Get out of the way… and collaborate!

Are you collaborative?

Is your organisation?

We often say we are, but are we really? Do we ‘get in the way’ of the process?

Filmmaking, in theory, is a collaborative process. But like so many working partnerships (teams, institutions, organisations) some productions are bound to be more collaborative than others.

So often the tone is set from the top, but that’s not to say others can’t have an impact.

However, regardless of the leadership position you find yourself in – manager, team-leader, movie director – you could do a lot worse than take the advice of Hollywood musical legend Stanley Donen (Funny Face, On The Town, Singing in the Rain), as he collected his Academy Award (Oscar) for Life Achievement aged 72.

In a nutshell, he suggested we ‘hire great people and then get out of the way!

You know what, it’s a lot more showbiz-y, fun and entertaining the way he says it… watch in full below – and have a great Friday!

Mills Observatory at 80


In September of 2015 I was asked to design a large format wall graphic for the Mills Observatory’s 80th birthday celebrations.

Initially it seemed a fairly straight forward piece of graphic design to present a timeline of key moments from the Observatory’s life and beyond. Following a couple of conversations about what the wall and floor art could be the creative team were happy for me to submit more illustrative solutions to the problem.

It was a great piece to work on, 1) because I don’t often do illustration work these days, and 2) because I love anything to do with space and the planets. Large format work is always challenging but very exciting to see the final results.


Apart from a series of information panels the two main pieces were a seven meter long illustration of the Solar System which incorporated a the timeline of ‘Mills’ highlights and a ‘donut’ shaped floor graphic which wrapped around the base of the Mills centre piece – the Thomas Cooke & Sons’ 10 inch refractor telescope from 1871 – in the observatory space itself.

It was tight getting the artwork completed, printed and installed for the October 23rd deadline but I couldn’t be happier with the results. The graphics are only intended to last a year – hopefully they’ll say up a little longer. Meanwhile pay a visit to the Mills and see what you think :)

You can find out more about the Mills Observatory here.




Back to the Present – Imagineering the Future

doc brown - great scott

Just over a year ago I posted a transcript of a talk I delivered to ThinkDifferently Dundee. It was based around the concept of Imagineers… go here for the original post or read the new, much shorter version that I’ve written for my LinkedIn page.

I was inspired by the Back To The Future Day and using imagination to create new futures… find out what it takes to become an Imagineer!

You can read it here!

playful comms flux capacitor

Rick Rubin – Leadership that believes in better

rick rubin and johnny cash

It’s all well and good listening to people talk about leadership. Seeing someone embody it, however, is infinitely more compelling.

I recently watched a film by BBC Radio One DJ Zane Lowe (now at Apple) about music producer Rick Rubin.

Rubin’s made a stamp on almost every aspect of music that I have enjoyed since the early 80s – the Beastie Boys’ Licenced To Ill, The Cult’s ElectricThe Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magic, the reemergence of Johnny Cash in the 2000s and even more recently with Black Sabbath. He’s also worked with pop acts such as AdeleShakiraEminemEd SheeranJake Bug, the list goes on. And in my opinion there isn’t an artist yet who hasn’t sounded their best when working with Rick Rubin.


Therefore it’s strange to hear this legendary producer say, “It can be much better than my way…”. He wasn’t talking about ol’ blue eyes’ song, he was talking about his ideas, his process, his way.

It struck me that Rubin was more than a producer, he’s a host. In the same way that you might have friends over and want the food, the music, the lighting and the entertainment to be to just right – to create the perfect environment for a really great evening – Rubin does that for his bands in order to make a really good album.

I believe we can do this in public services  – we can do this to make better services.



Rubin is clearly a very good listener. Not only of the music but of his clients – listen to how Rubin reignited the musical spark in Johnny Cash. (Cash once said “I will always trust Rick because he believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself”) Rubin talks like an ethnographer, an adventurer, a raider of a lost art!

That’s not to say he hasn’t made mistakes. He admits to have taken an autocratic approach early in his career but those relationships suffered as a result. Over time he has learned to take a step back and capture “what makes the artist them”.

What’s also interesting is how he talks about stepping away from the process when he feels he is not needed – “…I want to be there whenever I am needed to be there to make it better…”.

Trust & investment

Is there anything more important to develop with the people we work with and the people we serve than trust and investment?

“I trust the artists I work with… I don’t want them to feel like they are making my record, I want them to feel like this is their record… and to be invested in it in a very personal way” – listen here.

Rubin talks about the importance of patience in the creative process. He talks about collaboration and the need for everyone concerned to contribute ideas. He also talks about how difficult it can be to translate ideas verbally and that the best way is to experience this ideas (especially the ones that sound bad because they often turn out to be the best ones).

beasties and rubin

As much as I love a lot of music no one ever died because an album didn’t make a release date. Music is important to a lot of us, but we are aware that there are other things that are much more important. Public services are literal lifelines to millions of people. Therefore, should we not treat the process of building and crafting services with at least as much care as Rubin takes over crafting a 45 minute album?

In most cases Rubin will have a lot of money to make these albums. But so do many other producers. Money will always be a factor, but what Rubin brings to the mix goes beyond cash (if you’ll pardon th…).

Make things better. Listen. Build trust and investment. Have patience.

And build relationships.

Rubin is without doubt a leader in the truest sense. The relationships that he has made through with his clients – and his audience – run very deep, and it’s unmistakable in the music.

Why shouldn’t we do that with services?