Posts Tagged ‘thought leadership’

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

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.

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 BrockmanEdge.org 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?

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.

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?”.