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30th December 2016 Bea Udeh

Brainstorming kills creativity #ADA

Hema Teji from Watford Palace Theatre has much to share about her experiences of doing that ‘thinking-about-the-audiences-first’ thing as part of the Audience Diversity Academy.

I’ve noticed common themes when tasked to develop audiences. Most audience development roles are often temporary and I’m creating new ideas of work or projects often without setting the context of why I’m doing this work and how it’s connected to organisational strategy. In developing new audiences you are more likely to be in the midst of creating organisational change but without initially consulting stakeholders. Buy-in from all staff such as front of house, technical teams, marketing, development etc. is integral to the success of developing audiences. Without understanding why and who we are doing this work for, individuals and teams often work in silos and the principle of embedding diversity and equality into the hands of a few people always seemed a little, well unfair to me and against the very ethos of diversifying audiences. I wanted to examine how to create and embrace a culture of change using the Agile process, and the starting point was an organisation staff meeting, delivered through a series of individual and group brainstorming exercises.

I often find brainstorming sessions uninspiring and draining and sought to research ‘agile’ ways of brainstorming. I discovered Google Venture’s ‘Note and Vote’ , ‘open space’ , and these two separate articles on how ‘brainstorming kills creativity’.  I took inspiration from what I thought were key principles of agile brainstorming: to set the rules of brainstorming, prepare the participants, give opportunity for individual and group responses, build on ideas and give space to reflect on questions.

I asked staff to prepare by setting three tasks to complete in six weeks before the staff meeting. It should be noted I had planned a post-meeting exercise but was quickly dropped after the feedback from the pre-exercise. What were the successes in designing the exercises this way? I received honest, brave and thoughtful insights to my questions. It saved time! I built on the answers given and designed the session accordingly and used the precious time I had with the staff to work on practical solutions. As a facilitator I was less stressed as I wasn’t constantly analysing and assessing answers. The staff could see they were part of a process as I was practically building on their answers and the session was dynamic with lots of positive energy.

What I learnt is that I needed to create buy-in for this exercise as many people found my delivery in setting the tasks (via email) to be alienating. As I became aware of this I offered help but my offer wasn’t really taken up. It raised questions such as; did they see the value of the exercise, did they understand the tasks (to me they were quite clear) or was it just down to lack of time? When we embed good audience development practice, staff will have to do things differently and communication models will change. I learnt that I made them step out of their comfort zone but is that a bad thing? After all, this is what the future will bring.