Archive for May, 2011

The Love of the New

May 30, 2011

This weekend I found myself surveying the Belgian battlefields at Waterloo and soaking up the atmosphere of the annual Brussels Jazz Marathon. The continental mini-break wasn’t just any old weekend abroad, however: it was this week’s contribution to my New Year’s Resolution of 2011, given to me – as is becoming traditional – by my best friend. Knowing that I was facing a tough year ahead in my personal life she determined that I was to ensure that positivity and vibrancy featured in the coming year by commanding me to experience something new each and every week. Rules were established via an inevitable haggling process over what was allowable but variety was key: experiences might be grand or humble, planned or spontaneous, solitary or communal, significant or frivolous. Documentary evidence must be kept by way of witness to (and souvenir of) the tale of my year of All Things New.


The resolution is now nearly half-way through and I am beginning to see what this year of new experiences is teaching me, what it’s giving me, how it’s bringing me back to life and getting me through almost without me noticing.

All of which has got me thinking about the possibility of translating this healing and invigorating approach to my professional life. Having found myself in the position of needing to help steer a theatre company through its own ‘annus horribilis’, I wonder whether a similar approach could be adopted by a cultural organisation staring into the abyss, and, if so, whether it might yield similarly encouraging refreshment. It would of course be a brave company to embrace the experiment – as I’m myself finding, the levels of organisation, creativity and upfront expense required can be daunting and time-consuming, but if my own experience is anything to go by I can’t help but think that there’d be benefits to reap. When change is forced upon you, to dare to go one step further and invite yet more newness into life is an empowering move.

I love the idea that for a theatre company, say, this might mean changing the way you recruit your creative practitioners one week or trialling the use of Open Space technology for your staff meetings the next. For me, it’s the little things as much as the big things which are important in encouraging new habits of openness, positivity and forward momentum: sharing lunch together on a Friday, for instance, or changing to a supplier of Fair Trade paper. They’re helpful because they re-set patterns and re-calibrate norms without presenting too much of a painful challenge; they’re easy wins which give courage for embracing bigger changes.

That said, there’s no doubt a fine line between encouraging radical levels of openness to organisational change and welcoming in a damaging level of instability. And it probably takes a braver producer than I, or one in a better position to command buy-in from an entire organisation, to achieve this weekly schedule of new experiences. But what’s important is that experiments aren’t as scary as people think: their not working means nothing more than that they didn’t work. Trial of something new doesn’t have to equate to immediate wholesale change in the long-term, but I do think the process of habituating an organisation to change and newness can usefully reveal, and perhaps helpfully re-shape, its values.