Archive for the ‘Collaboration’ Category

A recent exchange I had with @chrisfinley was a comment on a post by Joshua Porter about the conflicted state some designers get into when they are confronted with the concept that they are changing behaviour. It does sound manipulative and could strain the moral fiber of people who are sensitive to questions of free will, but the fact is that we as marketers do need to advantageously affect behaviour if we are to be successful. But is behaviour the right term?

Perhaps behaviour has picked up a certain patina thanks to the work of B.F. Skinner and other behaviourists. In simplistic terms his theory was that behaviour was conditioned through environmental inputs and that consequently this behaviour could be controlled through an increase in positive or negative stimuli. The subject’s thoughts were considered in the behaviour, but there was a heavy focus on the receipt of the conditioning. The thought of pushing buttons (or applying electrical shocks) to manipulate the marketing target in a calculated manner is not an appealing idea to someone with dualist leanings. Perhaps UX designers that recoil from the idea of changing behaviour have a propensity to believe in a separation between the brain and the mind. That is best left for another post.

Despite the patina, the term behaviour may be too simplistic to accurately represent the complexity inherent in the interaction someone has with a marketing touchpoint. I am currently reading a great book that explores the relationship between technology and technique. I would like to explore the idea that rather than influence behaviour we are trying to influence technique.

“If we define technology as a modification of the environment, then we must recognize the complementary principle of technique: how the modification is used in performance.” (Tenner, 2003)

All communications through touchpoints are brokered by a technology. That technology requires a learned technique to be able to engage, interact and pull meaning from the touchpoint. It is pointless to create a thirty second spot if the target can’t operate the remote control. This base level of technique is the cost of entry for a member of society to participate in the channel.

If the technology being deployed is a widget, website, tool, appliance or other product that directly engages with the target then we as experience designers should be considering how we support the target in adopting or creating a new technique to use it. These techniques are personal and meaningful and support adoption of the product. A technique may encompass many behaviours – many that we may not be able to capture in research and testing. Rather than focusing on a simple set of behaviours, we should consider them in aggregate as a technique and devise our design methods accordingly.

Technique also has room to allow for the application of free will by humanizing the target. A positively engaged target will engage in the variety of behaviours inherent in a technique on their own accord. The idea of technique also allows for an evolution of that technique based on the input of the user. A behaviour may be too narrow to allow for variations that still ensure the same goal.

“The interaction of inventors…with participants…allows technology and technique to produce striking results envisioned by neither…” (Tenner, 2003)

Technology and technique are not static but are engaged in a constant evolutionary dance. We should embrace that complexity, temper our desire to reduce interaction to behaviours, and focus on creating marketing that supports the creation of identity through technique.

“When we use simple devices to move, position, extend, or protect our bodies, our techniques change both objects and bodies. And by adopting devices we do more. We change our social selves. In other species, natural selection and social selection shape the appearance of the animal. In humanity, technology helps shape identity.” (Tenner, 2003)

Tenner, E. (2003). Our Own Devices: How Technology Remakes Humanity. Vintage Books: New York.

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The following quote has never been truer in marketing than now.

“The times are more powerful than our brains.” Pandolfo Petrucci to Niccolo Machiavelli (Kelly, 2006)

Marketing strategists attempt to exist in the future. Generally the very near term future (a few quarters out), but the future nonetheless.  When strategies are presented, they are usually presented as if this is the only approach to take, which smacks of a presumed ability to predict that future. It is a conceit that the brain can somehow get a grip on the times.

A quote I heard years ago went something like ‘Show me someone that claims they can predict the future and I will show you a liar’. Accurately predicting what will happen two or three quarters out is just as difficult as predicting what will happen tomorrow. It is all a best guess.

“I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity” Oliver Wendell Holmes (Kelly, 2006)

Marketing strategists try to own the idea that they can deliver that ‘simplicity this side of complexity’ in how they develop ideas for the client. The world is orderly and proper. The results of the focus groups point to a particular direction. A quick scan of the market has created this USP. Everyone aspires to that ‘single-minded idea’.

The continual hammering of the K.I.S.S dogma has created an allergy to openly complex and vague but actionable ideas. The desire to translate a program into ROI prior to pulling the budget trigger requires that assumptions be baked into the calculation.

Is it apparent that it has sprung from an attempt to bring a certain comfort to brand managers that are required to show that the program they have paid for will have a return on the organizations investment. But is the rush to prove the possibility of success limiting the chances of actually achieving it?

In preparing that guess, how much discipline has gone into the exploration of that strategy? Do they take the time to explore as many options as possible before landing on the preferred choice? Can we bring more knowledge from the methodologies used in futurism to explore more options and to put those options in front of the client?

Imagine if for every program that was planned it was required to create three to four alternate scenarios. These scenarios would be presented to the client and would be the basis for collaborative program planning. Multiple scenarios would be covered by the smart allocation of tactics that would have multiple roles and failure options built in from the beginning. The program would be able to handle several scenarios – not perfectly of course, but with a high percentage of coverage.

Marketing strategists would be responsible for a much better understanding of the present and of the variables they are beholden to. They would have to develop an ability to look into concepts that are much more nuanced than data. Being able to hold seemingly contradictory statements in the mind without seeking ‘black or white’ resolution would be a necessary skill. Observation and synthesis of seemingly disparate information is critical to parse the current landscape.

“How can you see, most clearly, the environment in which your actions will take place, and how those actions will fit with (or stand against) the prevailing forces, trends, attitudes and influences?” (Schwartz, 1996)

Facing a marketing landscape that is much more powerful than our combined minds, perhaps we need to move away from the pursuit of the rational and of the ‘single-minded-idea’. We need to apply the concepts of foresight and defend fuzziness in the face of the hegemony of data. We need to move towards holding multiple program concepts in an active state through a solid foundation of controlled futurism.

“All the notions we thought solid, all the values of civilized life, all that made for stability in international relations, all that made for regularity in the economy…in a word, all that tended happily to limit the uncertainty of the morrow, all that gave nations and individuals some confidence in the morrow… all this seems badly compromised. I have consulted all the augurs I could find of every species, and I have heard only vague words, contradictory prophesies, curiously feeble assurances. Never has humanity combined so much power with so much disorder, so much anxiety with so many playthings, so much knowledge with so much uncertainty.” Paul Valery (Schwartz, 1996)

Kelly, E. (2006). Powerful Times: Rising to the Challenge of Our Uncertain World. Wharton School Publishing: New Jersey.

Schwartz, P. (1996). The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World. Currency Doubleday: New York.

Evolution rocks. I am currently working on a project that is adapting to the needs of the community on the fly. Direct feedback from the highly engaged members of the community results in real-time changes to the experience. It is fascinating to watch.

This brings me to a thought space that I have been exploring recently. By redefining failure, adaptation, response, and planning, can you create a new planning and design philosophy that aims for structured incompleteness as a starting point?

I can see the thinking behind this being a combo of lean management, agile methodologies, incomplete design theory, and whole lotta guts. It means building that framework around which the community creates the next version. It means prototype, test and learn. This is happening in the case of Twitter, sites that are in constant Beta, and sites that crowdsource design, but is there a documented repeatable way to approach it? I know there are people out there doing it.

A large part of this exploration is to determine the attributes or characteristics of the type of individual that would excel in dealing with the wicked problem we face. The ability to grasp the whole picture at once is critical to being able to face the challenge. And not just grasp the problem, but understand the interrelationships between each of the components in a marketing experience. With so many moving parts, so many balls in the air, keeping a sense of where they are at any given time is a critical skill.

The definition of situation awareness allows us to break the skill into three parts:

“…is the perception of environmental elements within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status in the near future.” (Wikipedia, 2009)

Looking at the first part, you can understand that in an air combat context the pilot needs to have the ability to find and track other aircraft in the immediate airspace around him/her. Non-aircraft objects (like the side of a mountain) are also tracked and kept in a mental ‘holding pattern’. It is not until one of the objects exits the theater in some way that the pilot can let it go.

In a fractured marketing landscape the marketing strategist is also required to keep many, many environmental elements in mind as they work towards the resolution of a clients problem. Each channel, the targets, the messaging, the client, the creative, the market, the culture…and so on. The strategist must be able to quickly pick out the salient points.

In the second part, the pilot has to make a quick assessment as to the meaning of the object – is it a threat, how is it operating, what are my options. Being able to grasp the meaning of the object and act on it quickly is the key to success. The pilot must intelligently ignore the irrelevant and focus on that which requires quick resolution.

In the face of the information overload that we currently face, it has never been more important to be able to separate the signal from the noise. Grasping the meaning of a change in consumer behaviour, the appearance of a new trend, the market actions of competitors and so on is critical to achieving success. The key is to also be able to translate that understanding into action that will result in meaningful results.

The third part is about knowing what will happen next. Based on flight path or other signals, a pilot can predict the future state of another aircraft and start preparing the right course of action. Experience leads to a deeper understanding of the possible options and the reactions start to become tacit.

We are all trying to be futurists in what we do. For example, we plan programs based on predictive models or set target conversion rates based on customer behaviour. Planning is really just building a scenario and then acting on it. Research, brainstorming, discovery are all inputs into a scenario – of varying degrees of fidelity. This scenario is then acted upon when the program is produced and delivered.

Those of us that live and breathe in the digital space already exhibit the type of behaviour that builds this skill. Following a large number of people on Twitter demands a certain constant awareness of where others are and what they are engaged in. This has been called social proprioception. I would posit that in a marketing strategy skill context it is better to look at it as situation awareness.

Preparations are underway for the next great discussion about the state of marketing strategy. After a slightly-more-than-two-week hiatus to digest the thinking from the last session it is time to spin up the brains again. This time around, the session will be focused on exploring several themes that were distilled from the raw notes of the first session.

As with the last event, I am really looking forward to engaging in some great debate with some phenomenal minds. I highly recommend you follow those that are on Twitter: @douglasreid @markraheja @passitalong @michele_perras @b_co @johnnygagne. The others are not on Twitter yet, but should be soon. This thinking springs from their great minds and the series of events would not be possible without them.

In the continuing spirit of openness, here is some of the summary that was distilled from the raw notes of the last session. Note: it is still mental raw material and there are several more themes to come.
1. Problem formulation
–    Agencies have limited ways to formulate the problem
–    The relationship between uncertainty, fear and risk
–    We need to define failure differently

2. Canvas change
–    Disappearance of the blank canvas that traditional agencies have depended on
–    We now have a dynamic canvas
–    Channels are outpacing the agencies that are meant to feed them
–    Marketed at vs with
–    In a conversation
–    Engagement = journey thinking

3. Agency model
–    Trad agencies have limited ability to adapt or understand big ideas
–    Is there a way to educate the agencies?
–    Digital teams are leapfrogging traditional creative teams
–    Traditional teams are pushing back on digital
–    When there is a problem, they want to circle the wagons – don’t have a plan
–    A lack of integration with the trad agencies
–    Too many layers of bureaucracy
–    Too much short term thinking
Need to be:
–    Open – tech, engagement, process
–    Embrace – systems thinking and humanity
–    Legitimize experimentation
–    Outcome oriented
–    Proper reward systems

4. Strategist profile

What is it about digital that makes the role so strong
–    The platform and agile thinking
–    A sense of engagement and a journey
–    A better ability to adapt
–    Respect for the person you are communicating with, knowing who you are communicating with
–    Who is the story teller? Online, there is a storyteller
–    Identity needs to be severed from the tools of trade
–    Pure play digital works
–    Is it more about repertoire vs the channel you are in?
–    The transdisciplinarian
–    They live with flux, the ground does not stand still
–    Experimental, committed to take a chance
–    To overcome that which is seen as risk
–    What roles are good at orchestrating chaos?

Profile
–    skills to adapt
–    ability to frame problems
–    embracing irrationality
–    focus on outcomes
–    defines failure differently
–    more agnosticism at a low levels in an org

In software testing there are two approaches to designing the test cases that ensure the proper functioning of the system. With black box testing, the internal workings of the system are not known and the test cases focus on the proper outputs based on the inputs. How the outputs were created is not important – it is assumed the system works if the outputs are correct. In white box testing the internal workings of the system are clearly understood and the test cases are built based on an understanding of the code structure.

Let’s call a bluff. How many times have you been dealing with an agency or a team and their cards are played so close to their chest that you have very little insight into their process or thinking. What happens behind the curtain is proprietary. What happens behind the curtain is mysterious. What is behind the curtain is a black box. They outline the inputs required and after a period of time the output is returned.

I suggest we call that bluff and get rid of black boxes. We need to get over the arrogance that allows a team/agency to say “You can’t understand how we do what we do” or “We don’t want you to know how we do what we do”. The absence of transparency hinders our ability to find the common platforms that allow us to work together.

We need a white box revolution. We need people/teams/agencies everywhere to open up their methodologies to the world. We need to give clients and the industry visibility into how we get to the great thinking that they are paying for.  We need to allow objective testing of our process based on an understanding of the internal workings of our teams/agencies.

Unfortunately, this is anathema to how many agencies currently do business. There is this ‘magic’ to the strategic/creative process that is unquantifiable or not observable.   Ideas are generated away from the spotlight by teams that operate on insight. Transparency and measurability are said to constrain the creative process.

In the end though it is all about the fees being supported by the ‘dark art’ process it takes to generate the product. The fear is that visibility into the process would reduce the value of the exercise because it would bring subjective interpretation into the picture.  Fees or timelines could be questioned.

A black box allows for inefficiency, kludges, ‘wizard of oz’ situations, hidden costs, and a multitude of hacks or workarounds that help an agency get to the end goal. So if these musty closets were aired out, I am sure the cleaning crew would be called in within minutes. The safety of the opaque space would be gone and all the ugliness would be right out for everyone to see. Which is a good thing.

Creating a white box culture takes courage, agility, humility, and an openness to failure. It requires confidence and belief in the integrity of your process. It requires collaboration and the desire to learn and work with others. It requires a commitment to change and evolve with the market and with the demands of our customers.

In other words, it is exactly the time of mindset we need to be in to be able to tackle the wicked problem we face.

As a regular reader of Edge I have always been impressed by the list of attendees at the yearly Edge Dinner  (the ‘Billionaires Dinner’) and how John Brockman seamlessly brings these great minds together. Inspired in part by the role he plays in the dinner and on the site he edits I began the conversations that lead to the dinner that occurred last night.

As I mentioned in a previous post, a couple of co-conspirators and I (@passitalong and @markraheja) structured a dinner to discuss the current wicked problem facing the discipline of marketing strategy. We pulled people from a wide range of disciplines and backgrounds to ensure we had as many different perspectives on the problem as we could. As the days ticked down to yesterday, I hoped that the event would be as awesome as I thought it could be.

And it was.

From the moment the intros started around the table new ideas were tossed into the arena for discussion. You know things are going to go well when one of the first people to speak says “I want to challenge the problem statement as I feel the issue is much deeper than this”. The discussion went on without a break for about 2.5 hours as the food and wine flowed seamlessly (thanks to Craig for damn fine service). By the end, there was unanimous agreement that we needed to do that again and do it soon.

Many of us were scribbling furiously to get as much down as we could (at one point one of the participants commented that “We should be recording this”). To keep the momentum going we have created a Google Group and have started the process of sharing notes and thoughts with each other. The intent is to eventually release this to the greater community – I firmly believe that knowledge should be shared and that the more minds we can put against the challenge the better. Sharing is also the reason that I want to publicly document as much of this as possible.

Here are just a few of the tangents that came out:

– channels are outpacing the agencies that are meant to feed them

– what roles are good at orchestrating chaos?

– a generation or two of marketers need to die off before real change can occur

– more than a new vernacular, we need a new vehicular language

– identity needs to be severed from the tools of trade

– we need to define failure differently

And there were many, many more. I have seen some of this thinking in other contexts, but last night the raw material started to aggregate. Who knows where this will take us, but it will be an amazing ride.

Amazing like the brilliant dinner I had the fortune to be a part of last night.

I was recently asked to contribute to an eBook by Sean Howard @passitalong . As a fellow big thinker and fan of ideas I was grateful to be asked to contribute to the project. He pulled together an impressive list of contributors: Ellen Di Resta, Gavin Heaton, Mike Wagner, Mack Collier , Mike Arauz, Katie Chatfield, Alan Wolk, Peter Flaschner, Charles Edward Frith, and Matthew Milan.  The result is a very engaging document. Give it a read below.

The Passion Economy

At a recent talk by Jane Fulton Suri I saw several ideas that clearly stated some of the thinking we need to include to wrestle this problem to the ground. But one really stood out as one of the most important. We should all be asking ourselves the following:

What skills, methods and values are common across all disciplines?

It seems reasonable, and almost common sense. But what I liked about it was the inclusion of values in the equation. All too often any exercise that attempts to do what we need to do focuses the majority of its effort on skills and methods. The human element expressed through values is often too unquantifiable for process minded individuals to want to tackle.

We need to stop looking at it from a task, skill or “this is our sandbox” mentality. Communicating common values can create bridges in understanding and can ease the pain of changing a frame of reference. Common values transcend process, role, title, agency, and frame the goal in terms of “What does this mean to me?”.

This week a group of smart people from different disciplines but united by the fact they play a role in the strategic process will be getting together to discuss the challenge laid out in the first post. The conversation will play out over some great food and wine at one of the best restos on Queen East. I am sure there will be some spirited debate as every person attending is not a wallflower when it comes to this topic.

To set up the conversation my co-conspirators (@passitalong and @markraheja ) and I drafted a problem statement and a rough discussion guide. It is not meant to be strict, but more of a guide (and I love tangential conversations as well – they tend to lead to the best thinking). The problem statement is also meant to focus the greater mandate and is under constant evolution. To understand why, see the wicked problem post below.

I firmly believe that to make any headway with this challenge everything must be open – it really goes without saying in this day and age. Here is the guide I sent to the participants :

Problem Statement:

The convergence of Strategy, Planning and Design under the term ‘Marketing Strategy’ in the current fractured market has led to challenging situations where the sum of all efforts is less than the parts.
Confusion and inefficiency/ineffectiveness results from a lack of clarity around how disciplines should work together, what they have in common, and what they are required to create.  Disciplines are being forced to redefine how they impact and bring value to the problems our clients increasingly face. In many ways disciplines have become partially incomplete or are now irrelevant.

There is a need to rationalize this convergence; to come to a shared understanding of how the roles, tools, methods and even language, of these disciplines, must evolve.
This understanding needs to be based on three fundamental platforms:

1. The industry requires a ‘unity of knowledge’

2. We need to be more ‘meta’ in our execution

3. We need to be able to truly deliver in a transmedia manner

Discussion objective:

To validate the problem statement and to discuss ideas that stem from it. Ultimately, the results of this discussion will be shared with the group and will form the foundation for a larger event.

Agenda:
[Drinks]
[Delicious food]

Welcome, review of problem statement and objectives
Personal Intros – thoughts on the challenge
Discussion Topic 1: How do we achieve a ‘unity of knowledge’?
Discussion Topic 2: What is the new model for teams/agencies?
Discussion Topic 3: How do we deliver in a fractured landscape?

(Thanks to one of the participants for the great phrase “concerned practitioners”. So, so right.)