Many people assume that creativity is something that can be turned on like a light switch when needed. Nothing could be further from the truth. Creativity is like a house cat that will come out and be sociable only on her own terms. However, in an environment where creativity is an important part of what we do daily, we often have to find ways to channel our creativity and bring it to the surface even when we aren’t necessarily feeling very creative.
Our company, TTI Success Insights, hosts an annual conference every year in Arizona that brings the best and brightest minds of the talent management industry together to share ideas. As the staff writer and editor, I am part of the marketing team that works on communications for this conference. To ensure the success of the conference, it’s vital that we send a compelling message that drives value in the marketplace.
During early planning for our upcoming conference, five members of the TTI staff got together to choose this year’s theme. As a byproduct of our successful theme launch, we decided to capture our theme planning process and share it in blog form. Our intent is to give some insight as to how our conference theme comes to be as well as sharing our best practices on uncovering creativity with others. Our recipe for success is found in these five key elements:
- Assemble a team of creative minds
The idea sharing and interaction between animated team members was equal parts interesting and entertaining. We came to a consensus, relatively quickly, on what the conference theme would be, and felt very good about how we went about the process. Although it moved quickly, we did dig deep and considered many options thoroughly.
Our creative think tank consisted of members from all areas and ranks within the company. Present were Creative Director Bobby, Marketing Director Candice, Distribution Director Todd, Global Distribution President Rick, and me, Staff Writer/Editor. Rank and title never came into play during these sessions; it was all about creating good ideas.
- Figure out the function and emotions you want to convey
We were charged with coming up with a conference theme that would be compelling, interesting and inspiring. It needed to describe both who we are and who our attendees are; it had to be relatable. As we evolve as a company, the theme needed to evolve with us.
As we’ve planned conferences over the past few years, we’ve looked at a natural progression. Two years ago, the theme was “The Best is Yet to Come.” We admitted then that, although we were good, we were still striving to improve, which was certainly true. Last year’s theme was “Reimagining Excellence.” In our opinion, excellence is the goal to which most people aspire, and we are no different. Before we can achieve excellence, we needed to reimagine what excellence looks like. The question for this year is, what’s next?
In an act of forward thinking, we saved all our brainstorming notes from last year’s session and brought them to this year’s session to start the process. That was a very valuable tool, because it got us in the proper mindset very quickly. Creativity began to flow much quicker working from that starting point. After reviewing our thoughts from the previous year, we set out to uncover what functions and emotions we were trying to capture with our theme.
In the function category, we came up with phrases such as: “taking a seat at the table,” “we’re already here,” “aligned with the best,” “the secret’s out” and “evolution.” For emotions, what popped out was: impressive, belonging, unique, trust, inspiration and integrity.
- Commit the team to the concept (there are no bad ideas during brainstorming)
Next, after looking at both the function and emotion lists we created, we came up with a list of words that could be incorporated into the theme. These were words that represent what we hope people feel about our company, what it’s like to be part of our network of consultants and what they hope to experience at our annual conference. Some of the words we chose included: evolution, thought leadership, expanding excellence, impressive, trust, integrity, inspiring and engaging.
At this point, we were in full-brainstorming mode. What this means is that all ideas were encouraged and no idea was considered “off the table.” We encouraged “yes, and” thinking as opposed to “no, but” responses.
- Come to a consensus among the team
We had a good basis on information and felt relatively aligned with the sentiment and emotion that we wanted to deliver. Now we needed to find the right words that would be inviting, inspiring, compelling and interesting. We also needed to be sure that none of the words we chose could be misconstrued in a negative fashion.
After about an hour of intense brainstorming, explaining our positions and considering all alternatives, we came up with five solid contenders.
- Engaging the staff (involve a wider audience)
Once we had five solid ideas down on paper that we were happy with, we brought the ideas out to the staff for their input. We encouraged everyone to add their opinions, good or bad, and suggest things we may not have considered. This was a week-long process.
Once we got the feedback from the staff, we reconvened as a team and took another look at our top contenders. It was a week later, we were in a different mindset, so the good ideas would rise to the top and the lesser ideas would fall away. That’s exactly what happened.
One idea was immediately dismissed as cliche and without enough substance. This was a perfect example of why it’s important to review ideas like this at different times. What sounded great on one day didn’t sound so good the next time we met. Another conference theme was still favorably received, but was thought to be a little ahead of its time. This one may possibly become a theme sometime in the future, but not for this upcoming year’s event.
When we did reconvene, it was not all that different from jury deliberations. We all had our own ideas but weren’t sure if we should share them right away or talk through the process first. One by one, we showed our cards and named our favorite theme, and as it turned out, it was unanimous. This year’s conference theme is Evolution of Excellence.
Last year we reimagined what we thought excellence was. This year, we, our network and members of the public can evolve into a state of excellence.
- Analyzing the theme
We had serious reservations about using the word “excellence” for the second year in a row. It could be perceived that we were mailing in the creative process by rehashing a similar theme from the previous year. But after we talked through that, we came to the conclusion that excellence is what we all strive to achieve, and that last year we were simply reimagining what excellence looked like. This was the year to put that excellence into action. We felt that Evolution of Excellence was a continuation on a solid theme from the previous year.
Did we accomplish what we set out to accomplish? We think we did. In Evolution of Excellence, we acknowledge that we continue to evolve as a company, even after 34 years in business. We strive to be the best; not only having the best assessments but in creating the best network in the business.
We want to be sure we are positioning ourselves in a way that represents our proper place as an industry thought leader that leads by example while always striving for improvement. We think we accomplished this. Ultimately, our attendees will let us know if we were successful in January when our biggest and best conference ever takes place.
If your team needs to channel its inner creativity, make a checklist and follow these five themes. Check them off as you accomplish each and you’ll have a systematic approach to accomplishing your tasks quickly, efficiently and effectively.