To be human is to copy

Interesting take on innovation and originality on aeon.com:

“… according to a cluster of like-minded researchers, we’ve misunderstood how innovation really works. Throughout human history, innovation – including the technological progress we cherish – has been fuelled and sustained by imitation. Copying is the mighty force that has allowed the human race to move from stone knives to remote-guided drones, from digging sticks to crops that manufacture their own pesticides. Plenty of animals can innovate, but no other species on earth can imitate with the skill and accuracy of a human being. We’re natural-born rip-off artists. To be human is to copy.”

 

Are these the 3 types of agencies we need?

Tom Goodwin wrote an interesting piece for The Guardian where he talks about how to reinvent the agency structure. No rocket science but I think it’s an interesting take on the the current ‘structure’ if there is one and at least it does away with the classic ad agency / digital agency split in a way that makes sense:

Visionary agencies would be a group of innovators, technologists, futurologists and business strategists; they’d spend their time focusing on activity two years ahead and beyond. Their scope would be to improve the products/services made, on branding, positioning, and on understanding the future of marketing.

Brand agencies would be the closest agency to what we consider advertising today. A mixture of talent across all current agencies, to include PR, and some retail and talent from all new technologies, their job would be to build brands and classic upper-funnel activity. Their time horizon would be three months to two years. These are artists that design and shape the brand, and then produce ads and marketing to tell that story, and build brand equity.

Performance agencies would focus on the next two months. Their scope would be to understand how to tweak marketing and communication tactics, how to use automation, clever SEO, retail out-of-home advertising, flow advertising, creative optimisation, real-time marketing, short term PR, promotions at retail and many other tools to perfect the conversion of equity into sales, or in other words, largely lower-funnel activity.

 

Truth is people don’t actually like creativity

There was an interesting article in Slate a few weeks ago about the bias against creativity, about the fact that most people say they like creativity but that the truth is we really don’t. And since I work in a creative agency often presenting creative ideas to clients the theory based on a 2011 study used in this article makes a whole lot of sense to me.

“We think of creative people in a heroic manner, and we celebrate them, but the thing we celebrate is the after-effect,” says Barry Staw, a researcher at the University of California–Berkeley business school who specializes in creativity. Staw says most people are risk-averse. He refers to them as satisfiers. “As much as we celebrate independence in Western cultures, there is an awful lot of pressure to conform,” he says. Satisfiers avoid stirring things up, even if it means forsaking the truth or rejecting a good idea.  Even people who say they are looking for creativity react negatively to creative ideas, as demonstrated in a 2011 study from the University of Pennsylvania. Uncertainty is an inherent part of new ideas, and it’s also something that most people would do almost anything to avoid. People’s partiality toward certainty biases them against creative ideas and can interfere with their ability to even recognize creative ideas .

Clients will come to us for creative tasks since that’s what we’re most known for. You can literally witness though how the creative ideas that were presented and liked by the clients will be softened once they start to move through the chain of command. That is if you allow that to happen, we’re quite protective on the essence of an idea to make sure that while we’re very open to tweak it we will make sure that that essential core idea is never lost.

Most people agree that what distinguishes those who become famously creative is their resilience. While creativity at times is very rewarding, it is not about happiness. Staw says a successful creative person is someone “who can survive conformity pressures and be impervious to social pressure.”

And of course I realize like anyone else that some creative ideas are just not good or are creative but not an answer to the question or briefing at hand. This is purely about ideas that are recognized as good and creative and how they are being judged during the decision process. This is about how people often reject creative ideas even when espousing creativity as a desired goal (as the research so eloquently puts it).

In terms of decision style, most people also fall short of the creative ideal. they are satisficers rather than searcher for the optimal or most desirable solution. They follow a number of energy-saving heuristics that generally lead to a set of systematic biases or inaccuracies in processing information. And, unless they are held accountable for their decision-making strategies, they tend to find the easy way out – either by not engaging in very careful thinking or by modeling their choices on the preferences of those who will be evaluating them.

Especially that last sentence is a problem I think. Not only in judging creativity by the way. When people make decision upon what they think someone else will probably think of it instead of what they think themselves sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. There’s a clear link with management style there as well. How much do you empower your own people? It seems that to enable creativity you need to do that.

Instead of issuing directives and policy statements and hoping that they will be obeyed, innovative firms must encourage disobedience. In fact, those in power should go so far as to encourage active opposition. Innovative organizations are those that harbor multiple perspectives and objectives, not simply a variety of views.

Last but not least, it’s also why creativity takes courage – dixit Henri Matisse. Definitely an interesting read, be sure to check the full article.

The Agile Agency. An ad agency’s culture hack

Some 2-3 years ago we decided at Duval Guillaume that we had to re-invent ourselves, that we had to take a more fundamental step in the way we organized ourselves and of course in how we thought about digital as a key element in the communication or advertising that we make. A lot has happened since then but if the 25 Cannes Lions or the Agency of the Year wins of the last 2 years mean anything then it’s probably that we’re doing something right.

The decisions that were taken seemed like the right thing to do but weren’t always that obvious. We decided to get rid of all internal developer resources so we could focus more on our core strenghts – strategy & creativity. At the same time we stopped using online account managers to support the ‘regular’ account managers and we’d stop working with project managers. Instead we organized tech/dev resources to support the creative teams in their creative process and we hired digital producers to play the crucial role between our own teams and the 3rd party developer’s team. All of this in a way that would allow us to keep finetuning & tweaking the idea even while in development to maximize the outcome.

AgileBoard

We were always sure this was the right way to go and we understood the core philosophy behind agile thinking that supported the idea that what we were aiming for wasn’t that crazy. Just like with every good idea though there’s a difference between the idea and the execution and it was/is with guys like Bart, our head of digital production, that we managed to implement agile in the agency. And this in such a way that it’s constantly evolving and that we keep adapting, the essence of agile. And now Bart has written a book about what agile means in an agency environment, most likely the first book on the topic of agile in advertising agencies since he only found books on agile in software/web development when researching the topic.

To stay true to the topic the book was written in an agile way. Of course :-) A must read when you’re in advertising, download the book right here: The Agile Agency, how lean and agile will transform your advertising agency. Another key element in agile thinking that I learned from Bart is that you benefit more when you’re transparant about your own progress, so read the book and add your thoughts.

Why you should be using short-form video in your online communication

I’ve been a close witness to some of the impact short-form video has had on campaigns I was involved in. Small campaigns like the launch of IKKI.be (which most of you will be unfamiliar with) where the video was responsible for creating so much buzz within the target audience that we had reached the platform sign-up target within days instead of months. Or campaigns where the video travelled the world such as we experienced with “Bikers” for Carlsberg or “Push to add drama” for TNT.

All of these (and other) cases made me get a firm believe in short-form video used within online communication strategies. Fast Company believes the same – read “Why Short-Form Video is the Future of Marketing” – where they highlight some key reasons why that is the case:

  1. More and more users are consuming their video entertainment online
  2. Marketers are using video to engage with social media audiences
  3. Barriers to entry are low
  4. Quality is expanding quickly
  5. There are plenty of avenues for dissemination

All true, but apart from the 3rd point, all of these are mostly observations of what is happening and not really reasons of why it is happening. So I agree, but I think they are missing the point a bit.

Video is a very rich audiovisual experience but it allows brands as well to keep control of the story in a time there’s no more control. You can craft a message in such a way (editing, music, …) that you get the maximum effect and when people share it they share it generally for the full 100%. So basically if you’re doing a good job, people will share your video content adding comments etc so taking over control – but not over the message, because when it is consumed again, it will be again exactly how you as a producer crafted it in the first place. That is what makes it very powerful for online communication, the combination of this fact with the knowledge that more and more people consume online video entertainment.

This doesn’t mean video should always be the center piece of your communication online, but try to get video in that communication in some form as much as you can. It’s pretty powerful.

My 2 cents

Innovation

“Don’t take a designer and tell them to build a bridge. Bring them to the canyon and see what they come up with. (Claudia Kotcha)”

Taken from the “We need change” presentation on Slideshare: “A loosely structured collection of quotes and references regarding the (mediocre) but promising state of market research”.

True innovation

There are probably not a lot of words that get misinterpreted so many times as the word innovation. Anybody today who builds a friends list on their site, who releases an API, who created a ‘viral’ ….(you catch my drift) is innovating. Bullshit. Innovation refers to something that wasn’t done before and most of what happens on the web today is a copy of a copy… so hardly true innovation.

Why this statement? A few weeks ago I met for lunch with the founder of an independent financial services company. He and his marketing manager (who’s an ex-colleague) wanted to know more about whole this social media stuff and they knew I was kind of ‘active’ in that area so therefor the lunch. A quick initial check during lunch on what they knew and didn’t know didn’t take long. Flickr? Never heard of. Okay – get it.

To get the right idea of what needed to be done they then started to explain what their business was and how they saw their company move into the future. And to be honest, they explained me the most innovative business approach that I had heard for a while. Unfortunately I can’t tell you what it is but just take it from me that it was. Everything was there. It’s totally different from the typical business approach in that sector, it gave incredible power to their communities, they really let go of control, … Very cool. So what was missing? The right tools, techniques, services, etc to do so.

And then it hit me again. It’s not because people are on Twitter, Friendfeed, Facebook and blogs that they’re necessarily innovative. On the contrary. If ever that is what an agency or a social media consultant comes to tell you then run away (fast). Don’t turn away though because someone hasn’t heard about Twitter. They still might be more innovative thinkers than the rest of us and you know what the coolest job of all is? Making sure you work with the right people and use the right toolset to translate that really innovative idea into reality. That’s what me thinks.

Oh and for the record, my friends at the independent financial services company is looking for someone to do exactly that.