Posts tagged creativity
I think I'm going back...

"I think I'm going back

To the things I learned so well

In my youth.

I think I'm returning to

Those days when I was young enough

To know the truth"

These are the opening lyrics of 'Goin' Back', a song by Dusty Springfield (written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin). I remember it playing on the car radio as I was contemplating the source of my creative energy. I had just left a meeting where, for the first time, I had shown some images and said something along the lines of, "See this? I'm a change consultant but what I really do is work with art so that I can help people innovate and think creatively...."

I know that I've always been sceptical of the notion that the 'blue skies' are likely to be a great source of creativity. My sense is that we have everything we need within us. We should look 'in here' rather than 'out there.' 

This image arose from a looking back process. I had been wandering around the northern edge of Oxford Street after a day of imagery and inquiry with a client when I saw the sensuous curves and gorgeous red of this scooter resting in a corner of flat tones and hard lines...  I began to recall the red of my own similar indulgence, the beautiful Ducati motorcycle that was at home silently waiting for me to return.

But the image stayed on my hard-drive for a long time and then somehow ended up on my phone. It was here that I found it a few days ago when I was having a coffee and playing with 'Instagram', an 'app' that I thought might be interesting but have largely neglected.

So... Time to wander. An old song. The red scooter that provoked a quick snap. An iPhone app. A (re)found digital image. A cup of coffee.


Perhaps it's the moments when we pay attention to the stuff that we already have that matters.

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I am working with Cleveland, Ohio artist Kathy Skerritt as her supervisor for her work on the Ashridge Doctorate in Organisational Change.

Kathy is working within Deep Ecology and Eco-feminism, using her artistic process as the basis for questions into her relationship with the environment. On her doorstep in Ohio is Lake Erie where Kathy has been working on a programme to re-orientate the stewardship of the Great Lakes towards a commons framework rooted in the wisdom of the ancient, Indigenous communities.

In her field diaries, she describes a trip to the lakeside where she observes the gulls, hoping perhaps, for the gift of a feather which might become a focus for an artistic offering. Later she finds the remains of a gull where there is absolutely nothing left but the wings, the surgical amputation performed perhaps by one of the hawks that make a home in nearby skyscrapers.

I found this image of Kathy's work, with all of it's archetypal associations with water and air, modestly placed among the pages of the diaries she offered as part of our supervision conversations.

It took my breath away.

All of This and Nothing
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I've been working with my Ashridge colleague Hugh P on a dialogue project which will celebrate a new translation of Martin Buber's 'I and Thou.'

Buber's work is often seen as one of the founding texts of conversational practice and dialogue; he believes in the fundamental wholeness of nature and our complete participation in it.  Hugh has been working with a short piece of Buber's work, "I consider a tree...'" and we have been asking top academics from the fields of physics, mathematics, botany, ecology and art, "So, how do you see a tree?"  In turn, I have been working photographically with the various responses to produce images for a film which Hugh will present at a conference in Mexico next month.

This image came from our conversation with the brilliant Andrew Steane, Professor of Physics at Exeter College, Oxford.  Andrew guided us into through the matter and forces that make up a tree before takinging us into the shadowy world of quantum physics where the idea of matter itself becomes erm... problematic...  We know that we have information pointing to the existence of matter but actually putting a finger on it....

So, here is my quantum tree.  We can see information that leads us to think of the tree but... it kind of isn't really there....

Martin Buber - I consider a tree

I can look on it as a picture: stiff column in a shock of light, or splash of green shot with the delicate blue and silver of the background.

I can perceive it as movement: flowing veins on clinging, pressing pith, suck of the roots, breathing of the leaves, ceaseless commerce with earth and air - and the obscure growth itself.

I can classify it in a species and study it as a type in its structure and mode of life.

I can subdue its actual presence and form so sternly that I recognize it only as an expression of law...

I can dissipate it and perpetuate it in number...

In all this the tree remains my object, occupies space and time, and has its nature and constitution.

It can, however, also come about, if I have both will and grace, that in considering the tree I become bound up in relation to it. The tree is no longer It. I have been seized by the power of exclusiveness.

The Creative Moment
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So much of our 'creativity' work in organisations assumes that we should work together in some kind of perpetual collective brainstorm.

My Photo-Dialogue work with the London designers showed that collective work was only a part of their process.  Indeed, their creative group work seemed to take place in just twos and threes. None of the big corporate jamboree stuff that is usually so popular.

I know that 'big, diverse, sociable and provocative' has a place in promoting innovation and change in our businesses and social institutions.

Yet our inquiry into design processes showed that, where moments of creative breakthrough are concerned, the potential for providing space so that people can be 'Alone and in the Zone' is often under-estimated. 

The Red Fingernail of Detail
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Here is another image from the series made as we used reportage photoraphy to inquire into the organisational conditions required for amazing creativity and innovation in a top London design studio.

We worked through a loose Appreciative Inquiry approach and sifted pictures of what might have been 'moments of breakthrough'.  Choosing photographs that resonated with team's actual experience of great design processes, we found that critical themes emerged. And so, this particular design team, alongside 'Alone and in the Zone', seen here on P-D, repeatedly selected to this image as a representation of what became named as 'The Red Fingernail of Detail'.

As we continued to inquire appreciatively with the designers we surfaced exactly how important attention to detail was in defining their sense of value and creativity.  Nothing slapdash or rough-cut for this team; they paid exquisite attention to their work, sometimes in spite of other organisational and business demands.

And so the managerial challenge, if design brilliance and innovation is a fundamental requirement (and not many people would argue against that these days), rather than typically trying to get more from less or being overly directive and 'efficient', becomes 'how do we support the conditions that encourage the unique capability of this team?'

As Appreciative Inquiry guru David Cooperrider says, our positive images of the future lead our positive actions - and so "the artful creation of positive imagery on a collective basis may be the most prolific thing any inquiry can do."