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Deborah Henry-Pollard: Creative Coaching

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Quiet

Posted on 15 August, 2019 at 6:15 Comments comments (0)

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

Follow effective action with quiet reflection.

From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.

Peter Drucker



When was the last time you were truly quiet?


Most of us will probably not remember the last time we were 'actively' quiet. By that, I don't mean the time just before we go to sleep when we are still thinking about the last email we looked at 2 seconds ago on our phone, or worrying about waking up in time for a breakfast meeting tomorrow.


We are in the constant hullabaloo of actual and virtual noise, being pulled by other people's agendas or impossible to complete to do lists. There is a constant call on our attention from emails, phone calls, podcasts, social media. Even if you aren't tied to your own mobile devices, you are assailed in the street by other people's music and phone calls, plus traffic noise and all the visual clutter such as adverts and shop windows.


We can let ourselves be carried on this tide of frenetic activity for many reasons. Perhaps it comes from mistaking activity of any kind for constructive work; but being busy isn't always being productive. I know for myself that when I went freelance after decades in 9 to 5 employment, I felt I wasn't working unless I was busy typing away at my computer. This came out of an expectation from previous employers who thought that if I was staring out of the window, I was obviously wasting company time rather than taking a moment to refocus and gather my thoughts. (As my own boss now, I know that many of my best ideas come after staring out of the window and letting thoughts drift.)


It can be because we feel that in order to prove we exist, we have to be connected to the rest of the world at all times via the umbilical cord of wifi, ready to answer that phone call, retweet that article, update our status. (This is a major problem for most of us in this technological age and one which is insightfully written about by Frances Booth in her excellent book, The Distraction Trap.)


Looking back over the Take Five blogs which have been written by my great guests, something which features strongly is the number of times people say that when they hit a creative block, they go for a walk to get away from all the distractions. Other people meditate to get back in balance (check out the Business Yogi for some good guided meditations). Some go fishing. For me, even though I often work at full speed, I am also very good at just sitting doing nothing in a park.


How and where you find your little piece of quietness isn't important. All that matters is that you find a way to turn off from the world on a regular basis. Not only will it relax and help de-stress you, you could also find a wealth of creativity bursting forth.


Links:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Distraction-Trap-Focus-Digital-World-ebook/dp/B00CJFCX0O/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Business-Yogi-How-happy-work-ebook/dp/B007VBVNUM/

Openness

Posted on 8 August, 2019 at 6:05 Comments comments (0)


Photo by Andre Furtado from Pexels

It's not the style that motivates me, as much as an attitude of openness that I have when I go into a project.

Herbie Hancock



Openness is a valuable attitude to have in any area of one's life, personal and professional. It is that quality of always being willing to consider new / different experiences, ideas and ways of looking at things. It often entails stepping out of your comfort zone, leading to all kinds of delights.  It can also be a bit risky and indeed part of the openness has to be of it going "wrong", but even that can be a contribution to growth and learning.    


Being open doesn't mean you automatically say "yes" to every new experience, although that could be a fun thing to try for a day. However, it does mean that if you do decide to say "no", at least it is coming from having given the invitation proper consideration. It is not just a knee jerk reaction coming out of fear or a "that's not how I usually do it" frame of mind. And you never know where new experiences might lead.


I was once part of a team of freelancers delivering an afternoon of workshops as part of the Artsmart programme. I kicked off proceedings with a talk about Vision. When I was approached to do it I said okay and I really enjoyed the experience.  


Two years previously, I was approached by another group to do a talk on the same subject. My very first reaction was to say no. Why? Because like Sheldon Cooper and an awful lot of other people, I didn't like speaking in front of "any group big enough to trample me to death"*. I had all those fears everyone has - why should anyone listen to me; what if I forget what to say; what if they think I am boring...yadda, yadda, yadda.  But I also knew in the back of my mind that this kind of public talk was a good thing for passing on information and ideas. So, under the cover of asking for more details, I gave myself time to screw up my courage and then said okay.


You know what? My first talk bombed. Absolutely. Completely. Utterly. I have never been asked back. The most entertaining part was watching tumbleweeds roll across the room during the awkward silences. I came home having decided that I would never do a talk again. Oh, but.... I had already said yes to doing the same talk a week later and short of feigning illness or losing my voice, I had to deliver.  


I could have made myself sick with worry by lingering on the bad experience. And I am not too proud to admit that I did have a morning of indulgent, “woe is me”, misery. Then I realised that both for my sake and that of my audience, I had to open my mind to the possibility that the next talk would be a fabulous experience. I spent a day going through every aspect of the talk, tightening it up and making it flow better. Then I spent time every day practising it. Then I delivered it in front of a real audience. And you know what? We all had a ball!  


Since then I have done talks and webinars and although I still get nervous before I start, through doing them I have met some wonderful people, had great feedback and been offered lots of other great opportunities.


So, where will being openminded lead you today?


Links: 

*The Big Bang Theory: Series 03 Episode 18 – The Pants Alternative https://bigbangtrans.wordpress.com/series-3-episode-18-the-pants-alternative/


Doing

Posted on 3 July, 2019 at 4:05 Comments comments (0)


Sometimes we spend a lot of time thinking about doing something. Often a lot of that time can be spent thinking about all the things which could possibly go wrong if we do something. Prevarication is a great way to avoid mistakes.  (Or delay success.)


Considering risks is a sensible step to take before you a) cross the road in heavy traffic, b) swing an axe in a crowded room or c) light a cigarette with a blow torch. But sometimes in waiting for just the right set of conditions, time and opportunity can pass us by.

 

Often, the only way we can find out if something will work is by doing. Not thinking, not analysing, but actually doing.

 

How many of us learnt to ride a bike by reading a book or thinking about handlebars? Most of us just got on the bike. And how many of us rode it perfectly the first time? We  probably fell off a few times, skinned our knees and swore at the bike. Then suddenly, there we were, riding along like we had always been doing it.

 

Look down your list of things you have been meaning to do.

 

Which one will you do today?

Collaboration

Posted on 28 June, 2019 at 3:20 Comments comments (0)



Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

Sometimes we have ideas which are great, but which don't happen because of a variety of reasons: we feel we lack of time or expertise; we only have part of an idea; our idea is basically good, but limited by our thinking; we feel we 'have' to do it all ourselves and not ask for help.


If you have ever found a project stalling before it starts for any of these reasons, collaboration is a fabulous opportunity for people to come together to share their expertise, enthusiasm and commitment to a project.

 

Collaboration can get you working with people with complementary skill sets and extended networks. Projects having access to cross disciplinary approaches can by virtue of resources expand into something more ambitious. It can make a project or group seem more credible or professional, and/or extend its' reach.  

 

People bringing different ways of thinking together to reach a shared goal or vision can open up unlimited possibilities of innovative ideas and solutions. They can engender change in the project, the group and the individual. Working together as a team inspires motivation for those days when we need a little extra kick to get us going. Collaboration can also be, dare I say it, fun!

 

There are many ways to discover new potential collaborators, such as finding each other via support networks on or offline, or organically from talking with people. The key is to be listening out at all times for people who seem to be on your wavelength, have shared interests and similar vision and to be open to possibility.

 

How you collaborate, especially in this technological age, is now completely open. I work with clients face to face, over the phone, by Skype and by email. I know a couple who are collaborating on a musical project over the net with the composer in Thailand and the lyricist in Aberdeen. And there is always a place for people to be together in a room kicking ideas around. 

 

For a great insight into collaborative working, check out The Collaborative Habit by Twyla Tharp, detailing her collaborations with Billy Joel, Jerome Robbins, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, David Byrne, Richard Avedon, Milos Foreman, Norma Kamali and Frank Sinatra. It is a fascinating read of Ms Tharp’s projects, but also a great guide on how to manage and be an effective part of a collaboration.


Links:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Collaborative-Habit-Lessons-Working-Together/dp/1416576517/ ;

Setting Goals for the 'Dull' Stuff

Posted on 13 June, 2019 at 5:50 Comments comments (0)



Photo by Acharaporn Kamornboonyarush from Pexels



There is something which I frequently come across when working with clients which always surprises me. 


For example, a sculptor will be willing to hand over their precious wood, clay or metal sculpture to a specialist who will create a mold and make a bronze version. 


A painter or photographer will be happy to hand their work over to a specialist framer. 


A composer will hand over their music to an arranger. 


They will be happy to trust their deeply personal and irreplaceable work to a professional who will use their expertise and experience to complete or enhance the work and the creative is happy to let that happen. 


But often, that creative person will not have thought about getting an accountant to do all the boring but necessary paperwork which most people dislike. 


Or a marketer who can run their social media campaign or research and contact potential galleries/exhibitions. 


Or a fundraiser who can write funding applications on their behalf. 


Or an assistant who can run their studios for them. 


When setting goals, creative people will think about getting a workspace, a great commission or being in a position to hire creative specialist help. However, they don't seem to think about also aiming to get someone to do all the more mundane but essential day to day stuff which would free them up to be more creative (and potentially earning more money).   


This can be for various reasons, including:  


• they just hadn't thought about it

• they think it will be too expensive

• they think they have to run every aspect of their business themselves

• they think it is too indulgent to hire others "just" to help them

• they can't afford it now 

• they think goal setting is just about the exciting stuff!


If you are hiring people on a project by project basis, it can work out cheaper than doing the work yourself, time when you could be earning.    


When you are starting out, you probably have to do everything yourself and that is valuable as you certainly have to know your own business and be on top of it, but as time goes on, you can delegate. 


Not being able to afford it now is also a perfectly valid reason - but how about having a goal such as, "in a year's time, I will be earning enough to hire a book keeper for 2 hours a month"? 


For all of its' considerable benefits, working for yourself can be hard work. If you are prepared to have someone help you with the creative work, why not aim towards getting someone to help you with the other stuff as well?

Fear Doesn't Have to Stop You

Posted on 23 May, 2019 at 0:10 Comments comments (0)




Last week, I got stuck in a lift.  

 

It wasn’t quite as dramatic as it sounds: the outside wall of the lift was glass, overlooking a wide open expanse; the lift never moved so I was just stuck on the ground floor, not between floors; I was only in there for 5 minutes; and the alarm button was extremely loud in a crowded building.  Also, I don’t have a phobia about lifts. (Actress Rebecca Front has written about her lift phobia in her book, 'Curious: True Stories and Loose Connections'.)

 

However, a few years ago, at a time when I was dealing with several stressful situations, I regularly had panic attacks. These were usually associated with being in large, crowded, formal spaces such as theatres, cinemas, concert halls, conference rooms, from which I perceived I wouldn’t be able to easily escape. Luckily for me, no-one ever knew about these attacks, because I got very good at keeping myself out of situations where they might occur. However, trying to deal with this on my own, secretly, over a period of 6 years was going to come to a head at some point and when it did, I went to the Doctor to ask for help. He gave me Betablockers (which in the end I never took, but it was nice to know they were in my bag if I needed them), and sent me off for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. (Interestingly, I also started learning tango at the same time and it was fascinating to see the connections between learning a positive mindset and learning the dance, but that is a whole other blog!)


Over the intervening years, gradually, my panic attacks have subsided. Admittedly, when I go to the theatre, my long suffering friends know I still need to be on the aisle and/or near a door. I have moments when I can feel the beginnings of a panic attack, but I now have the techniques to try to stop it.  And on rare occasions, I might have what Rebecca Front calls in her book a panic about having a panic, but hey, it is just part of who I am.


So what is the point of all this soul bearing?  


Panic attacks are not pleasant; however, they don’t have to stop you from doing what you want.  

 

How do people cope who do have a phobia of lifts? They take the stairs, live on the lower floors of apartment blocks, specify they can’t be above the 3rd floor when they book into in hotels… How did I cope with my panic attacks? Okay, I gave up on the cinema and theatre for a while, but in my professional life, I had to find other ways around it. I found coping mechanisms.  


For example, I had to go to a three day conference for my employer, at the end of which I had to give in a report on current trends, opinions, contacts made. I was anxious but, as I always did, told myself it would be fine. It wasn’t. I went into the first session (aisle seat, back row next to the door) and spent the whole 45 minutes gripping my seat to keep me from running. And I was looking at three further days of this. Something drastic had to be done.

 

I checked that the speaker notes from all the sessions would be made available by email after the conference. I picked up all the literature which was available. During the coffee breaks and lunch breaks, I worked the room like there was no tomorrow. I talked to as many people as I could, asked them about the sessions they had been in, their thoughts on trends in the sector, their sources of information, collected their business cards…  After the breaks, I disappeared into the hotel coffee shop, typed up all my notes and made a list of next actions, things to follow up. For the three days, I didn’t go into another single formal session but still went back to my employer with a very comprehensive report. They got what they needed and I did it in a way that worked for me.


The point is, whether you have panic attacks, phobias or any kind of fear which holds you back, don’t let it stop you. I am not saying, “man up, just break through it” - I know from personal experience that is not how it works. However, again from my own experience, I know that it can be possible to have panic attacks and find ways to work around them.

 

There is a quote in an interview with Rebecca Front which I love and with which I totally identify:  "I don't want to be defined by being scared of things. I want to be defined by all the things that I can do.”

 

So, what can you do?

Shopping for Clients

Posted on 9 May, 2019 at 5:50 Comments comments (0)


Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels


Did you buy food this week?  


I bet you did, whether it was a big, organised weekly shop, grabbing a sandwich as you were dashing between meetings, or something inbetween. Whether you love and savour food or just see it as a necessary fuel, it is something that we all need to survive. 


I mention this blindingly obvious fact because I was in Sainsbury's last week (other major food retailers are available) selecting vegetables and I heard myself thinking peevishly, "but I did this last week...". 


After I had taken in the ridiculousness of the thought, I noticed that it reminded me of something which a couple of clients had mentioned. In their different situations, they had done some marketing (some online and some face to face) and then had waited for the rush of new clients.  Which hadn't happened, at least not to the extent they had expected. They thought they just had to do the marketing/networking once and that would open the floodgates to everlasting business.


They hadn't realised that in the same way that we constantly need food to fuel our bodies day to day, our businesses need the daily (or at least weekly) fuel of marketing to help keep them alive. Like our food, we often need less than we think, but it needs to be consistent and good quality. Whatever your preferred marketing methods, you need to build them into your regular routines, whether it is 10 minutes a day on Twitter, a networking meeting a week, an hour a week on phone calls to contacts. Pick your tools, like your favourite meals, and use them regularly. And now and then, throw in something new to vary your diet or for a treat. 


Bon appetit!

Making Time for Your Business

Posted on 2 May, 2019 at 5:20 Comments comments (0)



There is a common thread which comes up when I talk to creatives about their businesses. They produce work for clients on time, on budget and turn up for meetings. They have a thoroughly professional attitude towards their clients. However, along the way, they often forget their most important client - their own business.   

 

Marketing, accounts, research, etc., can get pushed down the list in favour of all the things they prefer doing instead and then they find themselves having to do all the other stuff in a mad rush, or it just not getting down at all. 

 

I will happily admit that I used to be guilty of this myself. I would have long lists of all the things I needed to do to which just kept getting longer. Then I would feel guilty about not getting things done which would put my into a bad mood. I got to the stage where I was fed up with my own behaviour and found a neat, simple trick which has proved very successful for me and which I have passed on to clients.  

 

I make appointments to have meetings with my own business. On the first of the month, I have a regular hour long meeting with the ‘accounts’ department where I sort out my monthly receipts, update my cashflow and budgets, etc. Once or twice a month, I meet with the ‘marketing‘ department. And every 2 months, I have a planning day. The key is that I put the meetings in the diary in advance, make sure I have prepared for them and only cancel them if I have actual paid work which can’t be done at another time. 

 

The advantages of this are several:

• it makes sure that I am keeping track of the important aspects of keeping my business running

• it makes sure that I am taking my business seriously

• by seeing the business as a separate entity to myself, it allows me to be a little more objective about it

• when I was starting out, it sounded a lot better to say “I can’t do that day, I have a meeting with a client” rather than “I can do anytime you want”!

 

So, when is your next meeting with your most important client?

How My Big Red Coat Got Me a Client and Them a New Career

Posted on 11 April, 2019 at 8:15 Comments comments (0)


I am often asked about why it is important to have a vision for where you want to be or go in your life and creative career.    

 

I have talked about visioning before and I am a firm believer that if you know what you want, you will be surprised at how often seemingly inconsequential conversations can lead you to someone who can help you or point you in the right direction.   

 

For example, a few years ago, I was in a shop buying stationery. The charming sales assistant commented on my then winter coat, a full length scarlet job with gold buttons, and wondered where I got it. I confessed that the coat had been purchased from the costume department when I was working with English National Opera. (It was worn by the divine Susan Bullock in 'The Prince of Homburg'). She asked if I was a singer. (Definitely not, as much as I would love to be!) Through talking about arts, she told me she wanted to work in films and was writing and creating short videos. 


My vision was (and is) to work with creative people so they go off and fill the world with wonderful creativity; her vision was to become a filmmaker. We connected over the coat, I told her about my work and I offered to send her some links which might be useful to her. A few months later, she became a client. A few years on, she is now working as a freelance cameraperson and also making her own films.

 

However well you plan where to go and who to talk to, how many of us would write down, “find a coach/mentor out of the customers who come into the shop”   

 

You never know who you are talking to, or who they know.  Know what you want, get your message out there and you could be surprised at what turns up.

I'd Forgotten I'd Done That...

Posted on 28 March, 2019 at 11:10 Comments comments (0)



Can you remember all the things you have done in your professional career? 


I ask because in recent weeks, it is a common thread which has woven its way through client conversations. In the busyness of day to day professional life, we can forget some of the great work we have done in the past, or it has got lost as it was a small part of a bigger project. It could also be that we do not recognise the relevance of what we have done in the hurry of actually doing it. 


Every so often, it is worth sitting down with your CV, a blank piece of paper and a pen (or a computer if you prefer) and write down everything you did as part of a particular job / project. (This is relevant even if you are just starting out – look at any extra curricular projects you did at school / university which gave you new skills.) For example, a long time ago I had a post as an administrator with a charity and did all the usual administratory things you would expect. But along the way, under that great job description catchall of “and any other duties...”, I curated an exhibition of Shona sculpture at the Commonwealth Institute and managed large conferences.  


Once you have gone through your CV, add in anything you have done on a voluntary basis. Because we do this type of work out of a personal commitment, we often forget to acknowledge what we might have learned. (For example, in my voluntary life, I have developed very good group management skills through chairing boards.)  


Okay, we’ve done professional and voluntary lives, what about your life “outside” your professional practice everyday life? Think about all the skills and experience you have there.  

 

  • Have you planned a big birthday party for a friend? Event management. 
  • Have you arranged a holiday for yourself, your partner, your children? Multiple diary management. (Actually, parenthood is one of the best basic trainings for business skills you can get!) 
  • Do you play football?  Team building skills. 
  • Have you sat down with your bank statement and worked out how much money you have for food, going out, rent, etc., for the next month? Budgetting. 


Yes, okay, with some of these, you might need to develop the skills further, but you already have a good introduction.  


What is the point of doing all this work?  


If you want to move into another area of work and need to make an application for a job or project, seeing what you have already done can give you valuable evidence which you can add to your CV / covering letter / project brief, as well as giving you confidence that you have already had relevant experience.  


If you aren’t sure which direction you want to move into, it can give you a great overview of options, things you might not have immediately considered. For example, my running conferences could be a great opening for a new career in event management. 


Even if you think you don’t have particular experience, you can often find that skills you have are transferrable. For example, you may see a piece of work as successfully creating a piece of sculpture to be installed at a particular gallery on a particular date. In business skills terms, straight away we are looking at time management, logistics, client liaison, resource management, budgeting...   


Another important element to all this is that it gives you a chance to sit back and acknowledge exactly what you can do and have achieved to date. You would be surprised how many of us forget just how versatile and great we are on a day to day basis!  


Block yourself out half an hour, get a cup of your favourite beverage and do your own skills audit. At the end, read it through then say, “Yeah, that’s me and I’m great!” Then look how you can use all these newly recognised skills to move your practice forward.