It's never ready

We seem to think that creativity is about delivery.

And as long as it’s about delivery, we can find excuses. It’s not perfect yet. I need to define my niche more closely. I don’t have the right client. I need to make a few more final adjustments.

Charles Bukowski tells us to stop making excuses; 'it’s not about ‘air and light and time and space’ (baby).  Seth Godin tells us to have the courage to ‘ship’, to get something out of the door, ready or not.  Of course, work and discipline are all important.

But, as we move from the framing of business as transaction and towards a more relational perspective, our clients want us to be alongside them, to have some skin in their game.

When they ‘buy’ creativity, they don’t need a polished ‘product.’ They want to experience us as we take the first step together into vulnerability.

Creativity is about learning. Together.

Freedom: an aspiration

Perhaps the prospect of the changes that I needed to make had started to weigh heavily on me....

I heard him before I could see him, metal-shod, clattering on the cobbled yard. He moved slowly, cautiously from the shadows to watch me. He had sensed my presence for some time and recognised that, like him, I was in trouble.

In truth I was lost, mind numb, muscles cramped with age and uncertain of my escape. The yard was walled, too high to climb and, in any case, I didn't know where I would find myself when I landed on the other side.  Though breathing hard, I stood stock still in a futile attempt to calm him. Pacing backwards and forwards, he became increasingly agitated and then, shoes sliding precariously across the wet stone, he suddenly turned and galloped hard towards me.

Anticipating the impact, I turned away and braced myself as he rushed closer. They say that a galloping horse would never willingly deliberately trample a human - but maybe this one will be different? From two paces away, he jumped, soaring over me into the darkness. I turned to see him land but he had gone and the wall behind me vanished into the ether. A morning sun started to light lit the sky and I walked cautiously into freedom....

Sigmund Freud's 'The Interpretation of Dreams' was published in 1899 and introduced the idea that our dreams are an attempt by the unconscious to resolve psychic conflict.  He might claim that the apparent entrapment of the horse, in direct contrast to the mythical, wild freedom that they symbolize, can be seen as my story to myself in my circumstances. So, what was I seeing as I faced the horse? And what was the story telling me?

As I make plans for the future, I am using the dream as material to understand more of my unconscious, and to access the 'knowing' that might be just out of reach of my conscious, 'rational' mind. I've been reflecting on how I might be constraining myself unnecessarily and wondering about the walls that, over the years, I have built in good faith, but that might now confine me.  Of course, I've been photographing, writing in my journal, sketching and doodling as I've uncovered some of my own less than helpful patterns and routines.

Over the years, I've learned that I'm not so interested in specific goals or detailed performance objectives (does anyone still do SMART?); our world is too unpredictable and complex for that kind of strategy to make sense. But I am interested in working opportunistically, improvising and riffing over an intention or general direction of travel. I'm also instinctively drawn to Arnold Beisser's 'paradoxical theory of change' where he says that we change through becoming more of what we are not by attempting to become something (or someone) we are not

So what do I take from my dream? I guess I know that I appreciate freedom; that I seem to live at some distance from 'the herd' and confined, walled spaces, however they present themselves, in an organizational or social sense, are not my natural ground.  I sense that, if I am to thrive, there are lessons for me about convention, expectation and liberty.  As I write, I begin to find other connections - and, of course, the photograph I made and chosen of one of our horses tells me even more.  All of this 'data' will, I hope, become part of my on-going 'inquiry' into how I can become fully present and authentically whole in my life and work, and will unfold over the coming year or so...

In the meanwhile, what are you dreaming of and what might your dreams tell you?

Steve MarshallComment
On bluebells and slowing down...

Welcome to Docky Wood in Buckinghamshire. I made this image just after sunrise a few weeks ago. In need of some kind of creative release, I was up early with my cameras - though as usual, photography simply became a way to process and express my reactions to the whirl of change that has surrounded me lately.  For me, there is something very particular about these spring flowers. They are a sign of renewal after the winter months when we all seem to keep our heads down; an opportunity perhaps to lift our gaze and pause.

Some of you will know of the dynamics that have caught me; a couple of years of intense, demanding, globally mobile (though very rewarding) work, changes in professional and client relationships, and the throw in a couple of family bereavements and the chaotic, joyful demands of two fabulous teenagers as they find their way in the world.

As I've traveled the world, skimping on sleep, not getting enough exercise, living on a junk food diet, there were times when I felt that if I cut myself I would bleed cortisol.  Of course, it is also fair to say that I had knowingly and deliberately set myself up for a lot of stress. I created opportunities and exploited them, and was impressed by my discipline and resilience as I maintained a breakneck pace over a long period.

Yet unhooking myself the from ferocious pace of the last couple of years has taken much more time and energy than I had imagined...

What have I noticed about the seductions of business and the process of personal change as I have deliberately slowed down?

  • Motion, action and pace are addictive.  I’m an avid traveler and can easily get hooked into the exhilaration of mobility. I seem to suffer from a combination of wanderlust and rootlessness which means that once I start a journey I don’t want to stop. I love the sense of moving though landscapes and can look out of the window of a plane or train almost indefinitely. Staying in motion, whether literally or as I deliver a business project, offers the thrill of the chase. But miles traveled and activity undertaken become a substitute for genuine, authentic presence and impact. The prestige of business travel then quickly wears thin. Bumping into a colleague at LHR T5 for an early flight on a Sunday morning convinced me that we were both just 'gold card casualties’.
  • The glitz of the business world disconnects us from relationships and reality. As I’ve worked with the abstraction of ‘business models’, ‘change methodologies’ or ‘value propositions’, I become separated from the reality of life and relationships.  In this mindset people become ‘resource’ or, perhaps worse, ‘capital’ to be invested and spent at our will. We assume that we can control the complexity of our social change and become surprised when the limits of our influence are quickly reached.
  • Moments of calm, stillness in nature are essential to renewal.  Bluebell walks at dawn (or any other nature walks at any other time) have become increasingly important to me. The ability to sense into our wider ecological connections reminds me intimately of my purpose and humility. Extending our sense of ‘knowing’ is important for me and the photograph evokes the quality of wonder and awe that I felt that morning in the wood.  The half-hidden pathway has become an emblematic form as I consider my own pathway to change, and I’m enchanted by the faithful permanence of the trees as they stand in the dazzling morning sunlight.
  • Reflection enables carefully question of our motivations. As I pursued change for my clients, how was I thinking about my ethical commitments or working as a witness to theirs? What was being served by the impetus to change and innovate? For whom and at what cost to others? How were visions and values being participatively brought into the world?
  • Wow…. It’s great when it stops..!  I’ve (re)learned that I can lose my sense of ‘calibration’ when I collude with the demands of the ‘globetrotting international consultant’ role. If I hope to bring difference and perspective to my clients, whoever they are, continual immersion in their worlds and distance from mine is unhelpful. 


The bluebells are fading quickly now.  But they will be return and I’m sure that I will make decisions that also prompt a return to moments of frenetic business activity. That’s not really the point.  What is important for me is to ensure that I return to the reality and sensation of a morning walk through the woods a little more frequently.

Steve MarshallComment