In January, I ran a one-day ‘Cultivating Creativity’ workshop, twice over, for the Learning, Digital and Interpretation teams at New Zealand’s Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira. It was a serendipitous opportunity that came about as a result of blogging. During a trip home in early 2017, I met up with Kate Woodall, Senior Content and Interpretation Developer at Auckland Museum, to discuss my Churchill Fellowship and my focus on the creative process of museum educators. Auckland Museum is going through a huge site development and redisplay process and has a relatively new-in-post director, David Gaimster, who came from leading the Hunterian in Glasgow. There is a lot of change in the air at the museum, and the teams are grabbing the creative challenges ‘by the horns’. Kate asked if I’d be interested in developing a workshop to share my Churchill findings with her colleagues – to which the only possible answer was YES – and, as luck would have it, I knew I’d be in New Zealand for my brother’s wedding early 2018. And so, it came to pass. I want to use this post to reflect on the process of developing the workshop and how it played out on the day(s).
My first ambition was, of course, to make this the most kickarse one-day training session the world had ever seen. I wanted angels to sing and grown men to weep. This didn’t happen of course, but there was a lot of very positive energy in the room and I’m really happy with how it went. In the morning, I focused on defining creativity, the creative mindset and accompanying neuroscience, and then explored planning and delivering creative workshops with peers. In the afternoon, I touched on some design process models and then focused on personal, interpersonal and organisational barriers to creativity and potential strategies to overcome the blockages. I rounded out the day by coming back to my Churchill interview templates, offered as a ‘next steps’ tool for those who wanted to delve further into their own creative process.
Writing the workshop and compiling the visuals, notes, and activities was a slow burn over many months, and it took awhile for the key themes to emerge. I wanted to create something that was entertaining and enjoyable, and deliberately selected images to raise a smile. My blog was invaluable for remembering the many ideas that had once rattled around my brain, but had subsequently done the mental equivalent of falling down the back of the fridge. I thanked my 2016 self many times over for documenting what I was learning at the time. Repacking all that rich creativity content into a different format – transforming a chain of blogposts into a one-day workshop – also proved to be a useful exercise for me personally; it taught me that even very familiar content can be mined again and again for fresh ideas if considered from another angle.
I have a magpie approach to blog writing, responding to a bit of this and a bit of that and whatever has recently caught my eye. From my accumulation of individual blogposts, I enjoyed noticing new patterns and relationships across the material. For example, it really struck me just how challenging creativity is – you can’t hold it at arm’s length and maintain a safe distance; it really requires poking around in one’s vulnerabilities and insecurities, and risking ridicule and failure. It was also useful to remember how hard an idea has to work to become a thing. A promising idea has to traverse a tough-mudder obstacle course of apathy, stress, resistance, distraction, and competition to be fully realised. The more original the idea, the deeper the mud. But that’s good to know – if it feels like hard work, that’s because it is.
Like everyone who facilitates workshops, I recognised some areas that could be improved. I spent quite a bit of time, before, during and since the sessions, thinking about the balance between doing versus listening. Workshop planning and delivery were the most active parts of the day and, not surprisingly, the parts many participants enjoyed most. However, without the preamble and groundwork that set up the practical activities the breakouts wouldn’t have been so effective. This required quite a bit of listening in the first part of the day, which was to the benefit of the practical component, but perhaps could have been streamlined. On the first day, I delivered the afternoon as a large group discussion and without smaller breakouts, but this felt a bit too passive, especially for the post-lunch slot. I woke up the next morning keen to get the afternoon working better, and rejigged it so the same information was explored in a ‘breakout-then-feedback’ format, which worked better and brought some great thinking into the room. For future iterations, I will also end the day more actively. The workshop planning activity had everyone buzzing as they went off to lunch, and a similar pacy session to round out the day would have carried that energy further beyond the session.
I wanted the powerpoint to double as a toolkit, so that it held the narrative thread on the day, and included lots of website links in the notes for use at a later date. I planned for the content to stand alone so that it would be a resource long after the workshop itself. My intentions came at a cost though. I used plenty of images to illustrate and liven up the messaging, but some slides were still quite wordy – fine to read afterwards as notes, but not ideal when sitting in a group. There is also such a thing as too much information and, in my efforts to give the museum its money’s worth, I may have left a few folk punchdrunk by the end of the day. As Goldilocks discovered, every bear likes his/her porridge in a different way, and it seems every bear likes his/her creativity workshops in a different way too. Judging by the evaluation forms, I hit the mark for the majority but delivered information-overload for some.
I love facilitating – not something I get to do so much anymore – and my approach seems to have connected well with many. That connection was definitely mutual – they are a supportive and creative bunch, and I really enjoyed spending time with such like-minded souls. It was purely coincidental that I was in New Zealand at a time that aligned with the museum’s needs. Many staff were just back from their Christmas holidays, relaxed and refreshed and making the most of the summer. The workshop was delivered in the teams’ ‘situation room’ – the walls were covered with ideas under development, ideal for the purposes of my session. So the group came in with clear heads and I was – hopefully – able to help get the year off to an inspiring start. Kate has reported back that she’s seen learning from the workshop already being put in action, which is a real acid test of its value.