Wednesday Live: Craft & Performance

Professor Kneebone explains why a surgeon and a ceramicist might have more in common than you think.



What are the materials of your trade? If you’re a lawyer, chances are you’re relying heavily on research, communication and performance. For Professor Roger Kneebone, a surgeon and teacher at Imperial College London, his materials are thread, instruments, and the human body itself. At our April Wednesday Live client breakfast, Roger spoke with the Obelisk team and our guests about how we might reframe our professional lives in order to bring about innovation and progress within the legal sector.

At the beginning of Prof. Kneebone’s remarkable career, he saw himself in relation to other medical staff: medical doctors, psychiatrists, anaesthesiologists, and so on. This became the ‘frame’ in which he positioned himself as a young surgeon, and within this frame he relied on other medical professionals to learn from.

As Prof. Kneebone’s career progressed, however, he began to take a more essentialist and materialistic approach to his work, and it occurred to him that perhaps he was in fact more closely related to professionals who, like him, completed delicate work with their hands or instruments. These professionals included ceramicists, puppeteers, lace-makers and tailors. This became the new frame in which he viewed himself and his career.

Prof. Kneebone began to hold workshops with themes related to his profession including ‘Thread Management’ workshops where experts from a vast array of thread-related professions would meet to share techniques and give insight into these ordinarily impenetrable bodies of knowledge. Within these workshops, Kneebone learned how lace-makers managed to keep their threads untangled while working, and the stitching techniques of expert bespoke tailors. These are skills he likely would never have learned from his original ‘frame’ of medical professionals.

Aside from the physical materials of his trade, surgeons also have an element of trust and integrity with patients. Kneebone compared this to the work of a tailor, who works with similarly delicate (though less high-stakes) materials, and needs to know the unique makeup of each client in order to create the desired effect at the finish. From a materialistic viewpoint, the risk in certainty of outcome is similar for both surgeons and tailors.

An interesting discussion with the group followed in order to examine how those working within the legal sector could apply Prof. Kneebone’s reframing technique. It was suggested that lawyers may be more closely related to magicians, street performers, actors and even doctors than other professionals employed in different law-related capacities.

As a lawyer, it is important to be able to hold and manipulate an audience’s attention. What could be learned from magicians or street performers in this regard? Lawyers also have a very important and obvious relationship with their clients, based on trust and integrity. What might a doctor be able to share with a lawyer in terms of building and projecting that trust?

Our guests left the breakfast with a whole new outlook on their careers, and an ability to see deep structural similarities between areas that appear quite different. At Obelisk Support, we invite you to reframe how you see yourself in relation to other professions, and take steps towards innovating an industry which has historically been impervious to outside influence.

The Wednesday Live event was held on Wednesday 26th April, and was live-tweeted using the hashtag #WednesdayLive.