Enterprises are about logistics

Enterprises are about logistics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marco Polo's Caravan
Marco Polo’s Caravan
Design as survival skill

Design as survival skill

In my reading about innovation I have seen the idea stated, and more than once, that innovation cannot be achieved or should not be attempted during a time of crisis. I will admit that this has always puzzled me. On the one hand I can understand the reasoning behind this idea – it is hard and perhaps even risky to make the changes that are the result of innovation, and especially when morale or resourcing are low or governance and strategy making are being challenged. On the other hand I have seen instances where innovation has happened as a result of a crisis, as a reflex to adapt and invent solutions in the face of that crisis and as a manifestation of survival instinct. These instances have taken place outside of the business world; they have been the responses of small not for profit organisations or creative workers to (organisational) life threatening constraints.

I was reminded of this recently when I read a lovely interview of designer Keiji Ashizawa by Rachel Elliot-Jones for Assemble Papers (11 June 2015) – Modesty and Materiality: Keiji Ashizawa:

“Keiji Ashizawa’s hats are many. As an architect, product designer and erstwhile steel fabricator, his work spans vast luxury residences to tiny tealight holders… Among his many plaudits, Keiji is the founder of the Ishinomaki Laboratory – a community DIY workshop he initiated in the wake of the Great Tohoku Earthquake, where local people could cometogether and begin to build their post-disaster future – 0ne red cedar 2×4 at a time.”

I love the idea of Ishinomaki Laboratory and its work:

“To Keiji, design is the ultimate “survival skill”, one that has helped him solve numerous ‘problems’ in everyday life – a new studio with no desks; an impromptu dinner with no table; an international exhibition that needs to be installed in a day. Whatever needs doing, he does himself (or with his colleagues), using the materials he has lying around. In Ishinomaki, Keiji could see that those people who were DIYing their houses and shops were rebuilding faster than those waiting for government assistance, but not everyone had the skills or the confidence to do it themselves. His idea was that an all-welcome community workshop could inspire more people to get hands-on by providing simple techniques and ideas for furniture that might “make life easier or nicer”.”

It seems to me that its design approach and its business model are enmeshed in a community development model. These three things work together and inform each other; each is an intelligent and empathic immediate response to a devastated community and urban landscape. The interview and documentary, great as they are, have not furnished me with the details, but it seems to me that each of the three components contain innovative elements individually, and that these innovations arose from the affect the three components had on each other. This initially arose from a need to respond to the aftermath of a disaster and a lack of resources.

Perhaps the most striking innovation is the way the design approach, business model and community development model have grafted onto each other. I feel that this is a case study that would equally delight a community development practitioner, a designer, a social entrepreneur, and a business man.

Surely this is an example of design thinking at its best? Ishinomaki Laboratory produces aesthetically pleasing furniture that requires operationally streamlined production processes, and these things themselves have arisen out of deep insight into the needs of the customers gained from a literally hands on approach to customer engagement. Inspirational stuff indeed!

Powerpoint slides from Rebel Jam (#RebelJam15)

Powerpoint slides from Rebel Jam (#RebelJam15)

I will get back to writing and posting blogs in about a week’s time.

I gave a 20 minute presentation on my new service Conversations of Intrigue during the online Rebel Jam conference. Below are the few powerpoint slides I used for my presentation.

If you want to know more about Conversations of Intrigue then go here.

This hyperlink will take you to the Parallel Fascinations blog.

If you would like to ask me about Conversations of Intrigue you can contact me here or on twitter @DangerousMere. 

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Rebel Jam 2015 – Invitation to speak

Rebel Jam 2015 – Invitation to speak

Dangerous Meredith:

I will be speaking at Rebel Jam this Saturday morning (27 June from 10.30-11am Melbourne time) on Conversations of Intrigue. Read this blog for more information.

Originally posted on Petervan:

INVITATION TO SPEAK

24-Hour Online Rebel Jam: Stories of Change > Friday, June 26, 2015

Calling all Corporate Rebels and Change Agents Worldwide to step forward to speak at our second edition Rebel Jam.

The intent of our second 24-hour Rebel Jam is to share what people around the globe are doing to try to create positive change at work.

Rebel Jam PNG

Artwork by Jodi @JodiOlden

All interested are invited to speak. All we ask is that you tell a story about something you tried to do, what happened, and what you learned. (And, of course, speak as much from your heart as from your head. Folks want passion not perfection.)

You can talk, sing, rap, use slides (or not), or show a video. (Hey, we’re rebels; creative expression is encouraged.) Here’s the link to the Google spreadsheet to sign up for a 20-minute slot.

Details on dial-in numbers and logistical information to…

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The Perils of the Educated Precariat

The Perils of the Educated Precariat

Alright, I’m in. I’m going to give this Work Out Loud thing a shot. This blog is to explain why.

For those dear readers who do not know, Work Out Loud is a movement which aims to improve the world of work through combining practices of “Observable Work + Narrating Your Work”. John Stepper, one of the movement’s most important facilitator’s, unpacked this in The 5 elements of working out loud:

  • Making your work visible
  • Making your work better
  • Leading with generosity
  • Building a social network
  • Making it all purposeful.

People who Work Out Loud put these principles into practice in numerous ways, but blogging, engaging in online dialogue (see the #wol, #workoutloud and current #wolweek hashtags on Twitter for example), and offering peer support online and (for some) via Work Out Loud circles (either online or off) seem to be popular mechanisms.

tied-to-the-railroad-tracks-silent-movie-2
Offering a helping hand…

“But people have been doing this since the stone age anyway…”

One interesting thing I have seen on Twitter is that people have different reasons and reactions to Working Out Loud, and this is, unsurprisingly, reflective of their personal needs and the conditions they are working in. Some have even questioned why there even needs to be a Work Out Loud ‘label’ to identify a way of working that comes naturally to many human beings anyway.

I think that I, too, have been Working Out Loud for yonks without being aware that a movement was springing up whose sole aim was to name this practise, contextualise it and give it visibility. I also feel that many in my own personal (platonic and professional) networks are also Working Out Loud in practice if not in name, and in such a way that shows they own most of the 5 elements above as personal values. I daily, literally daily, find myself pondering on my great good fortune in having the friends I have; I am again realising as I write this how lucky I am to know some people who actively manifest at least some of these elements.

So why bother to start buying into this named thingy, is it not redundant if I am already doing it?

What has sparked my curiosity is the fact that it has been named, and those principles have been nominated and are being used to strategically shape many individuals’ working and learning practice. My interest is in what happens when you name a thing that you may have taken for granted, and what happens when you (and your peers) focus on that named thing and put strategies in place to enact it, make it visible and encourage the involvement of others.

The formulation and naming of strategic goals (on a personal level as well as a professional one) is of deep interest to me. I have always been good at developing and analysing strategy; over the years many people have come to me to do this – sometimes within a formal work arrangement and sometimes in the form of informal advice. But, up until a couple of years ago, I had always significantly failed to strategise for myself and my own career. This is mad, because I essentially failed to use one of my strengths (and something that gives me great joy) to improve my own life. I am trying to work differently now; if I don’t I won’t progress towards where I want to go.

But this is not just about me. I see the uneven and disrupted forward progress of my life, and attendant problems, mirrored in the lives of many of my peers. There are, of course, differences to the ways and degrees in which this halted progress makes itself visible, but I am seeing patterns.

The Educated Precariat

tied-to-the-railroad-tracks-silent-movie-3

When I talk about my peers I am talking about people (mostly, it has to be said, women) who are middle aged or approaching it. The ecosystem from which I have emerged is made up of an educated precariat who work as creatives, community sector workers or academics; overwhelmingly we are from arts and humanities backgrounds. We are a privileged cohort in many ways: highly educated with a diverse mixture of high level professional skills gained through exposure to interesting work. We can see this privilege, and we want to use it to contribute to improving the world we live in.

We tend not to have linear career paths, but rather boast portfolios of projects and / or positions that we picked up often out of necessity, i.e. just needing a paid job. There is an advantage to this – you can find yourself in unexpected places, being challenged to use your skills in ways you never thought possible. Our portfolios of experience, therefore, are a definite component that advantages us. Many of us have mixtures of skills and knowledge that are unique.

Helen Gibson using some amazing skills just to hang in there
Helen Gibson using some amazing skills just to hang in there

But I am seeing a pattern of problems, obstructions, and frustrations building up too.

Underutilisation of skills is one source of angst – too many of us seem to be moving sideways into projects or sets of work responsibilities which no longer stimulate us and where we feel as if we are using only 10% or 20% of our skills, but promotions or more challenging projects seem to be thin on the ground.

Being exposed to difficult working conditions is another. Money is in short supply in the arts and community sectors. Projects and the small organisations where many of us work are underfunded and under resourced. Even those of us working for large institutions have found ourselves working on programs which are not budget priorities for their hosts. Projects and programs that are based on real need and great concepts fall far short of their potential or outright fail due to inadequate resourcing (human and financial) and this is a heartbreaking situation to be involved in. Funding for professional development or employee support programs is often non-existent. Some of us are unlucky enough, too, to be exposed to the poor governance and management practices (even sub-legal or illegal behaviour and bullying) that can proliferate when an organisation and even a whole sector and its leaders are put under continual stress. Too often, when I mix with my peers, I see the effect this is having on people – low confidence, fatigue, ebbing levels of ambition and hope, a growing disengagement with a vocation that once inspired, and even, distressingly, mental health issues.

RuthRolandTimberQueen1922

Personal finances are a particularly fraught area for many.

Too many people in my ecosystems have little or no savings, few or no assets, appallingly low levels of Superannuation (perhaps as low as $3000-$10,000 after 2 decades of work), but high levels of HECS debt (perhaps as high as $25,000). This despite having worked like Trojans all our lives, having been prepared to compromise on pursuing dream jobs (so no job snobbery in other words), and having been prepared to take calculated risks. Too much of our work is underpaid, underemployment and unevenly spaced contract work takes its toll. One outcome of having little disposable income is that further training and / or career counselling is out of your reach, which slows down an individual’s ability to improve their lot.

Our necessary work compromises have been part of the problem – our resumes have been fractured and diluted with jobs we took to pay the bills but didn’t want to do. The really unlucky among us have cycled on and off the dole and in and out of unskilled work in between working on projects that have been more suitable to our skill levels. But these same projects can be highly demanding but poorly paid and unhappy and distressing experiences, leaving the contractor to stagger away from a completed project with no savings in the bank, an uncertain employment future and contending with the disorientating effects of severe fatigue and chronic stress.

Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms, dir. by DW Griffiths
Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms, dir. by DW Griffiths

Why, when we have so much to offer, are we stuck in this unpromising situation?

A rudimentary survey of conversations and articles in certain corners of the internet will quickly alert you to areas of need within many sectors – innovation, collaboration, consultation, intergenerational relationships, workplace culture are words that crop up again and again – and these areas of need happen to be the areas where my network of peers, those broke and overlooked people, really kick ass. So why do we have so little effect, so little influence, so little visibility, so little traction?

I love the kitchen table conversations I have with my peers – they are broad, deep, reflective, bold, imaginative, visionary, analytical, intellectually rigorous, emotionally gentle and forgiving. I love that my peers also make manifest these qualities in their personal art projects, their blogs, their volunteer work. My heart bleeds for us all when my peers reflect that these qualities are too often absent from their day jobs. The waste of talent, experience and skill makes me grind my teeth in frustration.

So how do we give these things a life beyond the kitchen table and the unpaid grass roots project on the weekends? How do we take all of our privilege – that education, experience and talent we are so lucky lucky lucky to have – and position it so that we do have some visibility? With all we have going for us we are 95% of the way there, but we have been stuck at the 95% level all of our lives. What is the missing factor? When it comes to vocational development and career progress how can we box just a bit more clever?

'School for female boxers in The Netherlands', 1932,   by Agence de Presse Mondiale Photo-Presses
‘School for female boxers in The Netherlands’, 1932, by Agence de Presse Mondiale Photo-Presses

We need to be conscious of what we do and who we are.

We need to frame our experiences so that others can learn about us and what we can do to help them and our society. We need to open up and let other different people support and comfort us with their knowledge and insights, gleaned from very different parts of the world from ours. We need to consciously own the values that have driven us instinctively or semi-consciously and which have informed our endeavours. We need to claim a place in the broader world and stop thinking of ourselves as a little ghetto of the overlooked and broke.

We need to put a name to all of this, we need to nurture it with conscious strategy. As in element 5 mentioned above, we need to make sure that we make our efforts purposeful on a strategic level.

Can Work Out Loud do this? I’m going to try and see. The movement appeals to my social and humane instincts anyway; I’m sure my involvement with it will provide me with fun and interest. What is there to lose?

Still from 'The Adventures of Kathlyn'
Still from ‘The Adventures of Kathlyn’

Update (24 June 2015): Just read this description of the life of a temporary lecturer. Well worth a read for the insights it gives into the working conditions of one of the educated precariat.

Update (25 June 2015): I came across the #cawls2015 and #pepso hahtags on Twitter. Turns out that #cawls2015 refers to the recent Canadian Association of Work Labour Studies conference; and #pepso refers to Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario. PEPSO launched a report at #cawls2015 – The Precarity Penalty: employment precarity’s impact on individuals, families and communities and what to do about it. Also presenting at #cawls2015 was John Shields. You can find his powerpoint for his presentation on Precarious Undertakings: Nonprofit Work, Funding and Communities at Risk on PEPSO’s blog too.

Deep Diving into the Creative – Part 2

Deep Diving into the Creative – Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Globe Kittens (1902)  by Ernest J. Rowley
The Globe Kittens (1902) by Ernest J. Rowley
Deep diving into the creative – Part 1

Deep diving into the creative – Part 1

Yesterday I read an article – Philosophy for the People: Commencing a Dialogue by Laura D’Olimpio – on The Conversation. In this piece D’Olimpio recounts her interests in philosophy and the influences and life events that lead to these emerging for her. D’Olimpio covers broader ground in her delightful piece, but the things she had to say about film resonated with me.

“I have always been interested in how we try to understand the world in which we live, and artworks provide us with a great stimulus for such discussions… My PhD thesis focused on whether or not films could be morally educative and encourage critical and compassionate responses from audiences.”

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

“By imaginatively engaging with characters who we may not meet in real life, or by considering scenarios we may never actually find ourselves in, we can practice empathising with others and seeing from another point of view. We can learn from fictions in this way by being open to new experiences that we see in our mind’s eye.”

20000_squid_Nautilus_viewbay
Illustration by Alphonse de Neuville and Edouard Riou from 1870 edition of ‘20,000 Lieues Sous les Mers’ by Jules Verne

Beautifully put! I am very interested in how art (from any discipline) can engage people on a deeply emotional and empathic level – people can go deep diving into the emotional or imaginative depths in the privacy of their own heads.

Allowing yourself to capitulate to the pull of a compelling narrative or character or mood while experiencing art can be an odd but wonderful mix of safety and risk.

“There are moments that are made up of too much stuff for them to be lived at the time they occur.” John le Carré Jonathon carroll Tweet

Artworks can allow people the chance to process this stuff, to unpack it and hold it up to the light before re-joining the hurly burly of day to day living. Finding frameworks to help facilitate this creative and critical thinking process can be a useful adjunct for any individual who wishes to challenge themselves in this way.

To read part 2 of this blog, and to find out why exactly I am interested in this stuff, look at Deep Diving into the Creative – Part 2.