I never expected my job to take me to Las Vegas. I thought Vegas was just a party place, but it turns out, some serious business gets done there too.
In the first week of January the city hosted the one of the largest trade fairs in the world, ‘CES’ (Consumer Electronics Show), and was invaded by a spectacular 200,000 delegates. I can tell you the taxi drivers were extremely excited about it. My mission in Las Vegas was to help a group of these delegates, a bright team working in the field of robotics and user-experience, put together an animated story to capture the attention of their audience and inspire them with the potential for robotic technology.
It was a tough ask for the team to achieve this on their own, when they would not necessarily identify themselves as storytellers. What they were clear about was the long list of technology that should feature in the story, but focusing on the detail is exactly what gets in the way of telling an engaging story, and it can lead to delivering a list.
So our mission for the day was to find a way to stand back from the detail and see broader themes, to start to use our story telling skills more consciously, to give our brains the chance to take new paths to unearth new ideas and insights – and to build a story that would engage the audience.
It was a lot for one day. I wanted to start with some story-basics training, but we also needed to finish the day with agreement on the characters, the full story blocked out and all the key technologies included. Then I discovered there were also activity slots planned by some of the new members of the team, to encourage team building. Now this looked positively Olympic!
In fact, the tactile and colourful activities planned, accelerated the creative thinking across the day rather than eating into time. They were a lot of fun and I saw my brain-drained attendees bounce back with the joy of making. In 20 minutes slots, we made our own pictures by slotting beads onto a board which then got ironed to create a ‘stained glass window’, and we formed teams to make gingerbread houses of the future, decorated with sweets and stuck together with gooey chocolate. This was brand new territory to me. It really worked, it gave our brains and bodies a chance to think and create in a really different way.
I saw was my attendees light up, get fired up and come back to the next part of the story-build with great ideas, and insights, which in turn fired up other ideas from other people.
I talk about creative meetings needing a different set of ‘rules of engagement’ than usual meetings. One of those rules is to recognise that the creative brain is like a muscle, i.e. you will get much more out of once it has been warmed up and nourished. It might not be a gingerbread house for you, but when you are unlocking creativity you do need to allow space and time to warm up and nourish that muscle. You don’t only have to talk about an idea, you can ‘circle’ it as well to get your brains firing up. The variety of activity can be a wide as the brain’s capacity; build the challenge from Lego, draw the challenge, sing the challenge, bake the challenge, or maybe even act out the challenge.
However you decide to stand back from the talking for a while, be confident that you are using the time wisely. You are giving the brains in the room time to warm up and flex their muscles. Running head-long at a challenge, staring at it very hard or talking about it a lot is never going to deliver the ‘light-of-foot’ creative thinking you need to spin the web of ideas that will result in an insightful and unexpected innovation. Who would have guessed that I would build a gingerbread house in Las Vegas, but I did, and I learned a new tool for getting the brain ready to have a dangerous idea.