Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Clore Fellowship Reflections: days 4, 5, and the weekend

I'm already hopelessly behind on my Clore Fellowship blogging, and the almost total lack of mobile coverage here in the wilds of Kent can only be blamed for so much. Fortunately, the input here is so incessant that I have a notebook of thoughts to distill and share. And so here are some quick thoughts from the middle weekend of this residential. (and geek alert, they also had his Nobel Prize for Literature there: major excitement!)

1: On artistic practice. A visit to Chartwell (the home of Winston Churchill) was a fascinating counterpart to all the talk of leadership that has been going on here. Of course Churchill's oratory prowess and clarity of mind are impressive and inspirational factors in themselves. But I was also intrigued by how painting was central to his life, provided time and space to gain energy from everything else that was going on, and as a sandbox in which to play and to try out. There was a great quote I photographed (naughty naughty, there should have been no photography in the house!) which I attach below.

2: On working smarter, not harder. And in sacrifice and commitment. Ariane Koek spoke about the artistic programme she set up at the Cern large hadron collider. Amazing project with unbelievable outcomes. And Ariane is one of the most driven people I've met. But I was struck by her admittance that to do it, she worked 20 hour days for 2 years and neatly totally burned out. In the words of Ije Nawokorie from Wolff Olins last week, she was the 'doer in chief.' The person who made great things happen. But it reiterated to me how sensible and appealing it is to me to look at how you create a leadership culture in an organisation so that your hard work is sustainable. There is always going to be a question of volume and speed as being useful in their own right, but for me quality and sustainability are more important.

3: On quiet attention. One of the most interesting aspects of the first week here was at dinner each night where our facilitator Fearghus O'Conchuir would have a conversation, almost always 1 on 1, in depth, and that the person her was speaking to would look like they were having just the most amazing conversation. All the while, with people to meet and thoughts to think, I was getting caught up in wanting to talk to everyone and not miss anything. But I realised the great power there is in quiet conversations in a corner with one person. In giving complete attention and talking openly. I want to be better at this.

4: On group dynamics. One of the best things about Megan (my wife) is her endless championing of the quiet. Of the cake of observing the knock on effect of how we behave, not just in the obvious ways people respond but in what it does to them. We had a session in which there was lots of tearful, open sharing of thoughts and emotions. It was a wonderfully open and human outpouring of feeling. But alongside sharing and responding to the people who were bearing all, I was also looking around the room at the people who weren't saying anything, and I saw some closing off as well. Of course this is natural, but only by being aware to look for it was it visible. I'm not generally very good at this, but awareness in all directions is something that I want to be better at. And watching groups form and develop is always interesting to me.

There is lots more, too. There was an interesting discussion on how we analyse success and what excellence might look like for the arts and culture. It raised questions of production, consumption, and who gets to judge quality in art. These are all things I think about a lot and will return to in a number of reflections in the next blog on week 2.

In 48 hours I'll be back in the real world! Eek!

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