Developing a culture of innovation with Elizabeth McKay

In this Skip the Queue podcast episode, I speak with Elizabeth McKay, Chief Operating Officer at the London Transport Museum.


“You got to take some risks because it’s changing something. The safe thing is just keep doing what you’re doing. The brave courageous thing is push the boat, try something new. Experiment, pilot, innovate. I’m real big believer in all of that.”

Elizabeth McKay is an award-winning creative leader with experience in heritage, public-service broadcasting, and commercial advertising. She joined London Transport Museum as Chief Operating Officer in September 2018 to lead the design and delivery of its future vision. Elizabeth is an active Trustee and Deputy Chair of Kids in Museums, an independent charity dedicated to making museums open and welcoming to families, and a member of the Insights Council supporting the English National Opera.

Elizabeth was previously Chief Learning Officer at Historic Royal Palaces, where she developed a new strategy that doubled the reach with new audiences. Her large-scale events and activities were recognised for excellence in the sector with awards including from Museum + Heritage and Learning Technologies. Before that, Elizabeth was the Head of BBC Knowledge Campaigns and an Executive Producer. Her projects won a Webby, Peabody, Children’s Bafta and a Royal Television Society Education Award for Best Campaign. Elizabeth had a successful career working on leading brands at Grey Advertising in London and New York.Elizabeth holds a BA in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard University and an MBA from Oxford’s Graduate School of Business. She lives in London with her husband and two children and enjoys taking part in the many rich cultural experiences that London offers.

What will you learn from this podcast?

  • How LTM has developed a culture of innovation
  • The LTM values and beliefs
  • How creative and entrepreneurial ideas are encouraged and supported at the museum

Skip the Queue podcast Blog Large Elizabeth McKay


To listen to the full podcast, search Skip The Queue on iTunes, Google Podcasts and Spotify to subscribe. You can find links to every episode and more at www.rubbercheese.com/podcast.

You can also read the full transcript below.


The interview

Your host, Kelly Molson

Our guest, Elizabeth McKay



Kelly Molson: Elizabeth, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast. It’s lovely to see you. 

Elizabeth McKay: This is really exciting. I wasn’t sure when you asked me to do this, but it would all be about but now we’re here. 

Kelly Molson: It’s going to be wonderful, Elizabeth. But first, as ever, I have to ask you some ice breaker questions, because that is the rule of the podcast. 

Elizabeth McKay: I understand. 

Kelly Molson: Okay, so if you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be? 

Elizabeth McKay: Oh, on top of a ski mountain, no question. 

Kelly Molson: Oh, you’re this is fabulous. We’re recording this in the run up to Christmas listeners, and it is snowy in London, so this is fabulous for you. 

Elizabeth McKay: London does not have the slopes or the incline that I would like, and the powder does not remain on the ground for long enough. 

Kelly Molson: And let’s face it, trudging through London in the snow is not like being at the top of a mountain skiing down it, is it? 

Elizabeth McKay: No, it’s not as beautiful as it might be walking around my local cemetery before it melts. Not the same. 

Kelly Molson: Okay, good. So would you rather travel back in time to meet your ancestors or go to the future to meet your descendants? 

Elizabeth McKay: That’s a really good question. I probably want to do both. I’d like to go back in time because some of my ancestors traveled across the plains in America in covered wagons, and I think that just slightly blows my mind. They even took English antiques with them. It just doesn’t seem right. All that pain they went through. The future would be really good, too. Oh, my God. 

Kelly Molson: That is absolutely fascinating. 

Elizabeth McKay: It’s part of our lore.

Kelly Molson: And I love that you’ve come full circle, as though they trudged you all the way over there and you’ve trudged all the way back. 

Elizabeth McKay: I know. Yeah. I don’t know how they feel about that, but I’m making the eastward migration. 

Kelly Molson: All right, as I mentioned, we are recording this just in the run up to Christmas. So what one thing would you most like to achieve in 2023? 

Elizabeth McKay: Well, we’re working on our five year strategy right now, so I’d probably most like to land that, be very clear about our forward direction of travel and be kind of aligned with that view with a bunch of happy, engaged, enthusiastic people. 

Kelly Molson: Excellent. And that sets the tone for what we’re going to talk about on this podcast today. But unpopular opinion first. What have you prepared for us, Elizabeth? 

Elizabeth McKay: Dark unsweetened chocolate is much better than milky sweet chocolate. So the nastier the better, the more bitter, the less sugar, higher the cocoa. 

Kelly Molson: What percentage are you going? Are you going 85 and higher? 

Elizabeth McKay: Yeah, 85% or 90 if you’re really brave. 

Kelly Molson: I like this unpopular opinion and I’m going to say I don’t know how unpopular it is because we made a bit of a shift over to dark. So my husband is a massive chocoholic. Like, if a pudding on the menu is not chocolate, he’s not having it. And if chocolate is in the house, he’s eating it. But he made the switch over to dark chocolate because he can eat a smaller amount and it actually satisfies his cravings quicker. So he would be with you on that. 

Elizabeth McKay: I thought I was going to be unpopular. 

Kelly Molson: Well, you might be. This is just me. You might be. I’m with you on it. But listeners, let us know, are we going dark chocolate or milk chocolate? 

Elizabeth McKay: My kids are not happy with this decision, but there we are. I buy the chocolates. So they just have to get on board with that. 

Kelly Molson: They have to lump it then. That’s the rules of the house. 

Elizabeth McKay: Grandparents indulge. 

Kelly Molson: Excellent, excellent unpopular opinion, let us know, listeners, if you are with us or with Elizabeth or against Elizabeth. Tell us a little bit about your role at the London Transport Museum. 

Elizabeth McKay: Okay, well, I’m the chief operating officer at the London Transport Museum. That’s two acronyms COO and LTM together. I think the COO is kind of do everything and anything role. So for me, that’s strategy, forward planning, capital projects, innovation, DNI, green agenda safeguarding, and basically all the internal stuff. And so I get to poke my nose into everything, anything that needs kind of help, support or advocacy, really. And I’m also the Deputy Chair of Kids in Museums, so I get to be on the other side of the kind of governance table in that role. 

Kelly Molson: It’s a big remit, what you have on your play, isn’t it? I hadn’t really considered how many different hats that you would have to wear on a daily basis. 

Elizabeth McKay: I think it’s different at different organisations. So I was really fortunate it was a new role when I came into LTM. So you get to shape a role if you’re not just picking up what something has been done before. So that’s useful. So I could just add in all the stuff that I really wanted to do. 

Kelly Molson: I love it. That’s a dream role, right? I would like this and all of these things, please. 

Elizabeth McKay: Yes, exactly. 

Kelly Molson: So we had a little chat prior to talking today and this is really the driver for what our conversation is going to be about today. But you said that culture was the driver for why you joined the organisation. So I really want to talk about kind of culture and innovation today. What was it about the culture at LTM that really appealed to you? What made it really stand out? 

Elizabeth McKay: Well, I read somewhere that 75% of people consider a company’s culture before applying for a job. That was really interesting and, you know, generally, organisation cultures, you know, values, beliefs, and attitudes and all the things that influence how people behave, really. So it’s authentic. It’s how an organisation responds in a crisis, how teams adapt, how people interact. And it’s also one of those things that’s a real top indicator of employee satisfaction. So it’s a real top reason people stick around and stay in the job. So it’s super important. So what attracted me to LTM and this was four and a half years ago was this kind of can do attitude. I really liked the entrepreneurial spirit. 

Elizabeth McKay: People were really nice and struck me as genuinely collaborative, and there was a real openness I was struck by this, by the people I met, by the kind of process I met when I first met Sam, the director, like, genuine good people vibes. And I didn’t feel there were any barriers or that people were precious. So all of that really kind of struck me. 

Kelly Molson: It’s interesting that you mentioned entrepreneurial, because that’s not often a word that is associated with museums or culture or heritage. Not in the sense of not in the sense of sometimes how they view things. 

Elizabeth McKay: Yeah, I think it’s really interesting, and it’s part of what attracted me to LTM, and it’s part of what drives us all. It’s absolutely great. And one of the first things I did when I joined is ran a series of workshops to kind of codify, you know, our culture, because all of these stuff was just brilliant, but it felt like it needed to be pulled together, so and I’m kind of a self confessed strategy geek. So we got everybody together and ran serious workshops. And entrepreneurial was so key to how people thought about what the museum did and their own roles. So was the word playful, which is something that the people had used a lot and, you know, was in various documents and things. So those two things together were really important. 

And then other words like collaborative, active, courageous, and inclusive came out as partly it’s how people describe themselves, and partly it’s kind of aspirational. Right. So all of that. I worked with everyone and kind of came up with a strategic framework that we use. As I said, it’s kind of codifying all of this. 

Kelly Molson: Yeah. One of the things you mentioned is that the culture there is kind of forgiving and encouraging. How did you define that? As part of these kind of strategy workshops? Or was that already defined before you kind of arrived? 

ElElizabeth McKay: Oh, that’s interesting. Did I say that those are really good words. 

Kelly Molson: They are really good words.

Elizabeth McKay:: Those are really good words. And I think what that means is it’s an environment where creativity is really encouraged. So our purpose, which we kind of defined in this process I mentioned, is igniting curiosity to shape the future. It’s always there. It’s an ether right, a culture. So what you’re trying to do is always ensure you understand it and then develop it in different ways. So I think we have a culture that people really thrive on ideas and making things happen.

I think now, thinking about it, I’d really underline courageous as an important word too. And also having just navigated through COVID, I’m really acutely aware of my colleagues, what they’ve been through, what so many people in the sector have been through, just keeping it all together and keeping the show on the road. So I think courageous is something, a word we use, and I think it’s increasingly more important and valuable and accurate. 

Kelly Molson: Yeah, absolutely. You mentioned creative there, which is interesting because one of the things I want to delve into a little bit is about the innovation and the culture of innovation that you’ve created. So we had Pete Austin from Imperial War Museums quite a few episodes back now, and he talked about innovation in marketing. And one of the things that he really stressed is that a lot of people hang on the idea of innovation as always being something new or a new idea or a big idea. But actually, innovation can be about making what you already have better. And I think that’s really important to hold that in your mindset, is that it’s not just about the big and new and shiny. 

It is sometimes just about a small change that’s really innovative in the organisation with something that you’re already doing and just doing it in a better way. So I wanted to kind of understand, what does innovation mean to you from your perspective, from the organisation? 

Elizabeth McKay: Yeah, that’s a good question. And one thing is so important that it’s not about innovation for innovation’s sake, always have to have a purpose and an outcome. That’s why you’re doing it. So it can’t be gratuitous. So I think it’s really difficult to define. And there’s a whole industry around innovation, isn’t there? Writers, businesses, agencies, people who help you define it or harness it or provide methods or just basically hand it back to you. Right, but I’d probably go back to defining it as a new idea. But it could be a concept or product or a method, as you say. It can be incremental, those little twists, but also it can be disruptive, it can be radical, but I think it has to lead to some kind of change or improvement. 

I think there’s an element of agility and adaptability that’s required to and going back to the idea of kind of courageousness, it needs to be an element of bravery. You got to take some risks because it’s changing something. The safe thing is just keep doing what you’re doing. The brave courageous thing is push the boat, try something new. Experiment, pilot, innovate. I’m real big believer in all of that. I was remembering this like, great quote. I don’t know who it was. Some strategy guru said, “whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision”. 

Kelly Molson: Yes, very true. I like that quote. 

Elizabeth McKay: Maybe somebody can tell us who’ve said that. 

Kelly Molson: Let us know, listeners. It’s an excellent quote. We’d love to be able to attach it to somebody.. 

Elizabeth McKay: Find it. 

Kelly Molson: Yeah, it’s true, isn’t it? And I think that what you said about courageous, it can be a really small move as well because I guess there’s an element of courageousness needed when you bring ideas to people, your team will be empowered by you to think about ways that they can be more innovative. But they do have to be courageous in coming to you with an idea that they might think is a bit out there or they might think won’t be accepted that well, who knows? So it starts off a really small level, doesn’t it? Or a small part.

Elizabeth McKay: It does. And it goes back to the culture of the organisation too. So I think there are different ways to unpack this. Right? So going back to talking about articulating your principles, so entrepreneurial and playful, for example. There’s a lot in this. So entrepreneurial is priding yourself to be financially sustainable. We earn 80% of our income, so we have a really diversified income stream. So it really helps in periods of uncertainty. Great shop, corporate membership in London, which was originally a tour business, now it’s a whole multichannel experience, right? And then playful is a brand strong brand. It’s a word we love. We fully embraced it in all levels. So you can see it in the marketing and the product, our tone of voice, programming, all those things. So that’s a lot to play with. 

Elizabeth McKay:And then I really think that innovation can come from anywhere. So the challenge is you kind of say about how you bring those ideas forward. You need to have ways that people can meaningfully input, right? And you can do this in so many different ways. We can consultation, so you ask for input or co creation. So you’re working together on something and you need some kind of systems, right? If you have a creative proposal format or a form or something, it needs to kind of go somewhere, it needs to be looked at, needs to be discussed, it needs to be responded to. All that stuff plays together, really. I think about this a lot, actually. 

Kelly Molson: I can too. 

Elizabeth McKay: Because my background is kind of creative person. I started in advertising, I moved to the BBC, I’ve led creative teams. I’ve always done that. So, yeah, I think you have to have both the strategy and the values and you have to have the kind of systems and processes. systems and processes.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, that’s really interesting. I didn’t know this about your background, but I sensed that you might have had a creative background because the way that you’ve talked about how you would approach certain things is the way that I have been taught to approach certain things from my kind of graphic design background. So I did wonder if you’d been trained in a similar way. 

Elizabeth McKay: Yeah, exactly. And that’s why I get really excited about this. That’s why the most fun I have in my job is my meetings with my head of design and they always overrun and we always come up with all these great things and then we have to step back and apply all the principles and the financial sustainability and the models and everything. 

Kelly Molson: Actually, that leads me to a really good question. One of the questions I had was how does London Transport Museum approach innovation? How do you encourage ideas? And you’ve talked about workshops and co creation stuff. How do you overcome the challenge of choosing and managing those ideas? You can talk for endless hours with your design manager. I’m sure there’s some incredible things that have come out of that. How do you refine those ideas and choose which ones you actually bring to market or bring to the organisation? 

Elizabeth McKay: Yeah, good question. Million dollar question. You’ve got to be agile, I think. Not all ideas also come up at convenient times to fit into planning processes. That said, I think you could build flexibility into your processes. It’s really important that no is not your default answer, which is true in parenting as well as business. So what’s an example of that? So this year and last year, we staggered our planning processes to allow for early ideas to come out that were unfunded. Don’t worry, we just want to hear what they are. And it gave them time to be kind of shaped opportunities for the fundraising team to look at them, nurture, develop. So that’s one, as I mentioned, love a good workshop with lots of post it notes. But yes, there are so many ways to generate and iterate and choose ideas. 

I think that the other thing is you really need to delegate down to the people who are the creative engines too. That’s rich coming from me, because I like to get involved in all this stuff. Right. But I know when and where to step back. And so, good example. Our social media manager, super fabulous, basically pitched, starting a Tiktok channel, said, yeah, go and do it, and it’s just taken off. Phenomenal. 

Kelly Molson: Great. 

Elizabeth McKay: So the downside is she’s just been poached and she’s going off to a new job. Watch the space. In the new year, we’re going to have an opening. Retail, I mean, our retail is..

Kelly Molson: Your shop is fabulous. Your shop is fabulous. There is a gift under the tree for my dad from your shop for this year. It is absolutely brilliant. 

Elizabeth McKay: Root master of PJs. 

Kelly Molson: No. Excellent Piccadilly Line socks because they are really good memory. So my dad is not a fan of the Underground, so we used to drive to Arnos Grove, get on the tube there, so we could come directly into Covent Garden on one tube. Just one tube. So the Piccadilly Line holds good memories for me. 

Elizabeth McKay: Holds good memories. Yeah. Well, the Moquet socks in a box is a good one too. But all of those products, they’re just fabulous. And we have great brand icons to play with, granted. And it was really helpful of TfL to open the Elizabeth Line for a number of reasons. Whole new product line and obviously all made for me. So I think my husband’s drawing the line at the Elizabeth Line Moquet sofa in the living room. 

Kelly Molson: I saw the chair in the shop and was like that. It’s a bit of me, I’m not going to lie. It looks fabulous. Is your whole house kitted out in the London Transport Museum memorabilia? 

Elizabeth McKay: No, I think the divorce court would be calm. I don’t have the room. I do have my mug. Small bits. Small bits that I channel. All that said, another team which is super creative is the Hidden London team. It’s a little juggernaut and has its own internal experts, like Chris and City and we pivoted during lockdown, they launched a YouTube channel, it had its 100 episodes. We’re now doing a tele series. And all the guides, they all are so kind of really inspired about finding new sites and new tours and new facts and new ways and ways to communicate with people. So you just need to enable that. And that’s what I think our culture does. And hopefully the systems we put in place give people freedom and all the right motivations to kind of innovate. 

Kelly Molson: It’s nice, isn’t it? Because the way that you’ve talked about it, you’ve got these kind of like mini teams that work within the organisation, you’ve got merchandise in Hidden London under your social media. And then I guess they are inspired by the things that those other teams are doing as well. How Hidden London had to pivot during the Pandemic is hugely inspiring to the social media team or the shop team about how they promote their products and things. So then you get this kind of crossover of ideas and entrepreneurialism across the organisation. 

Elizabeth McKay: Yeah, it’s a real synergy and it goes back to being clear about your purpose, I believe. And we talked a lot about how certain things are kind of in our DNA. Boards are really interested in that and trustees. So going back to that idea of you don’t innovate for innovation’s sake, it’s all consistent and relevant. So the shop and the products are just as interesting and relevant and researched and authentic as, say, our learning programs. So our learning programs are doing quite a bit around our green agenda sustainability, sustainability of London and you see that mirrored in products that are ethically sourced and sustainable practices, et cetera. 

And of course we’re all here about public transport which is the green way to travel and that’s about the future of London and the exciting bit about what kind of city that we want to live in. So all of this is synergistic, isn’t it? Past, present, future and that’s what I think makes it so interesting. 

Kelly Molson: Yeah, it is super interesting and I think what I love about the organisation is how many different remits it actually has that you don’t think about. You come along and it is a fantastic museum to walk around. It’s really engaging. It is very playful. See, everyone always highlights the buffs and the things that they can do but you forget about the other remit of actually you are highlighting transport which is sustainable and green and you’ve got a requirement to be showcasing that and explaining that to people about what that means for London. 

Elizabeth McKay: Absolutely. We’re an educational charity but we have all this great stuff behind us. One thing that’s different about LTM from other museums is the corporate membership the sponsors that are linked to TfL’s pipeline. So that gives us a whole other way to engage. We have spot leadership programs, kind of Chatham House Rules type thing where we’re kind of a safe place for bringing together people to talk about the future of transport and London. Yet another thing people wouldn’t necessarily know. That’s why my job is so cool. 

Kelly Molson: Super cool, but tiring. Yeah and actually that touches on something else that we should talk about because you talked earlier about people having to pivot during the pandemic and well, you set yourselves as a purpose fuelled organisation through the Pandemic. That was one of the things that we talked about prior to this and one of the things you mentioned is that you’re all still doing a lot more with a lot less than you had which obviously can cause burnout. How do you maintain that from a cultural perspective? How do you maintain a healthy culture without you’re asking people to kind of give quite a lot and being really engaged with the organisation but we’re all kind of running on a little bit of empty. How do you kind of maintain a healthy culture and make sure that people aren’t getting to burnout stage? 

Elizabeth McKay: That’s a really good question and I’m also reminded of that other quote, “culture eats strategy for breakfast, for lunch, dinner”. I feel like I’m pretty high energy going into kind of all the workshopping and thinking about our strategy. I do look around and pay my life myself. God, I drink so much coffee now. So it’s a really good question. We’re all dealing with it in the sector and all businesses, right? And next year is going to be h***. I mean, when I listen to this in 2023 I’ll probably be like, oh my God, it’s even worse than I thought. So first, again, I think about this a lot. So first you have to give permission to slow down, to slow the pace. Have realistic what one of our trustees calls heroic targets. Don’t have heroic targets, have realistic targets. 

Then change your plan if there are external issues. For example, we have a real issue with slow recruitment right now. We have support from TfL HR. We have some back office support from TfL, also quite interesting. But it also means when they stop, we stop. And so that’s been a real challenge. You cannot hire people quickly when you have an opening, that’s an issue, and in a small team that will just grind you to a halt, right? So you have to recognise that. Second, I think we have really good ways of working. So we have a people plan. We have working groups, comprised people from across the organisation. We use our strategic principles like, we’re here for everyone and we go the extra mile, but we also have deliverables with that. And we have annual survey. 

We try to stay on top of these kind of issues. So think about what you’re measuring, I guess is another way to link to that. So we have an inclusion index and a well being index, and it gives us a little kind of sense of how things are going. Not that we wait around every year to find out what the score is because you’re always getting that kind of feedback. 

Kelly Molson: So that index comes from kind of continual asking people how they are like mini surveys.

Elizabeth McKay: Yeah, well that’s the kind of annual survey. But we know that’s important, so we’re working on it in different ways. So it has lots of kind of action plans and activities around it. So we’re really conscious of well being and kind of inclusion and the things that help with that culture. I think regular communication then is another thing. So my big insight is whatever you’re doing with communication, there could be more, it could be different, it can better, and it could be even more regular than it is, I often think. But I know we shared that with people, but if they didn’t get it, then you haven’t kind of shared it right.

So we have a weekly email, we have zoom sessions, we have in person online staff forums, departmental meetings, chats in the corridor now that we’re back and we have corridors and then I guess the last one, I’d say really listen and adapt. So when people say, oh, that’s the problem, really listen and change. And I would say the way we’re going about our five year strategy right now has taken that into account so we can’t make that deadline. I went, oh, okay, so I kind of redesigned what we’re doing and gave more time, and it has to work or otherwise if we all fall over. There’s not going to be a strategy. 

Kelly Molson: The communication thing is so important, isn’t it? It’s interesting because we run very different organisations, but that was the one piece of advice that were given by so I run an agency, I’m a member of a number of agency networks. During the pandemic, they were incredibly supportive to all of the agencies under their membership. And the biggest piece of advice they gave was just over communicate.

Over communicate with your team, over communicate with your clients. Just let them know all the time what’s happening, how things are. Because people just needed reassurance, and the only way that they could get reassurance was by talking about things openly and having that two way dialogue. So, yeah, I just can’t stress enough how important that is. And a lot of organisations don’t get that, right? They don’t have enough time with their line managers or enough time with their colleagues to talk things through. 

Elizabeth McKay: That’s so true. And I think we stepped it up during COVID really, because initially we just had to were online with Zooming and living from our bedrooms, et cetera. But we started doing a weekly well, three times a week, email out to all staff wherever they were, and then it became weekly, and then it improved to kind of this bulletin that is quite good. I know people read it. We basically send it to our trustees. The sense of everybody’s in touch. But yeah, you cannot over communicate. 

Kelly Molson: I love that. What would be your advice for organisations that want to foster a culture of innovation more? 

Elizabeth McKay: Well, one level, it’s probably simple behaviour theory. Encourage and celebrate creativity, right. Reward the thing you want to have, so that’s something to think about. And then I think a more sophisticated approach is focusing on that triumvirate of culture, strategy and capabilities because they all have to work together. And then I go back to that little kind of MOT for a healthy culture, that permission to slow down, have a plan, think about what you’re measuring, communicate, communicate and listen and then adapt. That would be my little thing I run through in my head. 

Kelly Molson: Excellent advice, Elizabeth. Thank you. Just thinking about what we said about creative background. Do you look for people with a kind of creative background when you’re hiring? Do you think that’s quite important for an organisation that is quite driven by innovation and driven by being quite entrepreneurial? 

Elizabeth McKay: Well, I do. I hand everyone a paper clip when they sit down and say, give me ten reasons, ten things you can do with this paper clip. I’m kidding. I’m kidding. I think it’s important.. we all get stuck in these kind of structured interviews and which capability am I assessing and this and that. And so my default is stick innovation in there because it needs to happen in every job and every role at every level. So it’s never one department. It might go back to my early life as a young referred stepper in advertising, but I never believed in the creative department and then everybody else.  

So I really liked moving on and becoming going on the other side and being the kind of, I guess, more the marketing director type role at the BBC, which is commissioning and developing and producing. And I always thrive being around creative people, and they can be in any job, really. 

Kelly Molson: Yeah. I love that. Yeah. Innovation comes from anywhere, any department, any person.

Elizabeth McKay: Definitely. Definitely. And the places that get that right and I’m not saying we always get that right, or I have always done that brilliantly and everything I’ve done, but I think the places that get that right are the ones that really succeed and people are happy. They have a culture that you’re enthusiastic about and excited about and you want to go that extra mile and all those things, words on the page that don’t really mean anything unless it’s been lived. 

Kelly Molson: That’s a really good point, isn’t it? Because I think when you work at an organisation, you take ownership of it, don’t you? And if you’re encouraged to be part of it, and you’re encouraged to share your ideas, share your innovation, it becomes yours. You take a level of ownership of the organisation that you work in because you’ve been able to input into the ideas and you can see those things actually happen. 

Elizabeth McKay: Yes. And I was just thinking about how you might kind of slightly shift your culture if you need to do that and tweak that. I mean, it’s a bigger change program, really. Everyone is part of that kind of shift. But I think it can go back to those stories that you tell and you celebrate. And also you can’t define what stories people want to tell about your organisation. Right. They’re just out there. But if you try to give some of that focus and pick the things that you’re really proud of, or that our teams are proud of, and are examples or exemplars of that kind of creative and innovative culture, then it can start to be what you’re known for. 

I mentioned the shop or the learning programs that are kind of blowing me away right now, or Hidden London just kind of firing on all cylinders. Those things get us talking internally and excited and then that works outside, too. 

Kelly Molson: Yeah, I love that. And as we end our podcast, you mentioned stories. I always ask my guests to share a book that they love with our listeners. What would be your book for us today? 

Elizabeth McKay: Well, can I have two? 

Kelly Molson: No, you can’t have two, but it’s Christmas when we’re recording, so I will be kind and generous and let you have two. 

Elizabeth McKay: I know that you’d allow, thank you.

Kelly Molson: Because I’m so weak, Because I’m so weak, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth McKay: You’re so generous. You’re so lovely. One that I mentioned when we met was this book Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell. And it’s just so good that I think if people haven’t heard of it, they should pick it up. I mean, he wrote The Tipping Point and Blink, and he’s just an excellent writer. He talks about data in such an interesting way. But this book is all about big questions in history and psychology and has case studies about Fidel Castro and Sylvia Plath and Bernie Madoff and Campus Rape, and I guess it’s a bit dark. 

Kelly Molson: Yeah. 

Elizabeth McKay: Why did Neville Chamberlain think he could trust Hitler? There’s just so much in this book that’s super interesting. 

Kelly Molson: Excellent book. 

Elizabeth McKay: My other one is I just bought this book from my son, fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. I read it when I was a teenager and it had a huge influence on me. I think it was my first Dystopian novel. So I’m just reading it again and my son may not get it or it’ll be so well. 

Kelly Molson: You’ve done the classic. Buy a gift for someone that you’re keeping. 

Elizabeth McKay: Yes, and I realise they’re both very dark. Did that say about me? Oh, no. I mean, I’m actually quite optimistic. 

Kelly Molson: Yeah. But, yeah, maybe you just need an outlet to channel the dark stuff and that you can do that by reading these books. And everything else is fun and light. 

Elizabeth McKay: Yeah, that’s it. The dark side. I probe the dark side between the pages. 

Kelly Molson: Great books. All right, listeners, if you would like to be in with a chance of winning Elizabeth’s two books, then head over to our Twitter account and retweet this episode announcement with the words, “I want Elizabeth books”, and then you can share in her darkness. 

Elizabeth McKay: Oh, dear. 

Kelly Molson: Elizabeth, thank you so much. It’s been a joy to speak to you today. Thank you. I know how incredibly busy you are, so I’m very grateful that you could come on and spare us some time just before Christmas. And I am looking forward to seeing what you accomplish in the new year. I definitely know you’re going to hit that strategy and get that up and running, so no challenge there. 

Elizabeth McKay: Well, thank you so much, Kelly. This was fun. And I guess anyone who’s thinking about coming on, I would say it was not as painful as what I thought it would be.

Kelly Molson: Excellent recommendation, you can write that on our Apple ipod recommendation list. That would be excellent. Not as painful as I expected quote. Thanks.

Elizabeth McKay: Quote. Thumbs up. No. Thank you very much for having me. I really enjoyed it. 


Do you know someone we should be talking to?

Do you know someone fascinating we should be talking to?

If so, email us at hello@rubbercheese.com – we’ll get back to you shortly.

Paul Wright.
Kelly Molson Managing Director

Host of the popular Skip the Queue Podcast, for people working in or working with visitor attractions, she regularly delivers workshops and presentations on the sector at various national conferences and universities including The Visitor Attractions Conference, ASVA and Anglia Ruskin University.

Read more about me

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