Podcast: How to get more creative in Internal Comms

Thu, Jul 1, '21 •

Podcast: How to get more creative in Internal Comms

There’s an essential business skill that many professionals underestimate, that many believe they don’t have, and that many don’t know how to use. One that’s often associated with art, but is important for every industry.

Did you already guess it? Yes, we’re talking about creativity.

From creativity in financial services to creativity in film and TV – Beth Collier has seen it all, and she’s joining us today to tell us all about it. 

Watch or listen to the podcast here, or read the full transcript below – whatever floats your boat.

 

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Jonathan Davies: Alright, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to another episode of the Internal Communications podcast. We're back after well a month because we're on a monthly release schedule now, and we have a lovely guest fresh out of a webinar that we recently did on Internal Comms in the financial industry and the FinTech industry.

Today I've brought for you here Beth. Beth recently became my good friend because we've been talking back and forth about several aspects of Internal Communications. One thing that's uniquely hers really is a subject that I think a lot of you are going to love, namely creativity – that's what we're here to talk about today. Now, without further ado, Beth, why don't you introduce yourself to our audience?

Beth Collier: Hi, Jonathan, thanks so much for having me. My name's Beth Collier and I started my career in communications back in the US in film and television in Los Angeles. Then I worked in New Zealand for a period of time before coming to London, where I live now.

I've worked in financial services here for a decade, but I left that to start my own practice, really focusing on helping people improve their communication, creativity and leadership skills. These skills that are going to help you, no matter what the future of work holds. These are the skills that really help people to connect, to thrive. I'm delighted to be able to talk to you about creativity because it's such an important skill, especially for those of us who work in communications. 

First things first – what is creativity and can anyone be creative?

Jonathan Davies: Fantastic. I fully agree. All of those soft skills are the one thing that will always be setting us apart from the machine. So if you want to make sure that you don't get replaced by a robot, keep listening to this episode. As we're going to dive ahead into my little creative segue here, was that creative? Actually, I don't know. Beth, what is creativity? Let's define that.

Beth Collier: Ooh, that's a great question. Good place to start Jonathan, because one of the challenges with creativity I find is that it is so misunderstood and there are so many myths and misconceptions about it that go around. And when I talk about creativity, I talk about a process for coming up with ideas that are new and useful.

It's not just that I've come up with an idea. It's got to have some sort of value. If you just think of something being new and useful, that's what creativity is all about. 

Jonathan Davies: Just for reference, saying that it's a great idea to have a purple dinosaur as a mascot parading around in our office might be new, but it's not necessarily useful. Right? 

Beth Collier: Well, a purple dinosaur worked really well for the people who made that show Barney...so, who knows. That's part of the challenge of creativity as well, because you don't know if it's going to be useful till you actually put it out there. That's one of the challenges – actually coming up with the idea and then testing it out, experimenting, learning, refining to see what really has an impact. 

Jonathan Davies: I'm going to dive into that one in a little bit, but first I just want to know – because one of the most common things that you hear around the theme of creativity is “I'm not creative, so I don't know what to do, and I don't know how to get out of this.” Do you believe that that's a myth that we can dispel that everybody is essentially creative if we follow your definition, which is coming up with a new idea that's useful. Can everyone then be creative?

Beth Collier: Yes. Not only can they be, they are. That's one of the things I think is an important distinction to make upfront. Oftentimes when I talk to people about creativity, they will come back to me with art. And they'll say, they're not creative because they're not very good at drawing, or they're not very good at singing, or they weren't very good at writing stories or poems.

And that is a form of creative expression. But if you put it to one side, what you're doing when you make music or when you make art is you're coming up with something new and original. If you look at Picasso, he's not creative because he picked up a paintbrush. He's creative because of what he did with that paintbrush, the way he painted was new and different.

And the public decided it was useful. The idea originally of “I'm going to paint a face from the front and the side” – crazy! Rejected! Not the way you were taught!...but that's what he did. That's what made him creative. And it's the same kind of thing if we actually look at creativity as a skill.

It is a skill that we all have as humans. It is something like any muscle you can strengthen with practice. That's one of the biggest things that I try to drill in all my creative workshops is getting people to understand what creativity is first, so they can then see that actually this is an important business skill.

This is not about how well I can draw a picture. This is about how well I can think and come up with new ideas and collaborate and use those skills to innovate and solve problems. So it is such an important business skill. We also have that problem with people who talk about the creative industries. So if you're not in the creative industries, quote-unquote, then what  are you? I spent 10 years in finance – that is not an area where people talk about being creative a lot. But you know what? You've got customers and you've got problems to solve. If you look at what FinTechs are doing now, if you're a traditional finance company, you've got to look at that and go, “Hmm, how are we going to serve our customers?” How are we going to solve that problem of giving them the service that they want, expect and need.” So if we position it in a different way, then you can see if you work on it. Then you are creative. 

And the other thing I'd add to that. It's to think about yourself as a child. When you were a kid, what did you do when you had time? When you went to play, what did you do? Did your parents or guardian sit down and go, “Okay, at 3:05 you will pick up the car and you will play with them for exactly five minutes going in concentric circles and turning them at 89 degrees. No, you just played. You just came up with things. If you had dolls or toys, you came up with ideas, you created your own narrative, you did all that. So if you think about where you were as a kid, and this is what all the research shows that our creativity really peaks when we are children – you had it. And if you don't feel like you have it now, this is the time to reignite it. It's because it's still there. It's within you.

Jonathan Davies: When you do these workshops with companies and you're helping them with their creative problem solving techniques, or just creativity in general, how much of that focuses on helping them understand that creativity is essentially a thought process? And how much of that focuses on helping them to express the difference between coming up with a painting and actually using the brush to paint it out? 

Beth Collier: Yeah. First we've got to define what it is, so we know what we're talking about, and then also understand why it's so important because there's a lot of resistance. If I say to people, I do stuff on creativity, they do not instantly think of important business skills. 

They might think, “Oh, you must go in and work with the ballet” or something like that. We've got to get people to actually understand what it's about and the great thing is there's now more research that talks about what an important business skill this is. You can look at IBM, McKinsey or Harvard. LinkedIn Learning did analysis last year, where they found creativity to be the number one skill that all business professionals in the world needed to master.

It’s the same way about communication. We know that everybody needs communication skills, but sometimes people are a little bit hesitant to say, “Oh yeah, I could use some help with that.” It's the same with creativity. You may not know you need it, but you need it. Everybody needs it.

Once I do the scene setting with what and why, then we move into the house. You've actually got to stretch this muscle. It's no good to just live in theory land – part of creativity and the real challenge is putting those ideas out there and knowing that somebody might say, “You know what, that'll never work here. We don't do things that way.” Facing that resistance, coming up with more collaborative solutions and then experimenting, refining, and just having to persist is such a big thing, and people want to think about “I came up with a great idea and it was instantly heralded”, but it's not how it works. 

If you look around at the things in your life, the things we use every day, from driving a car or getting on a bus or turning on lights – all of those things have a story of rejection and failure and struggle, but we don't talk about that. We don't talk about all the times they failed.

I was reading something about netflix earlier. If you want to look at where that started (DVDs in the mail) to where it is now, who'd have ever thought that it would become this platform that it's become...but they have had failures.

There was a point when they were doing both DVDs in the mail and streaming, and they raised their prices and they did a different model and people were leaving them in droves, but it's all about their ability to persist and to pivot, and to try new things and listen to their customers, that has kept them going. So you've got to have a mix between actually understanding the theory of it, but then get your hands dirty.

Jonathan Davies: So when it comes to facing resistance, I once used to know somebody at an ad agency. He was a copywriter there and he had a bin on his desk, a specific bin that was labeled great ideas that could have changed the world, but were rejected by lesser people. Maybe a little bit of the arrogance of a copywriter every now and again, I suppose. 

How do you go about facing that challenge of getting your ideas rejected? Because sometimes it's going to be, “My idea is just not landing with my people.” If you're convinced that that subright thing to do, is it okay to then maybe take a step back and come up with a better way to approach it?

Would you kill the idea and move on to the next? The “kill your darlings” type of thing that most of the creative industry does? How would you approach it? 

Beth Collier: I think it's a really tricky one. I love this example of putting wheels on a suitcase of how much rejection this idea had. And at the time there were people that thought it was going to be an insult to men and their masculinity, that a man would not want to pull a suitcase because he was showing his strength by carrying bags. And then guess what? They put wheels on the suitcase. Men were happy to drag them along, and we haven't looked back.

And it's really hard to know what idea you have. What idea is the wheels on a suitcase versus what is the idea? I saw that startup that had an idea of a device to hold milk, like a jug that would go in your fridge and it was connected with smart technology. And it would ping your phone when your milk was about to go sour. They raised millions and this company looked like it had a good trajectory, but then it failed. And it was because, how big of a problem is this for people? How many people are complaining “Oh my gosh, I'm always having sour milk”, and milk is not the most expensive item that most of us buy.

There was this idea that God obviously did a pitch to get the funding, but then didn't make it. So it's hard to know. I think if you've got something you really believe in, I think you've got to persist. But it's a tricky balance when you're working for someone else and you've got clients or customers that you've got to convince them, how can you be persuasive?

But also realizing that sometimes the world is not ready for your greatness maybe. And that does happen, but if you still believe in it, I think persisting is important because of all of these creative items and things in our lives. They have stories of years, like post-it notes, which took seven years to come to market.

I was talking to somebody earlier about the musical Hamilton. We love to talk about how great it is and Lin Manuel Miranda, the toast of Broadway. We don't talk about the seven years it took to get there. We don't talk about Stephen Sondheim, who is the king of musical theater and Broadway in New York, how he was a mentor and friend to Lin Manuel Miranda, and he didn't think it would work. So you can imagine if you were working with the greatest success of composing a musical theater, and you say, “Here's my idea for musical theater.” And he says, “I don't think it's going to work.”

That is a really hard position to be in. Because you think, “Well, he knows more than I do. He’s doing this longer. He's had so much success.” Sometimes you don't know. That's where persistence really comes in of being able to go, “If you really believe in it, I think you need to be persistent.” 

Jonathan Davies: I'm wondering because, from one of the things that you said, I’m starting to feel like there are a couple of killers to creative solutions that could have been great. One of the things that you've just said would be anticipating tensions, so anticipating that people aren't gonna like the solution, e.g kind of the suitcase, right? You're anticipating that men one to carry this to show their masculinity. That's obviously wrong. Then another would be somebody who's maybe more experienced than you, or has a higher kind of stature telling you, “No, it's a good idea.”

Are there other common pitfalls that happen that you need to be aware of that you might have to overcome when you're proposing a creative solution to a problem that you've been facing before? 

Beth Collier: I think one of the big ideas is knowing that creative ideas by definition are new and different, and people tend to cling to the status quo. For as many times as you will hear people say, “We want out-of-the-box thinking, there are no bad ideas.” There was someone who said earlier today, “I got hired for my creativity and fired because I was a Maverick.” And I thought that was such an interesting way of putting it. When you put out an idea that's new and different people are going to react to it.

Sometimes it takes time for them to warm up to it. And I think, again, this is where communication really is able to show value. You should be able to say, “Here's my idea and here's how it benefits our customers. Here's how it benefits our business. Here's how it benefits society.”

You've got to make your case, and this is where I see communication and creativity. My work really aligns. with being persuasive, being influential, being able to make a strong argument. Those are important points when you have a creative idea, to be able to get that connection. But knowing that, I think creative ideas getting rejected all the time should give you a little bit of comfort that if you've had ideas that get rejected, that shouldn’t stop you. Because too often people have what I call creative looms.

That’s the idea that at some point in your life, maybe when you were a kid, maybe you're a teenager, maybe when you were a young adult, somebody said something that bruised your creativity, whether they said, “You're not as good as your sister or brother at this”, or “That'll never work here, that's not the way we do things.”

What happens is people go into their shell. A lot of times people will retreat and then they don't want to share their ideas. And that's a problem because if you're not sharing your ideas, then we're missing out on them. I could give you an idea, Jonathan, that might not be the brightest idea, but maybe it sparks a great idea. And then we can collaborate. Just the fact that you hold that back means other people are missing out on what you have to contribute.

Jonathan Davies: I guess then that when you do this work slips on creativity, you're not just going to focus on the thought process and expressing it and maybe defending it, but also is there even enough psychological safety here for people to feel like they can get that role?

Beth Collier: Psychological safety – that's a great point, Jonathan. It's a huge point because if people don't feel comfortable, and I have seen this in cultures of fear, where people don't feel comfortable putting that idea out there, because it's just too scary. If you think back a year and a half, if you were sitting around talking about how you could make your workplace stand out in a crowded environment and somebody said, “Hey, maybe we should let our employees work a hundred percent flexibly. Maybe we should let employees work from home whenever they want.”

Now I know there are some companies that were already there, but I've worked with, and for a lot of companies that were not, and there'll be a lot of people who would have said, “There's no way that will work. We could not have people out of the office.” I know someone who turned down a job back in February of 2020, where they said he wouldn't be able to work from home two days a week. They said “There's no way we can make that work.” And then, you fast forward a month and everybody's at home in that particular company.

It's throwing those ideas out there and getting people to see what might be possible – like saying “Alright, well, full flexibility isn't going to work, but what if we did three days?” It's getting ideas and starting big and then, you can always pull back, but too often people will take a really small step. They'll say, “Well, maybe we should let people work from home one Friday a month.” That's not the kind of thing that really makes an impact with employees, particularly when everybody compares themselves to, “My friend gets to work from home every Friday or whenever they want”. You've got to look around at what other people are doing and see where you can get those ideas. But I always encourage people to start big because you can pull back. 

Jonathan Davies: Hmm. Okay. I like that to start big and then pull back and maybe moderate yourself a little bit and try it again essentially. Right? There's again the persistence element. You need to have some dog termination, I guess. Now I'm curious when it comes to creativity itself. Everybody that's listening here, an Internal Communicator and in one form or the other. Internal Communicators have to deal with restraints, they don't have a lot of budgets, they don't have a budget, they don't have a lot of resources in the form of material available, they don’t get the money to create a great video or even FTE, right? 

All of those things are constraints, but we both view those types of boundaries and constraints as actually creative tools in a way. Because you have to come up with a solution within that box that you've been given. Here's a note dealing with that same issue. How would you explain that to them? Actually the position you're in is not bad. You can work with it quite well. 

Beth Collier: Well, constraints can be really helpful to your creativity, but this is where it's a very fine balance between if I said, “Jonathan, you got no money and you got an hour, come up with all these ideas.” Now you might be able to come up with something great in an hour, but it might be different if I gave you two other people to work on this with, or I gave you a day. Sometimes when people hear constraints, they go a little bit too far. They're like, “Great! We'll take away all the money. We'll take away all the resources.”

But if you have a small team dedicated to something, with really confined goals and parameters, then that's where you can spark creativity. If I told you, “Go shoot a two minute video” and that's all I gave you, what are you gonna do? If I said “I want you to go shoot a two minute video that shows why recycling is something we should all be doing here and I want it to have an animal and a tree.”

If I gave you some sort of constraint, it can just focus you. I don't know why this has come to my mind, but there is a movie that came out many years ago, called Space Jam with Michael Jordan. There's a new one coming out this summer with LeBron James.

And there is a song about Space Jam, and when the group was asked to make the song, they said they were very specific. It's the same group that sings “Come on, ride that train.” and it's the Miami sound that was very popular at the time. And they were asked to make a song in the Miami sound. So if you say to someone, “There's your strict constraints” and you have this amount of time to do it, then you know exactly it just confined your thinking and you've been very deliberate and intentional about what you do, but the trick there is to make sure you don't go too far.

As communication professionals, we know what it's like when budgets get slashed, we know what it's like when we don't have the teams, but how can you look outside? Maybe I don't have a large communication team, but who else do I know that I could pull in? And don't just go to the usual suspects. Just because someone works in marketing or advertising, that doesn't mean that they're the only ones that are going to have a good idea. You might find someone from finance or risk or audit actually can add so much insight into your brainstorming or your ideas. They will come with different perspectives.

That's a key to get cognitive diversity, people who think and see things differently than you do. There are total opportunities to really make the most of it. It goes back to what you were saying about psychological safety before. You've got to make sure you've got the right conditions for it because some people go too far. And when you do that, then you put people under a lot of undue stress and pressure, and then you're not necessarily getting the most creative output. 

Jonathan Davies: So if you're a CEO and you're listening to this podcast, because you felt like Internal Comms could be better at your company, please don't tell the person in charge of Internal Communications that their budget is completely slashed and they have no more resources. That's not how it works. 

Beth Collier: I think the CEOs are just here for the space jam references because they're like, “Oh great! Someone who speaks my language.” 

Jonathan Davies: I really hope so. I hope that that's within our target audience. Essentially, what you're saying is that these boundaries are kind of like a brief, right? Exactly what you were talking about in the context of that Space Jam song – “Here's your brief, it needs to be any sound that Miami sounds, you need to say Space Jam and you have X amount of time.” That's probably not a great brief. We would want a little bit more detail, but essentially it's kind of the same.

Beth Collier: It gives you a starting point. 

Jonathan Davies: Right? Starting point, some boundaries, not as tight as an actual brief would be, but in that direction. Now let's say that I'm the Internal Communicator and I just received a brief. I have to come up with a video together with my CEO that explains the Q1 business strategy in such a way that at the end, I can give two key takeaways.

Let's say that's my assignment. Let's say I've been at that company or I've at least been doing what I've been doing for a while. I would tend to fall back on my tried-and-true methods and all of that stuff there, which is risk-free, but maybe not the most impactful thing to do. How do I get out of that zone and get into the creative aspect where I start thinking of ideas outside of the scope of what I would normally immediately do?

Beth Collier: A good point there is actually thinking about the brief you've been given. Is that going to solve the problem? Sometimes people will say “I need a video”, “I need a newsletter”, “I need an email”, “I need a town hall” and they're thinking too much of the output and not enough of the outcome. And I think part of our challenging communication is to actually be the challenger in a positive way, but actually in the pursuit of getting what you want, I'm thinking what's going to be the best way to do this. What is the purpose of whatever this announcement is? How do we get it to people in a way that they're going to pick up those takeaways that we want to do?

And then it's thinking about, maybe it's not a video or maybe it's a video, but how could you make that video different? Could you crowdsource some footage from people, could you get employees involved to share some of the messages? What could you add to it to really make it stand out?

Always thinking of what we are trying to achieve and making sure that whatever you create is in service of that. This is where I think collaborating can be really helpful to get other people to bounce ideas off, to share. What have we done before? What has worked? Ask people, I think that one of the things that people miss out on a lot is engaging with your audience to find out how they like to get information?

I've seen companies that get really excited about video. Years ago we had to do videos for everything. Well, no one in the company was watching the videos because they didn't have headphones. This is pre everyone having Apple AirPods by the way.

Nobody watched the videos and the system was so slow that you'd be watching a video loading, loading, loading, and people would just abandon. It's not just about having a shiny cool thing because nobody gets the message and does what you actually want them to do. It can be the most beautiful video, but if nobody watches it, if nobody gets takeaways, then it's a failure, in my opinion. 

Jonathan Davies: When it comes to putting out something as great as that, and let's say you do notice that it's not working, too often I feel like people tie into what you called a sunk cost fallacy. It's like we've spent a lot of time and resources on making this work, so now we're just going to keep that ball rolling. Let's say you have to pause and you need to take that step back because your initial creative idea, which was brilliant, just didn't work. The video's loading is too slow. What do you do then?

Do you try to repurpose that idea, can it completely go for something different, but with the same message, how would you approach that? Because there's also an ego aspect to that like “I had this great idea, but now my soul has been crushed because it no longer works.”

Beth Collier: It's a great line, I think. That's why humility is really important in this whole process. Sometimes you can have a great idea and maybe people just don't respond to it. I find it really interesting when you're sharing content, say on LinkedIn, I find it really interesting what people respond to.

I might think something like this is a really interesting point and maybe other people don't engage with it or I might think “Well, this is interesting, but It's not the most interesting thing I've written”, but then people disagree and they think it is. You never know what people are going to respond to. You've got to be curious and you've got to be humble, and perk your ego and then think about, “Well, what am I trying to achieve?”

I want people to know how important creativity is. I'm not going to hit them over the head with a stick, because that's not how I would like it, but how can I come up with ways to share those messages and what are people responding to? And if I do a great video, but nobody likes it, then what can I do? Like what you said, you might think, “How could I repurpose it?” or “Do I have the ability to have screens in the lobby of a business where people can see it as they're walking in and out? provided they're actually coming into a physical office?”, or “Could I also turn that video content into a one-page infographic?”

I love one-pagers. I love infographics. What could you do to repurpose it? Because it's all about getting the message out there. This is where I think sometimes people get too fixated on “it's my great idea. It's my baby!” You've gotta be prepared that not everybody is gonna love your baby.

And that's the problem too, with creative ideas, they're very tender at the beginning. I always tell people, “If you come up with an idea, don't throw it out immediately.”. Give yourself a little bit of time to reflect on it, to think about it. Maybe get some input from other people to see how they can build on it.

Because when you put it out there, it's really hard if people reject it or don't get it, or don't think it's the greatest thing. I have seen equally people who think this is the greatest thing we've ever made and they just ignore the fact that no one's actually agreeing with them, or they say, “Oh, well, we played it in the lifts and 20,000 people saw it because they were in the building.” Well, if 20,000 people didn't take the message or value it, then I don't think it's done what you wanted it to do. So, humility is important.

Jonathan Davies: It's like that idea of a tree falling in the forest. If nobody was around to hear it, did it actually fall? I guess that's the same with your great message. If you sent it and nobody actually understood it, then it wasn't even sent to begin with? Interesting. Now, let's flip it around for a moment, because I know that Internal Communicators can often be in a position where on the back foot they're on the receiving end of things that need to be executed on behalf of somebody else. I love naming the CEO as an example. He wants to send something out. Let's say that the Internal Communicator listening to us right now just got a request from the CEO to do something which was extremely creative, but probably not the best idea in the world. The roles are sort of reversed.

What should the Internal Communicator then do? Obviously, as you just stated, don’t outright dismiss the idea because that's probably just not going to land well. But how do you then work with it to make something out of it that does make sense?

Beth Collier: Well, this is a tricky one because there's a screenwriter who I love named William Goldman, who's written a few books, and he has a line about Hollywood where he says, nobody knows anything. And so if you look at certain films, if you saw the script at one page pitch or the logline of “This is what it's about.”, you might really arise and go, “No one is going to be interested in a guy who travels back in time to the 1950s and sees his parents and has this crazy inventor that he's friends with. This is a crazy idea. And then of course back to the future is a huge, huge hit. And there are a lot of things like that, so it's a tricky one. If you get an idea that you think is terrible, I suppose you have to reflect on what is terrible about it. Because if you can give the evidence to say, “Actually, that's great, you want to do a team building event tonight, but remember that your employees have families and they may have other plans. Sometimes giving the other perspective of why maybe this isn't the best idea, but seeing if there's opportunity to how it might work.

If somebody said, “Oh, I want to do this big staff party tonight.”. and you're like, “Look, I don't think that's going to work.”, It's thinking of what is it that you're actually trying to solve? If you feel like staff morale is down, what would be the solution to improving staff morale?

What might we do? What would we like? Maybe there's some good intentions there and some good thinking, but often it’s just not understanding your audience. It's not understanding your customers. When we talk about the return to work there are certain people that cannot wait to get back into an office.

There are other people who don't want to go back and you have to be willing to look at to say, “If you are a CEO who gets to the office by a car and driver, who has an assistant or maybe a team of assistance, if someone is getting your lunch, someone is getting your coffee, you have a big, beautiful office – that is not the situation that all of your employees are having. Some of us are going to be on a packed train. We're living in a different world, spending our own money on our lunch and our coffee, and worried about the people that we were next to, did they get vaccinated and they're coughing on me.

And again – curiosity, humility, listening. It's all of that that you've got to put into all of your efforts. Think about what is the actual problem we're solving? So if you get that idea that you think this is not going to work, ask yourself why not?

Look at what is the purpose of this? What is the problem it's actually trying to solve? Thinking about it objectively, like, is it going to solve it? And where can you find the bits that work? In that case, you might say, “You know what? People would love an event, but maybe we need to give them X amount of days' notice, or maybe we need to think about how this could work for people who are in different situations.” 

Of course, this is going to depend on the organization. I've worked for a lot of really big global organizations. My experience with that is different than if you work for a company that has 10 employees and you all live within a three mile radius. Again, it's knowing your audience and what's going to work for them and asking them, and seeing what they think.

I think there's always  room to compromise and to find something that's going to work but it's all in service of the problem. Is this going to get you the outcome you're seeking? Is this going to solve the problem? Too often people think about things like, “Wouldn't it be fun?” or “This is what I want to do”.

And you have to remember beyond that. Being more open to the world is not just what you want to do. It's thinking about people beyond you and making sure that as a leader, you're serving your people, you're serving your customers. And you only do that by being humble and being curious. 

Jonathan Davies: Actually, I'm going to circle back to something that you said before, because you're absolutely right. Everything that you're saying, essentially what you're doing constantly is challenging. You’re challenging the reason why you're doing this, you're challenging the thought behind the thought. You're trying to find out what it actually is that's happening. How do we keep that up?

Because I know Internal Communicators that essentially have somebody at their desk every day asking them to do something. This is an exercise in patience, right? How do you overcome that? 

Beth Collier: I think it's a good point that it is about patience. And also critical thinking is such an important undervalued skill. As communicators, you can see that most people don't get into communication to just do what they're told. We have thoughts and ideas, and we want to be part of the solution. We don't just want to be the person who sends out the email, we want to be in the strategic discussions.

I think it's important for us to be there. That's where you're really going to add value. Otherwise you're just a distributor. I think you have to reflect on where people are. When those people are asking you to send us an email or “We need to do this thing”, they've probably been told by someone else, and they've been told by someone else, depending on your organization, or they're under time pressure and they're thinking, “How do we get this out? We just need to send the email.” And so we've got to show our value as communicators to say, “I am going to work with you to achieve these results, and when I am pushing back on you, it is always within the best interest of you and the company, and the employees. It's not about me not wanting to send an email. It's about me wanting to make sure you get what you want.”

Because that goes back to reputation. And if you talk to people about their reputation, then that's the language that they will speak. If you say, “If you send this email and you're constantly doing these knee jerk things that people aren't responding to”, that reflects on you. As a communicator, you are there to be, as I say, the critical friend and the champion and the cheerleader, but also you need to be the one to ask those questions that maybe other people aren't doing.

Jonathan Davies: That's fantastic. We're almost out of time, but there's one question that I've really wanted to ask you. I guess I've asked it, but not as direct as this and I'm half Dutch – my directness is begging me to do this. There are going to be Internal Communicators that are listening to this that just feels like they're stuck in a rut. And it's not that they don't like their job and it's not really that they don't like their company. It's just, we've been going through the motions, especially now after this past year where it feels like life was on pause for a lot of people. When people look back at their life, this is probably not a year that most people will be talking about with a big smile on their face.

What I want to ask is to all of the Internal Communicators that are listening, that feel like they're stuck in a rut and feel like a good, healthy dose of creativity could help them, but they just don't have it within them right now to reignite that spark, what’s something or some way, or a method that they could use to reignite that spark? Even if it's just for the one assignment in front of them, just to get that ball rolling. What would you recommend? 

ARC – The golden rule of creativity

Beth Collier: Great question. Actually I have a lovely acronym for this that I coined a year ago when it came up in one of the other workshops I was doing, where somebody asked me, “How do I strengthen my creativity?”

When you can convince people it's important and to understand that they're going to need it to help their career. It's like, “Okay, now what?” I have this acronym that I call “ARC” and what it stands for is absorb, reflect and create.

When you want to be creative, how do you do that? Well, you first got to start by absorbing information. Give your brain some material. And by this, I don't just mean you've got to read academic papers or textbooks. Feed your brain information. I get inspiration from all kinds of things. I do read a lot of books. I do read a lot of the news, but I also love entertainment as you can probably tell. And so I'll read Variety or The Hollywood Reporter, which aren’t in my necessarily line of work, but it might give me an idea. 

I read something about Steven Spielberg and Netflix yesterday, and this might have given me an idea about leadership or something else. It could have given me an idea instantly, or in six months. There was something I read about someone from Goldman Sachs years ago, and then just somebody had a conversation with me about something that reminds me of something I read. 

So you're just feeding your brain information and then you need to reflect. Give yourself time to think. When I ask people, “Where do you come up with your most creative ideas?” I don't tend to hear people say, “Oh, sitting around a boardroom table and an office. That's where I feel the most creative.” People tend to give answers like “When I wake up”, “When I'm in the shower”, “When I've gone for a run”, “When I meditate”, it's often when your mind is at rest. You've got to let your mind just absorb information and reflect on these things. Then the next step is to create. This is where you start to experiment. You try things out. You make that video and you put it out for feedback and then people tell you some ideas and then you refine it and you put it out again, and then you continue to work at it, prototyping, experimenting, learning, and just carrying on. If you can do those things, that's where you will strengthen your creativity.

And the other point I'd make on this, this is me following my own advice here, practicing what I preach – follow your curiosity. What are you interested in? I started doing this about a year ago. I actually started a newsletter where I talk about stories. It's just something I'm curious about. Last week it was the movie Jaws. I read that it was coming up to its big 46th anniversary. Before my time, but obviously I know Jaws cause it's one of those movies that's just been around. 

I saw this little piece about a woman named Berta Fields who was an editor on the film and just something sparked my curiosity, so I started to read more and then her story and what she did on Jaws was just really interesting. And it's enjoyable. If you look at neuroscience, when we are learning, this is good for our brains. We are getting the endorphins going, we are sparking all of these positive feelings that come from learning. If you follow your curiosity, whatever it is about, it feels good and you never know where you're going to get ideas. 

If you want to learn, watch TikTok for 20 minutes and see if that sparks something for you or jump into Ted and find a Ted Talk you want to listen to, or whatever it is that is going to that is interesting to you. It doesn't have to be, “Oh, I've got to read this paper about communication theory because I'm looking to be serious in my work.”. No. What are you interested in? What's got you curious? Go follow that cause that's the road to creativity. 

Jonathan Davies: I think absorb, reflect, create. I'm going to remember that. Now that I think about it, I think in my own creative process, that's actually how I work. Usually if I have to do something, I will absorb things until my brain is basically an overfull sponge that starts to leak things out and then I purposely don't do it. I stay in that reflected state for a while because I know my subconscious is just working on something in the background.

I guess the reflection could also be a rest in a way. During resting periods when I least expect it, that's usually when I'm like that, that was the trigger that I was looking for and then creating a stage, which is usually the most painful one, because then you have to actually work out that idea.

I love that. That's really great. And I think that's really valuable to anybody that's listening. Having said that, I'm afraid that we've come to the end of our episode. Beth, I want to thank you once more for joining us here again. We will have you back in the future because I absolutely loved this. We'll be in touch about figuring out what the next episode can be. I hope to see you back sometime soon. 

Beth Collier: Thanks so much for having me and just, I would encourage anybody listening to follow their curiosity and remember that you are creative. 

Jonathan Davies: Fantastic on that note.

Author:

Elena Nikolova

Date:

Thu, Jul 1, '21

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