Friday, February 27, 2004

Brainstorming with thieves

Of all the humiliations in my career, yesterday was a definite stand-out moment.

Without going in to too much detail, I've been looking after a website for a programme for four years. It's a lovely website, and all was well in the world - until the BBC decided to bring the programme back.

Nothing bad about that in itself - the production team are (for TV people) lovely, intelligent and interesting. They are based in BBC Wales. The only problem is that BBC Wales Online suddenly announced that they'd be doing the website for the new series.

This is how things work in the BBC. Imagine you're a department. You want to do something? Fine - announce you're doing it and see what happens. The best outcome is that you suddenly end up doing it - and the very worst thing that will happen is that you're suddenly locked in a "compromise" about a "co-production".

White collar crime's fab isn't it? Imagine how this would be in the real world.

PC HOOT: "So - you've been burgled?"

SKIP: "Yes. I've lost my nice TV."

SCOWL: "Yes. I stole his TV. It was nice."

PC HOOT: "Yes, it is nice. Far too nice for you, young Skip. Perhaps we should give it to Scowl?"

SKIP: "But...."

PC HOOT: "Now, play fair young Skip. If you want to get on, you really must learn to share."

SCOWL: "I'll need a video player as well..."

PC HOOT: "Don't worry - Skip will buy you a nice new one."

That's right - not only is our website being nicked, but we have to pay the thieves to look after it.

I can't help but take this personally - one of my proudest professional achievements is in danger of wandering out of the door, and the BBC is being as helpful and supportive as... well... well - how supportive do you imagine the BBC would be? Yup.

My fab head of department did some shouting. My lovely managed looked pained. But it's a BBC thing - kick up a fuss and people accuse you of not being "One BBC".

As I look back on my time at the BBC (which, I fear, is lumbering into its twilight stages), I realise that if you make the mistake of working too hard for too little money you get bugger all recognition ever. In fact, you get your budget cut, your target increased, and the threat of redundancies waved over your head. And, if any money is ever given to you for projects, you have to grovel for it, then spend the next few months being made to feel guilty for having it.


Yesterday we had a "meet the thieves" brainstorm, where we were summoned up to Wales. To a castle, which had been hired for the day. This is where BBC Wales Online love having brainstorms - according to one person "We had to have one a month all through last year - I got quite giddy by the end of them. I've learned - if you just nod, make encouraging noises and say nothing, the day just flies by."

So there we were - trapped in a beautiful building. Outside it was snowing. Inside it was an intellectual desert.

I'm a cynical person - unlike my boss who loves brainstorming (he knows the names of the different types, and gets a whistful glint in his eye whenever anyone mentions mime workshops). I figured the best way to get through a deeply painful and humiliating day was to just keep quiet and try not to openly insult anyone.

But it was hellish. There were clapping exercises, skipping ropes, share sessions, and a lizard toy which squeaked whenever an idea wasn't being discussed in an open-minded fashion.

Our faciliator was just the kind of person you would imagine - clashing pastels, world music playing in the background, mobile phone strapped cowboy style on his belt, and a sack full of beanie toys ready should the group need a quick "energising game". Frankly, I was surprised he hadn't made us soup.

He relished everything, warmly championed all input, valued original insight, and kept making feeble cracks about turds, and how rubbish the original show was. This last thing was, natch, especially annoying - people wouldn't sit around a Casualty brainstorm saying how bad the last twelve years of the show were, would they? Well...

The worst bit was at the end of the day, when the programme team turned up to evaluate the ideas we'd evovled. They stood, staring in bemused horror at a floor covered with mind maps and photocopied money. As they sucked away on boiled sweets, our facilitator proceeded to describe each idea while looking at his shoes and mumbling - occasionally handing over to another bloke who described ideas with all the passion of a list of laxative side effects.

But I got through the day with only one outburst. And that was when I tried refusing to do the clapping.

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