Posts Tagged ‘big thinkers’

In May 2008 I attended a fantastic conference at the Art Center College of Design called Serious Play. It was an inspirational experience that changed the way I think about design, play and business. It happens every two years and I am so looking forward to the 2010 version. Several videos of the speakers are on TED thanks to an agreement between the two organizations. Here are some of my favourites.

George Smoot

Stuart Brown

Bruce McCall

Tim Brown

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.

New ideas are my drug of choice. I consume them constantly. I can’t imagine life without learning something new – or being forced to think differently about something. The world is full of great thinkers and thanks to the net it is easier than ever follow the ones you know and to discover new people.

When I wrote about consilience, I wanted to share a belief about knowledge that is close to my heart. I believe it is critical for everybody to learn from as many different knowledge spaces as they can. Modern life requires the ability to synthesize and learn from seemingly disparate topics.

In the spirit of #followfriday I want to share a list of a few of the people I have followed through the years. They are in no particular order – they are simply big thinkers that have enriched my life with what they have created.

John is the first site I suggest to people I meet, and is the first site I go to when I need inspiration. Hands down the most influential site for me.

Jerry HirshbergHis book is severely dog-eared and deeply informed my thinking about creativity and teams.

Jaron Lanier – Made me think differently. And wildly.

EBN – Many years ago I worked on a show that featured Gardner Post. Funny and brilliant. They pushed my view of media control to a new space.

Daniel Dennett – Set me on the path to CogSci with The Mind’s I.

Douglas HofstadterGodel, Escher, Bach was mindblowing. It also introduced me to The Musical Offering.

Stewart Brand – From my early interest in the Well and the Whole Earth Catalog to How Buildings Learn I have learned a great deal from his work.

OrbitalSnivilisation is #1 on my playlist.

Richard Feynman – For his curiosity and passion.

William S. Burroughs – His book The Adding Machine was the best thing to read in the middle of the Atlantic.

Who are your big thinkers?