Show, don’t tell, for creativity

‘Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good’. These poignant words from Malcolm Gladwell headlined a training invitation from the Langmaid Practice that dropped into our inboxes recently.

Even when you’re preoccupied with the business and managing projects, it’s important to take time out to experience great quality training no matter how experienced you are – and this one really piqued our interest.

The session sounded intriguing, as part of an advanced qualitative practitioner’s course organised by the MRS. Needless to say our MD Fiona McAllister and I jumped at the chance to participate and were fortunate enough to secure places on this course run by Roy Langmaid and Nicky Forsythe. We’d attended one of Roy’s workshops before where the course description had warned us to prepare to step out of our comfort zones and get involved – and we did both! At one point in that session I was acting out what must have been some kind of tall grass waving in the wind – alongside one of our key clients – to represent how we felt about the Apple brand! So we had a rough idea what to expect from this latest offering which centred on facilitating large groups and using action techniques.

image The course certainly didn’t disappoint. A good 30 or so senior researchers and clients took part. Right from the outset Roy and Nicky ensured that the workshop was interactive and challenged us to think differently. In the first half of the session we were introduced to some great techniques, from connecting with other group members (the ‘bomb and shield’ game was superb at this) and developing a sense of common purpose, through to tapping into and warming up the creative parts of our mind (yes, we really all do have one!) with things like simple improv exercises.

In the second half of the session we experienced action techniques such as visualisation (very powerful and requires a good deal of skill), ‘imagibuilding’, ‘art from within’ and ‘enactment’, to help spark ideas for fulfilling a client brief on peer to peer services. The group as a whole were struck by the volume and quality of insight and ideas these methods generated; and I think a few were slightly surprised at their own creativity, with balloons featuring prominently. It was fun, energising and hugely practical.

A few days after the training we received a brief from a client that included the words ‘blue sky’ in it. Not exactly original but it may as well have said ‘action techniques’ to us as we immediately built in some of the new learning to our bid.

We’re probably all guilty at some point of using tried and tested methods in our work when there may be scope to try something different, something slightly risky but where the pay-off can be immense, provided that the connecting stage with participants is effective. Roy’s and Nicky’s session hit the mark by providing this timely reminder.

Turning full circle back to Gladwell, he says in his book Blink that ‘we learn by example and by direct experience because there are real limits to the adequacy of verbal instruction’. I think this pretty much sums up our experience of what was an eye-opening, challenging workshop.

Adam Blunt, Qualitative Associate Director


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