Russell Goldsmith
Russell Goldsmith 29 November 2017

Podcast: How to find inspiration outside of your comfort zone

In our latest C-suite podcast, Blueprint For Business' CEO Charles Wookey, is joined by their Senior Advisor, Norman Pickavance, On Purpose Associate, Jo Alexander and Independent Consultant, Ruth Dobson to talk about how and where to seek inspiration for your business by stepping out of your comfort zone.


Recorded on location at Tate Modern and produced in partnership with A Blueprint for Better Business.  On the panel were Blueprint’s CEO Charles Wookey, their Senior Advisor, Norman Pickavance and On Purpose Associate, Jo Alexander. They were also joined by Ruth Dobson, an Independent Consultant.


L-R: Charles Wookey, Jo Alexander, Russell Goldsmith, Ruth Dobson, Norman Pickavance

The aim of the show was to help listeners seek inspiration for their business by stepping out of their comfort zone and visiting places unrelated to their line of work.  Below is a summary of some of the comments made by the guests:

Norman felt that there is is a deep need for businesses to reconnect with society, claiming that there are more slaves today than there were in the 1800s and 1900s.  

Norman also highlighting the degree to which modern business doesn’t allow time for people to have any other dimension to their lives. He said that in reality there is an expectation on people to be there 24/7 and to always be on the job, but one of the challenges with that is that people become cut off from the world around them and start to develop a very narrow view of what’s important, resulting in becoming obsessed with their work, because they have to, to survive in those environments.  He added that art or travel can get you to step outside of that [work] bubble.  His concern is that so many senior executives today don’t have much of a hinterland to the detriment of their lives but also the way in which they lead their organisations.

Ahead of the podcast, the guests were given the task of walking around the Tate Modern and choosing exhibits that inspired them.  The choices included:

The Workers Maypole by Andrea Bowers - Andrew Bowers had recreated something that was made in 1894. It shows people dancing round a maypole with banners that display slogans such as dignity, free time for everyone, fair pay, solidarity, etc. Jo felt it made you realise that we are still fighting some of the same issues today, such as equality and workers’ rights, have been around for a long time and is not really anything new.

Tower Block photos by Rachel Whiteread and Marwan Rechmaoui - a series of photos of Tower Blocks that were demolished mid-1990s. Jo said it resonated with Grenfell Tower, and for her, tower blocks represent inequality, difficult living conditions and a society that isn’t very natural.

The Giacometti exhibition - a set of sculptures of tall thin elongated figures that Norman felt showed the essence of what it meant to be human. He believes it exposes how fragile people are and that sense of understanding our humanity is fundamental to the work Blueprint. For example, referring to Grenfell Tower, he said that it was refurbished based on a cost proposal, without much of a degree of consideration of the humanity of the people who had to live there. Similarly, he believes humanity is missing from corporate life.  Normal said that businesses managed and classify people as human resources, but with the emphasis on the resources element – it’s treating people as objects.  He added that insecure work is bad for our health – people in the lowest level of work are four times as likely to suffer from stress related illnesses, such as heart disease or mental stability. 

Soul of a Nation - a celebration of black art in the US, chosen by Ruth as she is inspired by people who think differently.

Another area that was discussed in terms of getting out of the office to find inspiration was that of Nature.  Ruth cited biomimicry and that looking at patterns in nature, you can compare that in to the way organisations are set up.  The other thing that she takes from nature is taking the time to slow down and being reflective, adding that nature is cyclical – it has bursts of energy in the spring and summer, then it slows down through a period of hibernation, then bursts of energy again. Yet we are always on the go, living in a frenetic world, so perhaps there is something to learn there.

Norman picked up on the theme of nature, renewal and regeneration as he said that organisations are part of much bigger ecosystems and the extent to which they are either extracting value from that or contributing as part of a living system.  He thinks that ultimately, if all you do is extract value and don’t contribute to putting something back into the system, then the system folds in on itself. 

We also focussed on what we can learn from history to help provide inspiration and Norman talked about Venice in the 12th Century that was the trading capital at the time.  He explained that they had a system whereby Nobles and the rich sponsored young entrepreneurs – the boat captains – paying for their voyages to discover new silks or spices, and when they returned, the profits were split 50:50.  This allowed these people who worked on the ships to progress to more senior levels of Venetian society, creating an inclusive and vibrant economy off the back of it, which for 200 years dominated the world. However, in the 14th to 15th Century, this practise was stopped, which coincided with the end of Venetian dominance. Therefore, when Christopher Columbus looked to raise money to sponsor his voyage to the ‘New World’ and was refused from the Venetians, he went to the Spanish courts who said yes and subsequently the Spanish and the British brought the riches of the new world back to Europe, none of which went to the Venetians and by the end of the 19th Century, Venice was sinking into the sea!

Norman said that there are lots of lessons that can be learned from this part of history around the kind of inclusive society you need, power of social mobility and the vibrancy that creates.  He believes the level of mobility in the UK has gone backwards year on year and is at one of its worse levels in the past 20 years. He therefore said those lessons from the Venetians shine a light on whether we are running things in a sustainable manner.

All previous shows of the csuitepodcast series are available on this website as well as SoundcloudiTunesTuneIn and Stitcher.  There is also a growing community on Facebook and Twitter, where you can get involved in the discussion.  Finally, if you subscribe to the show, please can you give it a positive rating and review on iTunes in particular as this helps it up the charts!


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