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Meeting-less leadership

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Creative leaders can struggle with the limiting effects of seniority. They are expected at more meetings. Less of their time is their own. Everything is scheduled and less  spontaneous – it seems frivolous to have diary time that is not spoken for by one plan or priority.

I was inspired to read about IDEO’s chief creative officer, Paul Bennett’s radical response to this challenge in a New York Times article. He has a Sunday night ritual of deleting meetings from his diary – as many as he can, and then sets up a desk in the middle of the office where he can be found, interrupted and bumped into serendipitously:

I bucked our internal trend of “hot desking,” where people don’t have a permanent desk. Most of our employees sign up for a desk when they come in for the day — that helps keep everyone flexible and fluid. But I wanted to be an anchor in all that fluidity. So I sat myself permanently and resolutely with our I.T. team at its help desk, which is the most visible and central spot in our San Francisco office.

I think of the help desk as an overlap between a coffee bar and a hacked-together technological lifeguard station. The people there are full of energy and fun. Sitting high up on a stool with them has encouraged people to approach me spontaneously. This lets conversations and interactions happen naturally over the course of the workday. I try to spend about half my day at the help desk and the other half doing what I call “doctor’s rounds,” when I walk through the office and talk to people if they request it or if I feel that they are receptive to it.

I now allow myself to be pulled, to drift in and out, and to be available for five-minute or two-hour interactions depending on what’s needed. Because of that, I feel as if I am part of a living, breathing organism, and responding to its needs rather than simply running from place to place with a calendar in my hand.

Of all of this – and a strange thins about a lamp made of a desiccated cod – it’s the first bit I like most. Making saying “no” part of the planning routine, creating space for unplanned things to happen. I think I will try that out…

 

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Public notebook

Glinner vs. Doctorow: Notes from The Story – Pt 1

* * Update: Audio for this talk is now available free at Storythings * *

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Image: by Paolabililty ©2011 (as Cory Tweeted: “t

his pic PERFECTLY captures what it’s like to interview

@glinner

on stage”)

The Story 2011 was exactly like the inaugural event a year ago. It was like the day just continued from where it left off – and for anyone who had been before, that was exactly what they wanted.

The Story is the brainchild of art, TV and tech Renaissance man, Matt Locke. He curates it unashamedly as “the conference I want to attend”, and it brings together a collection of storytellers from every medium and persuasion, from scientists to sculptors, live action role players to documentary makers.

For 2011, let’s start near the end… with the conversation between Graham Linehan, who wrote two of my favourite TV shows Father Ted and The IT Crowd, and Cory Doctorow, spec-fic author and co-editor of one the most popular blogs in the world.

In geeky circles, this was such an exciting pairing, I’m surprised there wasn’t some kind of Twitter singularity…

Star power aside, there were some brilliant insights into the writing methods of two very different writers.

Graham Linehan’s Method for Writing Sit-Coms

Graham starts from the producer of Father Ted’s maxim, that every sit-com episode needs two or three memorable set-pieces, e.g. Dougal on a Milk Float in a spoof of Speed…

  • He spends six months of constructive procrastination – he calls it “systematised goofing off” gathering ideas while mainly surfing the web.
  • Everytime he gets an inspiration it goes on a card. Cards are colour coded by characters.
  • An example would be a YouTube video he saw of a child crawling into an amusement arcade machine where a claw grabs the prizes – that became a set-piece in The IT Crowd where Moss dives into one after an iPhone…
  • When he has about 100 cards, it is time to begin…
  • The cards are laid out on the floor and he begins to string set pieces into episodes, about ten per episode (presumably they get thinned out).
  • Once he has the stack of set pieces per episode he has ” a good place to start”

 

Graham Linehan on collaborative writing online

Graham was clear that crowdsourcing and writing didn’t mix well, or at least they didn’t sit easily with him. He mentioned issues around taking advantage of people, reward, keeping conversation on topic and the risk that people feeling that their ideas had been “stolen”.

Incidentally, his prize bit of advice for writers starting out was not to be so worried about people taking their ideas – it is them themselves that will be what is valued by producers etc. That’s great advice for all sorts of creators – ideas are cheap, it is who carries them through and how they do it that makes all the difference.

There’s no tool that makes this easy, says Graham, having spent a fair bit of his “systematised goofing off” trying anything suitable out. So he uses Basecamp. He’s also thinking about experimenting with Beluga, which allows Twitter-like conversations in smaller groups.

He and about eight writers collaborated on the last season of The IT Crowd, using all sorts of things to spark off ideas, such as posting photos from awkwardfamilypetphotos.com and asking: How would Roy and Moss find themselves in this situation?

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Cory Doctorow on blogging and writing

Whether he meant it this way or not, Cory’s approach to blogging was lovely, and I know I will be referring others to it as a useful approach to the format/platform in future:

  • Blog about why something is interesting in five sentences.
  • By doing that you are creating a searchable database.
  • If it is interesting, people will annotate it with comments.
  • After a while, there are enough posts and emerging themes that the case for a long-form piece of writing becomes clear.

 

: : Graham talked about the episode of The IT Crowd with the courtroom drama. In that there is a joke about malapropisms – one character talks about “a damp squid” while another talks about putting women on a pedal-stool. Maybe he was being slyly self-referential referential then when he was talking about “hyper-bowl“? Regardless, it tickled me. “We all have our blind spots, Jen…” (BTW – this how to pronounce “hyperbole” video is hilarious in itself (and yes, I appreciate I am writing an invitation to pedants to pick over my pronunciation, grammar etc, but that’s life on the web…).

 

: : Aside: Mostly these days I will take notes into an Outliner app on phone or Mac, or straight into Curio, but something about The Story made me want to take analogue, ink-based notes, so I grabbed notebook on my way out. When I opened it I realised it was the same one I used to take notes at The Story 2010. If I get the time (unlikely) I may even go back and put soem of those onto my blog as well.