Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending a mass brainstorm session which was hosted by Grant Thornton at the Royal Armouries in Leeds. The focus for the day was to bring people from the Yorkshire business community together to debate ‘How can we make Leeds a home where all sectors connect to create inclusive growth?’.
My first challenge when accepting this invitation was that we are a Wakefield based PR agency and we champion the district at every opportunity we get. What we have experienced over the years, on many occasions, is that Wakefield has a huge amount to offer but remains the forgotten relative to Leeds.
With a brief that focused so heavily on Leeds I had to question what value I could add and if I would become more of a hindrance than a help. In fact, I needn’t have worried. What was immediately enlightening on taking my seat in a room full of more than 300 people was that many of us felt the same.
The day was run to a tight schedule – with a countdown clock that actually turned red when your time was up. Despite being a little daunting, it kept us all focused and meant that we completed our tasks in the allocation we had been given.
Split into three sections we first had to use a process called Appreciative Inquiry (AI), which was first developed by David Cooperrider in the late 80’s at Case Western University.
The process is quite simple (which suits me!) it splits a task into four sections; appreciate, understand things worth valuing; the whole system, bringing a diverse group of people together to work on a challenge; task focused, be clear about what the objective is and assign individuals with the right strengths to the right part of the task accordingly and self-management, which gives people the chance to use dialogue and inquiry to reach an outcome.
In the first instance, we had to share stories about each other and what one thing we had done in the past that we were most proud of. This gave us a chance to get to know one another better but also to get animated about things that we wanted to share with a group of strangers.
It was an interesting way of finding out what really made people tick.
It became apparent that everyone around the table had different backgrounds, skills and experiences to share, which was really encouraging. We got to work, pipe-cleaners, pens and paints in hand.
In the second part of the session we had to dream… yes, dream.
Eyes closed – and feeling about as comfortable as a person with their eyes closed in a room full of 300 strangers – we got thinking. The swoony tones from our host made us think about what we would bring to Leeds to make it a better place to live, work and play.
Eyes open (thankfully) and we started to share our thoughts. There was a real positivity to the exercise, which somewhat surprised me as you usually get the odd moaner and groaner at these events, but our table was focused and ready to get to work.
The first decision we made was to change the Leeds to Yorkshire. We all agreed that as a collective, each part of Yorkshire had something different and exciting to offer that when accepted as a sum of the parts would create a region that simply couldn’t be bettered.
We considered each area in turn; Bradford, Wakefield, Halifax, Huddersfield, Kirklees, Doncaster, Calderdale… and so on. It was really encouraging to share the positives and to celebrate the many successes that already exist in the region, while then focusing on the next 10 years.
We were asked to present our ideas back and our table was chosen as just one to share our thoughts. Here’s the picture we created:
The final session of the day asked us to share as many post-it notes as we could which would provide ideas of how we could meet with our objective, to make Leeds a home where all sectors can connect to create inclusive growth.
Some tables managed to come up with over 100 ideas! Our table was less productive but in fairness we were very much about quality as opposed to quantity. It was then up to us to decide which idea we wanted to share with the room.
Not easy when you’re challenging people’s ideas and contributions to the session but we got there in the end.
We had just one minute to stand on stage and let the world (ok, just the room but it felt like the world from up there!) know what we were proposing.
Throughout the day we kept coming back to one theme that is already synonymous with Yorkshire and its success, sport. And so, our big idea, our dream, our plan and our vision was *drum roll* to become a host city for the Olympics.
Before you snigger or scoff, this was about dreaming – not putting needless hurdles in place of ideas that were calling upon our creative juices to get everyone in the room excited over what could be. Plus, we had a fall-back option, we decided that to host the Commonwealth Games wouldn’t be a bad target should we not get the big one over the line.
I have to admit that the day was long and tough but definitely worthwhile. I met lots of new people and was surprised at how many I didn’t know. It was great to hear the suggestions and ideas of others and to play with smiley faces and coloured pens.
Well done to Grant Thornton for hosting an event that captured the hearts and minds of more than 300 people, it’s no easy task. It certainly got me thinking more about the little things that we can do to make a big difference in the region.
Most importantly, I just can’t wait for the Olympics to come to Yorkshire.