“When I was a young child, one of my favourite cartoon strips was called The Numskulls. The basic premise was that there were departments in your head, that had small characters in charge of them. There was one for the ears, the eyes, the nose and mouth and so on, but the character in charge was ‘Brainy’. Disney Pixar did something a whole lot more sophisticated with Inside Out, portraying the emotions in our head as characters, which we’ve used on a number of occasions to explore behaviour. Why I bother to mention these at all, is that when I considered the task of writing ‘A Day in the Life’, it struck me that the external picture isn’t half as much fun as the internal one.
The ‘Brainy’ character that is running my headspace has an exaggerated sense of humour, a burning curiosity and a belief in creativity and imagination. The external picture is more mundane. Take a look at this typical day:
Cycle to work at PM Office; work on a variety of client and internal challenges; go to Pilates, or not; attend TEDx meeting; home for supper; maybe a little tv or play the piano and bed; Rpt.
So, here instead, is the day inside my head. (prepare yourself – Ed)
From the moment I wake up, ideas are competing for headspace.
There is usually something from the day before that has occupied my thinking and most likely dreaming time. If I’m lucky, I may wake up with the remnants of a dream that helped me think of an idea, but if not, well then the stimulus of the day will step in.
I listen to quite a bit of talk radio as well as looking at social media feeds and there will always be something stimulating thought.
But what I love most are human stories, powerful stories that move people to do good things. Greta Thunberg for example, or Steven Bartlett or Katerina Johnson Thomson or those individuals and companies helping others.
I cycle to work. I recently gave up my car partly prompted by Greta and partly by economics. It really is a very short distance, but even in the 5 minutes it takes me, a lot can happen in my head. Some of it doesn’t matter much and is the stuff of everyday.
“Must tidy the garage at the weekend. I wonder why the pyracantha doesn’t have many berries? The council should rethink the recycling boxes – four is too many. Isn’t it a shame that British Gas don’t have a depot and that their drivers have to park on double yellow lines outside the post office to collect their parts. Must lobby for better cycle lanes in town.”
I’m sure this is the kind of thing that goes on in everyone’s head, isn’t it?
But then what happens in mine, is I begin to use my imagination on one of these challenges. “Cycle lanes? Maybe but what if we had autonomous pods for the main routes and free scooters from the station? What if we had a garden walkway that lifted passengers arriving from the train station above the traffic and what if we promoted Leamington as a car free town centre and what if …?” I think you get the picture.
All this day-dreaming of course is fine, but by the time I’m in work, surely that can all be put to one side? Well, for me, it’s been more of a warm-up for work, because the challenges that we are presented by clients and potential clients every day are quite frankly more challenging than that, because they have to be put into action. As I sit typing this article, the day ahead has the following problems with which to wrestle.
- Conceptualise an event for 500+ global leaders that will herald a shift in thinking, ways of working and strategic direction and ‘bring to life’ what that will mean for the leadership. Must be experiential and ‘different’ to the usual conference fare.
- Design three elements for a learning event which will tackle a variety of topics, including the organizations’ D&I agenda. Consider using improvisation to ‘lift the learning off the page’.
- Answer a brief for a global communication programme to embed a new working philosophy across the widely spread business units. Consider the different channels and media options to reach deep into the organisation. Must be ‘inspiring, fresh and dynamic and shift thinking’.
- Design a virtual conference for 200 globally dispersed members of a function. Key messages must be landed effectively and must be ‘interactive and engaging’.
What comes next is something I am well known for at monster towers, but thankfully not known for anywhere else. I take a couple of pens and do a bit of drawing.
There’s no set process here, it just helps me swirl the idea around a bit, develop it and explore tangential notions and offshoots. Now this stream of consciousness may lead somewhere or nowhere, but by now the drawings and notes on the whiteboard will be developing nicely and subsequently be causing some hilarity in the office.
We have fellow monsters who are professional artists and really can draw amazing things.
Clearly, I can’t, but I don’t let this stop me trying.
Whatever has come out of this process, still needs to be properly tested and the long-suffering monsters are entirely familiar with the words “Can I just ask you to try something out for me? I want you to imagine that …”
The most powerful thing about imagination and the creative process is that there really isn’t anything to block it, except your own limitations of thought. I’m sure that much of this comes from my background in the performing arts, where things like small practicalities are not impediments to success.
As a young man I played a small part (flying trapeze) in a production at The Royal Opera House, where half of the opera chorus were flown above the stage whilst singing. I promise you, there was just about every possible objection raised to this happening, but it still did, every night. Most things at a conference seem relatively straightforward, and often a little tame after that.
I was once told by improvisation guru (and I don’t think that is too strong a word for Ben Benison) that you should never be fearful of ideas because ‘you’re not responsible for your imagination’.
Now you are responsible for editing and deciding what to share in a public forum, but there is a joy in unlimited thinking, and it is surely the thing that leads to incredible breakthrough ideas. It can also lead to mistakes and unsuccessful experimentation, but whatever the results, you have still learnt something.
As I come to the end of a typical day, proposals will have been created; ideas shared over video conferences; event agendas will have been developed and all of it will have been undertaken with a lot of laughter.
There might well have been some frustration, a few doubts about the validity of the ideas and most likely some ‘lively discussion’ about how they might be brought to life, but all the while, the key character in my head has been following the narrative and is busily crafting the next part of the story for the evening or perhaps the following day.
He’s already poised with a new idea ready to put into the machine. ‘Leadership insights from musical theatre’. Yeah, I know, crazy right?
I hope you have enjoyed just a little glimpse into the day inside my head and if you would like to put this lively imagination to use, then do give us a call.
It’s almost time to head home and, as is also very often the case, a song has popped into my head. It’s one of my favourites from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, sung by Gene Wilder in the film, it’s called Pure Imagination.
I can’t claim to live in a world of pure imagination as he does, but I really like to spend as much time there as possible and help others get a glimpse into theirs too occasionally.
I am involved locally with a plan to develop a ‘Creative Quarter’ in our town, all around the area where our office is based. It’s proving quite difficult, as ironically, no one can quite imagine what it is. I can, but I think this time, I may need someone else to draw it.”
If you want to tap into Alan’s creative and artistic expertise then drop him a note firstname.lastname@example.org
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