What Was Different About Tuesday?

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Imagine spending eight hours mingling with an eclectic bunch of pioneering speakers, coffee-buzzed wisdom seekers, immersed in ‘thoughtful provocations’, ‘dancing with paradox’, debating life’s big questions and how to ‘pioneer meaningful progress’… while sipping craft whisky, absorbing live jazz and pondering what’s next for humans on earth, and Mars.

Welcome to The Cleverness and Percolate: A Precursor to Progress.

“A space to harness our unwillingness to settle” for “pioneers and the quietly dissatisfied”.

Hallelujah!… a space (Fitzroy Social) with air, light, art, music, buzz, booze, nibbles, chit-chat, curious people, questions, and more questions than answers. A thoroughly thought-provoking ‘event-full’ experience, delivering beyond expectation. You don’t get to say that too often do you?

And here I am gathering my scribbles and highlights to spread the goodness of a well curated Tuesday afternoon that flowed into an evening of exceptional taste and unedited banter.

Everything was done a little differently at Percolate. The speakers were unusually framed by the audience (seated on four sides, not framed as in ‘set-up’). You actually got to see other people’s faces and expressions. Imagine… other humans! The ‘gift envelopes’ had tasteful, meaningful content (newly launched magazine The Cleverness Biannual Issue O) and even the bathrooms featured ‘thoughtful provocations’ for pondering while you pee. Everything was considered, crafted and conversational. And not wishing to overdo the ‘c’ words here, but the theme and trail of messages throughout was both creative and consistent, even down to the branded whisky glasses and custom branded The Cleverness/Moleskine notebook.

Okay, enough of the gushing flattery, so what of this unconventional event? I believe in thoughtful sharing of people doing good things, so I’ve put thought to gathering some snippets for those ‘quietly dissatisfied’ people curious enough to want to discover more (my brain clearly likes ‘c’ words today, yesterday it was ‘i’ words).

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Enter the inimitable Host, Dr Jason Fox (Head of The Cleverness), charming, engaging and provocative, questioning and conversational, poses a thoughtful opener “What will be different for you in 2017?”. The audience is encouraged to think and exchange thoughts with their neighbour – yep, really meaningful conversations with other humans, imagine! And then, another provocative question comes flying “What is the most popular misconception people have of you?”. There’s no dancing around the matter here, we’re already in deep thought exploring pretty serious questions with strangers. Only slightly awkward.

The first speaker, Oscar Trimboli (Executive Coach & Author), silenced the audience with every carefully chosen, calmly spoken word, and the breathing space in between. The topic was ‘Deeper Listening’. This one particularly struck a chord for me… “Listen to silence as deeply as any word”. Indeed, we often desperately scramble to plug the awkward gaps. “Silence is a gift”. There’s so much beauty and meaning in silence, stillness and space – and it’s so valuable for encouraging creativity (my space of specialty). Another thought provoking line was “Explore the unsaid”. Which could morph into separate conversation on the mystery and delights of the subconscious and its significant value to creative thinking. For another time.

We then heard from Helen Souness (Managing Director of Etsy Australia & Asia) who stated that Our purpose in life is to fulfil our potential” and posed the question “How can you enrich the lives of others?”. Helen also encouraged us to consider exploring a “multi-dimensional life” rather than seeking the ‘one calling’ that we spend years trying to discover. This note transitioned smoothly onto the next speaker, Natasha Pincus (Director & Filmmaker) with the big question “What is genius?”, a theme inspired by her own creative productions. Natasha believes that “Your genius comes from within you” and is “The practice of being who you are”.  An visually engaging talk, concluded with Natasha’s parting belief that “The genius is inspired”, and “curious”, “a productionist”, and “empathetic”. All of this was delivered with a stream of visual whit and boundless energy, definitely not your average keynote, thankfully.

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Up next, Rohan Gunatillake (Creator of Buddhify & Author) encouraged us to “Be aware of what’s happening while it’s happening” which really got me thinking. We’re often so fixated on the future and ‘what’s next’ for us, while the good happenings of today pass by unnoticed. Rohan talked about the concept of “Relaxation as identification” (not taking your work too personally) and stated that “The more personally you take your work, the more you’ll have difficulty”. This provoked some interesting conversations during and after the talk, especially from those of us who head their own businesses. Another useful tip “Don’t mortgage your whole being on a metric you have no control over” and another “Indulge yourself at the level of feeling”. Rohan’s secrets to mindfulness were: A Loving Letting Go; Neutral Observation; You Are On Your Side. Which will need a little more explanation beyond this post. A great parting thought and one that I’m still reflecting on was “Get interested in the difficult”. Ooh… that’s a corker.

One big challenge we all face as humans is complexity, which was the theme for Dr Sean Fabri (Improvisor & Doctor), who discussed the shift in medicine from complex to complicated and the insightful differences between the two. Some stimulating thoughts were “The world is complex, people are complex” with an intriguing conversation around “Grappling with complexity and why this is such a struggle” and the provocative statement “It’s our responsibility to understand the complexity we face”. Dr Sean shared his perspective on the importance of complex understanding in creating pathways to outcomes. Another thought provoker was “The closer your mental model is to the real world, the better it will work”. I often see people and companies creating things that are so far removed from reality and what’s really needed, it’s quite astonishing. But we also need to challenge the real world. Blimey, there’s so much work to do! Here’s another one of my favourites “When you imagine others complexly, you humanise them” flowing into “When you acknowledge this, it comes across as kindness”. Without question we need more understanding and kindness in the world, more walking in the shoes of others, demonstrating human compassion. Dr Sean Fabri concluded by sharing some tools for reaching deeper into complexity through the themes of doubt, disagreement and failure. He writes about this more in his newsletter if you’re curious.

The coffee buzz was provided by Proud Mary and the whisky buzz by Starward, both companies with knowledgable representatives sharing some wonderful insights… “It’s more than coffee… every time you have a coffee there’s a family, person and process behind it” and “Indulge in the feeling” and a whole conversation around overcoming “The irrational obstacles”. Thanks to both for providing great tasting fuel for lively conversations.

We are in “A new era of co-creation” claimed Josi Heyerdahl (Partnerships Manager, World Wildlife Fund) who talked about complex systems, the actions of the whole and the challenge we’re facing as the more connected we become the more complex things become…“We face complex problems with no simple solutions” Jodi stated. And then shared some hard facts from The Living Planet Report relating to the growing population, the demand this places on food resources and the impact this has on the planet. As a subject close to my heart, this talk left me with a big ‘to-do’ list. One statement that I will be exploring further is that we need to “Work with the industry to make the changes we want to see”. The WWF have a tagline “Together Possible” which clearly communicates that they’re embracing this already. Jodi talked about the value of “Unlikely Collaborators” and believes this is where the magic happens. We were left with the thought provoking question “Who would be your unlikely collaborator?”. I have a few of those.

And finally, enter ‘The Wild Card’ Will Dayble (Founder of Squareweave & Fitzroy Academy) who shocked us into disbelief when he shared a life-changing choice he faced with his wife “Do we have children or go to Mars?”. Image that conversation over morning coffee! I don’t think I was in the minority in wondering if this guy was for real. But yes, he was. And refreshingly so. It was fascinating, confronting and a little uncomfortable to wrap my head around this ‘choice’ and the conversations that he was having with himself, his wife, family and friends. I can’t imagine. But this is the reality we are facing now. People will be going to Mars soon. The evolution of human existence has transitioned from no people on the planet, to people on the planet, and now people on Mars. What will be next? Will playfully and provocatively reflected deeply on what this means for him and how we exist as humans. He describes this life adventure as a “Once in a civilisation opportunity” and “the most exciting thing that has happened to humans ever”. Plenty of polarising views around this one, which ended with a question I’ve never heard before. Something for everyone to consider when producing things… “Will this work on Mars?”. That’s the reality of the future.

Time to Percolate and conclude, as the panel rotated to answer questions with questions in a lively banter of provocations like “Do you gain wisdom from experiences or do you have to do something else” and “How will you bring what’s next” and “What are the rare conversations we have as humans” and a great line “Great questions will always outlive the answers”. I was too engaged in the pace to capture everything here and didn’t want to miss the moment and opportunity to participate.

After a few more drinks cheerfully babbling away with some interesting folk, I sloped out the door and into the streets of Fitzroy with my head bursting with questions, things to do, the sound of jazz and maybe one too many whisky’s.

There’s so much work to do in the world! If this was helpful, please share thoughtfully. I hope this gets you thinking today, more than you were yesterday, and as much as I was on Tuesday, and the days thereafter.

Big thank you to Dr Jason Fox, Kim Lam and The Cleverness. See you at “Rituals”.

Bye for now…

Rochelle Martyn

rochellemartyn.com @RoxMartyn

Ideas Are Not Enough

Many designers will tell you they’ve come up with heaps of fantastic ideas that have gone nowhere. But the ideas aren’t the hardest part.

The biggest challenge is the communication around your ideas. You have to be able to share your seamless thinking before, during and after; to convince and excite about the possibilities.

It’s not good enough to just have an idea. It’s not acceptable to groan about a client ‘not getting it’ if you haven’t done your job to explain your thought process.

A truly great designer comes up with brilliant ideas along with their story.

A truly great client is brave enough to join you in bringing them to life.

A match made to lead change.

Look at Yourself

It’s all too easy to point fingers when things aren’t going well. It’s always someone else’s fault, of course. The person you should really be pointing at is yourself.

Following on from my last post Precious Gifts, you’d very rarely get this behavior in a hospital. Why? Because everyone has each others backs, as a team, they need and respect each others presence, contribution and expertise. They’ve all earned it.

Q: Why does this healthy team behavior exist in hospitals, yet not in other work place environments?

A: They all know they’ve all worked really hard to deserve a place on the team.

Medical professionals spend many years in study and training. They’re screened every step of the way and only the toughest and most resilient are good enough to pass the training, make it through to a career and become the best in their field. In other work place environments the training isn’t as rigorous. And who’s doing the tough screening along the way? It just doesn’t exist the way it does in the medical world.

Which is why in other work place environments we often see a frenzy of finger pointing and cultures of blame when things don’t go smoothly. Who’s taking accountability for their own actions, and who has their teams back? It’s down to each individual, their professionalism and attitude, to contribute towards team success.

Look at yourself.

What are you doing to prove to your colleagues that you can be trusted and that you’ve earned your place on the team? Don’t focus on others, focus on yourself and what you’re doing for those around you.

Creating Unity Through Diversity

We are surrounded by diversity, no matter where you look, whether it’s the world, united nations, a commonwealth, country, city, university, performance, talented individuals… The art is in leading diversity to create unity.

There have been many events in Great Britain over the past few days celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, specifically creative performances that have united diverse groups, including a country.

The Diamond Jubilee Concert (photo above: BBC) featured a diverse range of performers, across all generations, that took to a spectacular stage built right in front of Buckingham Palace around the Queen Victoria Memorial. The British band Madness performed “Our House” on the roof of the palace which was creatively transformed with a projection of a typical London street and a giant red bus motoring by. Check it out here. It was all brilliant entertainment and a performance only made possible by a diverse group of creative talent, whether on the stage or behind the scenes, and leaders orchestrating diversity into perfection.

During the Jubilee celebrations a graffiti tribute was created by four professional graffiti artists from Positive Arts and six students from Lambeth College to create a 1980’s inspired street art masterpiece. A ‘pop-up art school’ was also created for sixty artists of all ages and abilities for one day only to pay tribute to sixty years of the Queen’s reign. The venue was then transformed into a gallery for public enjoyment.

When unity is created from diversity, a rainbow of creative talent, we experience something extraordinary. Whether it’s through a voice, instrument, spray can, paint brush, or other, or all, we need more talented people that can lead diversity and create unity.

Businesses wanting to be more creative need to look inside as well as outside, and beyond, to find and gather unique creative talent and then lead, encourage and create remarkable art and experiences.

Expressing Your Experiences

The creative imagination needs to be unleashed from constraints if you want to explore, discover and share new insights and ideas… and bring them to life. Whether it’s within the confinement of a cubicle, office, boardroom, studio… or whatever den you work in… nothing beats getting ‘out there’ to experience and express yourself freely. Freedom started with pencils on sketchpads but can go beyond that into collaborations in public spaces, sharing insightful experiences for others to learn from and enjoy.

Wendy MacNaughton is an illustrator based in San Francisco who’s just created an illustrated inventory of her observations, insights and takeaways from Behance’s annual 99% Conference at a space in the Ace Hotel in New York City. The conference is about “making ideas happen” and is inspired by the Thomas Edison quote “Genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration”. You can experience the full story expressed through words and illustrations on Behance’s site. The whole process took 9 days: 2 days to draw/document, 2 days to paint/scan, 3 days to install and 2 days to make the story. Wendy also included quotes, tweets and eavesdropping from the conference speakers and attendees.

A conference that helps people “make ideas happen” is one thing (of great value to the creative thinkers) but taking a traditional conference format and turning it into a shared creative expression is another. And doing it in an enjoyable, memorable way, within one of the coolest hotels in New York City… enough said. These guys are truly living their vision to make ideas happen.

The Power of Creative Communities

The new age is about connection. Whether it’s connecting people to each other, businesses to businesses, businesses to people…  that’s where the real value is created. Like-minded creative people connecting as groups or networks, rather than working in isolation, or individuals collaborating around the world, creates a powerful force that will lead change.

The Behance Network is an on-line portfolio platform for creative professionals in a variety of disciplines, including photography, fashion, graphic design and illustration. Organizations such as AIGA, Adweek and MTV have partnered with The Behance Network to create galleries of creative work and they also have galleries for design education institutions such as Rhode Island School of Design, Art Center College of Design and School of Visual Arts. Scott Belsky, Founder & CEO has been included in Fast Company Magazine’s “100 Most Creative People in Business”.

Behance kicked off their Portfolio Reviews last week at Grind in New York and showcased five creatives. It provided an opportunity to share and receive feedback, with break-out sessions and plenty of wine, beer and networking.

Credits: Top left: Julian Hibbard. Below left: The New Cruelty. Top middle: Navid Barity. Below middle: Barry Orkin. Far right: Matt Carr.

The artists and group discussed where their inspiration came from, the power of storytelling, the challenges of art in the commercial world, copyright and social media, the art of seeing things from different angles, imagining the big picture… among many other interesting talking points. There was real value in sharing and discussing art and creativity, insights, ideas, experiences and challenges with a diverse bunch of interesting people. Real people having real conversation, connecting on creativity.

Networks of creative people have the power to lead change, pursuing a common dream, a bigger picture, should individuals want to join (or create) these communities and inspire the future.

The Value of Collaboration and Networks

Collaborative creativity is already proving to be a great success. The companies that remove the boundaries and adopt a more fluid creative mindset are the ones that are leading the future. Often competition is seen as the enemy, but this is old thinking. It’s different today and we have access to brilliant resources and ecosystems that have the potential to create and build new ideas.

The most powerful brands have collaborated to create products and services that matter and connect with people. Think Apple & Nike making technology and sportswear work together, and Stella McCartney bringing fashion to Adidas, Marc Newson bringing comfort and style to the interiors of Qantas airplanes. Brand collaborations are not new, but they’re a growing trend and the collaborations are getting bigger, and for good reason. The concept of a networked business has also been reported by McKinsey and research is showing that performances of such businesses are significantly improving. Fast Company wrote about The Money Network in April 2011.

FastCo Design: Info Graphic of the Day: The Money Network

Strategist Nick Keppel-Palmer has just written a piece for Fast Company on the principle of companies collaborating to create the future and believes “the most impactful brands have embraced collaboration as an operating principle”.

The same principle applies to design businesses. The concept of creative collaboration and networks can provide greater value to clients. Rather than taking a defensive competitive position, one of each to their own, the mindset needs to shift to one of creating the best value and working efficiently to deliver remarkable ideas that matter and connect with people.

No matter what business you’re in, will you be embracing the power of networks and collaborations to create greater value and remarkable ideas?