Training, group facilitation, mentoring, writing, relationship building, project design, strategy design.
Areas of Interest: creativity, innovation, organisational culture.
Lurking fears named; problems creatively solved; visions nurtured.
(Well… not fame, exactly, but the opportunity to participate in a short film with a bunch of lovely people.)
I am posting this short film as an example of how people coming together to share ideas, knowledge, enthusiasms and their stories can be of huge benefits to those people. What interests me, as I come to write this, is how much the use of online tools can aid and abet the coming together of people both online and off. Third Place makes use of the Meetup website and Twitter (#3Place), and now this film is on Youtube, the Activate Learn website, the learningnow.tv website, and even this blog.
There is absolutely nothing original in what I just wrote but, still, it’s nice to be reminded of how richly we are surrounded by resources.
Some background: Helen Blunden of Activate Learn recently organised for a short film to be made about the Third Place Meetup group, of which she is a leading light. She sent the call out for people to come along and talk about their involvement in Third Place and I was one of the volunteers. You can read more about this on Helen’s website. The film was shown on the learningnow.tv website.
“Innovate or die!” has become a cliché; and yet the creative thinking and experimental processes that underpin innovation are often seen as potentially chaotic and hard to harness, measure or control.
Join former project and arts manager Dangerous Meredith in a discussion on how to develop projects so that they encapsulate and anchor emergent innovative ideas. You will leave this workshop with an understanding of how to ground creative ideas and processes against project management frameworks.
To ensure that participants get the maximum benefit from this interactive workshop, numbers are limited so book now to ensure your place.
Wednesday, 2 Dec. 2015
Monday, 14 Dec. 2015
Cost: $30 full / $20 conc.
Venue: Ross House, 247 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Bookings: absolutely essential; please book via Eventbrite
Meredith Lewis has over 25 years’ experience of working in the tertiary, creative, and community sectors; including as a manager, project manager, trainer, arts manager, choreographer and performer. She specialises in leading discussions, creative interventions and workshops that help people develop plans and strategies that anchor and promote creative thinking, humane values, and good business. Having worked both as a creative and as a manager she is ideally placed to negotiate the processes of turning visionary ideas into deliverable plans.
Among the blogs I post are things I call ‘Recommended Reads’. In these blog posts I feature an article that I read somewhere, really liked, and think may be of value to others. I also write a short comment on the ways in which the article in question resonated with me.
Now… when it comes to my writing a comment on this week’s ‘Recommended Read’ I am afraid, dear reader, that I come up short. My reason for posting A Conversation of Intrigue by Helen Blunden of Activate Learning Solutions is sheer vanity.
This year I have been developing a new service called Conversations of Intrigue; recently I had a trial run of this service (actually a facilitated group discussion) and Helen was good enough to come along as one of the guinea pigs. I was surprised and delighted when Helen posted a reflection on her experience on her blog. Needless to say, it was also very useful to get an insight into what one participant got from the experience.
Naturally I hope that you will all swarm onto Helen’s blog to read about Conversations of Intrigue. But while you’re there, check out some of her other blogs – they’re terrific.
Alongside her work as a leading consultant on social media for business, Dionne Lew also creates the Be Your Whole Self website on which she blogs to support people to be their “whole, complex beautiful” selves.
Dionne writes beautifully and with succinctness, clarity and insight, regardless of whether she is writing about social media or self realisation. I particularly enjoy the blogs she posts on Be Your Whole Self, which cover a range of issues. Many, I feel, contain valuable insights around leadership. One which stayed with me after I read it was ‘I don’t know’. Uncertainty as a platform for growth.
I like this blog because I reckon that, as a society, too many of us are in way too much of a hurry to appear certain, and in so doing we block ourselves off from avenues of exploration or necessary expressions of honesty or nuance.
Admitting to not knowing is not necessarily a weakness; learning to function in a state of temporary uncertainty is important and sometimes a necessary evil and sometimes the start of an exciting journey. Creative ideas often spring from uncertainty.
Anyhow, that’s just my opinion. Read Dionne’s piece – it contains many words of wisdom.
I recently attended the Inaugural Professorial Lecture at RMIT University. Entitled ‘Non-profit Boardroom Corporate Governance: An Insider View’ and given by Professor Lee Parker of the School of Accounting, it was an eloquent appraisal of the challenges and context of governance in the non-profit sector.
Parker’s “insider view” arises out of his research methodology, in which he obtains permission to attend and observe board room meetings in various not for profit (NFP) organisations. Perhaps this is why, in my opinion and in the opinion of others who attended the lecture and with whom I chatted afterwards, Lee’s explication of context, conditions, strengths and weaknesses of NFP boards was spot on.
I have spent most of my life working in the NFP sector, first in the arts industry, then in the tertiary sector and lastly in the community sector. As a youngster I was not interested in what was happening in board rooms, seeing boards as collections of figureheads – human trophies saying “rhubarb, rhubarb” – while people like me got on and did the real work. It was only at one point, when I was working closely with an underperforming board that had a positively delinquent approach to governance, that the importance of board performance really came alive for me. It was a horrible experience, like watching a car wreck happen in slow motion, and being able to predict what parts would smash next, but being unable to do anything about it.
It did do me the favour of bringing the whole subject of governance alive, of transforming it from an academic subject stored in the archives in my head to appearing as a dynamic living paradigm at work. I came to see how it fed into, informed and sustained the shape, tenor, rhythms, and activity of an organisation’s culture, strategy, plans and protocols; in the case of poor governance the affect was absolutely toxic.
Not all NFP boards in my career, and certainly not in the sector, were as bad as the one I mentioned in the paragraph above. I felt that Professor Parker was able to offer a nuanced explication of board performance in the sector, identifying patterns of recurrent problems and strengths in an even handed manner while leaving his audience in no doubt of the serious challenges NFP boards face. The passion and dedication to a cause that many NFP board members feel was mentioned several times; the unfortunate tendency to micro manage operational staff or recruit under skilled board members was also identified as something some NFP boards tend to do.
When I mention my NFP experience to people who have never worked in the sector I often encounter reactions that can only be called patronising. People mean well, they think they are being kind when they smile and say that they think that NFPs do wonderful work, but they often let slip that they think the work sounds kind of hokey, simple, cute, undemanding, uncomplicated. “Cruisey” was how one person described my work in the organisation which had the board I described above. I used to feel like I had received a psychic pat on the head for being so earnest and good, but there was something so dismissive in their tone and attitude, sometimes in their words. Running a neighbourhood house, a community development program, producing a theatre show? What could be so hard about any of that? What could I possibly know about real grown up work, real strategy, planning, financial management, marketing, operations, or stakeholder management?
If you want a white knuckle ride through the world of governance go run a small community or arts organisation for a year or two, or just sit on one of their boards. To make the experience especially juicy, to get those adrenalin glands really pumping, choose one with an inadequate budget and a shrinking pool of funding.
I simply loved it when Professor Parker said that he thought that NFP organisations were more complicated to run than for profit organisations.
One reason for this, and Professor Parker enlarged on this during his lecture, is that NFP organisations have to answer to more constituencies, and their agendas, than do their for profit brethren. From memory of Parker’s lecture, and from my own recollection, these constituencies may include the disadvantaged cohort that relies on the NFP organisation for services, funding bodies (government and / or philanthropic), perhaps corporate partners or sponsors, perhaps communities of individual donors, regulatory bodies, any other NFP organisations they may be partnering with, and, if the organisation offers any fee for service components, paying customers. From my experience, too, I can report that if the NFP organisation offers several programs as part of answering a community need, then each program may carry its own mix of these constituencies.
Working in the NFP sector did me some favours. It taught me how to manage relationships (actually one of my favourite areas of work) and how to work in complex conditions. Good NFP board members are worth their weight in gold; board experience gained from working with a well lead and managed NFP organisation is valuable and rewarding, and well worth enduring any hair raising episodes to get.
Professor Parker was kind enough to give me permission to link to his RMIT Inaugural Speaker Handout for this lecture.
“A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world”. – John Le Carre
Conversations of Intrigue are a new facilitated discussion I have developed to guide people to reflect on their workplace experience and identify shared values and the potential for growth and change.
Focusing in equal parts on creative response and critical thinking, the Conversations use short extracts from a work of fiction to as a platform through which to identify values, issues and strategies to improve workplace culture.
For the first outing of this model I am using extracts from John Le Carre’s great spy novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Although deservedly renowned as being an enthralling read, this novel is also a compelling portrait of organisational dysfunction, toxic culture, and all too human character types. Writing with poetic imagery, constrained compassion and a quiet sly wit, Le Carre has a gift for evoking atmosphere and character in short passages – the perfect material on which to build meaningful group discussion.
The aim of Conversations of Intrigue is to allow people the space to reflect and articulate impressions, identify values, and consider strategies for building humane workplace cultures.
Conversations of Intrigue is the result of a year’s worth of work (ever since a ‘light bulb’ moment happened last year). I am excited about this model as it sees me pulling together the disparate strands of my bohemian past and portfolio of skills and interest. I am trying to identify a ‘home’ for the Conversations and your support would be incredibly useful.
Having developed the discussion format I would now like to trial it and I am inviting you to participate in a free Conversation of Intrigue on one of the dates listed below.
Dates and times:
Venue: Ross House, 247 Flinders Lane (between Bourke and Elizabeth Streets), Melbourne CBD
Cost: Free but I would like some feedback
RSVPs: essential. Seating capacity is very limited at only 7 places per session. Bookings can be made on Eventbrite.
More information can be found here.
Alongside digital sociologist Alexia Maddox and researcher, artist and event designer Romaine Logere, I am currently co-curating and co-facilitating Parallel Fascinations at The Channel, Arts Centre Melbourne, a series of salon type events dedicated to supporting the development of new ideas and research and interdisciplinary conversation.
For our fourth salon, we were lucky to have curator and writer Amelia Winata* talking about the tension between creative practice and arts administration. You can read more about the event on our Parallel Fascinations blog.
Art making versus arts administration
For me, as with others in the room, Amelia’s chosen topic of conversation had a great deal of resonance. I have worked as an arts practitioner myself – in my case I was a performing artist and choreographer. But I have also worked in arts administration and arts management – project management, production management, event management, grant writing and fundraising, stakeholder management, business planning. I enjoyed doing both these things but doing them both at once fatigued me and was one of the factors that lead to eventual burnout.
Another was a strong sense of disillusionment with the way the arts industry is structured, with its tiers of class privilege, convoluted bureaucratic procedures (especially in the areas of grant and contract management), and paucity of funding (even worse now than in my day). There seems to be a disconnect between the more agile responses of artists to creative opportunities and the slow and tedious processes of arts administration. It was interesting that my own feelings of discontent seemed to be mirrored by others in the room.
There was some tentative discussion around possible working models that could accommodate both a free flowing creative process and an efficient arts administration process; if the discussion at this point was tentative it was not in mood but because no one, with any certainty, seemed to be able to suggest something that could actually work. The problem as felt by many individual artists or even small collectives is that there are only so many hours in a day, and time spent on filling in paperwork is time stolen from creating work. The other problem is the nature of the thinking you have to do – you use a very different part of your intellect and emotional intelligence to write a grant application than you do to paint or compose; the theft here is one of focus and inspiration.
The Holy Grail
As a freelance performer who had to produce her own shows and then, later, as an arts manager I found that I loved certain aspects of the management process, namely creating strategies and project plans, relationship development, persuasive writing and marketing, and it is these things I bring forward into my current freelance practice as a trainer. These things appealed to my choreographer’s brain – choreography is about arranging things and people in time and space as is business strategy. Clunky and tautological bureaucratic process has always irritated me – it offends the designer in me. I can spot slapdash planning from a mile off, too; there is too much of these in evidence within the arts industry in Australia.
I decided to go into arts management because I was inspired to help other artists and to try to relieve some of the strain I could see they were experiencing in producing their work. My holy grail was to develop an approach to creative producing or project managing an arts show that supported the artists, assuaged the bureaucrats, rendered unto Caesar that which was Caesar’s but that ultimately produced great art. I like to think that, at times, I really did make a positive difference to the artists with which I worked, and I certainly learnt a heck of a lot about managing creative and innovative process, and this is precious to me in the work I’m doing now. But, against a background of ongoing uncertainty in funding, precarious employment, a lack of societal respect for contemporary art, and, at times, an almost tribal approach to protecting turf from others in the arts industry, I ended up feeling destabilised and exhausted.
I am still looking for that holy grail, am still passionate about supporting artists and arts and humanities academics, but, paradoxically, am steering well clear of the arts industry in my quest. And I still have no clear idea as to what that good working model could look like; just a vague notion of some lines of enquiry I could follow.
There is a dearly held belief in our society that artists are wankers and flakes – I am getting sick of hearing comments from people to that end. They’re no such thing – good artists are red hot implementers and have a gift for devising practical ways of making the products of their imaginations tangible; this is what makes them working artists instead of daydreamers. But the nature of the bureaucratic work and political lobbying the arts industry asks of them is enough to shut down even the most robust imagination.
*Amelia Winata’s bio: Amelia is an emerging curator and writer. She holds an Honours degree in Art History from the University of Melbourne. Her current projects include a curated exhibition of video art to be presented as part of Channels Festival 2015, and a writing mentorship with Gertrude Contemporary. She is currently Gallery Operations Coordinator at RMIT Gallery.