‘Show your working’ is what maths teachers used to bark at us in school, to encourage us to write down the sums that we were doing in order to generate our final answers. The idea here is that if we got the final answer wrong, then at least we’d get some credit for using the right method. Now, as a teacher, I find myself on the other side of this cry – appealing to masters students to open up their working practices, to value the process as well as the outcome and to regard this as something that needs learning, care, scrutiny and interrogation. Fortunately for me, my voice is far from a lone one. I’ve read two books recently that are making the same call, albeit from opposite sides of the volume dial: these are Pete Mosley’s (2015) The Art of Shouting Quietly: A guide to self-promotion for introverts and other quiet souls and John Stepper’s (2015) Working Out Loud: For a better career and life. Both are about career and self-development, but both are also about self-understanding and something else. The arguments in both of these books can be lent in the service of creative practice: both circle around the idea of investing in and enriching the process of making, thinking, building things differently.
Pete Mosley’s Art of Shouting Quietly provides some fantastic tips for presenting your work in formal situations – public speaking, giving a presentation, taking part in a Pecha Kucha event – but he also explores ways of making informal encounters less painful too. He talks about the benefit of listening and building rapport by asking questions; being interested in others. Fundamental to his approach is generosity, and having a willingness to share oneself with others. This is a book about self-promotion, so there is lots here about how to build a website that will engage potential customers and clients, but his focus on creating relationships and not just selling is the key take home that I’m focusing on here. Sharing the stories about how we make our work is at the heart of Mosley’s project to build relationships.
Both books are strong on the benefits of sharing our processes with others. Stepper describes how by sharing the work that we do, as we are doing it, we give permission for others to do the same and as a result interesting synergies emerge which provide energy and impetus for further change. Working out loud involves making our work visible in a way that might be useful or of benefit to others. It’s about developing support structures for our endeavours by being transparent and being prepared to share ideas, processes that are unfinished and sometimes half-baked.
This is a challenge to students who tend to think of their work as being something entirely personal, almost insular, that only they (and hopefully their tutors) are interested in. Opening the lid on this, and seeing their work as something that can speak to others is the first of a number of changes that we need to develop in order to ready our students for the world beyond the . So who might benefit from being involved in this work?
- Individual students benefit from making their work visible, because they are required to think about what it is that they are sharing and what it means. They articulate their practice, and this almost always involves a clarifying of purpose.
- Their audience benefits, as they learn about how others work creatively. This is always fascinating. At an early stage, this audience might be peers in class, or other students in the School or Faculty – and here discussions about ideas, themes and how they might be reflected in the making process can take place. Later on, the audience might be potential customers, collaborators, manufacturers, and retailers – and here again, the power of the story is such that stake-holders can be drawn into the process. Engagement is key to building partnerships.
- Networks are strengthened: by sharing something of oneself – such as our creative practice – we start to engage with others at a quite fundamental level, at the level of our values and the factors that motivate us as people. We become open to others’ experiences and allow ourselves to connect with others. Broad, diverse networks are the support structure that creative individuals need to survive and thrive; networks allow us to connect with people who can give feedback, share skills, connect us to other members of their networks. Of course, this must be a two-way street involving give and take, and Stepper makes the point that the ‘universal currencies’ of networks are interest, care, listening, encouragement and being sincere.
Stepper advocates adopting a structured approach to building networks and working out loud, and in many workplaces these have been adopted in the form of Working Out Loud Circles, in which participants talk about the change they want to create and then use their collective skills, knowledge and networks to make it happen. Talk of ‘leveraging one’s networks’ seems to come from a different world of real estate and finance, but the equivalent in arts-based education, is the form of crits and tutorials that draw on the critical facilities of its student and staff members. Everyone is involved in shaping the projects that are laid out and explored.
These two books come from quite different directions, but support each other in their focus on relationships and the power of a engaging in a positive way with others. Facilitates both personal development, but also – when engaged in, with generosity and consistency – may enable us to begin to influence others and instigate change more broadly.