieve them:

  • Positive Emotion
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Accomplishments

What we know in the arts about ‘engagement’ alone should be swelling and vibrating through the airwaves.

As, too, should be the expertise, understanding and real lived-through wisdom we have to bring to contemporary studies into resilience.  This list of 10 essential elements of Resilience from Steven Southwick & Dennis Charney’s research is potentially rich with resonances to our own arts disciplines and practices, let alone what we already know in the arts about resilience itself:

  • Realistic Optimism
  • Facing Fears
  • Moral Compass
  • Spiritual Practice
  • Social Support
  • Resilient Role Models
  • Physical Fitness
  • Brain Fitness
  • Cognitive & Emotional Agility
  • Meaning & Purpose

It is worth us in the arts listening again to the words from the 1968 speech by Robert Kennedy on GNP that have played a significant part in inspiring and validating the current happiness and wellbeing movement, (including David Cameron who quoted them with a vehement passion in his 2010 TED Talk The Next Age of Government).  I have substituted Kennedy’s ‘America’ with ‘London’ here for deliberate effect:

“Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product … if we should judge [London] by that – counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our [trees] and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts … armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts … the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

“Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about [London] except why we are proud that we are [Londoners].”

We are living in a world struggling to reinvent itself around new economic models that recognise that increased wealth is no guarantee of increased happiness and wellbeing, and reaching out for new solutions and ways of working, of ways of being and being together, that bring much greater, longer lasting and less expensive resilience and flourishing to more of us across an increasingly connected and interdependent global community.

Where is our Manifesto for change?

What if we could imagine ourselves at the centre of these conversations?

What if more and more people recognised and knew what we know about the potency and power of art and artistry to release human imagination and creative problem solving to make innovative new realisations that push us out into radically new possibilities that are fully equal to the problems we are facing and capable of answering the most urgent and complex difficulties of our time and place?

What if we could bring a united, heightened and imaginative curiosity, our creativity fully opened and expertly readied, and our collaborative enterprise unified into a complex synergy to a seat at the table where the most important re-imaginings, conversations and innovations are striving to be made for the better education, cultural vitality and more sustainable rewarding commerce we now so urgently need to find and make…?

Fantastic & ridiculous idealism?

Or pragmatic optimism?

Central St Martins (Michael Judge).jpg-large

…imagination curves to the other side…(photo: @michaeljudge)

Goya: I Am Still Learning ~ Images of Resilient Optimism

I have just watched and been thrilled by the late Robert Hughes affectionate and compelling programme on Goya: Crazy Like A Genius.

An intense and dynamic presence comes out from all of Goya’s paintings and etchings – in every face there is such a sense of the moment before and the imminent moment about to come next.

Two works in particular caught my breath: Aun Aprendo / I Am Still Learning (above) – which he made during his last years in exile in France when he was in his 80’s; and The Dog, (below) one of the Black Paintings he made in the farmhouse he bought to live in, also towards the end of his life. Both of these transmit a fierce determination to stay alive, moving forward, staying hopeful, looking forward, that rather belies this artist’s more usual reputation for nightmare images of death, evil and horror.

Both images say much about the steely quiet insistence and realisation of resilience…

‘Perpetual Light’ by Jessica Curry at Old Vic Tunnels

Perpetual Light: Requiem for an Unscorched Earth. By Jessica Curry. A new choral work about the triumph of humanity over destruction


Perpetual Light: Requiem for an Unscorched Earth is a new choral work by Jessica Curry that fuses music, film and installation to create an emotionally charged, unique experience. It is a profoundly moving piece that remembers those who lost their lives in nuclear conflicts. Once again, we live in the shadow of the bomb. Fear of rogue states and terrorism have replaced the Cold War stand-off and a new apocalyptic atomic vision is now upon us. Despite this, we have not destroyed ourselves: we are still here. Perpetual Light celebrates our extraordinary will to survive, delivering a powerful message of hope.

Composer and Artistic Director: Jessica Curry
Performed by Londinium
Film and installation by Jo Fairfax
Produced by Sarah Ellis
In association with The Albany

Saturday 4 June 2011   3.30pm and 7.30pm

The Old Vic Tunnels
Leake Street

we queue to get, in deciphering the graffiti and reading the programme notes while trying to keep our noses tight against the insistent stink of pigeon poo.

when let in, we come into a an underground hollow space of sound – an atomic kind of of difficult buzz – more than a drone sound and suggestive of an audio equivalent of glowing radioactivity perhaps. and definitely and surely composed – its cadences moving us toward fiercer intensity and insistence.

it is unclear where we are supposed to be in the space and with everyone there is a feeling of needing to rush to be in the right place after the queuing. there is a largeish area with candles burning and white glowing rings set into the new cement that becomes a second holding area. beside this is a cavern hung with white-lighted model planes suspended in a grid of rows above us and above a shrine-ish area with a funereal-looking box and two more glassed-in burning candles.

we queue again and wait to get through to the live performance area.

we are let through to a third area of rowed seats facing the two rows of the twenty singers that are Londinium, an a cappella choir.  behind them a large screen is showing faint shadowing waves which remind me of the ghostly echo of static waves out of an old fashioned tv screen.

the music has grown and expanded in complexity and heat – some of the sounds are barely endurable. we are pleased to be seated waiting and, watching a looped video of two woman’s eyes above and apparently watching a landscape from which two bright missiles are fired across a trajectory that neatly traces this witness’s eyes before flying inexorably away to explode somewhere, someone, out of sight, only to rise again, and again. in front of this image is a spiral design that reminds of the calibration of target finder or the unfurling of a fern or the carved eyes of a less modern totem to territory and domination.  watching, we are able to meditate on the ugly potency of our warfare and weaponry.

the music the choir make is exquisite. complex and interwoven and still sounding simple and urgent and sad.  it is a sublime experience to sit in this dark tunnel with the constant sonic rumbling of the trains over our heads like some omnipresent thundering of storms gathering, and fall inside this music. sometimes i found myself admiring. sometimes i felt a complicated array of thoughts and feelings and sensations. mostly i was just able to be in it.

(which means that the traces i might have to make this memory with are too ghostly and ephemeral to pin down here in a more specifically recounted record.)

after the concert we wandered back into the candle-lit adjoining tunnels and i was overcome with a surge of deep sadness.  standing in this newly activated shrine i felt physically and emotionally charged.

an exceptional experience for sure. *****

show seen: 4th June 2011