On the Trail of Creative Inspiration for HR: A Journey to the Studio of the Glassblowers

How a Glassblower’s Creative Mind-set Can Boost Your HR

20 August 2016

The Journey Starts Here …

I am so over it. I really am.

The Department where creativity fears to tread.

I am tired of HR’s reputation as the generator of clunky processes, painfully constrictive policies and useless forms. Here are a few examples from the HR hall of shame; job descriptions, performance appraisal process and forms, social media use and any type of leave policies.

HR has developed a dreadful habit of making do, of settling for short cuts, not moving with the times, ugly design with dubious practical use.

The Department of No Way, No How.

The focus in HR departments has been on enforcing compliance and trying to make more out of less – budget, resources, clout, time etc.

Who in HR hasn’t lusted after Marketing’s budget and resources?

Over time, HR has become saddled with the moniker of obstructive and value-challenged – peddlers of the mundane and the pointless.

That’s just the way it is, right?

But hang on a minute. Stick a pin. Let’s be fair.

Savvy HR pros are wise to the trap of busy work and avoid it like the Bubonic plague.

They know that Bad Work is belched out from this wasteland populated by harried folks and stressed out minds.

This “Bad Work” is a waste of time, energy, and life. Doing it once is one time too many […] This is work that is pointless. 

“Sadly, organizations have a gift for generating Bad Work. It shows up as bureaucracy, interminable meetings, outdated processes that waste everyone’s time, and other ways of doing things that squelch you rather than help you grow.” Michael Bungay Stanier, Do More Great Work.

Most HR practitioners are masters of producing Good work. It may be lacking in creativity and may not be heralded as a shining beacon of inspired change or transformation. But it is accepted as essential, routine and vital work that keeps the operation running.

“Good Work is the familiar useful productive work you do – and you likely do it well. You probably spend most of your time on Good Work, and there is nothing wrong with that.  Good work blossoms from your training, education, and the path you have travelled so far.” Michael Bungay Stanier, Do More Great Work.

Relying on past successes and solely on the tried and trusted ways are not enough today. Making excuses or sitting twiddling your thumbs is a sure fire way to … actually, let’s not even go there.

Instead answer 2 questions.

  • Do you want to do interesting, relevant work?
  • Do you want your HR efforts to make a positive, meaningful impact?

Yes? Then you need to add a large dose of “Great Work” into your HR mix.

Great Work is the work that is meaningful to you, that has an impact and makes a difference. It inspires, stretches and provokes. Great work is the work that matters […] For organizations, Great Work drives strategic difference, innovation, and longevity. Often it’s the kind of work that pushes business forward, that leads to new products, more efficient systems, and increased profits.” Michael Bungay Stanier, Do More Great Work.

HR is in need of a creative, useful and difference-making treatment. If we are brutally honest, this cure is unlikely to be found within the old HR Establishment nor in the skills you have already mastered.

No time for navel gazing.

Not a moment to lose bellyaching.

Time to seize the moment. If you don’t, you will forever regret not coming down harder on mediocre practices and uncreative mind-sets when you had the chance.

The Road Less Travelled


Let’s hit the trail in search of creative inspiration to boost your HR.

We are heading to the unlikeliest of places – beyond the boundaries of the HR discipline, down the windy lanes of old London town.

Don’t worry, I know the way. I have travelled this road before.

We retrace my steps from London Bridge to Bermondsey. As we walk together, layers of time peel back to reveal a peek into London’s craft and commercial history.

On both sides of the road, centuries-aged brick buildings with fresh faces, tell tales of tanneries, leather markets, wool packers and textile merchants.

8 minutes later, we arrive at our destination. London Glassblowing, studio and gallery, founded by Peter Layton, Grand Master Glassblower.

We are ushered in. Perfect timing to see the ancient craft of glassblowing in action.

Eliot is already crafting a piece. And Bruce is about to start on his. We quickly take our ringside seats. For 50 minutes we stare transfixed and gobsmacked as the two artists braved the 1000 degree heat from the furnace; returning again and again to the gather molten glass.

Pipes and tools which look like they were borrowed from a medieval torture chamber, are wielded with precision and skill to coax and cajole molten glass into objects of function, beauty and value.

Surprisingly, there is a lot less artsy blowing and a lot more hard, hot-as-Hades craft involved.

It is a magical demonstration of Craft, Art and Science in perfect harmony. Alchemy!

Just to be sure I wasn’t dreaming, I wrote down brainpokes, reminders and notes of what I observed and learned.

Read on to take your pick of my top 5 take-aways. They might help you breathe creativity and value into your HR.

1. Exercise your Creativity Muscle:  The demand for innovation, problem finding and solving, different-thinking continues to increase.  At the heart of these skills is creativity.

Everyone is blessed with creativity, but few consciously practise and use it on a daily basis.

Like any muscle, if you don’t use it, it will weaken, wither then finally waste away. Don’t let this happen to you or your team. Hone and stretch with The 30 Minute 5 Step Daily Creativity Exercise.

2. Do small experiments: If you haven’t exercised your creativity muscle for a while, it might be best to start small to avoid muscle strain, injury or quitting in frustration.  Pick one small side-project (HR form, process) to quietly and gently build muscle strength.

Try this clever mind trick to push past creative block from Bec Evans, Co-founder of Write Track.

She speaks of writers’ block, but of course this technique can be used effectively for any creative endeavour.

Call it ‘an experiment’, she advises. It frees your mind from getting hung up on “what if it doesn’t work”, “what if no one likes it” etc. Experimental thinking focuses you on playing, creating and dreaming beyond what is to what could be.

Thinking of things as experiments frees you from falling into the malaise of perfection paralysis and therefore produce zilch.

It liberates you from fear of failure and judgement. So what if it didn’t work?  All you did was disprove a hypothesis, discover what to unlearn, get more ideas with which to experiment and do better next time. Go on, have fun experimenting in your creative lab!  Your lab is your safe space where you can fall on your face, fail, get up, take risks, flout the rules and learn.  My lab is this blog – The HR Rabbit Hole.

3. Fear of getting burnt: Trying something new is scary. Attempting to master that new thing is frightening.

Figuring out a solution or a different way involves making tonnes of mistakes and, yes, getting burnt. Thankfully in HR you don’t have to literally face the fire of a 1000 degree furnace.

But as the owner of a new idea, promoter of different process that challenges the status quo, you will ultimately face the court of professional opinion or wall of organisational systems thinking. It is highly likely you will earn a roasting as you question commonly held beliefs. For your temerity, they will try to burn you at the metaphorical stake.

Will you press on, undeterred?

A glassblower doesn’t become a master of his/her craft without battle scars. A chef doesn’t win peer recognition or accolades (think Michelin stars) without earning a few burns for their audacity.

4. Learn from a Master: At London Glassblowing, the resident artists go through technical training/qualification AND up to 4 years as an apprentice to a Master Glassblower learning and honing their craft.

Pay your dues and respect your craft. Build your knowledge, hone your skill and practise your technique, again and again.

Find the most knowledgeable or the individuals blazing a trail. Gobble up every morsel of wisdom and learning opportunities they demonstrate and share.

The beauty of today’s connection and sharing economy means that we can become an apprentice to a master of a chosen craft without leaving the comfort of our chair.  I am a huge fan and student of podcasts and learning communities.

Here are 2 of my favourites.

Creative Live – free online creative and business classes and resources.

Unmistakable Creative podcast insights and curated interviews with multi-discipline creatives and entrepreneurs.

Today, you don’t need to wait to be sent on a course or workshop. Are you thirsty enough to learn in new ways?

5. Know when to Quit: We watched Bruce collect a small blob of molten glass from the furnace. He began to twist, turn, blow, coax; add coloured glass, more heat, more molten glass – transforming the blob to a sphere.

The piece looked spectacular to us, the spectators.

Suddenly, Bruce stopped, frowned, walked over to a box and smash-dumped the piece in it. His trained eye spotted a flaw unseen by us. REJECT!  Why didn’t he let it fly?

When what you are working on looks gorgeous on the surface but you know its hidden flaws; what do you do?

When you have done everything and more and still you are not making progress; what do you do?

  1. Do you put up, shut up and continue to bang your head against a brick wall?
  2. Do you exit the arena out of respect, commitment to creating something of use and value?
  3. Do you honestly review to learn what went wrong?
  4. Do you apply new learning and return to try again?
  5. Do you know when to quit so you can regroup, do it again, differently and better?
Almost finished pieces. Photo taken at London Glassblowing studio.

Almost finished pieces. Photo taken at London Glassblowing studio.

There is magic in the path less travelled. You can find inspiration everywhere if you make the time to look up from your smartphones and busywork.

Creative HR may be as rare as hen’s teeth but it is worth seeking it out.

Set out to discover inspiring examples of creativity in the ordinary and extraordinary.

I encourage you to linger long over remarkable art or examples of true artistry wherever you find it.

Reflect on what makes it remarkable. Observe the mind-sets and behaviours of those who demonstrate flair and artistry in their work.

What can you learn, use, adopt, repurpose, customise to suit your circumstances?

Step outside of your usual routine of Good Work and carve out time for a Great Work project.

Pick one process, policy or form that is in desperate need of creative treatment; then get to work!

Your Great Work purpose is to create a thing that is fantastically useful, beautiful even, and certainly valuable.

I have chosen the much-maligned Job Description as my Great Work project. My challenge is to add liberally apply the creative, useful and difference-making treatment. But more of that in a future blog post as I am currently working on it in my lab.

Don’t let the artisan lineage down. Start by adopting a creative mind-set. With regular practise of your craft, you will master your technique and your own distinctive Creative HR style.

  • What ways are you adding creativity in your HR?
  • What Great Work HR project have you chosen for creative, useful, difference-making treatment?

Tell me about your project and ideas in the comments.

If you enjoyed reading this post, share it so other people can enjoy it too.

Additional sources of brainpokes and inspiration

  1.  London, England.
  2. The need to unplug and disconnect our 9 year old from the IPad whilst on holiday to experience art and science in live action.
  3. Conversation over lunch with a senior Consultant, a top facial reconstruction surgeon. He took a small group of colleagues and  junior surgeons (his mentees) on a creativity expedition to London Glassblowing to open their minds, look beyond their medical and technical skills and see the art in their craft.
  4. Michael Bungay Stanier, Do More Great Work.

Until we meet again down the HR Rabbit Hole…





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