How reflecting on my daughter’s drawing opened up new ways of thinking about work – writes Scott Guthrie
Have you ever turned the page on a work notebook and found a doodle or note from someone? It happened to me recently. Mid way through a conference call. Trying to keep up with the conversation. Fervently taking notes and action points. I flipped the page and found this picture.
It jolted me out of the moment. The picture didn’t belong there. It was the wrong context. This book was for serious stuff not frippery.
But later I reflected on my daughter Constance’s drawing. Here are six ways her sketch challenged me to think more creatively about work.
We’ve all heard of the line by French chemist Louis Pasteur, “In observation chance favours the prepared mind”. At work it’s easy to be tricked into only using the rational part of the brain. We should also be receptive to idea triggers from everything around us and to use those triggers to feed into our problem solving.
Rather than being surprised or irritated about this out-of-place drawing it made we want to search for links and triggers between the topics being discussed during the conference call. To untangle the messy problem.
it’s not always what it seems
Things aren’t always what they seem. Sometimes the thing you’re staring at isn’t the real problem. The true, underlying, problem is masked by the presenting, visible problem.
When I got home that evening I told Constance how much I loved her picture of a kangaroo.
It turns out it isn’t a picture of a kangaroo after all. The ears are those of a rabbit not marsupial. The picture is a portrait of Beatrix Potters’ Lily Bobtail.
The ‘pouch’ is actually the pocket of Lily’s pinafore dress. More specifically it’s Lily’s just-in-case pocket; a place where she prepares for life’s uncertainties anticipating adventures with her friend Peter Rabbit by bringing along string or safety pins, marbles or some needle and thread.
Thinking of how Lily is prepared for life’s uncertainties made me think of the next point.
We can’t always predict the future but we can be prepared for it. We can understand and anticipate it. The past is no reliable guide to the future. Strategies shouldn’t be founded on narrow predictions about a future based on past data.
A better approach is to concentrate on adopting a continually evolving approach to the environment.
I wasn’t expecting to find a drawing in my work notebook. It’s not a rational place to find a drawing. But I should have understood that Constance loves to draw and spend time with me when I’m writing at home at my desk.
I should have anticipated that a book left on a table is fair game to her and that a blank page is just that; a blank page. It holds no authority or hierarchical preference.
If we value play we’re doing more than tolerating mess. We’re recognising the trustworthiness that play requires. If we want people to ‘open up’ and be to be honest we need them to feel emotionally secure and free to do so.
Play is non rational. We have to cede our control to accept it. Often this is at odds with our mechanistic, objective-driven world our work life inhabits.
Countering the ‘we don’t do that around here’
We usually progress in the workplace by moving vertically within a specific category. We’re taught that category experience is crucial. That our industry has unique qualities. That PR ‘does’ earned media whilst advertising ‘does’ paid media.
Guess what? Consumers don’t give a hoot. If they see something they like in one market why shouldn’t they see that in your market too?
For Constance a piece of paper is a piece of paper. If she’s allowed to draw in one notebook, why not in every notebook?
You can’t compartmentalise the whole self
In the social age there’s no longer a separation of the personal from the professional. We cannot compartmentalise our lives.
The most fundamental virtues and principles in private and in public are in fact the same. Life is a whole and must be approached as such.
When asked about keeping work and personal life separate, Tony Hsieh CEO of billion dollar turnover shoe firm, Zappos, says:
“There are companies that focus on work-life separation or work-life balance and at Zappos we really focus on work-life integration and at the end of the day it’s just life…..and especially if you spend so much time at work you better enjoy the time that you’re spending there and people that you’re with….”
Hsieh expands on this in his talk at Stanford:
“We want the person to be the same person at home or in the office because what we’ve found is that’s when the great ideas come out, that’s when their creativity shines and that’s when true friendships are formed – not just coworker relationships. When people are in that environment, that’s when the passion comes out and that’s really what’s driven a lot of our growth over the years.”
Get posts like this one direct to your inbox. Subscribe by email using the box on the top right of the screen. You can also follow me on Twitter. I’d like that.