balancing act

First of all, a big hooray for the Cultural Enterprise Office. If you live in Scotland and run any kind of creative business, however tiny, then the CEO are your friends. I have been to a couple of their events in the past and have always had a good experience. The last couple of days, however, have been outstanding.

On Tuesday afternoon I went down to the DCA where there was a joint CEO/DCA workshop called Crafting a Balance. There were presentations from three different people/partnerships who are running craft businesses, and all had interesting things to share about their work, their choices and their experiences. As the theme was “balance” they had been asked to reflect on this in their presentations and were given a model for doing this — you know, a bit like a SWOT analysis, only this one is called the “Sanity Check”.

The description of the event includes this description of the Sanity Check model:

Piers Roberts of Designers Block, who developed the Sanity Check, proposes that if we invest time and energy into things, we expect to get skills, profile, relationship or rewards in return. If we don’t get any of these, we aren’t motivated to continue investing time and energy. So,

· Do you have the creative skills but  are looking to develop business skills and gain more experience?

· Are you getting a personal and creative reward from your practice but are now looking for financial reward?

· Are you considering your current profile and looking to build on it further?

· Have you forged relationships with other practitioners but want to know how to do the same with funders, retailers, etc.?

The words in bold are the key themes. In picture form they showed us four red circles on a large grey square — like an aerial view of an electric hob — with each circle containing one of those bold words. We were asked to think of each circle as a pot of soup bubbling on the hob. Is there enough soup in each of the pots? Is one pot overflowing but another almost burned dry?

The ideas are simple enough, but I do love a metaphor, especially if you can run amok with it. That is one of the reasons why I especially warmed to Carrie from Made in the Shade who clearly knows how to take a metaphor beyond all reasonable limits — and runs a fabulous craft business with her friend Clare into the bargain.

We were given a bit of time to try out the Sanity Check on one of our own projects as well and I found it useful as a way of clarifying some of the swirling ideas in my head. I’ve got a lot on my plate at the moment ( a soup plate, obviously) and it was worthwhile to think about it in terms of balance: each individual project might be drawing on one or more pots of resources but could also be topping up other pots.

It was also very interesting to see how the speakers reflected on their soup pots. Kirsty (aka Lovely Pigeon) highlighted relationships and the way she had had to cope with some rather unsatisfactory relationships with other businesses in the process of developing a new creative idea. Carrie observed that there can be times when your profile might outstrip the hard reality of your capacity to take on work. Bunty and Bella have developed their skills and their relationship together as they job share the day job (that actually sounds really cool to me, although I know fine that anyone I shared a job with would want to kill me within a week). They have now started to build their own profile and are clearly enjoying doing their own things their own way. Plus they made cake for us all. Victoria sponge and plum tart, in case you were wondering.

Besides this, I also got to meet and talk to local people whom I have only known online up to now, such as Mhairi Wild and Zoë of the Two Dolls. I think we were all a bit shell-shocked to find that there were real people on the ends of our twitter streams, but it was well worth venturing out of the studio. Lately, for reasons of economy and work overload, I have been on my own too much and it is beginning to tell. Not that I dislike it, but that’s the problem! I do start to get a bit peculiar when I only keep company with cats and computers.

And I have only told you about Tuesday — there was a whole lot more in Glasgow on Wednesday at CEO’s Market Day. I’ll have to save it for another post, but here’s a taster in the shape of my Market Day party bag.

balancing act” was posted by Cally on 26 May 2011 at

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5 Responses

  1. marion berkhout
    | Reply

    Sounds like an interesting workshop.
    Especially as I am thinking about starting off my atelier again (I’ve done that for six years but quitted four years ago, but blood is thicker than water…. 🙂

  2. Meg in Nelson
    | Reply

    “When your profile might outstrip the hard reality of your capacity to take on work.” Could you possibly expand a bit more on this one, please? Is this “too much work”? How did they overcome it? (Not that i have the problem, but I am slow and have a hard time doing anything within a year or three.)

    Also interested in the amount of soup we have in the “rewards” pot, yes? Mine runs “hot and cold” these days.

    • Cally
      | Reply

      In this context profile means things like reputation, peer recognition, all sorts of people looking at you from the outside. But thanks to the wonders of modern media you can have a high public profile when you are still quite new to the whole thing – possibly before you have discovered what your capacity for work actually is. So “too much work” might be some of it, but also “too high expectations from …” where … could be clients, potential partners, whoever. At least that is what I understood.

      • Meg in Nelson
        | Reply

        Also, “reward” – I tend to think it’s all about emotional satisfaction, because I can’t fathom financial, but what did they mean here?

        • Cally
          | Reply

          They identified some specific kinds of reward including financial, creative, social, but it was a category that was also reflected in the other segments. You might not get an immediate financial reward from something, but that thing might foster relationships or skills which led to financial reward at the next stage.

          However, the model isn’t supposed to suggest that you should be getting a certain quantity of a certain kind of reward. The idea is just that you ask yourself whether you are finding a project (say) sufficiently rewarding (in whatever way you wish to be rewarded). If you aren’t, then perhaps it is draining that soup pot dry and you need to consider whether another project or another approach would offer more reward.

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