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

Creative Spaces for Building Better

Building Better title card

What do creative spaces, for the purpose of nurturing innovation, look like?

I believe I found one in a corner of the wild West Midlands run by the National Trust. I made a short film about it called Building Better – it’s a work in progress but you can see  it, and comment, over on LinkedIn.

Please let me know what you think :)

LinkedIn: Creative Spaces for Building Better

den building 1

GENERATION evaluation

Design processes are often seen as being immeasurable. Maybe because ‘designers’ believe the impact is obvious – “Look how happy they all are?!” (etc!)

When it comes to using the design process in the context of ‘business’ then the bottom may well speak for itself. However, if design is going to be taken seriously in areas where the bottom line is neither financial nor a product on a shelf then it is up to the designer to find ways of demonstrating the value in the things we find most meaningful.

So how DO you measure the impact in a story?

25 YEARS OF CONTEMPORARY ART – Co-production Projects

I ran a workshop in Glasgow last week to demonstrate an evaluation process I had developed. GENERATION have run a series of co-production arts projects across Scotland for young people. We wanted to carry the co-production ethic through into the evaluation and capture meaningful reflections on the process – and capture them in a way that would demonstrate the impact the projects had had.

The process I designed is based on storyboarding methods usually used in idea generation. Instead I used the storyboards as a means of reflection – documenting an individual’s story or journey through the project. I’ll get into the process in a moment but firstly, here’s a film of how it went down…

When evaluating projects the challenge is gathering QUALITATIVE feedback that can be QUANTITATIVELY measured. To achieve this I devised a method of rating stories against their relevance to the impacts defined by GENERATION. The impacts are areas of development and learning that GENERATION set out to achieve through the various projects. The impacts are: Skills, Confidence, Relationships, and Positive Progression).

In addition to these impacts we also agreed to look out for other common themes that were identified as being important to the young people through their feedback.

GENERATION - Big questions

Above: One of the BIG questions – five questions around the room that helped warm everyone up for the tasks ahead.

Below: Time lapse film of the Big Question session.

My evaluation process was to be delivered to the participants (young people) from each of the projects by the artists and educators (practitioners) who had worked with them throughout the project. But first the practitioners needed to be experience it for themselves – this was the purpose of my workshop. I would help GENERATION evaluate the practitioners experience by using my process and at the same time they would experience it in preparation for delivering it themselves back at their own projects.

The Process
It was important to me that the rating didn’t devalue experiences that didn’t appear to meet the impacts – it was important that the young people shared their story in their words, in their language. It was up to us to find what we were looking for.

For example: If a young person told us that they had made friends as a result of attending one of the programmes and that they enjoyed making things for this exhibition that they had never done before, then we tagged that story with relationships and skills.

During one of the project evaluations several young people told us that having somewhere [the studio where we met] away from school to be creative was important and this was identified as an additional impact.

So the young people were not made aware of the impacts before we gathered their stories because it was important that the stories were authentic and not influenced by the targets of the project.

We wanted their story, from their perspective and in their words.



I devised a simple matrix to gather impact summaries of the stories. This was simply a grid with the person’s name and a box for each of the GENERATION impacts and another box where we recorded additional impacts and notes. We graded the tags using three sizes of dot. If, for example, a reference was made to relationships (either explicitly or in the participant’s own words) then we marked a dot. If the story made more than one mention of relationships we made a larger dot. If the whole story was about relationships then we filled the box with a dot. In this was, we could see at a glance, which tags were most significant.

As in any evaluation of this kind there was a level of subjectivity. For this reason it is recommended that the people who cary out the project evaluations are the people who have been companions on the learning journey with the young people – the youth workers and practitioners. They are best placed to interpret the stories (of a year or more) most accurately through their knowledge of both the project and the young person.


Above: Inside the CCA, Glasgow

At the end of the day the practitioners left the CCA with a tool kit under their arm and experience under their belt – along with the confidence (fingers crossed) to evaluate their own projects with their own young people.

I personally had the opportunity to use the method in Nov/Dec last year to evaluate the projects at The McManus and the Dundee Contemporary Arts and it went very well.

Through design, testing and training, the whole evaluation has been an extremely rewarding and valuable process for me and I’m looking forward to seeing results from the other five centres over the coming months.

Design processes are often seen as being immeasurable which results in qualitative feedback and stories being viewed as less valuable than other more obvious forms of measurement. It is therefore the responsibility of the designer to find ways of demonstrating the value in what we believe to be meaningful. In this way we will only add value to the process and more meaning to the impact.

I would love to hear from you if you have come across qualitative measurement that has impressed you.

Location: Glasgow Centre for Contemporary Arts
Film and editing: Jon Gill © 2015

Culture, Values and BrewDog

Pop quiz hot shot

Speed (1994) with Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock and Dennis Hopper. What’s it about? The Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) says, “A young cop must prevent a bomb exploding aboard a city bus by keeping its speed above 50 mph.” It’s actually much more frightening. It’s a cautionary tale of bad management. It’s what happens when disgruntled employees come back and get mad.

So, pop quiz hot shot, what do you do?
You’ve got a young company – a once cosy start-up that’s swiftly becoming the behemoth brewery with a strong brand and a demand beyond its capacity – and now you have to bring in more people – lots more people… 
OK hotshot, how do you NOT loose sight of the vision that built the company. What do you do to to keep the culture that characterises your brand. How do you NOT water down your core values?
What do you do, hot shot, what do YOU DO?


Unless you’ve been actively been avoiding licenced premises and booze aisles over the past seven years, you’ve probably heard of BrewDog. Punk IPA, Dead Pony Pale Ale and Cocoa Psycho are just a sample of the no nonsense titles and flavours from these uncompromising brewers of craft beer. They were the classic “up-start” start-up who rattled some cages (and still do). But seven years on, in many respects, they appear to be leading the way.

I would suggest that this is a company that crafts its culture as carefully as its beer.

BrewDog Light Ale

 ^ DogTap – I’m no expert but I’m guessing these are light ales


BrewDog not only craft a brew, they craft an ‘experience’. With 23 BrewDog bars between here and Tokyo (and a fake one in China), I’d heard that the bar staff go through a pretty rigorous training and are required to know the product inside out. In an industry that typically employs temporary and part time staff this level of investment was surprising to me. However, when I learned that bar staff are also one of BrewDog’s main talent pools for the core business it made perfect sense.

BrewDog MapThe purpose of my drive up to BrewDog HQ in Ellon, Aberdeen, was to witness a group interview process for the BrewDog graduate programme. When I saw the advert online it was the application requirements that initially got my attention. It was a well crafted filter with no place for a generic CVs or covering letters, instead applicants were required to answer a series of questions and tasks specific to the business.

The advert also mentioned a group interview. The candidates would spend the afternoon together with one of the directors and a member of HR – working as individuals and in teams to complete a series of tasks. I really, really wanted to see this first hand and got in touch immediately. BrewDog couldn’t have been more accommodating – big thanks to Zarah and Rona.

I don’t want to give away any specifics of the interview process – just to say that it gives a unique perspective on getting to know candidates from many angles. For BrewDog it didn’t take up any more time than sitting through a day or two of individual interviews – and clearly they are confident that it is a better use of their time.

Sky's the limit

^ The Sky’s the limit at BrewDog


Zarah, who came through the first BrewDog graduate scheme two years ago is now Gatekeeper at BrewDog (ie Human resources, internal comms and company culture manager). Graduate Programme to management in just over a year!? Evidence of ‘the sky’s the limit’ mentality at BrewDog – backed up by the other three Grad Prog alumni who are also now management level or key roles in the company.

Any other business might have filled such a crucial position through an agency. But BrewDog like to demonstrate that they are not any other company. Why head hunt when the passion for your company is right here?

BrewDog HQ

BrewDog is a priesthood. It inspires a passion for a product and it knows its followers have an enthusiasm that is valuable to the cause. So pick the best and get them on board – cultivating passion and enthusiasm is the hard bit – skills can be learned.

The graduates I met were already invested in the company (one of them was even financially invested – see Equity for Punks!) and already had in place what BrewDog value most in their newstarts – “a thirst to learn”. Pun intended I’m sure.

With a company that invests so much in bar staff you would expect the investment to continue back at base and so it does. No matter what part of the business, the employees are trained beer geeks.

“The Cicerone Certification Program certifies and educates beer professionals in order to elevate the beer experience for consumers.”

75% of BrewDog staff are “Cicerone Certified Beer Servers”. Zarah in HR is amongst several in the company who are second level, “Certified Cicerone”, and one other person (who will remain anonymous) is about to become one of a very small (single digits) world wide crew of ‘beer Jedi’ – “Master Cicerone”.

when in Rome


BrewDog understand their brand in a way that isn’t forced – the protection of their culture and values doesn’t feel like a box ticking exercise or like someone just read a Seth Godin book. It felt to me a natural and intuitive choice.

Obviously I speak from limited experience – I haven’t worked there and I only spent a day observing – but it appeared to me that the directors have consciously and genuinely created a company that they would want to work for themselves. Having done that they are now working hard to find other like minded people to share it with.

As it turns out, there are quite a few, but it’s nice to see that the courtesy shown to BrewDog customers is also extended to BrewDog staff.

Opening minds

^ Opening minds as well as bottles


After the interview, once everyone had left, I stayed back for a few minutes to compare notes and ask some questions. On my way back to the car I noticed all of the graduate programme candidates depressurising over a beer in DogTap – where we had started the day for lunch. So I went in and asked them what they thought of the interview process – here’s a taste of what they said:

Me – “Best interview ever?

  • Emphatically “Yes!”
  • “Bits of it were gruelling… but that was to be expected.”
  • “We’re all sat here having a pint, chatting like mates, because it was like that, it was great.”
  • The other candidates “were intimidatingly good.”
  • “If this was my freshers flat I would be over the moon.”
  • “You got a chance to show yourself – it wasn’t formal and straight – it’s the best way to get to know people.”

Me – “What about the application process and its effectiveness at filtering out people like me who might like to work at BrewDog but didn’t have the same passion for the product?

  • It was “a breath of fresh air.”
  • “Everyone here today is of a certain mindset.”
  • “I had think about it for a few weeks. But it was really fun to think about.”

The BrewDog tour

^ The BrewDog tour


Of course this process doesn’t work for every post in BrewDog – neither would it work for some other companies. But rather than accept that as a reality I would be inclined to wonder why – and challenge whether it should.

So, pop quiz hotshot – what do you do to successfully embed the brand and core company values into new staff – particularly at management level?

What do you do, hot shot, what do YOU DO?


Here’s to the Imagineers!

I was invited to speak at the second Think Different Dundee which took place last night at Drouthy’s, Dundee. It was a great evening with a broad range of disciplines, minds and sensibilities in the room – all with a desire to think differently. What follows is a (slightly) more articulate, (hugely) less shambolic interpretation of what I said…

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I’m a little concerned about this talk of mini-TED talks. The first TED talk I ever saw was the JJ Abrams talk which he starts by explaining how he was asked to do the talk. When asked by Abrams what he should talk about the rep said “don’t worry about it. Just be profound”. So then Chris asked me to do this and I said “Great, what should I talk about?” “It’s up to you,” was the reply, “We’re aiming for 4/5 minute TED talks.” In my head that sounded like, “It’s up to you. Just be profound.And in a quarter of the time.” So, though I’m told you should never make apologies before you speak publicly, I’m going to make two: 1) this won’t be profound, and 2) nor will it be 5 mins.

So, as this is Think Different I thought I would bring along a copy of an original Apple Think Different advert from 1998. Along with the campaign was a piece of text written by Apples ad agency  – I’m only going to read the first section but I thought it would be appropriate: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently.

As a title I suppose Crazy Ones is fine for an advertising campaign but not so good on your ID badge! And so it got me thinking about a title that I’ve had my eye on for some time now, Imagineer. Imagineer. If you’ve heard the title before it’s probably because of the Disney Imagineers who come up with interactive stuff, the animatronics and theme park rides for the Magic Kingdom. But I discovered recently that while Disney have used the title for some time they didn’t originate it. Imagineer was defined originally in the 1940’s by an aluminium (or Aluminum) company in the USA called Alcoa. They even put out a statement at the time to explain it:

For a long time we’ve sought a word to describe what we all work at hard here at Alcoa… IMAGINEERING is the word… Imagineering is letting your imagination soar, and then engineering it down to earth.

Letting your imagination soar, and then engineering it down to earth. So, to Alcoa Imagineering is a combination of imagination and engineering. Imagination is key, obviously… and hopefully everyone arrived with their imagination intact. But what about Engineering? Alcoa were using the noun and thinking about traditional engineering (which is fine), but we could also read it in the sense of the verb, to skilfully arrange for (something) to happen. I like the sound of that. So, this combination of imagination and engineering is a powerful concept… but… I think we could also throw in something else, and if we’re going to tell an interesting story then we need three things anyway, right..??!

So lets throw in Pioneering, as in, forging a new path. imagineering venn diagram I think that when you bring those three things together – Imagination, skilfully arranging for (something) to happen, while forging a new path – you have something pretty amazing. And hopefully this is summarises the intent behind Think Different Dundee. So I thought that we should have a think about what this could look like, because these ideas in isolation are not new, these ways of thinking have always been there…

A big part of what excites my imagination these days is how widely attainable technology is to us and the possibilities and opportunities that that accessibility presents us with. A lot of my freelance work is spent teaching digital media you young people (of all ages) – and typically I use mobile devices for filmmaking and animation. What we can achieve on an iPad today is amazing. I could have made the same films 20 years ago but to take to edit and share on the go would have taken a Volvo Estate to carry all of the kit – the VHS top-loaders, huge cameras, a generator for the power source…! You just wouldn’t do it. But today it’s in our hands – for most of us it’s in our pocket. So it’s accessible! And that’s exciting to me. It fires my imagination.

To apply skilful arrangement to products or services is valid and amazing in itself, … but another aspect to it, what I value most, is when the person I work for enables or facilitates the environment that allows this kind of thinking – a space that allows me to think different. That’s the kind of skilful arrangement that I really appreciate. A big reason for working freelance is that I can try to enable that for myself – but I’ve also been lucky enough to experience in my day job as well. Again, this thinking has always been there – did you know that the Post-It note came about because the company 3M allowed employees 10-15% of their work time to develop their own ideas? They had to be pitched to the company at some point but the space was there to experiment. So recognising the need for this way of working and enabling it is a huge responsibility for leaders. Roselinde Torres in her TED talk, What it takes to be a great leader, says “Great leaders are not head-down. They see around corners, shaping their future, not just reacting to it.” So if you’re in such a position, take the opportunity to thinking differently and enable an imagineer.

I work in public services. More than ever public services need imagineers. There are fewer resources but we need more out of them. And so the smallest change can make all the difference. My enthusiasm for Service Design comes from the difference that I have seen it make when people for a wide range of disciplines come together and this video is a great illustration of what the service design approach can do.

Let’s ignore the fact that the unfortunate chap is a bit drunk… the fence and the space on the other side represent the service, but hit’s not clear to our hero how to access it. Rather than enabling him it restricting him. It makes no sense to him. This is what happens when public services don’t think about the people who are using them – it’s frustrating. But what I’ve seen service design achieve, through observation and investigation (in this case it’s the camera man) is identify the people who have discovered a work around (the young boy). Looking at how people use services is a great start to fixing them in a more substantial way but it means getting in a ground level, asking questions, and putting ourselves in their shoes. I hope that tonight you will leave excited and imaginative. I hope that you will be better prepared to make things happen, skilfully. I hope that you will be inspired to forge new paths. Here’s to the Imagineers.

Thank you for listening (reading). TED Talks to look out: JJ Abrams,  Roselinde Torres
See also: Why I am NOT a service designer

Steve Jobs talking about the ‘Think Different’ campaign:


Visualising Commitment – #1kHands

pcic4 Hall 2

If you would like some background to this then go here: Commitment Of A Thousand Hands – #pcic4 With a background in illustration and graphic design the power of the ‘visual’ is central to what I do. Done well, visualisation can be an incredibly powerful tool – drawing, filmmaking, photography – they all draw the eye, and the eye of the mind, leaving an picture that’s not easily forgotten. Great story telling is a powerful learning tool and an image has the potential to tell a story in a glance. I hoped that The Commitment of A Thousand Hands (1kHands) would capture visually what change can look like when many put their hands to the work. Equally the individual contributions had to mean something in isolation. I believe I achieved that. So lets hurtle back three weeks and see what happened:

Hands Title Hashtag

Compare and contrast…
Above: The image in my head – used to promote the idea of #1kHands before the event
Below: What actually happened – hands (commitment) gathered during 28th May

1K Hands Glasgow SECC

– Watch 1kHands build throughout the day…
It wasn’t easy and there was a distinctly slow start. The first day was spent letting people know that 1kHands was coming and what they had to do; but I wanted them to be moved and/or inspired by the plenaries and workshops so the real work didn’t start until day two. To be fair, asking clinical people to draw around their hands comes across as a little odd, but in the vein of the ‘Lone Dancing Guy’ (Derek Sivers TED talk which played out at the end of the conference), the ‘arty type’ soldiered on. pcic4 SECC armadilo Appropriately enough the 1kHands definitely experienced the same pattern of momentum seen in the video. It takes courage to join a movement during the very early stages and I’m not sure it would have taken off at all had it not been for the  serendipity of having a late keynote speaker. Keen to fill time the event organisers hastily filled the main hall with coloured paper and my instructions to “Draw around hands and commit!” By 11am the speaker had arrived, spoken, and I couldn’t move for coloured hands. pcic4-tipping-point After that it was easy… 1kHands had reached critical mass; the tipping point; and everyone wanted to get involved with the weird thing up the corner with all the coloured hands on it… or so it seemed. The reality was that I counted around 200 hands on the final piece (about a third of the attendees) but it looked (and felt) like much more. However, the seed is sown and I see no reason why 1kHands can’t continue elsewhere. Another conference. Another sector even. Perhaps it’ll work online. The point is that #1kHands is not strictly about healthcare. It’s about collaboration, courage and thinking differently in the face of resistance, strange looks and scepticism. The Dancing Guy may be the innovative leader but until someone else sees the value and invests in the idea the Lone Dancing Guy is still just a guy dancing on his own. pcic4 drawing around hands pcic4 cutting out hands The 1kHands wall at Healthcare Improvement Scotland’s Learning Session Four (Glasgow, May 2014)  (#PCIC4) celebrates the army of ‘dancers’ who were prepared to put up their hand and commit to doing better. Beyond that 1kHands celebrates anyone prepared to put up their hand and commit to meaningful change.  pcic4 commitment The inspiration for #1kHands was from a talk at the previous Learning Session by Dr David Reilly who has since been in touch and is very encouraged by this next step, as illustrated by his tweet:

We intend to meet up and talk about the future of #1kHands… the ‘movement’ (that’s a medical reference). Until then please keep the has tag alive – tweet your commitment (with a pic of your hand if you can) and tag it #1kHands – it doesn’t matter if you’re health care, social care, local government, education, public, private or voluntary; and if you want to create your own 1kHands wall of commitment at an event then be my guest – just tweet or email me about it – whatever you do just put up your hand and commit. Below: The final #1kHands wall final 1kHands wall

Commitment of A Thousand Hands #1kHands #pcic4

“Would you be kind enough to put up your hand if you feel the human side of care is under unacceptable strain in today’s healthcare systems.” 

Hands Title Hashtag

This is the statement posed by  Dr David Reilly at NHS Healthcare Improvement Scotland’s (HIS) Learning Session three, November 2013. Reilly goes on to say,  “I’ve nicknamed this for myself as “The Conversation of A Thousand Hands” because all of the hands are going up.”

On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week (27 + 28 May) I’ll be working at HIS Learning Session Four at Glasgow’s SSEC. My commission was to create an graphic illustration that captured the journey of the collaborative and the two day event, from speakers, attendees thoughts and responses.

Inspired by Reilly’s “Conversation…” I was keen to make the illustration about ‘action’ – my solution I call “The Commitment of A Thousand Hands” (#1kHands). The hands I hope to document are not hands in the air signifying their discontent with a system but a show of hands intent on transforming the system.

hands pledge

In the words of HIS website, “The aim of the learning session is to provide support, encouragement and inspiration to make sure attendees have testing activity in all five areas of the “Must Do With Me” elements.”

“…support, encouragement and inspiration” are all very well at an event and without a doubt ideas will be formed and promises made. However, in the cold light of day, back at work, in isolation, our promises seem much more onerous and perhaps insignificant.

And so “The Commitment of A Thousand Hands” aims to instil a vision in the attendee’s minds of many hands together – It references the idea of “aggregation of marginal gains” – that while small individual efforts may seem almost insignificant, when gathered together these commitments have the potential for significant transformational change.

So get involved – on the coloured paper provided draw around your hand and write your pledge/commitment on the palm of your paper hand. I’ll then take the hands, cut them out and create the collage of hands reaching upwards. You can post as many times as you like…


The Commitment of A Thousand Hands is about collaboration, diversity and the practicality of action, doing and work. Each hand is as unique as the commitment associated with it. As an individual you are not simply committed to a single piece of work on your own, but a collective work (with the support in spirit) of a thousand hands.

There will also be a postcard at the event (below). Again, write your pledge onto the a pre-printed hand and fill out the information on the back – please do both and feel free to use the same idea/pledge on both.

HQI Pledge Postcard

To illustrate the #1kHands process I have made a short film – please share it as widely as possible with those at the conference. Also look out for your contribution on Twitter using the hashtag #1kHands alongside #pcic4

Here you can watch Dr David Reilly from last November’s session. (This link will take you directly to the statement at 1:38)

Are you coming to #pcic4? What do you make of #1kHands ? Comments below please…