Latest publication: ‘Making Creativity Work in a University Context’

978-3-319-77350-6I’m pleased to announce my book chapter ‘Embedding an Everyday Culture of Creativity: Making Creativity Work in a University Context’ has just been published. It’s a contribution to the book The Palgrave Handbook of Creativity at Work

The chapter explores the challenges of nurturing and maintaining creativity in the increasingly neoliberal world of UK higher education. It draws on empirical research through a case study at a London-based university. We found that freedom, trust/permission, risk-taking, and communication are the key factors that influence creativity in a work environment.


The full abstract:

Universities are often thought of as creative institutions that promote idea generation, learning, and new and valuable thinking. However, the dominant mode of neoliberal economic rationality in the UK, with its increasing emphasis on student numbers, league tables, assessment, and performance, casts such perceived wisdom in doubt. Against this backdrop, in this chapter, we report on an “innovation project” that was undertaken during 2015–2016 within a UK-based university, which had the aim of embedding a sustainable “everyday culture of creativity” through trialling a programme of creative interventions. Our findings explore challenges encountered, including the dilemma of fostering creativity while not allowing it to become instrumentalized for goal-driven purposes. We highlight the significance of freedom, trust/permission, risk-taking, and communication as creativity enablers. The chapter concludes with key recommendations for “making creativity work” in a university setting.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art makes 375,000 images available for free


Storm Below Mount Fuji (1830-32) by Katsushika Hokusai

Last week, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art announced a new policy which makes all images of public-domain artworks in the Museum’s collection available for free and unrestricted access.

The Creative Commons Zero (CC0) policy means that more than 375,000 images are free for students, scholars and the general public to re-use, remix, and mash-up, in any way they choose, without restriction.

Met’s Chief Digital Officer, Loic Tallon, said: “Adopting the CC0 designation for our images and data is one of the most effective ways the Museum can help audiences gain access to the collection and further its use by educators and students, artists and designers, professionals and hobbyists, as well as creators of all kinds.”

The Met sharing the diverse collection, spanning 5000 years of world culture, is a significant step towards making art open, accessible, and importantly, enjoyable for all. Removing barriers to content and inviting the world to use and remix the collection offers exciting opportunities for creativity, collaboration, and the exchange of knowledge and ideas. The historic artefacts can be used as educational resources across the world, allowing access to both educators and learners.

In our globalised and digitally connected world, maximising the reach of the collection means that anyone with internet access can view, share, and use the artworks. So instead of just the annual 6.7 million visitors to The Met’s three sites in New York City enjoying the artworks, the potential audience can include three billion internet-connected individuals around the globe.

Check out the open access artwork and artefacts on The Met’s website here.

Let’s hope other cultural institutions join The Met in leading the way towards making art, antiquities and cultural heritage freely available to all.


La Orana Maria (1891) Paul Gauguin


Cypresses (1889) Vincent van Gogh


Ruth Richards on Everyday Creativity

multicolor-spiralsWhen we think of creativity we tend to think of Beethoven, Frida Kahlo and Edison and the talent of a select few. Or we fall into the trap of thinking it’s the domain of ‘the arts’ or people who write copy, devise content, or make films for a living.

Psychologist and leading creativity researcher, Ruth Richards, is keen to spread the message that creativity concerns all of us. She argues that humans are born with creative potential and it is fundamental to our survival. Instead of thinking about creativity with a capital ‘C’ and the realm of innovative breakthroughs, she urges us to think about ‘Everyday Creativity’.

Everyday creativity is dispersed across our daily activities from managing interpersonal relationships, raising a child, creating a comfortable living environment, using humour, problem solving, cooking, doing crafts, to structuring leisure and social activities. We are more creative than we think as in our everyday lives, “every choice we make in life is a decision and that decision has a creative basis” (Zausner, 2007: 76).

All too often, everyday creativity is overlooked and subject to the three “U’s”. Our creativity is often underrecognized, underdeveloped, and underrewarded in schools, at work, and at home.

Instead, Richards celebrates everyday creativity and encourages us to reflect more on its potential and to develop it further. In her book Everyday Creativity and New Views of Human Nature (2007), she writes:

Seen as a process, and even a way of life, our everyday creativity offers whole new ways of thinking, of experiencing the world, and experiencing ourselves. It can pull blinders from our eyes, and bring us alive, making us more conscious participants in our lives, aware of the dynamic of life moving about us…It can offer us joy, energy and challenge…We may even have a chance for fundamental transformation.

We need everyday creativity in contemporary life and need to encourage each other to move toward positive change. In short, we can use our everyday creativity to build a better world.


33,000 Everyday Artists nominated for a King’s Award

33kEAlogoI’m excited to announce the project I’ve been working on over the past year called 33,000 Everyday Artists at King’s College London has been nominated for a King’s Award in Innovation and Impact. It’s great that the project has received the recognition it deserves. We find out whether we’ve won in November.

Here’s some information on how the project fits the award’s criteria:

An innovative and cost effective initiative which benefits others 

33,000 Everyday Artists, a collaboration between the Cultural Institute, 64 Million Artists and researchers Dr Nick Wilson and Dr Laura Speers (CMCI), sought to recognise and realise the creative potential of all 33,000 students, staff and academics who comprise King’s. By utilising a digital artwork where participants shared their passions and hobbies, and a month of daily creative challenges, the project aimed to embed creativity in everyday work and study life. The project was inclusive by engaging all faculties, across all five campuses, and was free to participate in. The research conducted alongside the project has produced a report that addresses the individual and institutional barriers to creativity at work.

A positive impact on the university’s reputation internally or externally

By drawing attention to both the need for, and the challenges of nurturing, an everyday culture of creativity, the project has had a positive impact across many of the diverse constituent departments that comprise King’s. As one respondent put it: ‘It was great seeing the diversity of interests and passions around KCL. Everyone has a story!’ Discussions are underway with the Student Education Directorate and Organisational Development about bringing a more localised and tailored version of the initiative to specific segments of King’s. The project has also gained traction outside King’s, including coverage in the leading arts magazine Arts Professional.

Grayson Perry’s ‘Who Are You?’

[Written in December 2014 for 53 Million Artists Blog]

Grayson Perry: Who Are You?

“The most beautiful and complex artwork that we can make is our identity” – Grayson Perry

Who Are You?, Grayson Perry’s brilliant three-part series on Channel 4 explores individual, family and tribal identity in modern Britain. In each episode we see him meet various people and groups undergoing change or a crisis in their identity. He then captures this in a portrait in wide-ranging mediums including paintings, sculptures and tapestries, which are now currently on display at the National Portrait Gallery.

Linking creativity to identity is a fascinating notion in contemporary society. Take the social media platform Facebook. The way you select, edit and adjust images and text to portray your life is arguably a creative project. As the quote by Perry at the beginning suggests, your identity is a complex artwork, which is made manifest through such digital tools as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Flickr and so on. You’re constantly making creative decisions in how you present yourself online.

This raises the question of how much of your identity do you display? Which part of you are you expressing, or not expressing? Since recently getting into creative writing, I’ve rediscovered or perhaps found for the first time a different and new part of me that I’m enjoying exploring. It’s been rewarding and fun re-imagining myself with this new interest in my life and trying to develop my aptitude in this area.

For me, the Grayson Perry TV show was communicating something about identity and creativity and the present moment. Identity is not just about the past (where do I come from and how did I get here?), nor solely about the future (where am I going?), but about the present. This is where creativity fits in.

Creativity is all about being present in the moment. Doing something right here and now. Getting absorbed in an idea or a project. Rather than creativity escaping the present, it makes us face it head on. Creativity is about embracing the present moment, reimagining yourself and being playful. This brings about renewal and a source of nourishment for us.

Spending time doing something you wouldn’t normally do allows a space for experimentation; you don’t have to conform or meet expectations. You’re not trying to achieve anything, you’re just being. This is very liberating and rejuvenating. And is a path full of discovery.

Furthermore, opening up a playful and creative space in your life gives you the opportunity to break habits. Some habits can be good in that they allow you to get things done quickly and more efficiently as you’ve honed them over time. However, often habits belong to a certain chapter of your life and can be out of date. Being creative allows you to be or do something new. The way we have constructed our lives and daily routines might need a bit of a shake up and require updating. Break free of the chains of your routine for a while. If it doesn’t work, so what? You still had fun being playful.

As Grayson Perry said in this interview, “I think the artists who will go down in history are the ones who in some way respond to the moment they’re in.” This can be interpreted as artists who say something meaningful about their time and place will be the ones who are remembered. However, it could also mean artists who act in the present moment they find themselves in will be the ones in the history books. If this is the case, we all ought to seize the moment and explore our identities through art and creativity.

Why you should write morning pages


I first came across Morning Pages when reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron but have since discovered it’s quite a well-known technique that helps with gaining perspective, getting direction and taking action in relation to creativity and life more generally.

Quite simply, Morning Pages are three pages of handwritten, stream of conscious writing first thing in the morning. In Cameron’s own words, “There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages – they are not high art. They are not even ‘writing’. They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind – and they are for your eyes only.” The important thing is you do it everyday.

The idea is you don’t focus on whether your writing is good or bad, or even coherent, you just have a ‘brain-dump’ of whatever is going on inside your head. This isn’t a method just for writers but for anyone – entrepreneurs as well as artists have reaped the benefit of this daily practice.

I’ve been doing morning pages for nearly three months now. At first I didn’t really understand the point of them and also found it extremely hard to fit in to my daily schedule. However, after making it a priority and realising it was not ideal to do over breakfast while chatting to my partner, but first thing when I sit at my desk away from distractions, I now see the hugely transformative power it has and I couldn’t ever imagine not writing them.

So why are morning pages so great? Well, here are three reasons for starters:

Firstly, it’s private. It’s an opportunity to get down on paper and outside your head the circling thoughts or concerns troubling you. It’s a place where I’ve developed my own voice and can hear my ‘true’ thoughts and feelings about issues outside the well-meaning input of friends and family. Because you don’t censor yourself, it’s an opportunity to really explore your goals and ideas, follow intuition, and also have a record of your thinking and development of them over time.

Secondly, recording thoughts and feelings first thing in the morning means Morning Pages function as a ‘brain sweep’ to clear your mind before you start the day. Like clearing out a cupboard, it sweeps away clutter and dirt on a regular basis. As such, it has been argued it boosts your productivity during the day.

Thirdly, the act of externalising thoughts helps you put things into perspective, which is therapeutic but also helps in problem-solving or generating insights on certain matters. As Eckhart Tolle said, “we can only change what we are conscious of”. Morning pages can thus help you devise and reflect on goals and actions.

If writing longhand or carrying around a notepad doesn’t appeal to you, there’s a popular webapp called 750 words that you can try out for a trial period for free. It’s exactly the same principle of Morning Pages (3 pages) but in digital form.

Give it a go. Who knows how useful you’ll find it and where it may take you. Though it comes with a warning – this lady transformed her life so much from writing morning pages she got divorced, lost weight and revitalised her career!

Fear and Creativity

[Written for 53 Million Artists Blog in December 2014]

creativity head

“Creativity is something you practice, not just a talent you’re are born with.”  –Harvard Business Review

Fear is the great enemy of creativity. We’re afraid to make mistakes. We’re afraid of not being good. We’re afraid of being laughed at and humiliated. There are numerous reasons why we procrastinate or don’t engage in creative practice that stem from fear.

To combat creative paralysis, it helps to think in terms of creativity as a process and as a practice. As Twyla Tharp has written in her book The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use It for Life, creativity is the product of routine and continuous effort. Ideas surrounding the lone genius whose creativity comes naturally to them, or the notion of a Eureka moment, are myths that feed fears and stifle our creativity.

But being creative on a regular basis, whether we regard ourselves as ‘creative’ types or not, brings so much to our lives. On a personal level, creativity can gives us fulfilment and purpose instead of frustration or a lingering emptiness. Creativity has practical benefits too, such as improving our problem-solving skills and making us more adaptable and flexible in our thinking.

Many of the most famous inventors, entrepreneurs, scientists and artists have admitted to ‘failing’ disastrously but continued regardless with their ideas or vision. The great filmmaker Woody Allen said, “If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.”

Similarly, in Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting GoShaun McNiff writes,

“When asked for advice on painting, Claude Monet told people not to fear mistakes. The discipline of art requires constant experimentation, wherein errors are harbingers of original ideas because they introduce new directions for experimentation. The mistake is outside the intended course of action, and it may present something that we never saw before, something unexpected and contradictory, something that may be put to use.”

An alternative to the fear of failing discourse is to replace it with ‘experimenting’. Try and enjoy the uncertainty of not knowing how something will turn out – our own creative expression is one of the few places left in capitalist western society where our efforts don’t rely on output, profit or success.

Embracing uncertainty can actually be liberating rather than fear-inducing. In 53 Million Artists’ interview with musician Fred Deakin, he said that it is precisely the “sense of possibility” that keeps him going as an artist. He went on to articulate, “The nice thing about art is that it always surprises you. Although you can bring systematic thinking to it and you can bring structure to it, at the heart of it is a leap into the unknown.”

The creative process is a chance to open a space of play and indulge your curiosity. As Fred Deakin astutely conveyed, “It’s a nice place to flex your leap-into-the void muscle and enjoy that dialogue with the unknown”.

However, this requires regular practice and consistent effort as our inner critic and rational side dislikes not being in control.

To help overcome our fear and enjoy creativity on a frequent basis, we can follow the advice of Susan Ann Darly who wrote in the Huffington Post:

From this day forward:

  • Hear and acknowledge the applause of a job well done.
  • Feel good about the effort put forth – not the end result.
  • Feel the joy and gratitude in the ability to use your creativity.
  • Have the courage to show up for it every day of your life

…and the humility to fall to your knees in its presence.

Overcome your fear today and reclaim your creative confidence. Take action to simply play and enjoy the process without thinking of the outcome. After all, what have you got to lose? As Vincent van Gogh said, “What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”

What does the Tinchy Stryder and Chuckle Brother single tell us about creative collaborations?

[Written in October 2014 for 53 Million Artists Blog]

The recently unveiled collaboration between Tinchy Stryder and The Chuckle Brothers has gone viral in less than a week, clocking up over a million hits on YouTube. One of the reasons that it has gone viral is the unlikely nature of the collaboration – a young grime artist from East London rapping with a geriatric duo who made ChuckleVision, a children’s comedy TV show.

According to the video description, Tinchy met The Chuckle Brothers while filming for Celeb Juice and really hit it off so decided to record something in the studio. The resulting song, ‘To Me, To You (Bruv)’ was released through the online youth broadcasting platform SBTV with all proceeds going to charity.

Although there are jokes abounding on the internet about potential future collaborations with Rosie and Jim or the cast of Saved By The Bell and other 90s TV icons, there is something quite distinctive about the creative energy produced in putting together two unlikely collaborators.

We tend to be drawn to the image of the lone genius who brings insight or a particular kind of creative flair to the world. However, research has shown that the lone genius is a myth and instead it’s partnerships or groups that generate breakthroughs.

In Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration (2008), Dr Keith Sawyer, lists 7 key characteristics of effective creative teams. These are:

  1. Innovation Emerges Over Time – no single actor comes up with everything, every person contributes something.
  2. Successful Collaborative Teams Practice Deep Listening – most people spend too much time planning their own actions and not enough time listening and observing others.
  3. Team Members Build on Their Collaborators’ Ideas – when teams practice deep listening, each new idea is an extension of the ideas that have come before.
  4. Only Afterwards Does the Meaning of Each Idea Become Clear – creative actions take on meaning later.
  5. Surprising Questions Emerge – transformative creativity occurs when groups think in new ways.
  6. Innovation is Inefficient – Improvise rather than evaluate and judge. Improvised innovation makes more mistakes and has as many misses as hits. But the hits can be phenomenal and thus make up for the efficiency and failures.
  7. Innovation Emerges from the Bottom Up – Improvisational performances are self-organizing.

As we can see, the Tinchy Stryder and Chuckle Brothers collaboration embodies many of Sawyer’s characteristics of successful creative teams. Perhaps one of the reasons the artists kept the partnership a secret is because of the tendency of people to judge and shoot down ideas rather than see them through. As Sawyer notes, when you take risks and improvise, it can lead to phenomenal hits.