resilience and resourcefulness for creative types #part one

I have been thinking a lot recently, mainly due to having extra quiet time during a three week period of insomnia, and the overall effect is that, despite feeling tired, I have also been feeling very creative!

I often share the inspiration behind these thoughts on social media, like twitter and facebook, but the inputs are mainly to inform my point-of-view about wider issues, which may inform my design work and thinking.

In trying to embrace this new creative phase I have been experiencing, I am now trying to make sense of lots of disconnected thoughts, through this blog entry, by adding some reflective-glue to give them more meaning. Only then can I move on, to make newer thoughts and connections…

The emergent theme for this article so far, has been the notion that nurturing and maintaining one’s creativity increases both one’s resilience and resourcefulness.

According to Wikipedia,  “Resilience in psychology refers to the idea of an individual’s tendency to cope with stress and adversity. This coping may result in the individual “bouncing back” to a previous state of normal functioning, or using the experience of exposure to adversity to produce a “steeling effect” and function better than expected (much like an inoculation gives one the capacity to cope well with future exposure to disease). Resilience is most commonly understood as a process, and not a trait of an individual.”

So, writing as a designer, who at the peak of his career was effectively prevented from realising his potential by an eight year period of poor health, this dual theme of resilience and resourcefulness has a very personal meaning.

It is only now that I feel confident enough to believe that my reflections could, by being shared on my blog and social media, also have meaning for someone else? My motivation to write this article is timely, because I was inspired to write, but also sincere. I believe in what I am writing – it is authentically my own opinion I am expressing.

According to the Royal Society of Arts, “The resilience of people and organisations working in the arts is clearly going to be severely tested in the years ahead. As yet, new ways of thinking and organising, which will enable greater adaptivity and resilience are still evolving – whether that be in the form of new leadership approaches; new financial models and instruments; or new approaches to collaboration and partnership.”

My current feeling is that some creative people underestimate their value and potential to make the world a better place, either on their own or by collaborating with others who are not like themselves. I often talk to creative people I meet about potential opportunities to collaborate, perhaps in order to find others who share an open mind about working in different contexts, made possible often only when the value of what they do and the skills they bring to the table are seen through my different, Service Design lens. More about how I practise Service Design, can be found elsewhere.

I recently went to an interesting presentation by United Visual Artists, a London creative collective, who talked about their work. I think UVA exemplifies the cutting edge of the new creative possibilities created by adopting a more collaborative approach. They have a multi-talented team of people, some who can make technology useful, mixed with others who can create meaningful experiences for participants (the general public) in the different locations in which their art installations are deployed.

I think the caveat to this optimistic example of successful collaboration is that when one’s creative value is compartmentalised by one’s discipline, one can easily risk becoming marginalised; Just being creative won’t necessarily make you resilient to change.

In this age of austerity we are all living through, where the value of what you contribute is coming under increasing degrees of scrutiny in an era of reduced grants for the Arts and squeezed budgets for organisations, I think there has never been such an important opportunity for creative people to develop some strategies for resilience by demonstrating their creativity to their clients in different ways, by becoming more resourceful. It is no longer, in marketing terms, about having a USP, it is about developing a meaningful selling proposition.

I believe that adopting this forward-thinking approach and trying a little self-reflection on what makes you different, will better prepare creative people to continue to make a living and to become more sustainable in an uncertain future.

Whilst acknowledging that there are primary differences between creatives, I hope there is some food for thought to be found here, and in resilience and resourcefulness for creative types #part two, for all creative communities of practice.

Although in my twenties I chose to study Design and not Art, I actually began my journey by wanting to work in Craft, as a Potter. This still explains my deep appreciation of craftsmanship and why I always empathise with creative people, who often struggle to make a decent living when pursuing their designer-maker choice of career.

Yet craftspeople are often some of the happiest workers, probably because real pleasure can be derived from the creative process of using head, heart and hands in harmony to produce something, which is useful and meaningful for someone else.

Very recently, I went to an event run by Design Wales called #10thingsIlearnt, featuring a guest speaker, whose presentation made some really important connections in my mind between Craft (my past) and Design (my present and my future).

The presentation <download> which had this particular resonance for me, was by an Artist, Curator and Educator called Helen Carnac. Her thoughts allowed me to reflect how my background in Craft – learning different hand techniques, producing useable artefacts, experimenting with form/function, and beauty has shaped the thinking of the designer I’ve since become.

Her #1st thing was “Slow comes in many speeds”, which is really about the realisation that in craft there is real value in developing ideas over time but at different speeds.

Her #2nd thing was “gestation…allowing space and time to analyse and question…” having and giving time for reflection”, which refers to continuous cycles of iterative learning and the development of the critical rigour necessary to evaluate the quality of one’s own ideas and practice, over time and through iterative cycles of learning from doing.

Her #3rd thing was “The value of Networks” This value can be found in collaborative design or thinking.

Her #4th thing was “Sharing and generating knowledge, collaboration…talking and listening”, which is about the value of interacting with others and creating a dialogue during the creative process – making Art more accessible to non-artists.

Her #5th thing was “Being resourceful” adding that artists were hoarders because they want ‘stuff’ to make new works with.

Her #6th thing was “Allowing for accidents to happen…noticing the un-noticed” she illustrated this with “story lines from her intelligent trouble project which collects participants stories about materials and making.

Her #7th thing was “Place… our’s, the product’s, the project’s” referring to a ceramic artist Neil Brownsword who grew up in Stoke-on-trent, against the background of the decline of the Potteries and the subsequent demolition of many of the original factory sites – and has found a rich source of inspiration and material in the detritus and clay waste that lies beneath the city.

Her #8th thing was “Long thinking”, which again drew upon ideas inspired by the slow movement and I think is about conceiving ideas slowly in the mind, long before manifesting them in a sketch or a line on a canvas, or being able to write them down in words that have meaning to others. Apparently the Russian-American painter Mark Rothco used to just stare at his new canvas for days, before creating his first brush strokes.

Her #9th thing was “Taking time”, which was articulated by fellow artist David Gates as “time to think and reflect and to take thoughts on to the next piece, not necessarily slowly but as a mark in a continuum”

…and by Andy Horn as “The process and experience of making, of tacit knowledge that brings together the hand, eye, mind, the lived experience and bodily knowledge that understands material and goes beyond learned skill is one which is deeply connected and driven by personal value”

During slide #9, I wrote down “Kouros time”, which I seem to remember is the Greek name for ‘natural time’, for example indications of the passing of time such as the movement of shadow on a wall as the sun crosses the sky or the Spring green to Autumnal red of tree leaves, or the ebbs and flows of the tide every 6hrs, due to the Moon’s gravitational pull, as it orbits continuously around the Earth.

Her #10th and final thing, was “Developing and sustaining practice”

To read my reflections on these 10 lessons, see resilience and resourcefulness for creative types #part two

ⓒ richard louis arnott 2012


About servicejunkie

i AM servicejunkie “A designer works through and for other people, and is concerned primarily with their problems rather than his own” — Norman Potter, What is a designer? (1969) In my view, the only important thing about design is how it relates to people and this belief lies at the heart of everything I do and have ever done as a designer. My passion is using people-centred design as a process to make things better for people. I design and facilitate creative workshops, which enable people to learn how to ‘think and do like a designer’ co-designing solutions that create new forms value for the people the organisation serves, its customers. My purpose is to serve, by helping my clients frame more human problems to solve using design thinking and codesign. My integrity reflects a consistency in my actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations and outcomes.
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2 Responses to resilience and resourcefulness for creative types #part one

  1. Thanks Richard for this insightful and provocative post (and for asking me to read!). What I find particularly interesting is that much of your hypothesis – that creatives can solidify their futures by being more resilient and resourceful, by providing greater meaning to their clients, and by collaborating with others in contexts they’re not accustomed – is true for a wide variety of disciplines. I am finding with my clients, the concepts and methods of service design – which at one time were foreign – now resonate; organizations are realizing they need to operate differently. It may be because they realize their customers are changing and they need to reflect that internally or because they believe there’s lost value from employees not collaborating, etc….. Regardless, organizations are beginning to understand their world is changing and they too need to be resilient and resourceful.

    So, then, what I find intriguing about your post is the following question it brings up… “what exactly is it about creatives – who they are, how they work, how they’ve been educated, that will affect how easy this shift is for them?” You wrote, “My current feeling is that some creative people underestimate their value and potential to make the world a better place, either on their own or by collaborating with others who are not like themselves.”

    I actually am not sure that creatives underestimate their value/potential; I think they’ve never really had to think about it: they don’t need to. Many of the creatives I know have a very internally driven approach to the work they do; in other words, they’ve been molded to believe that what they contribute to the world is only as important – only has meaning – when THEY apply their own special, unique, creative perspective to it. It’s THEIR interpretation of the world that matters, that they then create with. I think the particular challenge creatives have is shifting their mindset to place importance on OTHERS’ interpretation of the world…OTHERS’ perspectives… and then use that to create with.

    I look forward to part II!

    Laura Keller

  2. Hi Laura, hope you are well. Thank you so much for sharing your own thinking, which I really enjoyed reading. I don’t understand how I missed your feedback the first time, so apologise that I never responded when this was first published. I am going to make up for that now 🙂
    regards, Richard

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