Creativity is like a roller coaster. So in late 2001 when managers at Aviva UK (then known as Norwich Union) wanted to promote a new way of innovating financial product, they chose a fairground to get the message across.
Having developed a creative procedure that they wanted to implement company-wide, Aviva's management needed to encourage risk taking within professional boundaries. They also wanted to highlight the benefits of groups working together.
Speed to market is an important factor for financial services. Yet their actuaries worked hard to reduce risk from people's lives. It is a major challenge asking them to innovate, simply because they were trained to be risk averse. Because of this, Aviva asked Maynard Leigh to devise and deliver an event that would help launch a more creative approach to innovation.
Our challenge was to help risk averse people step out of their comfort zone and become more creative.
The Big Top chosen by Aviva was surrounded by roller coasters and fairground attractions. The theme park was loud and their team were concerned that a conference would be overshadowed by the noisy machinery. Maynard Leigh converted the problems into the solution, by fully exploiting the choice of a theme park for a conference. During the day the participants enjoyed the sounds and freedom the park offered, while they used the contrasting quiet of the evening to speak within the tent.
The various regional functional teams composed a song during their long journey to the site. Each song conveyed the team's purpose and how it served Aviva. The song was to be physical and performed jointly to the rest of the company early in the event. It could be sung to an already existing tune, it could be a march or a cheer, or a rap, an aria - anything that could be performed en masse as a team.
The task inspired the teams whose songs were creative, lighthearted, informative, and set the pace for the rest of the day.
Maynard Leigh challenged the management team to be more creative too by eliminating PowerPoint slides. Consequently, they felt inspired to commission a huge backdrop to convey the elements of the new creative process.
The top team then performed for an hour in front of their scenery, explaining through a powerful presentation their initiative and what it meant for the company. Demonstrating riskiness in action, the group physically acted out the tale of the creative process that won an ovation from the audience of 150 people.
On stage the Maynard Leigh events team presented a playlet about Victims and Choosers, a model we use in business to show how responsibility is directly related to effectiveness. We applied it to the problem of raising awareness of change and innovation.
Then came the big creative and risky challenge. In groups of seven to twenty, people spent the day working as theatre companies. Their challenge was to devise a three to five minute sketch about a core value at Aviva.
All professional acting companies start rehearsals by preparing their minds and bodies for the creative process. So, the companies warmed up with simple physical exercises, and in true theatre tradition chose a name, presenting it to everyone as a tableau or pose.
As each team came up they shouted their name, did their pose and received thunderous applause. The scene was set.
Maynard Leigh provided each team with a dedicated hour of professional help with stagecraft, including costumes, props, sound and lighting. Fanning out across the theme park to rehearse, the teams went into a creative frenzy. By cocktail hour, the theme park fell quiet. Each theatre company was ready. All through dinner there was an electric atmosphere of excitement and anticipation.
Each sketch was performed with enthusiasm and imagination. Many surpassed their own ideas of what could be done. It was a cabaret evening that will be long remembered by those who took part.
There was clear evidence that the creativity sought after by management had prevailed. The tears of laughter, the cries of applause and cheering, the atmosphere of real theatre confirmed for everyone that Aviva did indeed have the spirit of innovation.
When the curtain fell on this involving and memorable event, the management's message was convincingly communicated and absorbed by all those present.
An overseas business function were to meet with their UK counterparts for the first time...