If you need proof that creativity works with serious issues, Forum for the Future has it. This sustainability non-profit is tackling the world’s biggest issues, with food and energy top of the list, and it’s Claire Wyatt’s job to find ways to communicate their tough messages creatively.
An actress as well as a creative advisor, Wyatt was drawn to her role at Forum for the Future after a period of writing stories and plays with a sustainability theme. “Acting can be a strange and vacuous profession at times. I started to make work and write plays with sustainability at their heart (through story and production values) but I wanted to do more and create real change.”
Forum for the Future works globally with business, government and others to solve tricky challenges. It aims to transform the critical systems that we all depend on and make them fit for the challenges of the 21st century. With 17 years’ experience inspiring new thinking, building creative partnerships and developing practical innovations to change our world and some big-name partners – BT, Jaguar, Land Rover, Unilever, Shell to name a few – it would appear the Forum’s work is having an impact and the message is getting through.
“We have seen some amazing work in the past few years and in Forum’s 17 year history with organisations taking a pioneering stance with sustainability but we need to go further, faster,” says Wyatt. “The key issue we’ve identified is that there is only so far these organisations can go by themselves. The system they are operating in needs to change. We call this system innovation”
Getting people to think differently on a grand scale is plain hard work, even if the answer can be simple. “In shipping in years gone by, everything was packed on ships in a chaotic way. Then a pioneer came along from the trucking industry and said ‘let’s standardise everything’ through containerisation. That created efficiency. It was good for the financial bottom line and for fuel efficiency. It was a big shift and a million great things came out of it.
“#theBIGshift is our campaign that enables us to talk about system innovation in a more upfront manner. We ask what would that pioneering campaign be for your industry, what is the equivalent to the shipping container revolution? I think at the moment we are having a very warm response because we are not just theorists, we put things into action.”
Getting such vital messages across requires precision but also something that appeals to human nature. Wyatt says: “My first port of call for anything is the idiot test or the ‘how would you explain it to your eight year old niece’ example (not that’s she’s an idiot!). If you can’t explain your idea in a simple sentence, perhaps it’s too complicated or you don’t have a good enough grasp of it.
“I usually approach everything from a storytelling point of view. Who is the hero – the audience; what’s the journey – Forum guiding people through a journey of sustainability; what’s the moral – the content or great idea. Storytelling may be a buzzword at the moment but it has been with us since the beginning of human life.”
Duality of methods and consistency of message will help a creative message reach and strike a chord with audiences. So a story doesn’t just have to be told, it can be drawn, sung, animated, set into infographics or heavily researched and analysed.
“I’m somebody’s target audience but even I on a different day will want to receive a message in a different way. I might want to look at an infographic or read a full document, other days I might just want the executive summary.”
As an actor who has carved a niche role in a key organisation in the fight for sustainability, Wyatt must face some barriers.
“I think creativity has given itself a bad press. There’s a misunderstanding that it’s a specialism but scientists are creative, business people are creative in their products or plans, politicians are creative in thinking up new ways of engaging people. We are all creative all the time; to be human is to be creative.
“Smart organisations recognise it’s not a niche and to enable your staff is to engage them. To be creative should be as much a part of a company’s culture as health and safety.”
Wyatt believes you need to create the environment that is most likely to create the results you want. Sounds fair, but what does that mean in practice?
“In any job there’s a whole bunch of stuff you might not want to do even though you recognise its value. I try to encourage people at Forum not to be chained to the desk. If they need to talk to someone in the office, they should go out to talk to them. I have set up Google maps of walks of 5, 10, 15 and 25 minutes duration starting from our office, so people can choose one and take their meeting outside.”
Wyatt has brought the same ethic to Forum’s meeting rooms. “Scientists proved that you are more creative after doing something like a Sudoku puzzle so I have set up boxes in the meeting rooms so people who have spent the morning reading heavily analytical documents can come in and play before they start their meetings. I try to start all meetings with some sort of game to get people in the right frame of mind for the task at hand.”
That’s not all….
“I’m naughty. I love taking the mickey out of people at work or putting on a bit of music and having a dance break. I did it the other day and four or five people joined in, one just rolled their eyes. You just try not to do it when somebody is one the phone.”