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  • ngaireblankenberg

Creativity Dies in Captivity

Clients: there is a time for intense collaboration, and then there is a time to let go...

For the most part, the more diverse voices in a workshop, the better the concepts. To a point. A common pitfall I see, is when clients (project managers, or curators or directors), fearful of going down the 'wrong' path, cling so tightly to a project, that the professionals hired on the basis of their creativity and experience, wilt... and so do their ideas. So as a client, how can you know how much to control and how much to let go?

1. The right brief for the right team. In my experience, the best designers are as invested in ´story´ and interpretation, as the curators, media producers and other members of the creative team. Relegating designers to ´form´´ and not narrative is restrictive, particularly given that how you experience a story in space has a major impact on its meaning. This also means that the story and content people need to also be given some flexibility to provide input on form. The most important thing though is that you understand how your chosen team works. Do your exhibition designers typically produce narrative exhibits independently or are they used to being briefed intensively by others? Do your curators have experience in developing high impact exhibitions or do they see themselves primarily as researchers? Forcing people to work differently to what they know may backfire.

2. Diversity. Creative ideas can flourish when there is a diversity of voices at the table: content experts, designers, audience and impact experts, people who have varied professional and life experiences (young/old/black/white/male/female). Avoid too many people who are the same professionally and personally. Make sure the more junior people in the room are empowered to speak even in front of their ´bosses´. As the client, your voice is always louder and carries more weight- so be conscious you don´t prematurely shut down fledgling ideas.

3. An experienced facilitator. Creative meetings can become a free for all if they are not facilitated properly. A good facilitator can bring out different ideas, but also know when to move the conversation along, or push towards consensus or not. She or he also knows when to allow the team to go away and think on it a little. It´s worth it to bring in a professional and neutral facilitator who can draw up an agenda, and guide the conversation.

4. Trust and Space. If you have brought together a team based on a process you have faith in, and you have seen their previous work, trust that they know what they are doing. Give people the space to think. Establish deadlines and opportunities for feedback at the beginning of the process and then stick to them. Don´t try to jump in too early ´just to check´. Again, No matter how nice you are, you are still the client and whatever you say, people will interpret as a ´direction´not just an ´´opinion´.

5. Feedback. So important! People do not know what you are thinking and trying to guess can just create a mess. Vague feedback that either embraces or rejects everything is frustrating and counter-productive. Don´t try and solve the problem or come up with a different solution but rather point out specifically what you do and don´t like about a presented idea. And try and articulate WHY or WHY NOT. Does the story have the wrong message? Does it not address your audience? Does the presentation of collections misrepresent them?

Happy creating.

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