The post below, originally published on Monday evening, which tells the story of a humble cartoon that took me somewhere wonderful, has taken on an added resonance for me after the horrific events in Paris yesterday. The cartoonists and journalists of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo who were murdered sought to uphold one of our most cherished freedoms, that of free speech. As a Twitter user, I see an awful lot that I disagree with and a small measure of stuff that is truly abhorrent. But however much I disagree or find myself offended, I have an overriding sense that the freedom to speak our minds has been won at enormous cost and it is a freedom we should always fight for. We’re all cartoonists now. Nous sommes Charlie. Je suis Charlie.
That social media, eh? Blistering barnacles, but it throws up some great stories. You have to put yourself about a bit to get the most out of it but Twitter is still where all my gigs are born and where a chance comment can take you to unexpected places. This is just such a tale. But first: some background.
A great deal of what I do is about listening. People are often surprised to hear that (a great write up on that experience by Katrina Collier can be found here), given what I do, but it’s a fundamental skill and one that is crucial if you want to be successful working with people. Especially if you aspire to lead them. I help people visualise and tell their stories, both personal and organisational. I have to listen with real focus to hear what is really being said (and sometimes what isn’t) and find visual cues to bring that to life. Often this comes in the form of metaphor and analogy. Sometimes people come up with the metaphor all by themselves. Sometimes it pops into my head as they speak (or tweet – as is often the case these days).One of the things I enjoy doing and that gives me a great opportunity to practice my doodling is virtual visual blogging from the Twitter feed from conferences. The image above is an example of this. At conference time I’m most usually found at my kitchen table surrounded by Sharpies and paper, waiting for inspiration to strike with my antennae tuned into the ether. I often work with the radio on for a bit of company. With that and Twitter open on the iPad I also get to hear what is going on in the wider world and keep abreast of current events. Naturally, some of this also ends up as doodles. Like Luis Suarez gnawing on his opponentsor an unseasonal cold snapor the horse meat scandalor Iain Duncan Smith showing he’s in touch with the working classesor a new design for the Met’s HQor Ed Milliband’s new mate, Garethor Ed’s disastrous speech at the Labour Party conferenceSo, on the 10th of December, with Robert Chote, Chairman of the Office for Budget Responsibility appearing before the Treasury select committe at Westminster, I saw the following tweet, quoting Mr. Chote, pop up in my timeline, retweeted by @FlipChartRickGetting economic forecasting right is like “trying to pin a tail on a very rapidly moving donkey”. A ready made metaphor. And an opportunity too good to miss. So I picked up a pen and doodled a quick reply:It went down quite well with those who’d seen the original quote and that, I thought, was that.
A couple of hours later I received an email. A rare enough occurrence these days, what with Twitter and everything, but this one was a real surprise. It was from none other than Robert Chote. The Chairman of the Office for Budget Responsibility. In. My. Inbox. He’d enjoyed the cartoon and wanted to buy it. I must confess that I Googled Mr. Chote. I found he’s respected across the political spectrum and seemed, from all I read, to be a thoroughly decent chap. Our subsequent exchanges have only served to reinforce that initial impression. It felt a little churlish to ask Robert to pay for a cartoon he hadn’t asked for. So I asked him if he’d mind making a modest donation to a charity of his choice and sending me a photo of him with the cartoon so I could share it here. And of course, because he really is a good bloke, he obliged.Two fantastic charities get some much needed support, Robert gets a cartoon and I get a great story to tell.
If anyone asks you why it’s worth bothering with social media, I’d tell them to have a read of this.