Doug Shaw on

Doug Shaw, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Contributor

A lot of my best, most interesting and challenging work arises when I’m engaged with people looking to think, feel, and act differently in their work.

In recent years, and as a result of lots of practice, I observe that the need for us to be creative in our work is often focused on by the business world as a thinking process. Thinking creatively and differently is a necessary part of change, but what about how we feel, and how we act too?

People often struggle to talk about feelings at work, seeing them as something to be boxed up and left with security at the front door on the way in, and collected from lost property on the way out.

When it comes to taking action, people will often dream up big bold strategies, to which they harness grand intent, before applying the faerie dust of meaning and purpose. Often when we peek behind this visionary curtain, everything appears a bit ghostly. I can’t quite see the detail, everything is…specifically vague? Matthew Crawford writes about this notion of organizational opacity in his book ‘The Case For Working With Your Hands,’ asserting that vagueness has become intentional, in order to prevent people (typically those hierarchically senior enough to have architected the strategy) from actually being responsible for anything. How depressing.

So how might we take the good intent behind creative thinking, and activate it, and give it a better chance of becoming useful? I think one answer could lie in partnering creative thinking with creative practice, doing as well as thinking.

For example, I was working with a group of people recently who desired to come together and begin to imagine what the future of their workspace might look like, aesthetically, behaviourally, culturally. The group asked for help to create an inviting, encouraging environment for us to make as well as think. My part in this was simply to share a few basic principles of creative practice, invite folks to get making, then get out of the way. As a facilitator, I need to be clear about my role – whilst I am in the room and therefore a participant, I take care not to exert and impose undue influence. This post by Meg Peppin contains some excellent ideas about facilitation design. Before we got started in the room, I spoke about this with the people who hired me, because sometimes my apparent lack of guidance and direction can signal…a lack of interest? Far from it. What I’ve learned is that people are extremely capable, and too much guidance can quickly become patronizing. This process may feel uncomfortable at first, indeed one of my sponsors reflected this back to me, saying ‘when you made the invitation for people to get started – we worried, and wondered…will they?’ They did. Trust me, trust the process.



As the day unfolded and people were asked to think about and discuss a series of workplace related questions – the art continued to flow. This was not prompted, people simply chose to continue to offer artistic interpretations into the mix.



I’m showing you visual representations here, and it’s worth noting the art of storytelling became a big part of the work too.

Afterwards the group reflected on what they’d done, and acknowledged the richness of the conversation, enhanced by feeling encouraged to bring creative practice to bear alongside creative thinking. For me – a part of the challenge is keeping the practice going, which is partly why I continue to love my ongoing free art project, despite it now being over 85 weeks old. Practice, practice, practice.

As a closing thought, I offer you this excellent piece by Rich Watkins called Dignity, Resilience, Vision: The Value In Creative Practice. Rich wrote this after a conversation with myself and several other RSA Fellows, and he asserts that the notion of creative practice in its own right is something we can all benefit from. I agree, and I’d love to hear about your creative practice, and how it shapes you.


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