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Introducing GumboLive

Some of you may remember that in September last year, Initiative launched a global piece of research into Millennials. We aimed to find out what makes them tick, how brands can connect with them, and what marketers need to understand in order to reach them.

One key insight was that Millennials don’t want to work in the same way as their predecessors. The old story of sitting at a desk and progressing up the corporate ladder is losing its appeal. Instead, this group want to exercise their creativity, be responsible for their own output and, above all, collaborate with anyone and everyone they find interesting.

Of course, this made us think. Are we at Initiative UK doing enough to stimulate and nurture the young talent coming into the industry? How can we keep these bright young people within our business? How can we give them a platform to showcase their skills and originality (too often kept out of sight of clients) and bring their fresh perspectives to the different briefs we work on every day?

For inspiration, we looked to our colleagues in the US, where a project called GumboLive (co-funded by Mediabrands) is already a big hit – and chimes with our Fast, Brave, Decisive and Simple values. This small collective of creative individuals (across the pond they call it a ‘creative millennial think-tank’) helps to stimulate original thought on selected client briefs. They are fabulous… BUT they’re in New Orleans, so, on a practical level, the time difference makes it awkward to connect meaningfully. So we thought it was about time to bring Gumbo to Europe.

We launched a competition in the UK to identify two of our young people who would travel to New Orleans, learn the ropes from Gumbo, and return to the UK to start the same creative think-tank here. The competition was open to all our agency grads and executives, and from all those who entered, it was Alex and Rhian who were selected. Mentored by Lee Ramsay, they have spent this last January having (so it seems) the time of their lives over with Gumbo in New Orleans.

Now back in the UK, they will return to their day jobs in three months’ time, ready to be called up again whenever the brief arises. They will have a greater respect for ideas and a propensity to think laterally about every aspect of their work. Over time, we’ll send more of our young people to New Orleans to learn the Gumbo methods. We’ll also continue to train people here in the UK, until we have an agency full of young people brimming with creativity and curiosity.

The Gumbo team has a specific way of working, with clearly defined outputs that are designed to spark further thought. Instead of getting bogged down in the details (your account team can do that), they concentrate on the big, unique ideas that no-one else would think of.

And they’re waiting to hear from you. We’d love you to contact Alex and Rhian with any tricky brief you need a kick-start on, or thorny issue you’ve been losing sleep over. It could be anything from ‘How can I get more young people to start a pension?’ to ‘How can I make train travel cool?’ If you’ve got something, please email them and we’ll get back to you with a range of ‘blackjacks’, which comprise an insight and an idea, each in under 21-words.  Here it is in their words....

No amount of research and preparation could have prepared us for New Orleans. The city is a complete anomaly, a unique melting pot of culture, food and music. A place where normal rules don’t apply; where drinking in the streets (at midday…on a Monday) is the norm, and where you can listen to the finest jazz and blues musicians in the world every night. For free.

Its diversity makes this city entirely unpredictable. New Orleans is a place full of surprises, indeed the biggest mistake you can make is to believe you’ve seen it all! It’s therefore arguably one of the best places to seek inspiration and stimulate creative thought.

It’s no accident GumboLive is based in New Orleans. You quickly realise the environment is a crucial part of the operation. The ever-changing, inspiring workspace goes a long way to explain some of the wild and crazy ideas that are dreamt up by the GumboLive collective.

An office with more roof terraces than desks, filled with benches, roller skates, sofas, beanbags, table tennis apparatus and enough colourful instruments to form a brass band. The variety makes it easy to find inspiration, helps you overcome mental blocks and keeps your ideas fresh. All of this, coupled with the stunning views of the Mississippi River, makes for a very unique place to work.

Another interesting aspect of GumboLive is the people. It’s a real eclectic mix, which includes a former professional yoyo-er working alongside a teacher and a petroleum engineer. They prove on a daily basis that diversity breeds creativity. It also raises an interesting point of whether the normal benchmarks for employment (such as a 2:1 degree from a given university) can still be used as an effective guide to aptitude. With a university education having tripled in price in the last few years in the UK who’s to say that some of the brightest young minds can’t be found straight from school?

One of the most interesting things was observing the different ways the team generate their ideas. For such an artistic bunch it was surprising how methodical and rational their approach was. The starting point for each brief is RACE: Research, Analysis, Creative (thought-generation) and Execution.

Usually GumboLive colleagues don’t work on more than one or two projects each (per day). This ensures that ideas can come to fruition and mature in their own time, rather than finding an easy solution and moving onto the next imminent deadline. The luxury of time is seldom found when juggling client briefs, audience analysis and a competitor request in a typical agency environment. Being given unadulterated time is a welcome change.

Despite the freedom, things do still get done, briefs are still answered and deadlines are still met. This was surprising considering there is no obvious hierarchy and no job titles. The reason GumboLive works is down to collective responsibility. They have a ‘Point’ system in place (as in, to be ‘on point’), which means that for every brief there is a leader held accountable for galvanising the team, and ensuring project deadlines are met. Working with different individuals on projects meant exercising various creative techniques in order to get to original ideas faster.

Understandably, the range of different personalities meant each Point tackled each brief in a different way. For example some Points preferred solus idea generation; others had team methods that played better to their strengths.

Common to the entire group was their kindness and generosity throughout our stay. Not only did they show us the ropes at GumboLive but they also really made sure that we lived the full NOLA experience. Whether that was eating Jambalaya listening to the best local jazz and blues bands, a swamp tour in the bayou, exploring the Ninth Ward (the area worst hit by Hurricane Katrina) or taking a streetcar to an uptown park to watch the sunset over the Mississippi – we really did it all.

After everything, what really resonates is Jim’s comment that, “We’re not in the media business, we’re in the people business.” People are at the heart of everything GumboLive does. And this is the reason it’s so unique and valuable.