If you’re a dance teacher, there’s a good chance that you see yourself as more creative than the average person does. But still, many studio owners don’t try to come up with creative ideas to make their business more successful because of a whole load of common reasons, like:
- I’m just not creative
- I’m too busy
- it takes too long to come up with creative ideas
- creativity is too risky and takes too long
- I don’t need any new ideas
- I’m a dance teacher, not a business person.
Whether you like it or not, the world is constantly changing, and if you keep going on with doing things the way you always have, sooner or later you’ll find that things aren’t going quite so well.
The great news, though, is that as the leader of your dance studio (yes, I said leader, which you are, whether you see yourself as a leader or not), you don’t have to be the only one coming up with great ideas. Your role as a creative leader in your studio is to create an environment where ideas flourish, and some of them can be put into action.
So now, to the big questions. How do you create this environment? How do you turn those ideas into reality? How do these ideas help your studio grow and thrive? And the last question, which I’m sure has crossed your mind: How do you deal with the ideas people come up with that you don’t want to put into action? Because let’s face it, when you ask people for ideas, many of those ideas will be ones that create extra work for you, that you’ve already tried and didn’t work, or that are just plain silly.
1. Invite everyone to contribute ideas
Creative ideas can come from anywhere and anyone, so involve everyone, including teachers, students, and parents. You might feel like you have to be the one to come up with everything or you’ll look like you don’t know what you are doing, but it’s not true. Inviting ideas from others shows that you value their input. It also means that you get to hear about what they want, and this can reveal opportunities you didn’t even imagine.
People feel more committed and engaged with something when they get to have input.
You might think you know exactly what you need, and then tell people how they can help, and end up wondering why no-one volunteered. To some extent, people do like to be directed and to have a clear idea of what is expected of them. But before you get to the point of giving instructions, you can gather input from others.
Do’s and Don’ts
- Let your students, teachers and parents know about the ideas you’re thinking of and invite them to have input
- provide mechanisms for people to share their ideas with you (more on that below)
- make it clear that you welcome ideas
- thank people when they do give your ideas (even if you don’t think their idea is feasible)
- listen to ideas, consider them seriously, explore them, and build on them
- Make all the decisions yourself without getting input or feedback from the people who will be affected by it
2. Consult regularly
It’s great to talk to people when you know you want their input, but sometimes we just forget. For that reason, I recommend that you schedule a time, at least once a year, to consult with your students, teachers and parents to get their feedback and ideas.
Gather them in a room and just talk with them (not at them). It’s really important that you adopt a non-defensive stance. If you ask people for their ideas, and then when they give them to you, you say something like ‘we’ve already done it and it didn’t work’ then they’ll clam up and you won’t get anything useful.
Set the frame at the beginning of the conversation by saying something like, ‘this session is all about getting your ideas. Some may be great for right now. Some might not be right for just now, or might need to be built on to make it really work. Today I’ll gather your ideas and then get back to you with my thoughts about what to go ahead with, or what we can explore a bit more’.
It can be helpful to have someone else run the conversations, as people may be more forthcoming with someone that is not so involved, and it can be tempting to get defensive or shut out new ideas. This doesn’t mean you get a fancy consultant, just someone you know who is good at getting people talking.
After the session, consider all the ideas that have come up and make some decisions about what to proceed with. Perhaps involve others in this process – your teachers, a group of committed parents, some students. Make sure you get back to everyone to thank them for their input, and let them know which ideas you’re planning to go ahead with. There can also be a second phase where you seek their feedback on your plans.
Do’s and Don’ts
- involve everyone in the conversation
- be genuinely open to new ideas
- get back to people after the conversation to let them know how you are using their ideas
- shut people down by saying ‘we’ve already tried that’ or ‘that won’t work because …’
- get defensive if people tell you they don’t like something
- ask for ideas or feedback on something you really don’t want feedback on.
3. Provide a system for collecting ideas at any time
This is a bit like the old ‘feedback box’ where people can put feedback in it. However, just plonking a box down and letting people know that you want their ideas won’t be effective by itself.
Put a frame of reference around the kind of ideas you are looking for. It’s not just a free-for-all to submit all kinds of crazy ideas. You might like to ask people to identify problems, or to ask them to submit ideas about how to tackle specific problems.
A couple of ways that you could collect ideas include:
- put a big sheet of butchers paper up on the wall with a question or problem on it and invite people to write their ideas
- ask people to email their ideas
- have an ideas box
Don’t forget that you need to let people know that you’re inviting their input, through a number of ways, such as:
- have teachers make an announcement about it at the end of each class
- put something in your newsletter or on your noticeboard
- distribute a notice after class
- send an email to students or parents
Before you get started, work out how you will:
- Acknowledge ideas
Will it be a personal thank you to those who submit ideas, or will you give them a public acknowledgement, like thanking and listing the people who’ve contributed ideas in your newsletter.
- Review ideas
Let people know who will review the ideas, what criteria will be used, what will happen to ideas that can’t be used now.
- Provide incentives and rewards
This doesn’t mean you offer financial reward. Public acknowledgement (such as having their name in the school newsletter or on your noticeboard, or announced at the end of year concert) can be very powerful. It not only rewards the person whose idea it was, but it motivates other people to think about submitting ideas. It’s also important to make sure you invite the person who submitted the idea, and those who have contributed to an idea, to be involved in putting it into action.
- Build on ideas
Many of the greatest ideas in history may have started out as ‘hare brained’ ideas. So don’t just dismiss ideas that seem unfeasible. One way to build on ideas may be to publish them somewhere (again, newsletter or noticeboard) and invite others to make suggestions on those ideas.
Do’s and Don’ts
- acknowledge people who submit ideas
- develop a system for reviewing ideas
- reward and recognise people who submit ideas you want to use
- have a system to build on and improve ideas
- ask people to submit ideas if you don’t have the means to review and assess them
- feel like you have to go with all the ideas
- go ahead with someone’s idea without acknowledging or involving them
- get upset or take it personally if you don’t like the way someone has written an idea (or a problem)
- run with an idea without involving those who contributed to it
These are just a few suggestions to get you started on how to be creative in running your studio. Remember, creativity is about ideas, and ideas are the tools you need to respond to change, address problems, come up with solutions, and turn your studio into an amazing place that will help you stand out from the crowd. I can’t give you a magic bullet or recipe card for exactly what you need to do to have a thriving studio. Instead, what this article offers is a roadmap to get you there, because every studio, studio owner, and studio community is different, so have fun, get talking, and come up with your own unique recipe.
By Jo McDonald of Dance Informa.