Geography and space

Day four of my thematic free writing and I’ve been so pleased with the way it’s been going. Now if I can just extend these 900 words posts to 5,000 word posts then the thesis will write itself!

Before I get started on today’s theme, how many big idea do I need? Is it really one big idea (communities of practice as leadership development tool) with a number of little ideas under it? At the moment I have the big idea (CoP) and five potential sub-ideas (collaboration v cooperation, individual v collective, failure & confidence, geography & space, luck & humility in career entrepreneurism) and maybe I can’t escape acknowledging gender. I’m sure this will change. After writing these five I am returning to write my context chapter (really) and a conference paper before I start real data analysis at later in the semester.  I’ve locked in another 5 interviews, which will bring me to about 43.  This is more than enough, but I really want to include film animation, because I have a very opinionated friend in the sector, but he’s currently living overseas and not sure when he will return.  May have to make a judgement call on this.  But I’m confident I’ll go into 2016 with a whole year with nothing to do but write. (Oh god.) Draft complete by end of the year, with submission early 2017. That’s the plan.

Back to geography and space.

I’m sort of combining two themes, that I haven’t completely thought out yet, into one section.  The first is the impact of geography.  My participants come from Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Hobart with the odd individual in rural NSW, Gold Coast and soon two international contributions (Australians based internationally.) The vast majority are in Sydney, which should be about 55% by the end of the study.

So my first question is how has geography impacted development of communities of practice and leadership capability? It probably isn’t surprising to suggest that the smaller cities, Adelaide and Hobart, were more open about being collectively developmental and supportive of their sector.  They saw their role as helping their industry to flourish and build audiences when the market was not as big.  This flowed on to the more prominent idea of a community of practice for my emerging leaders, which then lead to a willingness to be seen as a leader.  And potentially in both cases the primary subjects recognised that they were, or were becoming, a relatively ‘big fish in a little pond’. (In no way is this said in a derogatory or ego driven fashion.)

Compare this to Sydney and the common theme was one of movement, competition and, honestly, a bit of a ‘sink or swim’ attitude.  I’m probably reading my own experience a little into this, as I’ve always found Sydney workplaces to be more aggressive and less supportive than Melbourne ones.  There was a more obvious ambition and conscious career climbing demonstrated in Sydney, and less of a community of practice feeling.  Thinking back to some of my very early interviews there is a stronger sense of individualism and individual career responsibility.  But this is something I need to explore in more depth. What’s interesting is there was a lesser tendency to embrace leadership amongst my Sydney participants, and I wonder if that is based on the idea of seeming unworthy in a competitive market? More ability to compare yourself to lots of other self promoters?

The role of geography can lead back, theoretically, to the role of cultural geography and the idea of creative clusters. Creative industries economists, and cultural geographers like the often ridiculed Richard Florida, explore the sustainability of creative sectors and how they draw people to them. There appears to be a level required to be sustainable, and maybe only Sydney and Melbourne really achieve this on a large scale.

The second part of this theme is that of space.  And this is a very new idea I’m considering and I may only explore it if I can throw in a new interview specifically looking at this area.   If communities of practice cannot form due to shared participation driven through undertaking work projects together, can it develop in other ways, such as a shared use of space?

Take visual artists. The group of participants I have from visual arts seemed to be the most individualistic and least developmental of all my participants.  Even though some shared organisations.  But, I had an off-hand conversation with a different, very successful, visual artist at the Surry Hills market one morning, as you do, who told me he’d recently moved into a shared studio space, with a group of (also very successful and well-known) visual artists and how it had changed his practice and outlook. All of these were individual practitioners, but he said that it was a much better working experience sharing space with others.  I’ve literally just reached out to him this morning with the idea of conducting a short interview exploring this.  That and I want to buy one of his paintings before I leave Sydney 🙂

There’s a lot of consulting work going on in the social learning space that looks at the role of online in facilitating peer learning. This is not an area I want to go into, though my meeting with the Australia Council last week we did explore the under utilised online space which is not enthusiastically embraced by the arts community. Maybe next project.  But I think there may be opportunity to link leadership – learning  – space – urban creative clusters from cultural policy perspective. (Or maybe this is too big and is a secondary research idea too.)

Now I’m going to look at space and geography from a new perspective – trying to find rental properties in Melbourne.

Collaboration versus cooperation

Theme two in my exploration of the big ideas underpinning my research is probably the mother of them all….maybe. I’m toying with the idea of the individual versus the collective, which I’ll write about tomorrow, but this leads me into all sort of political areas that I know I’m interested in, but I’m not knowledgable enough on.

Collaboration became one of my most though about ideas after I visited Adelaide in March. I was so energised and excited about the interviews I conducted there.  Here was a group that were under-resourced, yet banded together to produce great work (I can only assume as I didn’t get time to see it) and, most importantly, valued the role of learning in their community.

From interview one I was intrigued by the idea that working collectively (and I use the different word on purpose) could be a critical factor in the development of leadership capability, and importantly for me, the willingness to embrace leadership identity.  Participants seemed to consciously draw together to achieve shared goals, which is obviously necessary to produce an art form that takes many people, but also recognised the learning they received from each other.

Institutionally, organisationally and academically this learning also seemed to be recognised and mechanisms were put in place to facilitate networks and shared practice. Coming after the final interviews in the visual arts arena, which were highly individualistic in nature, this was a massive difference.

This propelled me down the communities of practice path, an area of learning I had never come across before. To the point that I’m now writing a conference paper on it and in the recent FASS 3MT competition I proposed that this is a primary finding.

But then, in May, I went to Hobart to talk the film community there.  They have many similarities with Adelaide, in that they are a smaller city that requires a supportive community to survive (the role of geography and space is another theme I’m considering too. More on that later.)

The film work experience came up slightly in my Adelaide research, with participants suggesting it was very different and their experiences in the different sector were not positive.  I wanted to test this theory, both disciplines are collective in nature are they not? Surely the same learning would apply?

No.

My primary participant in film told a fascinating story about their university experience, which contrasted incredibly with that of theatre.  (In a strange twist I actually knew this group at the Melbourne University they studied at way back in the 90s as I was a volunteer on some of their projects.)  There was no evidence, early on in this subject’s history, of the shared learning and confidence that developed through communities of practice and participation.  In fact almost the opposite occurred, early career development was stifled by a negative experience of collective learning.

A memory floated into my consciousness. Late last year I met a very successful cinematographer at a party (as you do, though it was probably the only party I went to last year.)  We got talking and he told me that film sets were an exercise in role understanding. Everyone knows their job and they can walk in on day one and produce because of the clear demarcation lines.

One Hobart subject (who predominantly works in film) explained to me took a role in a theatre production where they spent two weeks in a room brainstorming ideas and visiting the Botanic Gardens.  He thought “I’m getting paid for this?” The perceived ‘luxury’ of spending time together jointly producing the work was not something he experienced in his other jobs.

So we see that even though both of these art forms are collective, they are not necessarily collaborative.  Film is a sector I would describe as cooperative, not collaborative.  In the ‘award winning’ paper delivered at AIMAC 2015 Jyrämä and  Äyväri write:

“In order to create joint practice, or activity, for the intersection of communities of practice, it is noteworthy to make a distinction between cooperation and collaboration. Cooperation refers to tasks divided separately with defined responsibilities. Cooperation might occur at the intersection of communities of practice without any changes in respective values and norms. On the other hand collaboration refers to joint problem solving, building interaction, and understanding the others’ values and norms, in other words, creation of a sub- community, team or new joint practice. (Nissen et al., 2014.)”

This explains to me why I saw evidence of leadership capability building and learning early on in the career of my theatre practitioners, but it was less evident at the same stage in film.  However, later on in the film subject’s career she actively created her own community, and credited it as being critical in her development.  It just wasn’t facilitated necessarily through University, institutional or organisational networks as it was in Adelaide and it was driven through activity on a film set, or even film production, it was a writing group.

So here I can use my interviews to illustrate that communities of practice can work in the creative sector to enhance learning, but only when they are collaborative in nature, not cooperative.  While there are authors who say such communities must develop organically, and cannot be facilitated by organisations, it is still beneficial to understand how they are more likely to emerge.

In my idealised career path I really wanted to explore the difference between film ways of working and theatre, as I think it could make a great project.  In the real world of my thesis, however, I can see this forming a key claim.