Saturday, 14 November 2015

What does a theatre archivist do?

A couple of months ago I was approached by a member of the Broadcast and Digital team asking me to be interviewed for one of their Careers films.  I knew about these films as I had watched all of the ones available on the website in a bid to understand my colleagues better and to help my understanding of the material that comes my way in the Archive.

I was secretly hoping that the Archive would be respected enough at the NT for me to be asked to do one but I was, somewhat less secretly, absolutely petrified of being filmed.  (Those on the Clore course with me last month know only too well my opinions on being filmed...)

I was sent the questions in advance and prepared what I wanted to say to make sure that I got across the right message about the Archive and what I do within it.  2 minutes isn’t a long time to explain your career and what your service does as well as give people an idea of what archiving is and how widespread archives are!  I think I’ve succeeded and I’m happy I had the guts to do this for anyone out there who might be thinking about libraries or archives but aren’t sure how to get into it or what their day to day job might entail.

Take a look at the finished video here!

Having breathed a sigh of relief that that was over, I was asked to be interviewed by the University of Arts Communications team about the Jocelyn Herbert Collection we hold.  The interview will be used in various ways such as trailers for the Jocelyn Herbert Annual Lecture and for advertising the Collection and surrounding events.  I got just as nervous as the first time and had to ad lib a lot more, which was really tricky as I didn't want to get anything wrong.  I think it turned out ok and I just hope that I get more used to having to do this!

Monday, 9 November 2015

Clore Emerging Leaders - Top Picks

There are a few other things that I felt should be mentioned and they are punchy enough to warrant a list!  In no particular order:
  1. Always presume positive intent
  2. Have an exit strategy when you start a job - your organisation is not your parent, it is much healthier to know that you will leave and consider what you want to contribute in your time
  3. Spend more time listening to people with your ears, your eyes and your heart
  4. You can still feed entrepreneurial thinking into multi-disciplinary institutions
  5. Have a story to tell, this is your elevator pitch - know your values and your project
  6. Leadership is, among other things, creating a culture in which people and projects can grow and flourish
  7. Make friends with your chimp
  8. It's ok to be in stretch
  9. Leaders cannot choose their followers, followers choose their leader - be someone people want to follow
  10. Silence is to be cherished
Thank you to everyone

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Clore Emerging Leaders - Self-Awareness

Self-awareness was one of the buzz terms from the Clore week.  I thought that I was generally quite aware of myself - I don't invade people's personal space, I can generally tell if I've upset someone - but doing exercises to show how we make decisions and how we naturally act were very enlightening.

We were asked to consider what people in our institution, whom we have never met, thought of us.  This was really tricky.  I realised that I have no idea what sort of impression of me is out there nor do I necessarily want to find out!  I have previously considered my personal brand when I was doing my Masters and that's why I try to have the same photograph of myself on professional platforms and use the same name on Twitter and on my blog for consistency.  But I hadn't really considered how others perceive me at work.  It's probably a good thing that I am not too caught up in what others think of me but it would be useful to consider my reputation and which characteristics I have that come across predominantly.

Although I am now more aware of how I am perceived and how I may come across in meetings, I am not sure that I yet have the capacity to change it.  I feel like I have taken the first step, by acknowledging that I will be perceived in certain ways and I am trying not to be too hard on myself for not having the energy at the moment to change it.  I think I'd like to take a step back, consider how I come across and then rationally decide if and how I want to change it.  This will take some time and I suspect I'll need quite a thick skin for it.  One thing that has happened independently at work since Clore is that those undertaking archive work placements now fill in feedback forms about their time in the Archive and I did find myself embracing the opportunity to improve as a manager rather than feeling personally aggrieved by their comments.  A promising start!

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Clore Emerging Leaders - Be Kind, Be Balanced and Be Alive

There were many recurring themes throughout the week, which related to how you approach your own well being.  It isn't very common in life, well in mine anyway, to be given a week to think about yourself and what you want to do.  As someone said over breakfast one day, 'This is such luxury' and I'm sure she was referring to more than the honey and lemon tea.  To be able to take some time out of the daily cycle of life to question what you are doing and how you would like to change it was a luxury and something I want to make sure I do justice to.

Be Kind

A really important take away from the course for me was the notion of being kind to yourself.  We can all too often forget that we are putting ourselves through a lot of hard work, commuting and stress every day and that we are achieving, we just need to cut ourselves some slack.  It was liberating hearing our facilitators telling us to be kind to ourselves and others.

Be Balanced

This fitted in well with the idea of creating balance in your life, between work and home, between characters in groups at work, between pushing yourself and realising how much you have already achieved.  We worked through positive feedback we had received prior to the course and realised that there is a lot of value in appreciating your strengths as well as your weaknesses and looking at your performance as a blend of the two.  Life can seem like a balancing act most of the time but this week has let me see that I can identify that balance, work out how to change it and even use it to my advantage.

Be Alive

I agree that it is important to realise that we cannot control everything, which can be hard for someone as ordered and logical as me.  Gaylene Gould, a writer, presenter, coach and Clore fellow advised us to be resilient, responsive, adaptive and opportunistic.  To take those opportunities with both hands and make things happen.

Gaylene opened her talk with a quote, which resonated with the group long after she had finished:

'Don't ask yourself what the world needs.  Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go and do that.  Because what the world needs is people that have come alive.'
Harold Thurman Whitman

For the people in the room, this really hit home and made us question what we are doing and why we are doing it.  Gaylene explained that trying to achieve what makes you feel alive can be an iterative process, it will ultimately lead you to a position where you can fulfil your ambitions and live out your values.  For me, as with many questions and comments throughout the week, I understood the importance of it but couldn't speak to it straightaway.  My job does make me feel alive but I have yet to pinpoint why and which of my values it meets (a theme that you'll notice in these posts).

Stay balanced

To be kind, balanced and alive may seem like three simple points but I really needed reminded of them and I'm probably not the only one.  Putting them into practice may be a different matter but I am already making sure that I am kind to myself and those I touch.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Clore Emerging Leaders - The Starting Blocks

I reckon the best way to start this cluster of posts would be with the start of the course, my expectations and subsequent relief at being in a room with like-minded people.

I really didn't know what to expect from the Clore experience.  I was thinking of it as being a bit like being part of Santander's '1-2-3 World' only without the customer service issues and misplaced suspicion of my desire for contactless payment.  The 'Clore world' is something I knew a bit about as I have come across a couple of Clore fellows in my work and a colleague had just taken part in the Short Course.  I now know that there is a network of over 1,500 Clore alumni in the arts, which is a pretty nifty network!

All the advice I was given was to prepare for a great week and to expect to cry.  Both of those happened and, in retrospect, I think it was a good idea to go in to it without many expectations or preparations.

On the first day, our wonderful facilitators, Amanda and Fearghus, got us all to write down our hopes for the course and our fears on post-it notes and add them to flip-charts.  The result is below:

You'll note that there are far fewer fears (on the left) than hopes.  We were all really excited to be there and very hopeful for what the week might bring.  We had some time to read all of the post-its and people spent a lot longer reading the fears than the hopes - were we satisfying ourselves that we were 'normal'?  At the end of the week we looked at these again and, while some of our fears had come true, they weren't that bad and all of our hopes had come true, with more besides.

What this exercise showed us was that we were all in the same boat and, although we all came from very different backgrounds, locations, jobs and sectors, we were fundamentally very similar.  The next exercise showed this again.  We were asked to do some connections speed dating where we had a minute to find out what we had in common with each person.  This resulted in this map:

There was more but it was giant.  This very simple exercise showed that we are all linked in some way and more and more connections became clear during the week.  Two of the participants had been in my building in the last month - it really is a very small world and that is a valuable thing to remember when you feel alone or at sea with your career.

A really important point on the first day was learning about 'stretch.'  We were told that we should try to be in 'stretch' during the week and that if we slid into 'panic' it was ok but try not to conduct the whole week from your 'comfort zone'.  I was foolishly concerned that I would be in my 'comfort zone' most of the time and would struggle to push myself into 'stretch' - how wrong could I be?!  I can happily say that I was in 'stretch' most of the time with only one slip into 'panic'.  'Stretch' is a good place to be and where I suspect my problem solving and creativity comes to the fore.  A huge positive of the week for me was the openness with which people embraced stretch and alerting others to the fact.  If we declared that we were in stretch then we could support each other and recognise that what we were doing might be ok for you but was really pushing someone else to deal with an uncomfortable experience.  This is something I wish we were all a bit more open about at work.

The lessons and exercises on the first day really started the week off on a very open footing and demonstrated to us that there are like-minded people out there, you just have to be open enough to communicate with them.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Clore Emerging Leaders - Introduction

Last week I embarked on what is called a ‘life changing’ experience, the Clore Emerging Leaders course.  This was a residential week in the beautiful Eynsham Hall in Oxfordshire where 26 people from the world of culture were cocooned in the comfort of a stately home with regular tea breaks and pastries.  But this was not a week of relaxation.

We had beautiful sunshine all week

I have been toying with how to blog about this week as we covered so much material on quite a variety of topics.  I will never be able to do the learning justice here and I’m not going to bore everyone by recounting each session.  So what I’ve decided to do, over several posts, is to pick out my highlights and the facts and feelings that I am taking away with me to ponder and then how I intend to put all of this into practice in the short, medium and long term.

The grounds were perfect for perfecting the 'walk and talk'

I’m hoping that this will be a form of relection for me and perhaps bring to light some things that might help others who are at a point in their career where they are enjoying their job but are finding it tough to see where their next step might take them and, indeed, how to find that step.

Monday, 21 September 2015

'One plus One Equals Three'

This evening I attended my first LSE public lecture, given by Dave Trott, author of Creative Mischief and Predatory Thinking with a career in advertising.  I wasn't quite sure what to expect of the lecture, entitled One plus One Equals Three: A Masterclass in Creative Thinking. 

It was more advertising related than I was hoping but also more applicable to my work than one would think from such a topic.  I would say that what I do in the Archive at the National Theatre is fairly removed from the Marketing department and yet many of the issues and much of the thinking behind advertising (a slightly different thing to marketing as Dave clarified) are similar to things that I need to consider in my current role or to projects that I have sight of.

Dave was very quick to state that creativity is declining due to us being bamboozled by complexity, technology and jargon.  He wants us to free our minds and get back to the task in hand, getting a message out there to our audience.  Creativity is not styling an existing thing to match your purpose but it is being unpredictable and creating something that no-one could have guessed - this is relevant to all jobs, not just advertising.  Creativity happens relatively little as people are becoming more and more submerged in digital and social media.  He drew an incredibly simple diagram demonstrating that TV, digital, social media and newspapers are all platforms for a message, the true media is the consumer.  The consumer has never changed and will never change so we need to understand how the brain works to ensure that people talk to one another and spread the word - that is the true definition of 'viral'.

There are times when the newest technology does bamboozle us and does temporarily cloud our judgement sometimes resulting in resources and material that is not practical or suited to the audience we are aiming at.  We create apps, virtual reality experiences and digital exhibitions in the hope that we will be seen to be keeping up with the Joneses but, really, we should be focusing on the most practical way of communicating with our audiences and persuading them to use our service - that may well be Twitter, or it might be a good old fashioned leaflet.

As I work with the various departments the Archive collaborates with, I notice a desire to be at the cutting edge of technology and make sure that we are leading the way for digital content and learning materials.  An admirable aim for a national institution.  We are currently working hard on our Lyttelton Lounge, providing physical and digital access to our Archive front of house at the theatre and this project has thrown up many considerations including interpretation, audience, interface and message.

One of Dave's diagrams particularly hit home for me:

                                                                                 creative ->
relevant                                            relevant                                   irrelevant
invisible                                            visible                                      visible
             <- account manager/client

This diagram shows how a brief to create something relevant and visible can get pulled in one direction by a creative person or graphic designer, while an account manager or client can pull it in another.  I found this particularly interesting since I have been involved in marketing for a couple of Archive projects and have witnessed the brief being pulled in both the right and left directions as the deadline loomed.  I need to try to keep the teams as close to the centre as I can to ensure that my project is visible and understood by our audiences.  That is a lot easier said than done but I can see how and why it can get pulled in other directions and I am hoping that this will help me in the long run.

I really enjoyed hearing about a different profession and seeing the plethora of links that there are between jobs out there and how cross-disciplinary an archive position can be.  There is so much to learn about other departments, colleagues, ways of thinking and learning and what drives people but I'm open to the challenge and hope that this can help me to advocate the Archive and push its reach further.