The tone was set from the moment we arrived at the FT for the 2 day creative summit. A cheerful and friendly security guard welcomed us and issued our name badges.
“Yes young man, take a seat and someone will be down to collect you” I havn't been called young man, since… I was a young man. A few glances around reception and it is clear that we are not the only early arrivals keen to get stuck in to some creative conundrums.
Accents and faces from all over the world. Surely enough, the summit brought together some seriously impressive talent from home and away. BBC, Google, MIT, FT China were just a few of the represented organisations.
The brainchild of the Product Management Director for FT.com and organised by the smart chap who brought us the BBC’s The Apprentice. The Creative Summit event was designed to illicit the most creative and innovative ideas from the attendees through 2 days of intense creative thinking, discussion, design and development. Various ‘unconference’ activities and organised, bite sized friend-making and networking sessions allowed everyone in the room to move around and get to know a few people. Backgrounds acknowledged, expectations exchanged and breakfast pastries devoured we were ready to start understanding the big problems the newspaper industry is facing. And even better, consider some solutions.
As many refreshments as you could consume in your wildest dreams kept everyone firing on all cylinders for the entire session. Of course lunch was laid on and an evening meal with an option to work as late as we like if we thought that was a good idea.
Camera people were filming the creativity and taking photos along the way. It was obvious that this was of massive importance to the Financial Times and is a clear sign that their commitment to develop new services will help keep their nose ahead of the competition and remain forward looking regarding interesting ways to engage with readers old and new.
We got to meet and work with some very interesting people from all levels of some very interesting organisations. Leaders within the FT took a very active role in the event and spent time walking the room sitting down and understanding the concepts that were coming out of the summit.
The Badgers split to join two different teams. I joined a team that consisted of a serial startup Chief Exec with a history in financial risk management, an FT Developer and an FT Marketing exec who were both able to be our insight for the 2 days providing not only valuable ideas but also key information regarding the typical FT users, marketing insights and future aspirations for the company. One of my biggest personal challenges of the 2 days was adapting to working with very different people very quickly. You can not take part in a project like this without throwing yourself in to it completely and that means that you have to avoid dancing around any conflicts and face them head on. A heated debate over UCD and heavy umming and ahhing over our numerous and constant stream of ideas kept me on my toes. It also proved a great testing ground for one of our key philosophies of collaboration. Externalising ideas and working as a team proved to be an essential contributor towards our winning idea.
Through gratuitous use of post-its, plasticine, pipe cleaners and morning pastries we worked on an initial brain dump of ideas around 6 core issues / problems the FT have that range from introducing new readers to the publication through to new ways to monetise and increase subscriptions. They had varying levels of grandiosity with the most ambitious not dissimilar to how to be a better Google. There was no shortage of inspiration and challenge.
At the end of day one, teams took turns standing up and explaining their loose concepts. Some teams worked into the night, fortunately the Badgers went home to get their beauty sleep. The final day was more about refining the ideas and contrary to my initial thoughts was not as hectic as I imagined. We all had a common goal that we were charging towards. The grand finale consisted of a pitch on stage with a 3 min deadline. Ideas were judged by some heavy hitters from FT.com. Namely, the Editor, CIO and the Director of Analytics.
Both the teams Red Badger were part of won 2 of the 4 commendations for their great work. The top 2 overall winning concepts went in to production, well deserved as well. I look forward to seeing how the new products develop and go to market.
The 2 winning entries that we were part of were commended for:
Innovative Reader Experience
"Which re-imagined the way stories could be constructed (or deconstructed) for time poor younger readers who want the quick facts and analysis.” This team included our very own Imran Sulemanji and Maite Rodriguez.
"A creative way to gain FT profile and reputation and engage with others through FT content.”
This was one of the most interesting creative summits I have been to. For the sheer mix of people, breadth of problems to solve and the level of involvement from internal stakeholders. I am glad that we had the opportunity to take a role in it and spread some of the Red Badger process, enthusiasm and creativity.