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Daniel Evans: Reflection can be the most productive thing a director can do

Dominic Cooke. Photo: Manuel Harlan Former Royal court artistic director Dominic Cooke suggested top jobs were difficult to fulfil, given the scope and demands on them. Photo: Manuel Harlan
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I’ve proselytised many times in these pages about the value of the Clore Leadership Programme, where leaders from across the cultural sector gather for a nine-month period of provocation, exercise and learning.

But recently, when attending a meeting at Arts Council England, I was reminded of the emphasis the Clore programme places on reflection.

Each morning after breakfast, during the two fortnight-long residencies, the cohort meets and reflects on the previous day’s learning for an hour. During this precious time, it was often surprising to hear how people’s reactions had formulated and crystallised overnight, after the emotion, adrenaline and excitement had calmed.

Different perspectives would be offered, leading to even deeper learning. Everyone was encouraged to contribute to the discussion, however briefly or in depth; and everyone’s offering was valued – even in the face of the odd, passionate disagreement.

During my recent meeting at ACE, a diverse group of cultural leaders was being asked to consider the question of the leadership of the future.

What would it look like? What kind of person would be needed to enact it? What conditions would be necessary to nurture and secure a diverse pool of leaders upon which to draw? And what kind of support do our current leaders need to remain healthy, forward-thinking and sane?

I was immediately reminded of an interview given by Dominic Cooke towards the end of his glorious tenure at the Royal Court Theatre, in which he provocatively suggested that the top jobs at our cultural institutions had become almost impossible to fulfil, given the scope and demands on them.

There are times in the year when I find myself working extremely long hours, dealing with a wide variety of topics – whether it’s directing, programming, managing, reading, hosting, fundraising, and anything else that lands on my desk – and the first thing to go is reflection time.

The trouble is, it can feel like a luxury. To a person who likes to be busy, it can involve a considerable amount of guilt. Very quickly, one’s inner critic invites itself to the party. “What do you mean you need 30 minutes to reflect, when your to-do list is so long? Just get on with the work!”

Reflecting can feel inactive, inefficient and unproductive. And there’s the rub.

We all need reminding that reflection is essential. It is not a luxury. If we don’t take the time to consolidate, to assess, to learn, to hear and value everyone’s voices, then the result is that experiences get lost, progress goes more slowly and we are doomed to repeat our mistakes.

What did I recommend at our ACE meeting? More time for reflection. Have I got round to putting it in my diary yet? Don’t be silly.

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