Converging Currents: Swimming* in the Fluid Landscape of Work, Leadership, and Creative Expression

Louise Armstrong
7 min readFeb 23, 2024
A rough sketch of some of the live currents around life and time

I have a rule of three: if I hear, spot, notice, or am told about something three times, then it’s usually a sign to dig in more. Here’s five of those emergent themes that have shown up for me over the last year in different part of my life and work….

1. Inside x outside roles and work

This might just be my vantage point, but it’s felt like there are more people are embracing freelance and portfolio careers, balancing multiple roles and projects.

Over this last year, I’ve been doing a bit of a hybrid — I’ve had a part-time role, doing some freelance work alongside and part of bringing to life a new entity to life. Often unsure as to how to describe how these things come together. Half in and half out of organisations. Semi-detached, I kept saying. But only after 6–9months did it feel like the benefits came to bear. Being connected to multiple ecosystems and able to forge creative collaborations quickly felt great for me and the organisation, knowing I would be less able to do that if I had one primary organisational affiliation that was my sole identity. While also having time and space to be creative and experiment with other topics, people, and modes. On a good day it feels like the best of both worlds. On a bad day — I just get confused about who I am and where I need to be and what hat I have on. When in reality we’re all just a collection of multiple identities.

This hybrid approach offers flexibility and creativity but challenges traditional organisational structures. My assumption is there is more desire and interest in what different inside x outside and different hybrid work formats could be. Benfiting long term change work where there is a shared interest and need for collective action and not just short-term commitment.

Organisations too often trap people, particualrly those ready to step into ‘ecosystem’ leadership roles. I see plenty of leaders acting at a greater level than themselves, while simultaneously jostling with the challenges of organisational leadership. But our ways of organising and resourcing these ecosystem roles are still few and far between. I’m seeing this as all of this is part of by the shifting relationship to work — that the pandemic forced us to reckon with.

2. Void Between Hierarchical and Flat Ways of Working

There’s been a pendulum swing towards flat and self-managing ways of organising for those doing change work. A rejection of traditional structures and forms which is great when things are good and the appropriate alternative processes, time and care are given to do well. But when it’s rushed, surface level, or when there are challenges, the absence of hard structure is felt, and too often there’s little to replace it. This year I’ve seen when things get difficult — where there are tough decisions to be made — there is a real reluctance to make those decisions. When conflict arises, there aren’t the spaces of skills to work with them. An underlying fear and unwillingness for people wanting to step into leadership which can create an automatic ping back to hierarchy and so undermines the original intention of the self-organising ambitions in the first place.

What is that going to mean for organisations in the future? This feels like a big unknown and risk. Is there a middle ground to be forged between hierarchy and flat organisation? This shows the shift in views, beliefs and expectations of what leadership can and should look like. Time will tell but there is a huge need for something else without yet a narrative to describe it and understanding of the distributed practices to bring the alternative to life.

3. Succession

This has been the surprising theme for me — but one I now see and hear everywhere. (Perhaps cemented by being hooked on the TV series of the same name, which I devoured.) But it turns out, ‘succession’ as a framing — and process, brings together so many threads of my work. It’s often the sharp edge of where endings meet governance. It’s a live but lesser spoken topic in philanthropy, i’m understanding it more spending time in a family foundation. So many changemakers I’ve been chatting to and work with have this front of mind when they’re thinking about what comes next for them and how to continue the work they have catalysed without them. The Source book I found both interesting and challenging when thinking about this. I also had the opportunity of diving into what it means in the context of farm and land succession in the summer- as part of Go Falkland festival last summer. And through the work of The Decelerator, we’ve developed a toolkit for Leadership Succession and Transition.

Across the board there is renewed interest in doing ‘succession’ well and designing it with intention, which I think can only be a good thing and something I’ll be tracking. And while it might seem quite specialist — this is a topic that impacts all people and families in some form.

Then perhaps tying themes 3 and 4 together — multiple times this year the idea of a ‘Self-organising’ Succession series has been mooted…just waiting for a scriptwriter to work with to make it happen!

4. Writing

Writing has continued to be an important anchor for me this year, showing up in many parts of my life. Quite naturally, I’ve been finding myself doing more, bringing it more explicitly into my professional work too. I’ve found myself reading more about people’s writing processes. I’ve even found myself writing poetry — tapping into a different voice and depth of understanding within. Dabbling with chat GPT (it’s been great for my own editing process) but not a replacement for the transformative power and process of writing. Hosting the Changemaker Writing retreat last year turned out to be an absolute highlight not only of the year — but perhaps a career highlight too. All alongside my son starting school and seeing him start to read and string letters together- it’s like we’re both learning this craft.

I’ve come to see the simple word of ‘writing’ actually hides the many things that it is. Reflection, learning, sense-making, art, distraction…ironically it is too many words to write down. Really seeing and understanding writing is one form of creative life force — something that is allowing me to better understand myself and my place in the world. These times call for us to connect to our creative selves to navigate and orientate in these times and believe writing can play an important part in that.

5. Time

Although apparently this isn’t new (and so I’ve been told, is becoming part of a trademark of mine.) I’ve been saying for a while that I think changing our relationship to time could help us shift a whole manner of things. So needless to say ‘time’ has kept showing up this last year.

Through the Death x Life Huddle journey I was on — my key insight about myself was about wanting to be more ‘loyal to myself’. And realising that I equate loyalty with time. I was challenged by a friend to think about how I can give myself more time. And perhaps no surprise (given theme 4) what’s manifested has been the desire for more time to write. I’ve been trying, and failing — to make more time for writing ever since.

But I’ve made time to write over the first 5 weeks of 2024. Pulling this blog together from scrappy notes on a page to something shareable. Starting to do that at the turn of the calendar year (a commonly accepted marker of time to reflect back) and Imbolc — a Celtic tradition celebrating the first signs of spring, the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox. These Celtic markers of time and passing of the year being something local friends and I have made a point of marking over the last year too — a surprisingly simple and beautiful anchoring of time through the year, and doing this in a local context.

Then in the philanthropic work I’ve been doing, time has kept showing up too. A key insight last year was about the need for changemakers (and all people really) to have time and space to do what they need. Not rush into the next thing, or be lurled by the pull of the system too soon, but to be able to make intentional choices. Time and space — in part via money — being something philanthropy can offer individuals. My colleague Diana made a great Time playlist to sit alongside our explorations of this.

These themes might continue to show up, amplify or die down. I’m not sure yet — but I’ll be paying attention to when and where they do.

* after many years of not feeling the urge to swim, i’ve been all about the grounding energy and practice (mostly through writing!). But as this new year started — i’ve actively wanted to swim again. Seems it’s time to integrate my grounded and flow energies and impulses



Louise Armstrong

#livingchange / navigating / designing / facilitating / doula of change