Daisy Goodwin questions whether the super-indie is the best environment for nurturing talent.
Daisy Goodwin questions whether the super-indie is the best environment for nurturing talent.

Business plans are like push-up bras: they show you to your best advantage. Mine contains all sorts of wonderful forecasts for growth and investment, but the most important investment an independent production company can make is in its staff. The Next Big Thing is the Next Big Person, and it is important, I believe, to give everyone you work with a sense of creative investment, the incentive to be part of a winning team.

Before you sack the head of development for failing to win you a commission for a primetime series, you should ask: are we getting the best ideas out of our people? Have we created an environment in this company where talented people can flourish and do their most brilliant work?

I want my new indie Silver River to be small enough so that I and everyone else know everyone in the company - the way Talkback was when I joined in 1998. Nowadays of course Talkback has grown so huge that it is impossible to know everybody in the building by name. Although this has worked for Talkback, it is not the model I want to use. Looking at the number of companies that are being bought and turned into super-indies, I question how successful they will be in the long run. What is the parent company buying: a successful brand or a team that is only as great as the sum of its parts, the creative people in it? When those people go, will the company go on scoring? When a business grows large and unwieldy, it becomes more difficult to keep alive the spark, the sense of commitment that people feel in a smaller enterprise. Perhaps the only way for a large production company to grow creatively is to spin off a set of different departments or brands.

In the ideal environment, there should be no wall between myself and my staff, no "me and them". I have no interest in running a company that is based on deference and paranoia. Fear stifles creativity. People need to be given the confidence to speak up and know their ideas won't be ripped off or laughed at.

I once went to Helen Boaden, now head of news at the BBC, with an idea. She exposed the fault lines and when I was beginning to think I had completely missed the point she told me I had the commission. "Great," I said, "when do you want me to come and talk to you?" "Well, no," said Helen. "I trust you. Go off and do it." That taught me that you should trust your staff to rise to the challenge and not breathe down their necks through every part of the process. Only when you foster that trust do you give people the creative atmosphere in which they will produce their best ideas. Perhaps the Next Big Thing is already there right now, just the seed of a notion, a twinkle in somebody's eye. It is our job to create the right atmosphere so that tender shoot of an idea can be brought forth and nurtured.

Daisy Goodwin is managing director of Silver River

This is an extract from UKTV's book, The Next Big Thing, published by Penguin on 14 November