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Festival of Ideas at Accenture

Accenture commissioned a team of 20 artists to create a festival of group conversations, challenges, talks and presentations providing a platform for the staff to work together to create 500 new ideas coming from 120 conversations. The objectives of the festival were to energise the staff after 3 years of difficult economic circumstances, to immerse as many people as possible in the business strategy, communicate with the younger generation through technology and stage an event with a legacy that can be built on. Accenture’s Festival of Ideas was a remarkable event that established the power of the arts to help firms innovate and engage staff.

After three years of tackling the tough economic environment, management consulting, technological and outsourcing firm Accenture wanted to communicate a new three-year strategy for the business. However, the company wanted to go beyond the turgid nature of business speak and reach into the heart of its operations.

Accenture had worked with Boz Temple-Morris, an artistic director and consultant in brand and organisational development, previously in 2007, winning an Allianz Business to Arts Award for the project at that time.

Eithne Harley, director of integrated marketing at Accenture, says the company’s new strategy was about bringing the innovation that exists every day within Accenture to the fore and to harness it.

“The event needed to be cool, fun and technology filled.”

The company also wanted to use the event to drive employee engagement and to collect ideas and innovation.

Temple-Morris says the purpose of the event was to encourage employees to take ownership of the strategy.

“What many organisations often do is formulate a strategy and express their purpose, then as an add-on at the end throw an event. The approach that we took was the opposite to that.

“There was an acknowledgement right at the start that this strategy was organic and would change in the way people expressed it.”

One challenge facing the organisers was that they had to market the event, as attendance was not compulsory.

Accenture has over 1300 employees at different offices throughout Ireland. With its general audience it took a teaser approach in how it released information about the event, adopting a more conversational tone to its communications.

It used a secure social networking platform to begin conversations, and that platform has lived on after the event.

Over 300 employees were involved in coordinating the day and over 930 employees turned up and participated in the event.

The event, which took place in the Convention Centre Dublin, was set up in the form of a music festival.

The room was split into four areas with a main stage in the middle. Each of the four areas had a smaller stage, and in the room there were 25 yurts (tents) constructed from corrugated cardboard. Inside each yurt conversations were taking place about everything from entrepreneurialism in the healthcare sector to being a professional working mother.

“In the lead up to the event the organisers had crowed sourced 110 topics of conversations inspired by the four pillars of the strategy,” says Temple-Morris.

Each conversation was recorded within an app made specifically for the festival and a group of hackers sat in the middle of the room – in an area called the Brain – where they listened to the conversations and manipulated visual data to project it onto a big screen in the room.

“If you weren’t in a conversation you could look at this screen and see the collective wisdom of the room,” says Temple-Morris.

On each of the four stages there was a programme of talks carried out by Accenture staff and management, and around the room there were market stalls where different areas of the business could present what they were working on.

The Abbey Theatre got on board to do a workshop on posture and delivery, while the Science Gallery hosted a mind control game.

“Employees really entered into it – listening to keynotes, taking part in activities, having conversations to capture ideas in yurts, smashing plates on the plate shy and playing PowerPoint Karaoke to name just a few of the things going on,” says Harley.

She adds that the festival proved the arts can help companies to innovate.  A number of ideas generated on the day have been incorporated into the strategy with other business ideas being investigated.

“When art and technology collide I think something different happens. The sum is greater than the parts – a synergy takes place.”

Initial proof of the success of the festival came when it started trending on Twitter in Ireland, with many people thinking it was a public event having seen the chatter online

Since  the event this innovative  approach to Accenture’s new company strategy has been shared within marketing best practices in Accenture globally.

“We like to see Festival of Ideas as an Irish innovation of its own that has travelled around the world. My team has connected with colleagues from around the globe who want to understand the approach taken and lessons learned,” says Harley.

“We have also used the model to hold mini Festivals of Ideas for other internal events since February.  It was a magical day and the magic lives on.”

Design by New Graphic.