All posts by Lloyd Davis

Help Please: #workshop34 Final Report

I’m writing a final report on the work I just did in Sittingbourne, opening and running a pop-up shop and co-working space in the High Street there as part of the EU-funded ReCreate project.

This is mostly a request for help from people who were familiar with or directly involved in the project, but I’m up for feedback from all sides.  In fact, just writing that has helped me see that I’d like to make it much easier for people to read who had no exposure to the project at all, but that might be a longer-term goal than getting the final report submitted with the final invoice!

This section is meant to sum up the Key Successes.  I’d like to know whether:

  • you agree that these are indeed the key successes – and if not what you’d add or take away;
  • you think there are better ways of saying what I’ve said;
  • you have better examples than the ones I’ve used to illustrate the success; or
  • any of it doesn’t make sense at all to you.
  • Or, y’know, anything else that would make it better.

Thank you!

Key Successes

Reactivating the High Street
We made a difference to how the street felt to local people and to how people thought about using empty spaces.

Sittingbourne High Street has lots of empty shops, especially towards the eastern end where workshop34 was. We immediately brightened this area, simply by cleaning the exterior, removing fly-posting and putting the lights on. Once we opened the doors for business and hung the bright yellow sign above the doorway we made a real difference to the feel of that end of the street – many people would simply come in to see what was going on because they were so surprised to see anything happening there.

We had good relations with neighbouring shops from the start. The owner of one local jeweller visited in the first week and we got to know especially well the local cafe owners, encouraging shop users to buy their lunches, cakes and coffees in one of the three nearest ones.

We encouraged Belinda Gyampa, a local hairdresser specialising in African haircare, who had become a regular user of our shop first to visit and then take on one of the retail units for hire in the building opposite.

Led by Community
Many spaces supported by ReCreate designed an offering and then fitted local people into it. We took the opposite approach – asking people what they wanted to do and then saying “Yes, do it!”  As a result we squeezed a wider range of activities into the short time-frame than we might have otherwise done.  

While we know a lot about what works in pop-up shops and creative collaboration spaces, we are also strongly committed to doing things with people rather than for or to them. During the month of November, Lloyd sat in the shop most days and simply talked to people about what they would like to do ithere. He almost always said “Yes! Please!”, partly because there was little time to be fussy and turn down stuff, but also knowing that only a small proportion of people would come back.

The other reason for giving power to the community from the start is that it makes it much easier at the end of the project. Lloyd works on the basis that the best success is when the group believes that they did most of it themselves.

We also wanted to break the dynamic of dependence – the cycle of someone with grant-funding coming and doing something for the community and then disappearing without empowering anyone doesn’t help in reactivating the High Street. So we stepped outside of giving people what (we think) is good for them and gave them what they wanted: space to work together, the power to decide and the power to change their mind if it didn’t work.

Building Confidence
Together we all grew in confidence as we tried things and they worked. Most obviously, some people showed and sold their creative work for the first time, but others benefited in more subtle ways.

Giving people the responsibility of deciding what to do and of delivering it means that they get to do things they might not have done before. Even those who had run or worked in the previous pop-ups gained from being able to focus on making good work and selling it, rather than the tedious admin and management responsibilities.

People in Sittingbourne are used to people saying “No” to them. Saying “yes” to everything meant that we were able to reduce scepticism and support a much larger number of artists than expected. And for every artist who put their work on sale there were probably twice that who didn’t bring anything in, but who went away encouraged and reminded of their creative dreams.

We were grateful in particular for the opportunity to work with young people from Sheppey through the YAF project and help many of them show their work for the first time, make decisions about how to present it and price it for sale. The festival’s poster was designed and laid out in the shop with one of the young people working alongside an older experienced designer/photographer.

Several artists, regardless of age, showed and sold their art work for the first time ever in workshop34 and while selling is not the primary motivation for most people, they did feel added validation when one of their pieces was bought.

Sharing Space
In most spaces, one vision has to win – here we chose to help the vision emerge from hearing everyone’s point of view equally.  People learned valuable skills in negotiating a common vision.

A challenge for this disparate group of artists, entrepreneurs and those who volunteered in the shop was to let everyone to do what they wanted and needed to do, but without preventing others from doing the same.

This was hard. People expected either someone to make all the decisions or else to be left to get on with what they’re doing and ignore the rest of the group. In workshop34 we encouraged them to negotiate conflicts over space usage. Whenever Lloyd was approached to decide who was right or who had the better idea, he always pushed it back to the group and got them talking to work it out for themselves. As a result, more things happened, people gained new skills in negotiation and learned to let go of their attachment to winning at all costs.

Creating Financial Flow
We didn’t want to just be a subsidised space that gave everything away. While we believe the High Street is more about health than wealth, making money is an important part of reactivating community.  Many of the people involved made money, and made progress developing business ideas.  We made great progress towards being self-supporting.

It was important for us to put the project on a commercial footing from the start rather than starting with everything free and then had to impose charges. Lloyd took the approach again of letting the space users lead this. We quickly established a 20% commission deal with no hanging fee for artists but whenever someone wanted to run a workshop or hire a room we talked through what they could realistically afford – most people were running events for the first time, or just starting a business and rather than put pressure on by insisting on a standard fee, we were able to work with them to find the best deal for all of us.

As it was, from the beginning of December onwards, we ended up taking just over £3500 in sales and workshop fees/room hire, three-quarters of which went directly to the artists, makers and workshop leaders.

Most Admired Creative People

I’ve been writing a thing about Creative Collaboration – it’s a subject I’ve spoken about a lot and I often assert that all creative work is dependent on more than one person and that nobody does amazing creative work on their own – we just have a habit of ascribing genius to individuals because, well, individualism. See I’m never going to do a PhD :)

Anyway, it made me think yesterday when I wrote the following:
“Think of your favourite creative person, the odds are that you can quickly see that they required collaborators in one form or another even if those ‘others’ are not normally credited, whether it was a supportive spouse or life partner, a teacher, a muse, a tireless editor or a creative partner who brought something to the work that one person couldn’t achieve alone.”

And I thought, “I wonder who people would think of as their favourite creative person.”

And so I asked my Facebook friends

“Which creative person do you most admire or envy? All disciplines. All of history. Go!”

and they told me.

There were a few names that came up more than once:

Leonardo da Vinci x3
Pablo Picasso x3

Frida Kahlo x2
Miles Davis x2
Patti Smith x2

Here are the others in lazy alphabetical order of their first name (some of them only have one name!) There’s at least one married couple in there and more than a couple who are well known for not getting on very well. I haven’t counted how many are dead and how many alive. Some are characters from creative works themselves. A quick scan suggests they are mostly musicians, painters and writers, but there’s also a footballer, a chef and a carpenter. I might go back and look at the gender split – how many women chose men and how many chose women and vice versa.

I’d be surprised if you knew them all, I certainly didn’t – but I’ve added wikipedia links to help us all rise out of ignorance.

Ada Lovelace
Alan Turing
Amanda Palmer
Anton Chekhov
Arthur Smith
Augustus Pugin
Bessie Smith
Billy Childish
Billy Wilder
Bjork
Bob Dylan
Bob Marley
Charlie Brooker
Clive James
Cory Doctorow
David Bowie
Dennis Bergkamp
Dorothy Parker
Douglas Adams
Duke Ellington
Eddie Izzard
Edward Hopper
Frank Gehry
Frida Kahlo
Geoffrey Perkins
Georgia O’Keeffe
Gilbert & George
Guy Savoy
Harry Tuttle
Iggy Pop
Imogen Heap
Jack White
James Brown
Janis Joplin
Jesus
Joe Strummer
John Coltrane
Joni Michell
Jordan
Katharine Tynan
Ken Robinson
Leonard Cohen
Leonardo da Vinci
Louis CK
Marguerite Patten
Marina Abramovic
Michael Jackson
Miles Davis
Milton Glaser
Mitchell Baker
Moebius
Neil Gaiman
Nickie Wildin
Oscar Wilde
Pablo Picasso
Patti Smith
Philomena Cunk
Prince
Rembrandt
Richard Feynman
Samuel Beckett
Sandra Bernhard
Scheherazade
Sir Harold Nicolson
Steve Jobs
Suzette Haden Elgin
Takeshi Kitano
Thomas Pynchon
Tom Tykwer
Tony Hart
Tony Sale
Virginia Woolf
Viv Albertine
William Blake
William Gibson
William Turner
Yuri Pysar

Oh and I was interested to see that people weren’t quick to go with “envy” rather than “admire”. I don’t think it’s very easy to admit to envy anywhere, even Facebook.

*NEW* Sittingbourne Tuttle – #Stuttle – Thursdays 10am-midday(ish) – from 27/11/14

#workshop34 got the keys. Am inside!We’re going to bring the Tuttle format to Sittingbourne. I’m running a pop-up shop/co-working project here at 34 High Street (known as Workshop34) for the next few months and so I want a regular get together of creative minds in conversation.

Tuttle in London has been running every Friday since February 2008, it’s a place for conversation that works a bit like the internet is supposed to work.  Everyone’s welcome, there is no theme to conform to, there are no speakers or people you have to listen to, there is nothing that you have to do, except turn up with an open mind and a willingness to meet other people and chat.  It’s a meetup for anyone interested in creativity, collaboration, ideas, life, people, work, technology, politics, religion, philosophy… oh, anything you like, we don’t care!

There have been successful versions of Tuttle in Kent over the years too, notably Twuttle in Royal Tunbridge Wells and tuttle 101 in Rochester.

Carl Jeffrey used to run tuttle 101 and he wrote about it from the participant’s point of view.

So next Thursday, 27th November will be the first and then every Thursday morning thereafter (excl. 25/12/14 & 1/1/15!)

Come down, up, over or around and see us.

Where: 34 High St, Sittingbourne, ME10 4PB (between the Methodist Church & the Pet Shop)

When: 10am till midday-ish (there are cafe’s, restaurants and supermarkets nearby if you need food after)

What to bring: First one especially, please bring a mug. If you have bits of furniture, office/shop equipment that are nice but not wanted where they are, let me know and we can talk about getting them here.

What to leave at home: Moans and groans.  Also business cards, unless they’re really funky.

Who to bring: yourself mainly, but bring and/or send anyone you think would like it.  Biting people (at least on their first visit) is severely frowned upon.

How to sign up: No need, just let me know, tweet it, facebook it, write it on your weblog.

The Two Towers Challenge

OK, here’s a little puzzle for you now that the evenings are drawing in:

Show, on a map, those areas of London from which, at street level, you can clearly see both the Vauxhall Tower and The Shard.

Entries by Christmas please.

7 things you (workplace folk) should know about the #futureofwork – #wtrends14

I spoke yesterday at the Workplace Trends conference in London. The overall theme was Designing for Inclusion. Neil Usher (a confirmed, but lately absent, tuttler) got together a dozen fine people to present our thoughts in pecha kucha style (20 slides each, 20 seconds per slide). Under the stressful bondage of the format, I can’t be sure what I said, but the first half of what I intended to say was about coming to understand the need for less structure in working life, but that no structure at all meant nothing much would happen – that we have to introduce just enough structure to make something happen, and no more. If I remember rightly (ask someone who was there), I then I went on to talk about what people like me can tell people like them about what to expect in the future workplace.

I’m not so arrogant and narcissistic as to imagine that the future of everyone’s work will be just like mine is now, but I do believe William Gibson’s idea that “the future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed” and that the ways of working that the people I hang out with are developing will become much more widespread. I have no firm evidence, just an observed trend in that direction over the last ten years, that things we do are becoming more mainstream.

So here they are:

  1. We’ll work anywhere
    We recognise that no environment will ever be perfect, but we can make the most of any space that comes along.  Stop worrying about making somewhere that fits every need – keep it simple and we’ll adapt.
  2. But not necessarily the same “anywhere” everyday
    There is no single space or form of space in which people can best work.  There are times when conversation is required, there are times when the group needs to work quietly side by side and then there are times when everyone needs their own private space and total isolation.  So it can be anywhere, but it will not be the same anywhere all day everyday.
  3. Allow for user-driven co-creation
    Your staff are likely to be doing co-creative work outside of “work work” no matter what they do 9-5.  This might not be in a traditional creative form like crafts or singing in a choir, it could just as easily be learning through the co-operative playing of a game in a virtual world or being part of the building of a world-class encyclopaedia online.  We see ourselves as co-creators of our experience and of the things that matter in our world.  So we’d like our “anywhere” to be partly co-created with us and we would certainly like to be able to modify it together rather than waiting for someone else to sort it out.
  4. Remember that your people are highly connected
    People in any organisation are directly and regularly connected to their customers, stakeholders and competitors and they are connected with each other too.  They compare notes and they have worked in other places.  They know when their organisation is cutting corners or giving them a raw deal in comparison to their friends.  We want the best of what eveyone else has, but tailored through a co-creative process to our own current needs.
  5. Flexibility means “Small Pieces Loosely Joined
    No single individual or organisation has to do everything.  In fact, the best environments, those most flexible and conducive to creativity, come about when they are made up of “small pieces, loosely joined“.  We want to be able to pick’n’mix the elements of our working environment and be able to replace one element with another easily.  We don’t want to be locked in to any one furniture solution or combination just because it seemed like the best way of doing things yesterday.
  6. Balance homophily with diversity
    We learn a great deal about ourselves through exposure to diversity in our environment.  We get to see ourselves differently, reflected in the people we meet and work with.  But we also like to work alongside people with whom we share common ground.  Homophily means “birds of a feather, flock together”.   Help us to meet and work with other people, but allow us to be with our own herd when we want to be.
  7. Get behind tummeling
    Even when you do all this, when the pieces of the puzzle are laid out perfectly, it will not work in the way you thought it would.  When you gather people together, you never really know what is going to happen.  And that is good! It’s a feature, not a bug.  What you then need are a few people who will take on the role of holding the space and reminding people what they are there for.  This is not facilitation or management, not telling people what to do, rather, it is being the conscience of the group and creating a field in which the group can explore what they are there to do.  It requires a special sort of person – one who combines calm presence with the ability to motivate and inspire.  We call these people “tummelers” which comes from the Jewish tradition of having someone who encourages participation in festivities.  You know these people, they are the ones among you who not only *can* herd cats, they positively enjoy doing so.  Insist that your spaces include a tummeler.

Clubs

When #tuttle was attracting a crowd of about 80 people every week at the ICA, the old-school networking entrepreneurs came a-sniffing. “How can you do this?” they asked. “You’re supposed to keep people out, that’s how you make people want to join, then when you’ve created sufficient demand, people will be eager to pay to get in, but still you keep it exclusive and the demand and the prices grow and grow.” And I just said “I don’t know. I can’t be bothered with all that. If people want to come, let them.” And they continued to make a living at it and I didn’t make a bean. And I’m happy with that.

On the other hand, there were people who came and said “Oh, I know how to get you more people here. You should be having speakers and a theme every week and have a website so that people can join in online.” And I said “No. That’s not what I’m interesed in, thank you. If people want to come who can’t come, then they can start their own.” If I was feeling polite.

I’m still attracted to the idea of a club that’s just as big as it needs to be. It’s not for everyone and it’s not trying to be. But it’s also not keeping anyone out if they want to be a part of it as long as we’ve got space in the room. And if we don’t have enough space, perhaps we need a bigger room or another branch.

I’m thinking about this because I’ve been looking at ello which seems to want to be Facebook, but nicer, without the ads, but with no clear sense of what’s going to support mass participation other than ads and avoiding the question of how the current investors are going to make their money. There was quite a kerfuffle when it arrived, because we do seem to want something other than Facebook and Twitter and the rest, but this really doesn’t seem to be it.

And then along comes tilde.club which feels much closer to #tuttle territory. It’s not meant to be a social network. It’s just a server with a bunch of user accounts, like the account I had at University until 1996. Many of the users are re-creating that early web vibe, but others are just using it for writing again and the social aspects of simply writing and linking to other people’s writing are being explored and rediscovered. All just on one server. And only restricted because there’s only so many people you can support. If you want to do your own, then you can do your own.

When I suggested we call the London Social Media Cafe “The Tuttle Club” there were a few people who bristled at the word “Club” but I think it’s what I want. A club that has me in it. And my friends. And some people that I don’t know yet, but might find interesting to talk to.

So I bought the tuttle.club domain name. And it’s making me think.

Quotidien

I just caught myself thinking that I might settle down with a nice cup of tea and watch the telly.

This isn’t quite as bad as it once might have been. I wouldn’t actually have been watching a broadcast on BBC1 or anything like that. I’d have been choosing from something on Netflix. Or perhaps iPlayer. But at least I would have been choosing what I watched unlike the old days when we watched what they wanted us to watch.

Shocked at my unconscious move to passive consumption, I thought about writing something here. In fact I thought about a whole load of stuff I could write. And then I got to thinking about my favourite old blogging fantasy. That after a hard day’s work, I would eat my dinner and then instead of watching telly, I’d sit down and write about my day, about the things I’d thought and noticed. Every day. Well apart from, you know, a few days here and there. But really that I would have that sort of routine, that sort of everyday life where you do things every day.

And I don’t really. Or if I do, I resist doing things every day in order to avoid the pain of having an everyday life.

So I opened up my laptop and then before I knew it, I was scrolling through Facebook. Which, of course, is just a very slow crowdsourced version of watching telly. And then I finally got round to writing something and this is it. No wonder I don’t do it every day.