Soft insights, blank paper and socks with coloured heels

Thrive conference at Hall for Cornwall had a lot to offer, but the takeaways didn't just come from the speakers...

By: Clare Howdle,   3 minutes


For my Feed this week I decided to take a risk. I decided to put myself in an uncomfortable situation and challenge myself with something that I am not very good at and don’t often enjoy, in the hope that pushing myself might yield rewards.

I went to a conference.

Usually the domain of the suited and booted, where many a small creative agency fears to tread, conferences fill me with dread. Dry presentations and yawn-inducing talks, curling sandwiches and stewed coffee coupled with agressive networking and egos a plenty, I try to steer clear.

But it turns out I’ve just been going to the wrong conferences.

The team behind Thrive, held at Hall for Cornwall, had thought this through. They’d picked their speakers carefully. They’d thought about their venue. They’d given delegates the space to pick and choose workshops, introduced panel discussions and thankfully dropped the often obligatory ‘networking session’ from the agenda completely.

And it seemed to pay off. The breadth of attendees – all there to find out how to run a more successful business – was impressive. From public sector managers to small but ambitious start ups, HR consultants, marketers and innovative production companies, to restauranteurs, challenger brands and design agencies, Cornwall’s business spectrum was well represented, which meant for lively and diverse questions, debate and discussion.

Two workshops stood out for me. The keynote from ‘master thief’ Hamish Taylor was peppered with valuable insight to take away. Whether at Proctor and Gamble, BA or Eurostar, Hamish has pinched ideas from other sectors to innovate in his own. he had some useful tales to tell.

On a different tack, but still eye-opening, Mandy Milano from Covya talked about how to get the most out of your work relationships (and in fact, all relationships) in an honest, frank and refreshing way.

Yes it was good. Yes it was useful. No I am not a conference convert. But Thrive has certainly softened my hard and fast attitude that conferences aren’t for me. If there’s another event like Thrive on the cards, any time soon, I’d definitely put it in the diary.

Here are the top 10 things I took away, which I know will improve how I work from here on in (a great result for a day spent Feeding):

1. Think about your customer promise. When you’re developing or selling a product or service, always start with customer benefit. What’s in it for them should be your mantra (that’s where the socks from this post’s title came in).

2. Immerse yourself in the world of the customer. Think soft insights rather than data driven analysis. If you see things from their perspective you’ll understand where your product or service fits in and how it could be valuable to them.

3.Don’t try and change the customer to fit your idea. Change your idea to fit the customer.

4. When it comes to research, start from scratch. If you go into it with an agenda, or results you’d like to get, you’ll see what you want to see. Research with a blank sheet of paper and it will yield far more valuable insight.

5. Steal ideas from everywhere. Other sectors could already have the answers to the problems you are finding – just applied in a different context. Think about what skills you need to improve then look at who and where does it better.

6. Start with Why. When you are looking at your relationships with your team, your clients or your end users always think Why, How then What. Starting with the Why will give you the most insight into the reasons people behave the way they do.

7. Have walking meetings. They are less confrontational, allow for more freedom of thought, make any silences less uncomfortable and can inspire more creative thinking.

8. Listen. And then respond. Don’t think of the next thing you want to say before you’ve let the person you’re talking to finish.

9. Don’t be frightened of silences. They are good.

10. A bollocking achieves nothing. For any one.

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