The freedom of creativity

There is a great sense of achievement when you create something out of nothing. Today I was making a birthday cake for my mum and although it took some time to complete it left me with a really positive feeling. In modern life and when we are adults I don’t think we spend enough time making things.

As children we spent most of our days at nursery and primary school making things pictures, models, or stories. We didn’t care whether they were universally accepted as ‘art’; we knew that they would be praised by our parents. We just made them for the joy of making them.

When was the last time you truly got creative? It is very liberating to be able to express yourself through some form of creative activity. Painting, pottery, writing, baking – it doesn’t matter what it is as long as we enjoy it and feel the freedom of being able to do what we want to. It shouldn’t be about creating a masterpiece just about expressing ourselves.

But creativity isn’t just something for the hobbies at home; we should take the time to encourage it in the workplace. If people have the freedom to have ideas and feel able to share them then they will help the organisation or business to develop. This is a subject that is close to my heart and I have blogged many times about the importance of developing a work environment that supports creativity. Ideas are what we can often lack in work because we get stuck in the routine, following the processes and doing what we always have done.

I am really pleased with my efforts today that have taken a group of ingredients and with a little bit of creativity and inspiration they have become a three-tier birthday cake ready for my mum’s 70th birthday tomorrow. I have a huge sense of satisfaction and I am sure mum will like it in the same way she liked all the paintings and artworks I brought home as a child.


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Who are you?

One of my birthday presents this year was a beautiful little picture that includes the phrase ‘to thine own self be true’. It is something I look at often because it is so pretty but also because I like to remind myself of those words.

I know it can mean different things to different people. But for me we are so often playing a part in life that we can lose sight of our real selves. Most people have a number of hats they have to wear during their life; son or daughter, sister, brother, mother, father, student, and worker. The list is endless and we can categorise ourselves in many ways. Often we adapt to fit into roles or we suppress part of our personality. I accept that may happen but we have to really know ourselves as well.

In the rush of doing things – working, sleeping, time at home, and taking part in hobbies – we can lose sight of who we really are. For many we never take the time to connect with our thoughts, feelings and beliefs.

There was an article in a newspaper today that was talking about ‘meternity’ leave. The idea being that childless people are given the chance to some months off work in order to reconsider their lives in the way that apparently many people do when they have time off after having children. I am sure it will spark many debates around the country. It is an interesting idea but actually we should all be making time to understand who we are on a regular basis.

We need to prioritise knowing what matters to us, what is important and why. It is what we can keep at the forefront of our minds when we are being challenged in whatever way. When people are trying to make us something else, or are putting us under pressure, it is essential to be able to connect with our core values and beliefs.

I have many labels that can be attached to me. If people want to do that it is their issue. I will keep looking at that picture and making sure I keep my priorities and beliefs at the centre of everything I do.


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Back to school

We were lucky to have a university student with us for the past two weeks. It isn’t something that we do very often with only around two or three placements being undertaken in a year. It was a valuable experience for us all, not just for the student. Having someone within the team looking at what we do, asking questions and giving us a different perspective was incredibly useful.

Today was the last day and we spent a bit of time replaying what had happened during the fortnight she was with us. It was a great experience. When asked whether there were any questions for us she said ‘can I have a job?’ I love the fact that someone comes into the workplace with no knowledge of what to expect and after a short period of time recognises it as a great place to be.

It also was an opportunity to reflect on how interesting the work is and that we are actually in a privileged position to be able to be part of the team. There was a chance to reconnect with why most of us joined and do the job within the public sector. Amid the hustle and bustle it is easy to forget this. I have come to accept that the pace and demand of the work is not going to reduce and we need to embrace it.

I would like to see more organisations helping with work experience. It was important to me when I was trying to start my career, and I think it is even more important in the modern world. Young people often face a struggle to get into the work they want to do and need to have that experience of the workplace. When we are busy allowing students in can feel like additional work but if we all take that view how are young people going to develop.

These two weeks has been helpful and enlightening for us all. For the staff there was an opportunity to get a new perspective on the work and to reconnect with why we joined the organisation. For the student it was hopefully a great experience of the workplace to help with the future career.


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Invest in yourself

For many of us work is more than a full time job, and we try to pack a lot into the rest of the time we have. One of the things that can get neglected or forgotten is to value the ongoing professional development. It is seen as something that we will do when we have time and it is pushed down the list of priorities.

It doesn’t matter how many years’ experience we have it is always important to prioritise learning and gathering further knowledge. We owe it to ourselves and whatever we envisage in the future. The training can take many forms nowadays and doesn’t automatically mean spending time in a classroom. This provides us with even more opportunities to ensure we can make it happen.

Continuous professional development should be something that is part of our working lives on a daily basis. We should be spending time to consider how we can ensure we are at the forefront of the changing communication landscape, and improving our existing skills. I have invested in CPD for the past 15 years and it is incredibly beneficial.

It starts with a consideration of where we are as individuals. What are our skills, what are our gaps and how do we need to develop over the next 12 months? Taking a bit of time out of the daily hustle and bustle to consider these questions is essential. Without it how can we avoid treading water in our work? This review will give us the information about what we need to do and allow a 12 month plan to be created.

Once there is a plan in place it means we have something to work to and it will be a reminder throughout the year. It raises the issue up our list of priorities and keeps it at the front of our minds. I hope more people are encouraged to have a continuous professional development plan to help them improve in 2016.


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Who are the audience?

I met an amazing man today, Stephen who produces articles for the Talking Newspapers which provide national and local news for the blind and visually-impaired. He provides a valuable service and one that I am sure lots of organisations don’t realise exists. It made me think about the challenge communicators have to really target activity.

Over recent years teams have been streamlined and got smaller, and one of the risks has been that we focus too much on the traditional media and the developing social media at the expense of really targeting the work. It is much quicker and easier to send out press releases or social media updates that reach a broad range of people. It is much harder to consider your audience for the message and then use a whole range of channels.

All too often we define the audience as everyone which clearly isn’t the case. Some people will require the information or the engagement activity, others may just need to be aware of it and some may not need it at all. It is important that we also don’t assume we have all the answers as people will decide which group they fall into.

There is a lot we can do to gather the relevant data and information to help us make better decisions on how to reach specific communities and more importantly specific people. There are so many people like Stephen who are out and about developing content that will reach people in the way they want or need it. He initiated the contact and came to us for assistance but now we have to find ways to reach out to others.

I don’t think there is an easy answer to how to ensure communication is targeted, but I would love to hear from people about how they achieve it within a tight budget or with limited resources.

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Finding a balance

When we are facing the pressure from work it can be easy to forget the important things in life – family, home and the key relationships in our lives. Most people spend a considerable percentage of their day at work whether it is from home, from an office or from another location. The pressure can be significant and the demands relentless so much so that it can engulf us.

It is vital that we make time for the supportive relationships around us. The people who can listen when we have had a bad day, can provide a shoulder to cry on and help lift us up when we are down. When everyone else has gone they will be the people who remain. I have written many times about how we can take this support for granted. We will only miss it when it isn’t there.

Life is definitely about a balance. A balance in all things and not just the traditional view of it being about work life balance. Letting work take over your life is not the best position to be in, and  you need to be able to switch off. I am the worst person for not doing this but I realise the damage that it can do taking this approach.

Tomorrow will be the funeral of a long-standing friend. It will be a sad time for all those that knew him but also will be a reminder of how lucky we all were to have known him during his life that was cut short. Jobs have come and gone in the time that we have been friends.

Balance is a key for us all too remember. Life is too short and the little things are just that, little. Focus on what matters to you and say thank you to those who give you support. Whatever happens the world will continue to turn.

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Dare to be different

All organisations have a culture. This can be positive or can be negative, but in reality it is probably a bit of both. It is easy to blame the ills of the organisation on ‘culture’ when in reality it is something we all have to take responsibility for. I do have some concerns that we are all striving to find a better culture and in doing that we will throw out the positive elements of what we currently have.

One of my biggest concerns with organisations is that those in charge like to find people who think in a very similar way. It means recruitment process are often weighted to finding people who think in the same way, often this is without anyone even recognising it. Once people are in an organisation the situation can become worse.

Being different to what is seen as ‘normal’ creates massive challenges for people. It means you are talking about one thing and people are hearing something else. It means you may want to take a new course of action but people want to remain with the usual approach. It means you may place more importance on things that others will ignore. There are three options:

  1. stay and try to fit in with the dominant culture
  2. leave and go somewhere you feel is a better fit
  3. dare to be different

The last one is my preferred position but it doesn’t come easy and means you need to have bags of resilience and a determination. It is never easy to take a different approach and you have to understand that there will be some incredibly frustrating days ahead. However, at the end you will feel a huge sense of achievement, and hopefully you will be able to start to impact on that dominant culture.

It is easy for organisations to say that they value diversity and want a workforce that will be challenging of the status quo. The harder part comes in showing people that they can be an individual in a large organisation, and it is hardest for those in a minority. Now it is time for us to dare to be different.

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