Expect anything worthwhile to take a lot of time

Yesterday I went to the Drawing Matters Symposium in York. It was a day of inspiring talks and presentations, all grappling with drawing and its pros and cons. I even met a couple of healthcare professionals (a nurse & a physio) using drawing in their PHDs – as a critical tool too, not just a “wellbeing” tool*

There was a particularly interesting talk from an educator about drawings role in primary education, and how a lack of teachers understanding of drawing and time to do it/teach it (all documented in Ofsted reviews every 3 years) is affecting how people later on in life construct and evaluate knowledge. This then, of course, systemically affects every area we work in – from government policies, to leadership, to how things are designed.

They also showed how drawing also helps bilingual kids learn english. So drawing can help bridge across two different languages, two different paradigms. Enhance collaboration and share practices!

But the knowledge thing got me thinking about the healthcare system.

I’ve been trying to make things to help showcase people’s work within radiotherapy & beyond and I’ve been *secretly* developing  a framework/workshops to teach healthcare students (maybe even staff) to be and think creatively.
The workshops are designed to be facilitate hands-on activities and discussion designed to build 4 essential creative muscles:

  1. Seeing connections between disparate concepts
  2. Developing an openness to new ideas
  3. Building resilience through experimentation
  4. Authentic reflection

These 4 things goes beyond what most people think of when we say creativity (no, it’s not just drawing, and it’s not just being “different”). In business, the creative mindset is highly sought-after because in this time of incredible uncertainty and rapid change, we need agile thinkers who can recognize patterns and interesting adjacencies, who naturally come up with person centred solutions not rigid-1-fits all master plans, and who are comfortable conducting rapid experiments to learn quickly. But it’s not as much appreciated  in healthcare, despite needing the same kind of things as described above.

But alas,  both healthcare and creativity is complicated.

For years, researchers have studied the “bias against creativity” in the workplace. University of Pennsylvania researchers coined this phrase for the tendency of creative ideas – and the people who espouse them – to be systematically diminished, disparaged, and discredited. This is interesting stuff. I’ve personally experienced it at school, across many places I’ve worked, including within the healthcare system too.

In recent work from Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, economists took a novel approach to innovation research by matching tax data to patent grants and applications for almost two decades in the US. They found that children of parents in the top 1% of the income distribution were “ten times more likely to become inventors than those in the bottom 50%.” This is significant, but perhaps not that surprising. The fact that you’re more likely to be successful if your parents have money isn’t the classical narrative of the American dream, but we know it’s true. This data is reproduced across the UK too.

The real surprise in the research was that invention was not correlated with creative ability. Instead, the degree of successful invention was more closely tied to environmental factors shaped by race, class and gender. The conditions children were exposed to at a young age in their neighborhoods and schools were the dominant factor in predicting future success in innovation. In other words, if children didn’t see members of their family or community engaging in non-traditional, innovative pursuits, the financial barriers related to access to opportunity were virtually impossible to beat. It didn’t matter how naturally talented someone was if they had nothing to model.

This makes me think back to the healthcare system and the transformational leadership role and HCP ability to enact change – whatever band/level/experience they have.

“Creativity” may not be the magic bullet – but creative people are. We know that intentionally or not, we are teaching the next generation how to be good foot soldiers, but not independent thinkers. More confoundingly, we know that the things we design (whether policies, products, systems, services, pathways, leaflets, etc) we will use in the future to communicate and convene, work and drive and govern will be built by a cosseted minority who have great access, but may not have the greatest ideas. And even if they do, they will not represent the diversity that they could have.

The experience of engaging in the creative process is profoundly transformative for people, especially young people. Moreover, it’s something where each of us can have outsized impact, just by simply being present.

So how do we do this?

First step: embed it back into education and learning.

Organization design – the attempt to structure systems to produce the outcomes we want – has been an established field for decades and healthcare is an amazing example of this. But here’s the thing – if you step back a bit, putting the two words “organization” and “design” next to each other is actually quite contradictory — the historical rigidity of a typical organization, next to the inherent complexity of the humans in that system, combined with the fluidity of design.

The healthcare paradigm is a tricky thing to navigate. It’s so ensteeped and rigid in empirical  data and conservative methods that it’s hard to move things. Each coupling reveals a tension between chaos and structure; linearity and the non-linear; closed and open systems.  Teaching people to be flexible and open – and fun – will show them their potential and feel more confident is being more critical and open about their world and collaboration around them.

Step 2: We need to Challenge the world around us.

At the 99U Conference, Liz Jackson, founder of the Inclusive Fashion + Design Collective said: “You never see a person on a cycling sign. You see one on a wheelchair sign. You’re saying you can’t use that object unless you are that person,” as she strode the stage with the aid of a cane. “We are disabled not by our bodies but by the world around us. It is a social construct. Disability is nothing more than a brand, the world’s ugliest brand.”

The stuff we ignore, or don’t try and change, creates our world – makes it harder for us to do our jobs, our lives and our patients lives. So by giving people the tools to critically think, to be open, to try stuff, we can literally make a difference. Equally, to repress what makes us unique is to artificially constrain all the potential we have to offer. 

Step 3: Learning different ways of thinking to see from different perspectives

This is where a creative education works. Sometimes we all need to step back—be an artist or a healthcare manager— to find the most appropriate methods or  solutions for the problems. You don’t have to do everything yourself, and it doesn’t always have to be a questionnaire or RCT.   Equally, we need to  increase awareness of our biases (which we have MANY in healthcare) and begin to advocate for change, Norregaard recommends creating a space with your team where it’s okay to talk through our biases.

Step 4: Believe in the learning loop.

We teach reflection well in healthcare, but I’d argue not in a way that’s super conducive to working life and transformation. We know that hospital Trusts that are transparent and have an open culture to mistakes, make less big mistakes overall, and have higher quality care outcomes. This isn’t by mistake. Reflecting upon what you do, enables you to work out where things can be better. But the trick is about making reflection natural, critical, authentic – actually empowering and enjoyable and  not like a chore, it’s tick box excerise for just your license. Creative thinking does this.


However, even with all of this – we know culture doesn’t change over night and there will always be people high-up that can not see the benefit in such things. Expect anything worthwhile to take a lot of time, but in the meantime – the artist in me has taught me that if you don’t or can’t get a seat at the table – just bring a folding chair.

Having ideals is like having a compass that always points to your heart instead of your brain. If anybody wants to keep creating they have to be about change. Likewise, if anybody wants to be about change, they need to create.



(*side note: I believe the arts are incredibly important in theraputics however that’s a whole different debate). 


Every transformation that we are witness to changes the world, & this in turn, changes us: 3.5 weeks of lessons in PhD-kingdom

It’s only been basically 3.5 weeks of being an enrolled PhD student. And what is it teaching me?

Well, I’m being schooled,  once again.

I keep being met with questions of what I’ve done – and I try to justify my lack of products with: “I’ve been doing it for 3 weeks?”… but people want something more concrete, I guess.

At first people  told me I should be reading, and reading lots! Getting together my bibliography. That’s what I should be doing for the first weeks they said. So my first week, I diligently sat in the library and looked up interesting books and downloaded paper after paper from the library gateway on creative methodologies and healthcarec(& spent a hefty time on twitter). Then the second week rolled around,  really quickly I might just add, & other people started saying that I really should focus on the making art bit because, you know, it is a practice led PhD after all and I don’t want to get to christmas and have nothing to show for it. Too right. So I started making some really terrible pieces of parts of work/thinking process (you know, it always starts off that way, so not too worried at this stage). Then week 3 was met with that I *really* should be focusing pretty much on the REF1. which has to be submitted in literally 6 weeks now. Scary AF.

So I’ve sat and stared at my REF1 form on word for about a week now, feeling the pure weight of re-framing, of patching up the holes of my research proposal, maybe even changing it slightly, of finding out an extensive and integral and good literature list.  Of finding artists to reference and draw from, of figuring out where I sit – art? design? healthcare? sociology? anthropology? (it’s obviously all of those things, but hot damn) —  trying to get my head around my potential methodologies and the pitfalls that they entail, and figuring out how long everything *should* take me to create a plan of sorts, and lets not even talk about my issues of ethics – and my potential plans in place whilst I endure a long ethics procedure — all of this needs to fit into 1000 words. No joke. And I have insane imposter syndrome that it’s not even funny.

My head of studies told me I needed to take a few weeks to just play, to knock down these boundaries I’ve learnt/built up during the past few years. To reflect upon all of the things I’ve experienced, and frame them. To see the tensions that lie within the frameworks of healthcare methodologies and artistic/creative methodologies – how these paradigms work. How they oppress and close discussion or the opposite or even offer more opportunity.  I wrote quite a few reflections, maybe I’ll share some on here in due time.

I applied with a proposal for my first symposium talk in London(combining art and healthcare together – more info soon) and got it, showed folks how to use drawing as a research and reflective tool at the IPE conference at SHU, and I’ve got the radiotherapy annual conference in Jan to present my other design research from earlier this year. All of which I’ve started to pull together over the past 3 weeks too.

I’ve drank a lot of tea, I’ve sat and stared at the walls in my studio. I’ve moved into my city center apartment/flat.

But mostly what all of this has taught me is that when the ground shifts, the next chapter begins. Here’s what I’ve been thinking and learning and trying to tell people when they’re super confused about why I’m using artistic practice-led work to create healthcare change.

Making things can expand one’s understanding of what it means to be human. Finding the vehicles for exploring the edges of your experiences can be really, really scary but it’s a great way of transforming thinking into practice. Change is inevitable, adaptation is optional.

Every transformation that we are witness to changes the world, and in turn, changes us.

‘Making’ is a process. In comes from ‘doing’. Doing something. ‘Making’ can bring you face to face with your own agency. ‘Making’ has some of the qualities of an echo. It can travel in space and time and come back to you in the form of a feedback loop.   It helps to make something that you don’t necessarily understand. And even if you think you understand what you are making, the act of making it will change your understanding of it and you will feel yourself get bigger.

I have been exploring my own tracings, teachings, drawings, wanderings and wonderings, feelings, thinkings, questionings and assumptions ever since to better see what can happen when something opens and something else falls… out. And like all ‘critical making,’ it attempts to create a context to make tangible some of the possibilities that can drive passion and engage spirit by striving to go beyond the things we know and towards our own reckoning.

‘Critical making’ can remind us that even when we act alone—as an artist, as a designer, as a healthcare professional, or as a hermit—in isolation, we are part of a larger community.

Seeing is a reflexive process, and like an echo it can find its way back to you. Of course, it all depends upon listening. Everything depends on listening. Listening is different from hearing. Hearing can tell you which way to go. Listening can tell you who you are.

I’m having to re-learn to be diligent, and teaching myself to be better with my time, and my work. I’m practicing at staying awake and  trying to be attentive to what is elusive, fantastic, contingent, different and barely there.

I said that i was going to take every single opportunity I get as a PhD student. And I’ve attended nearly 75% of everything open to me, talk wise within my free time.

I plan on paying attention to everything. And remembering what Linda Sikora said when I feel crazily over-whelmed with all of the above.

She says that, “It’s more important to keep paying attention and to follow your attention wherever it goes, than it is to think about meaning and content, because meaning and content come from paying attention to the world.”



#NHSChangeDay Pledges #Quality14

Here’s some people’s #NHSChangeDay Pledges that I’ve drawn on Twitter recently. I think it’s important sometimes, to have an image to help communicate/reach a bigger audience.



pledge by @LAS_QI



The awesome #Hellomynameis Pledge by the awesome @grangerkate




Drawing all these pledges was only possible because of @respirologist sharing his!







@whoseshoes Pledge to help people living with Dementia



Make nurses be proud about their job @annabethAE




SMILE! By @thebestjoan



Think about the wider public health and wellbeing! @damian_roland








More smiles & hello my name is by @bexmoxon



I think about the blanket of care I have received over this past year. And it astounds me. It really genuinely amazes me that I never knew it existed for me, until I needed it to.

My friends & Family have all been amazing and supportive. My colleagues.  Strangers. People on Twitter. Doctors, and nurses & everyone else working within the NHS. Everyone has been amazing.

I feel super proud to be part of a system that looks after me, and I feel super lucky to have the friends that I do. And I have no idea how to thank everyone individually, and sound 100% grateful and genuine about it? I hope it translates, but I dunno if it does?

So I put it out there? How would you like to be thanked? What’s the best thank you thing/moment that you’ve received/had? Share with the Smizz!  Can a thank you be too cheesey? or too much? What are your thoughts. I don’t want to over do it.


people are amazing

Yesterday I had the pleasure of drawing another cool thing for 1 small part of the NHS. The NHS Commissioning Board, the bit where Citizens who work within NHS stuff, or the voluntary sector, and innovators get together and share their ideas on how to make the NHS the best it can be, and how to move forward the work they are currently doing. How GP’s can work better and effectively with their communities, relieving pressures like A&E admissions and so forth.

I always love doing my day job of drawing other peoples plans, ideas, criticisms, or solutions. I’ve heard  so many amazing stories by drawing it for them, from the editor of W.I.R.E.D Magazine, AMAZING individuals who did a TED talk, people who work at Google and YouTube (Technically Google now), BBC, Guardian and so on. Folks at Channel 4 co-production producers (Embarrassing Bodies live, Big Fish ect) own some of my work. I love that. I go away and think, I’ve just drawn something I had NO idea about until right now. And I love it.

Yesterday was about the people though. I think I met (and in some cases – re-met ) some of the most nicest & smartest people, ever. I can’t really explain how sort of inspired I am by their actions and stories. How we all know that there is something urgent and something at stake here. And these people’s purposes, their motivation, is about making sure that in years to come – the NHS is still ours. I heard so many cool and great ,and even touching, things that CCG’s across England are doing. How doctors (GPs) are mega passionate about really getting to know their communities. What a wonderful job to have or a great thing to be a part of? These people, every single one – from the ‘citizens’, to the organizers, and nhs workers, to the doctors, ect ect – are trying to make something work, with genuine passion. (One speakers sentiment was that usually you don’t know that you’re in the midst of  GREAT HISTORICAL CHANGE when you’re in it, until you reflect years later). I went home and googled my local CCG Doncaster  (Good ol’ Donxx) and saw that we have an awesome and lively twitter account (@doncasterccg). And I felt that, and hope that, my Doncaster CCG is (or becoming) one of the innovators of the new system change. I hope they’ll represent and do our local population proud and well.  Although, I am hoping that soon I won’t be living in Doncaster, but whatever.

It got me thinking about the paths we take. This journey that I accidentally stumbled upon has reignited my hunger for social change/justice again (not that it ever went away, it’s just gone  a tinnnny-bit dormant publiclywhilst I’ve been fighting my mystery illness shizzle). I don’t really know where to start, but I believe my new collaborative project with Paul Harrison called F/O/R/C/E lectures (Free. Online. Radically. Collected. Education.) http://forcelectures.org/ is going to be the start of something BIG.

The tragic passing of Aaron Swarts (http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2013/01/aaron-swartz/)  – an acquaintance through a project I worked on in 2009 – but I saw him as a friend in the Facebook friendship sort of way because he was such a nice person    – has only made my commitment to our freedom for free education and healthcare even more  potent.

Guys, PEOPLE ARE AMAZING. There are so many people out there who are thinking of us. In a good way. (Some that are thinking of us to exploit us – but that’s another story) BUT the people who are doing great things are trying to stop those who are trying to exploit us. Don’t you wanna be a part of it? I wanna live in a better world, where inequalities are resolved, rather than ignored or taken as an almost given. I want those less able, or most vulnerable  or someone who might need some support for the first time in their life have someone to help them out. And the people I met yesterday represented LOADS of people across the UK trying, fighting, working extra unpaid hours, for us. Thank you, guys. If I ever see my hot GP again, which I’m sort of hoping I don’t. I totally just want to tell him what an awesome job he’s doing & how thankful I am for genuine, caring people who are taking care of stuff for us.

People are amazing. Yeah!positivity

Guys! I’m going to Live Draw the next USA Presidential Debate!

Yep. I watched Joe Bidden tear it up this week on the VP Debates. And I thought, there are moments that would be amazing if it was live-drawn. So funny and so visual!

So here I am, I am going to LIVE DRAW THE LAST US PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE. yikes! On top of this. I am ging to LIVE STREAM me doing it LIVE as the debate HAPPENS. Oh yeah. Yikes again! I can’t decide whether this will be a performance in itself.

It’s going to be challenging as I’ve never live-drawn a debate before. In fact I’ve never drawn people talk bullshit or be aggressive like The Republican party tends to be. So this is something that I’m going to have to think about how to represent without any of my personal political bias. I usually  draw talks of people talking about ideas, and amazing things that have happened ,or that they created and the problems and solutions to that adventure. So the debate drawing will be interesting to say the least!

I hope you will join me for this crazy task! And spread the word! Live streaming link and more information COMING SOON 😀

Thanks for reading yo!