Creative Labour and nearing the end (not that end, just 2016)

Today is likely to be the last (official) working day of 2016.  I’d like to say I’m in good shape for an early 2017 submission, but I suspect we’re talking the March/April range if I’m completely honest.  If things can be done and dusted by mid-year then I will be pretty happy.

It’s strange to think I’ve been doing nothing but working on this one piece of writing for a full 12-months.  I finished my transcription on January 2nd 2016 and here I am on December 22nd and it’s still a word salad of ideas.  80,000 coherent words doesn’t sounds like a lot, but damn it takes it out of you.

Today I need to write the last 1000 words or so of my ‘setting the scene’ or climate section.  This is a new addition that has taken me a lot longer than it should (as in a week), but yesterday I just fell into the zone and did 4,000 in a day (which I can honestly say has never, ever happened before.)  Today however….it’s 3:19pm and I haven’t started. To be fair I was at a funeral this morning.

Intellectually  I’m being spurred on by Angela McRobbie’s book Be Creative: Making a Living in the New Culture Industries. I feel like this might be the missing piece of my larger puzzle.  McRobbie argues that the rise of the creative industries can be linked to the reduction of social democratic policies and focus on neo-liberalism of governments like the New Labour Blair government.  By encouraging the growth of creative labour, fuelled by increases in arts school intakes, the emergence of rave culture, technology change and globalisation governments essentially facilitated the destruction of collective approaches to labour (that is unions) by encouraging everyone individual to be creative AND entrepreneurial  and “follow their passion.” Studies have shown that managerial techniques aimed to increase worker satisfaction and engagement within organisations are used to decrease union membership, and what we are seeing in the flexible, gig or precariat economy is a similar thing.  Individual’s are encouraged to chase their creative dreams, start their own businesses, which leaves them not only 100% accountable for their own success or failure but removes any working welfare support they may have had.

While I’m not finished the book yet, it has made me very conscious of the the role that I have personally played in the similar structures emerging here in Australia.  Education providers are the starting point as they are encouraging entrepreneurship and the reality of the portfolio careers but teaching ‘creative skills’ without critiquing the system itself. I often despaired at the lack of politics in the art school I taught at, but didn’t really consider my own role in contributing to a system I increasingly don’t believe in.

Thesis wise it’s not only given me some good positioning data about the reality of creative work, but has provided some guts to my ideas about what communities of practice do for creative practitioners.  I have been arguing that communities of practice are not only sites of learning and identity formation for emerging leaders but that they provide psychosocial support and create a sense of career optimism.  Which they do, but it’s a bit theoretically light.  But taking MMcRobbie’s arguments I can see that communities of practice are also providing a barrier against the increasing neoliberal state of creative work.  They are, on a micro scale, a type of emotional welfare net.  So in effect they play two roles:

  1. For those in organisational settings they can be a buffer against identity regulation
  2. For those in the flexible gig economy they provide a type of support that is missing when there’s no collective body (like a union).

In both cases the coming together of like minded individuals to achieve a collective aim offers an antidote to the neoliberal ideas of individualism.

Yes I know this is a political stance, but I feel more energised when writing with a bit of politics behind me.  This is one of the problems I have with my thesis, I feel it lacks my voice.  I’m hoping that in this next re-write I can bring some passion to the project (even if readers don’t agree with me.)

Anyhow, off to write and I hope any readers have a good holiday season and a safe, productive new year.  Here’s to a successful, happy 2017 filled with Phd submissions and resulting graduations!

Organisational leadership in cultural institutions

Last week I had a really bad day at work.  I came home after running an event until 8pm and told (yelled at) my husband about it (he’s used to it.)  Then, as is not unusual for me, I awoke at 3am with an awful migraine.  After taking some tablets I lay awake in pain for an hour with two words going through my head: organisational leadership.

I’ll start personally.  I’ve worked in four arts organisations over the past 6 years, sometimes short-term contracts and one permanent job.  They are often amazing places to work.  But there’s generally one weakness that sometimes can undercut the good they do – organisational leadership.

Arts organisations are great at the vision thing.  They get crafting a narrative, storytelling, inspiring audiences and marketing and communication.  They are very good at communicating outward.

But a large part of running a successful organisation is internal operations.  I’m not questioning financial and operational capability here, but more organisational culture and internal HR processes.  While this could be seen as a criticism, it is driven by lack of understanding, capability and awareness of the importance of these functions. What arts organisation has a HR person? (Unless you’re a government body.)

My pet hate is the “This is the way we do things” culture that dominates many older arts organisations.  Given what I do I’m often tasked by the CEO to come in a explore new ideas.  But I’ve often found a level of almost belligerence from the staff around exploring new internal processes.  “It’s just not how we do things” is a statement I hear a LOT.

What could help? Understanding of the need for change management processes and establishing an agile internal culture.  Coupled with this is there is the lack of any formal, or informal,  feedback or performance management process so you are left with a sense of frustration and no way to communicate it.  I’ve watched staff pack and leave because they just can’t deal with the way things operate. And I’ve left myself.

This got me thinking about my research.

I have a mix of employment types in my data pool; employees, contractors, consultants and sole traders.  About 50% work in organisations and 25% of the total interview pool are managers. I’ve noted in my first chapter on reluctant leadership how there was a lack of focus on staff/peer/collaborator development from the leaders I interviewed.  I’ve written how they shied away from transformational leadership toward charismatic or great man theories.  There narratives constructed on leadership were all externally focussed – contributing ideas, inspiring the community, crafting narrative.  But nothing about creating sustainable, well run organisations nurturing future arts talent.

What I got thinking about last night was the lack of emphasis on managing organisational culture and staff.  I can easily name two interviews where this came up. Out of over 40.  This is a gap in our creative industries’ knowledge that should be addressed.  Sure this is an issue you can most likely attribute to many small businesses but the hiring, retention and development of arts staff is one that we’ve tended to neglect as a sector – why, because there’s always someone out there willing to take on a $40k job in the arts.

Imaging how good our, already amazing, cultural organisations could be if they got this bit right? As for my research this is something I’m going to explore more closely as I continue writing the data chapters.

 

 

 

When worlds collide

I’m sharing a little video, made by my friend Helen, because it’s an interesting illustration of interests colliding.

I worked with Helen over 13 years ago at ANZ, she was a learning specialist and I was working on the graduate and talent programs.  While we both left ANZ,we reconnected through social media and have stayed in touch.  I followed her learning work and she, with an interest in art and craft, followed some of my activities and roles.

Coincidentally we’ve both ended up in the world of social learning, me through my research and PhD, she through shifts in the learning community and her interests in new methods of working.

She’s also an avid (and very good) knitter, crafter and maker (recently opened an Etsy shop here) and she brings her passion to social learning back into this world.  In this recent video she talks about how makers just ‘get it’.  Again reinforcing what I see in my research, that this is how creatives learn most effectively.

And now I work at Craft (or do for a period) there’s the added connection in the world of makers. I’m excited to have Helen come and speak to the maker community later in the year about how social learning can benefit the craft community.

 

Playing with visual formats

Still working on my reluctant leadership chapter. Almost drafted, but I’m playing around with models for displaying information.  My supervisory rightly advised me not to slip into caricature so I’m thinking of ways to be simple but show complexity.

 

Slide1

Persona
Characteristics
Constructions of leadership
Reluctance
Compares themselves to
Shares attributes with
The Collector
Collects jobs, brands, salary and experiences. Always looking forward. Lack reflection.
Functionalist, hierarchical, great man links?
Medium
Exemplars
The Underdog
The Learner
Compares leadership ability to an ideal – expansion of knowledge expands view of self.
Expands with learning
Low
Prototypes
The Collector
The Outsider
Consciously puts themselves outside the creative leadership paradigm. Just does it.
Charismatic
None
No one
The Community Builder
The Underdog
Concerned with reputation. Influenced by Tall poppy syndrome.
Charismatic, transformational
High
Everyone
The Community Builder
The Community Builder
Develops leadership understanding through legitimate peripheral participation.
Collective, distributed, relational
Low
Prototypes
The Learner

Leadership identity categories

There’s something going on this fortnight  Personally it’s been huge (we bought a house) and usually this would be a one way ticket to PhD avoidance, but for some strange reason I have also been super productive in this space too. While going to yoga, work, dance class AND submitting my first tender for long term facilitation contracts. It’s been nuts.

After yoga yesterday I rushed home to write yesterday’s post so as not to lose the thoughts.  After finally having a shower and breakfast I sat down with Riessman’s Narrative Methods for the Human Sciences and spent the afternoon reading.  This book helped more than any other with my thoughts on methodology.  And I knew then I had to revisit what I’d written last week and look at the broader narratives in my primary interviews from a thematic narrative analysis perspective.

Today I sat down and reread all nine primary interviews and constructed their narratives around leadership, bigger than just the answer to the question “Do you consider yourself a leader?”  I found patterns, categories which I am now shaping for my reluctant leadership chapter. I also fleshed out my case study introductions, adding more than just demographic information. In the end my Chapter 5, which I am supposed to have 5,500 words by now, I cut to 2,900 but I have added to two other chapters.  Win some, lose some.

What I’m left with are five archetypes in terms of my participants relationship to leadership.  They are:

  • The collectors: the collectors are about building a career through targeting experiences, companies or brands they want to work with. Each new item added to their career portfolio is checked off a list.  Public recognition of their work, through awards, job offers, promotion or salary increases are representative of their leadership status.  But they are unwilling to recognise themselves as leaders, regardless of job title or position, as they  are always comparing themselves to the ‘next thing’ (the exemplar). They never see themselves as a leader for what they are doing now. There is always something lacking.
  • The learners: these individuals see learning as crucial to leadership, participating in leadership courses is the way they seek external validation for being a leader.  “I’m in this room therefore I deserve to be here. ”  For some they learn enough to then embrace leadership identity, particularly when their definition of what constitutes leadership is expanded from the more narrow media constructions they had before , for others there is always something more to learn before they can ‘live’ leadership.
  • The community builders: These participants are the ones that surround themselves with a community of practice, unconsciously or consciously, who focus on collaborative practice and achieving goals with others. They can be multi-disciplinary or focussed on a single creative practice, but the learning and psychosocial support they receive from a close network means they are the most likely to embrace leadership identity, particularly relational or distributed leadership.
  • The outsiders: the individuals who see themselves are as working outside the traditional arts/creative paradigm. Whether it be because of gender/class/race/education they do not fear disenfranchisement for from the establishment for being loud, outspoken or opinionated because they are already outside looking in.  The see others are being afraid to speak out and step up and be leaders (unlike themselves.)
  • The Aussies: (I don’t like this term but I’m struggling to find one that fits.) Those who can see their influence and inspirational potential to others, but work alone, are self motivated and are terrified of being seen as egomaniacal or ‘up themselves.’

Clearly these are a work in progress, but I can see where it’s heading.

One thing I have been worried about is the way I was going to link my primary participant interviews (on reluctant leadership) to my secondary case studies.  But I think I am starting to see a path: we start with the narrow focus on reluctant leadership, comparing across cases to explore the how/what/why.  The second chapter positions the emerging leader (primary participant) back within their case to examine how situated learning and communities of practice influence the formation of leadership identity and reluctance, with the third data chapter drawing recommendations and implications from this.

After 36 hours of intense reading/writing (I’ve written more in 24 hours than I had all last week) I am about to crash and go make white chocolate cookies.  I know I need a day away from the PhD – I haven’t had a day off this past fortnight, but I’m a little scared I’ll lose momentum.

 

Storytelling

I’ve spent a week writing the beginnings of my first data chapter. While the theme of it, reluctant leadership, is clear in my mind, the process for explaining it and really analysing it is not.  This has been one of my main challenges in the whole research process.  I don’t feel I have a grasp on the process of documenting my research, my methodology.  Data collection, no worry, lots of fun, loved it and I think I have some really great material.  Crafting that into a thesis….not so much.

So I’ve flailed around a little this week, which I am not really sorry about. I think there is a need for flailing in life (hey, I tap dance which for me is 90% flailing.)  Even though I haven’t written my 4,000 quota (I’m at 3270 ) I decided today to revisit my narrative methodology books to think more about actual process.  Because I keep waiting for a step by step guide that says how to do this.

One: I don’t think that is going to appear.

Two: I’m missing a big piece here.

Just now I went to yoga, I’m still averaging 3 times a week at yoga now, though I have really let up on myself about how ‘good’ I am at it or how far I progress week to week. (I could learn a few lessons from that right?)  I now just go to clear my head, break a sweat and move my body.*

Lying in savasanna my mind wandered back to my PhD, the fact I wasn’t writing today but reading, and the thematic issues I’m grappling with.

And then I thought: what is the story I am trying to tell?

Here I am trying to shoe horn myself into narrative methodologies without thinking about the narrative I want to tell my readers, my examiners.  What story is the data telling me.  Forget (for a minute) how I extract and report that story, but what is the story to begin with.

So I’ve just written four points on post it notes and stuck them on my wall.

  1. What is the story I am trying to tell?
  2. The reluctant creative leader
    • How can we see them?
    • Why do we see them?
  3. How do we remove reluctance?
    • Through social and situated learning in communities of practice
      • Facilitated how? (Through legitimate peripheral participation driven proactively, organisationally or educationally.)
    • Why is gender important? (Because it is – the three groups of non-reluctant leaders are all female driven.)
  4. What can we learn from this?
  5. How can we use it?
  6. Why is this important?
  7. What are the recommendations?

I’m still going to step back and thinking about narrative research for the rest of the day (while I’m slow cooking a lamb roast) but I’m not going to lose sight of the story I want to tell.

  • My supervisor once told me that ‘work’ within your PhD takes many forms, it is not just the time spent at your desk.  I find I get a lot of my big ideas on the yoga mat.

 

Research statement de ja vu

Another day, another post about shaping my research statement.

I’m technically editing my literature review today.  Paragraph by paragraph editing to send through a slightly shorter (now about 11,500 words) draft to my supervisor on Friday.  But it’s hard when your opening still doesn’t really reflect a research statement or question that I am 100% happy with. In particular with a questions that focusses on the mechanisms creative workers use to create leadership identity I am still discussing the how question.  While that is part of the thesis, the my first discussion chapter, that I alluded to yesterday, if actually about reluctant leadership.  Nothing to do with how, but more about what and why.

So I came across a book chapter shared on twitter that shows a slightly different structure, and I thought I’d give that a try.

My topic: The topic I am exploring is the development of leadership identity in the Australian creative industries.

My research problem:   As the creative industries has become a more visible contributor to the Australian economy there has been a renewed discussion about the importance of leadership within the sector.  While the question of what constitutes effective arts and creative leadership has been discussed both theoretically and in the media, there is little understanding about how creative leaders develop their leadership identity. This research aims to explore how emerging leaders shape their leadership identity and the relationship they have to the concept of leadership.

My purpose: The purpose of this research is to explore the formation of leadership identity in 9 sectors within the Australian creative industries to understand the influences that shape this development.

My research questions:

  • What mechanisms are used by creative workers in Australia to develop their leadership identity?
  • What role does context have in shaping leadership identity within the Australian creative industries?
  • What relationship do emerging leaders in the Australian creative industries have to the concept of leadership?

I actually prefer this to trying to write one singular research question, though I’m concerned the last question is too broad – what I’m really exploring is the reluctance to be seen as a leader. Maybe is should be something like: What factors influence a reluctance among emerging creative industries leaders to embrace the title of leader?

OK, back to editing.