If you’re a Theatre Maker, chances are you’ve been to your fair share of theatre conferences and Open Space events. We leave feeling excited and inspired by what has been discussed, and determined to make changes for the better. But, after a few days, that determination gets put on the back burner. And who can blame us? That funding application isn’t going to write itself. Those tour bookings aren’t going to magically appear on our schedule. It feels like too much of a commitment to start changing the world today. Maybe next year?
At our recent East Meets West Symposium we really wanted to avoid this scenario, and so we proposed a plan to help start turning talk into action. And the best thing about this plan was that nobody needed to do very much at all…
Perhaps surprisingly for a theatre conference, the idea we pitched is borrowed from the world of sport.
In 2010, Sir David Brailsford was appointed as the new General Manager and Performance Director for Team Sky. He had the unenviable task of improving the floundering fortunes of professional British cycling. He predicted that if the team changed their overall training philosophy, a British cyclist could win the Tour de France within five years. So successful was his plan, Sir Bradley Wiggins won it in just under three years.
Brailsford called his philosophy “the aggregation of marginal gains”, and it’s much easier to implement than its intimidating name suggests. All Team Sky did was look for things they could improve by just 1%. They started in the obvious places: the riders’ nutrition and the ergonomics of the saddle. But like a man possessed, Brailsford started to look beyond these obvious things to areas that could have a subtler or less direct impact: finding the pillow that offered the best sleep and taking it with them to hotels; testing for the most effective type of massage gel; teaching riders the best way to wash their hands to avoid infection.
Over a short time, these tiny changes which seemed insignificant in themselves started to build and resulted in an overall improvement far greater than the sum of its parts: the aggregation of marginal gains.
I first stumbled across this idea over on James Clear’s blog, which you should definitely read to get the full scoop on this concept. I particularly like James’ thoughts on how the aggregation of marginal changes can work in reverse.
By the end of The East Meets West Symposium 2017, we asked all of the delegates to make personal 1% pledges about what they were going to do help improve the way we all work together and, ultimately, to help put audiences in the region on top. It didn’t need to be anything huge or monumental. They just needed to improve something by 1%. With 110 delegates in attendance, we should, in theory, see a 110% improvement over time if everyone carries out their pledge.
We’ve published all of the pledges online which you can access here. There’s nothing like a bit of accountability to keep things on track! We’ve also asked some of the delegates to keep a record of how their pledges go and we’ll report back later in the year.
If you work within the Midlands theatre sector and would like to make your own 1% Pledge, you can do so over on the East Meets West section of this website. After you make your pledge we’ll be sure to add it to the list.