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Jon Kennard


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Learning Live: Neil Denny interview



We speak to Neil Denny about how he transitioned from being a divorce lawyer to a speaker, author and trainer in conflict resolution and how he came up with the idea for his training business, Get Artisan.

You’re hosting the after-dinner speech at Learning Live this year. Could you tell us how that came about?

I delivered one of the group sessions at Learning Live 2013 with a session called The Delicious Discomfort in Not Knowing.  It’s a program that looks at uncertainty and what happens to us when we encounter not knowing.  It went unbelievably well.  We started with a half empty room - I am not a particularly well-known speaker in this community - but within five or so minutes the room was packed with people standing at the back.  I had not realised at the time but people were live-tweeting enthusiastically about the workshop. The latecomers were in fact delegates who had started in one of the other sessions that were running but decided to change track and come and join us.  If you were one of the other presenters then I am really sorry!

I was then asked to deliver a program for the LPI Fellows in Autumn and to deliver the evening slot at Learning Live 2014.  I was more than happy to help.

What is your background and how would you describe your career path over the last few years?

I trained originally as a divorce lawyer.  About eight years ago, I realised that I wanted to do work that was more creative and that built people up.  Divorce is brutal and although there are processes that can be transformative within divorce - such as collaborative law or mediation - you are not often given the mandate from clients to use them.  I realised that I was enjoying my speaking work and so, over several years, transitioned from an out and out lawyer to becoming a speaker and presenter.  In 2010, my then employers set up allLD Learning and Development as a vehicle for this training work and in 2012 we parted ways with me taking on that training company. 

What I appreciate most about my career path over the last few years is that it stands as evidence that we can shape and design the careers that we want - an integral part of the Get Artisan talk I will be delivering.  That transition is not easy and it takes a great deal of time investment, resilience and self-discipline.  It has been incredibly fulfilling however.

Where did the idea for Get Artisan come from? What was the inspiration?

Early on in my transition I was invited to speak at the Do Lectures in Wales. I was giving a talk on conflict resolution processes - a topic close to my heart.  The Do Lectures is mainly attended by designers of one type or another and I felt terribly out of place.  In fact I had never felt more like a lawyer.  By the end of the first day though, I was wondering why the lawyers, accountants, financial advisers and a whole range of other professionals weren’t accessing communities like this? 

I realised the power of intentional design, of envisioning possible futures and outcomes and then creating the situations in which those designs could come into being.  A few months later I was asked to deliver a keynote to an international lawyers convention with the theme of 'creating consensus', and took that as the opportunity to explore what design could look like in professional services. 

My study revealed some repeated characteristics found amongst artisan craftspeople such as connection to self, their profession and their tools and materials.  They were happy to embrace complexity and all that that meant and demonstrated high levels of autonomy.  Those three characteristics - connection, complexity and autonomy - are the foundations that Get Artisan is built upon.

What successes and testimonies do you typically hear from those who have attended your speaking sessions and workshops?

It was immediately apparent that I had stumbled upon something special at that lawyers’ conference.  The vice-president of the Scottish Law Society was due to speak after me.  He took to the lectern (too many lawyers still use lecterns!) and said: “Well, I had a talk prepared but I want to talk about Get Artisan which is such a key message for our times". Since then I have had the pleasure of delivering this talk and its workshop iteration on many occasions across the UK, Europe and America.

Other people have reacted in amazing ways too; one Swiss delegate - a lawyer and judge - set up a new company which now produces some of the most highly-rated artisan cookware in Switzerland. Other feedback comments reflect how people appreciate that the message has impacted not only their work but their personal lives as well. I shy away from the label of motivational speaker which always seems a bit showbiz and vacuous. The reality is, however, that delegates are frequently inspired to be bolder, more creative and engaged with their work and profession. A tag line that I played with for a while was this; It’s time to stop doing a shift and time to make the shift. It delights me that this is what people do.

What are you working on now?

I am currently writing the book for Get Artisan and will be looking for an agent and publisher imminently. I enjoy the writing process but finding large chunks of time to get immersed in writing is difficult amongst the ongoing need to deliver the services as well.

The sister talk: “The Delicious Discomfort in Not Knowing” is also crying out for time and attention.  I will probably incorporate that as a couple of chapters into Get Artisan however.

The September to November period is very busy for my speaking and presentation work so I hope to be able to really focus during August and get the bulk of the writing done then.  I am also still very active within conflict resolution spheres, so I have to maintain that mediation and collaborative law work as well - I am told that portfolio careers are quite fashionable! And of course I have to prepare for the Learning Live event in September. Last year, this was one of my favourite conferences. It will be a real pleasure and honour to be invited back to Learning Live as guest speaker this year.

Neil Denny is a speaker and presenter with allLD Ltd. You can contact Neil with any questions or information and find more of his work and his blog at

The Learning and Performance Institute holds its annual conference, Learning Live, this year on 10 and 11 September. 

Author Profile Picture
Jon Kennard

Freelance writer

Read more from Jon Kennard

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