Category: Innovation

31
May

Don’t Be A Futurist Faker

Luigi Russolo, 1911, The Revolt (La rivolta), Gemeentemuseum Den Haag via Wikipedia

Luigi Russolo, 1911, The Revolt (La rivolta), Gemeentemuseum Den Haag (via Wikipedia)

When Kevin Roberts recently told Business Insider that gender equality was “over for him” and his advertising agencies, saying “(he)… rarely thinks about the problem,” many commentators howled at his indifference. While ad agency employment data shows women make up about 50% of the industry worker force, there’s rough parity within the ranks; 80% of men at big agencies hold leadership and creative director roles according to research from the 3% Conference.   

And if 2016 lawsuits filings are any measure of disparity, patterns of abuse seem to be running rampant in some of the world’s biggest agencies with allegations of racial and gender slurs and inappropriate sexual advances. To be fair, ad firms are but microcosms of society, reflecting larger structural patterns of gender discrimination. From technology to the sciences and across media and entertainment, companies are finally striving to do their best at managing the vestiges of gender discrimination, including promoting and keeping female executive talent.

So why would Mr. Roberts casually elude this reality and go on to describe women as temperamentally ill-suited for executive leadership positions? The answer doesn’t lie in whether or not sexual discrimination still goes on — it does — but in what this says about Mr. Roberts’ status in the media industry, which is even more troubling than his casual dismissal of social ills. As a “coach” to executive talent and expertise, a mentor such as Mr. Roberts should not believe these things. Or should he? Mr. Roberts, I argue, has fallen victim to futurist fakery. That’s right, fakery.

As a society, we’ve become too enthralled with idea leaders. We’re drawn to the men and women who write, blog, teach and educate — crossing the TED stages and traveling the lecture circuits — about the importance of Big Ideas. I’m not suggesting fakers are everywhere. Many of these futuristic insighters bring plenty of real-world context and knowledge to our industry. What I am saying is that while we’ve become accustomed to these educated, talented, and creative men and women to raise our awareness, we’ve let in a few fakers along the way. It’s hard not to.

We’re much better informed and well rounded when talented people step out of their labs, classrooms and offices to share with all of us. But we shouldn’t be idea-complacent or even idea trend-driven. While ancient philosophy has taught us to be respectful of thinkers, we should also use our own powers of reason when it comes to idea hucksters. Ideas for the sake of ideas; concepts without connections to everyday and real problems in search of solutions is simply posturing. And that is what Mr. Roberts seems to be doing. He’s bought into his own ideology, projecting that he’s successful in no small part because he “knows” trends and can connect data and information; therefore, he’s putting himself in a position to constantly seek a connection, no matter how far fetched.

To give some historical context, I use the term “futurist” as it comes to us from the anti-traditionalist art movement in Italy and the Soviet Union in the early 20th century. Futurism was committed to rejecting all established art techniques and styles that depicted the “dynamism” of technology, industrialism and automation. Futurism wanted only art that put people in the experience of machinery, the then-future of economic and cultural progress. Because futurism was so thoroughly unforgiving of tradition and history, as a movement it had little depth beyond a love of industrial machinery. What it did have was an unyielding commitment to projecting the idea of progress — a future people see only in art. And as a result, by the 1930s, it had devolved into propaganda art for totalitarian regimes.  

Unfortunately, Mr. Roberts is the sort of “thought” leader who has adopted the futurist role model for audiences and, in so doing, wiped away any concern for the real, the here and now. What concerns futurists are ideas, trends, disruptions and data points pointing to something… and if they’re not able to back up that something with context or evidence, well, there lies the fakery. But I don’t believe that it’s intentional deception on his part. Mr. Roberts, and many like him, believe they can’t delve into the real-world issues of today as, in their minds, they’ve already crossed over to the other side into tomorrow. Our devotion to the prophecies of industry futurists sets us all up for failure as it’s an unrealistic expectation that thought leaders can consistently think beyond what everyone else can even imagine.

Truth is, we’ve grown a bit complacent and perpetuated these sorts of idea leaders and their sometimes misguided or downright ridiculous projections that have no recognizable bearing on our industry. I admit, I’ve been known to pore over “white papers” and beg favors for tickets to hear giants in science and technology speak on the state of blah, blah, blah. I follow every MIT scientist interested in neuroscience and technology. I’ve got a PhD in political science, but I’m obsessed with the behavioral science of decision-making as I am design thinking applied to… anything.  So I’m not pointing fingers. I’m saying let’s not delude ourselves. Using Freud’s observation that humans are extraordinarily good at deceiving ourselves, especially when chasing their own ideas, leaders like Mr. Roberts seem all too silly. Let’s not be fakers.

18
May

Break Your Creative Bubble

 

 

 

zachary-nelson-192289 (1)Oishii’s Kate Canada Obregon was recently asked to talk about diversity for The Drum News. As you might expect from Oishii, she challenged peers to break creative conceptual bubbles, the safe zones for creating content for audiences. Audiences are tired of safe and simple recycled creative. Whether a creative advertising campaign or brand visual refresh, audiences want new ways of seeing their world.  Telling good stories means stepping into the many shades, values and geographies and telling our collective history. We’re not talking art or design that speaks from on high, tucked away in a museum. A successful promo can act as a window into the ways we are  bound together under a community, country, politics and culture while giving an unexpected burst of inspiration. Audiences will continue to ignore commercial creative work unless it can satisfy. inspire and sustain.  Here’s to crafting the art between story and design, telling poignant and diverse stories for us all.

 

09
Feb

As Technology Evolves, Humans Still Want A Good Story.

Recently, our Co-Founder and CCO Ish Obregon shared his thoughts on the state of our industry for POST Magazine’s January print issue. Read on as Ish explains why he thinks our industry is being “compressed”, even as it grows, and how we can best wield technology’s power. 

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If I can describe the state of our industry in one word, it would be compression. The high-end quality VFX once reserved primarily for feature films and TV shows is now a mainstay in other sectors, such as commercials and on-air promos. Financially, it’s become cheaper, faster and easier to create a blockbuster-level VFX for smaller projects.

Recent college grads and others who didn’t have access to the latest technology before are now able to command top VFX jobs, while clients are demanding high-end creators to work at a lower-end pay scale. Everything is increasingly being compressed into this middle ground; however, I see this as a positive. There’s a push for innovation that goes above and beyond the standardization of what was once considered leading edge technology. It forces our industry to develop more practical creative processes, tools and systems, and embrace promising new means of content and platforms, such as VR, AI and data mining for design, and propel the evolution of creative culture.

Promax_Conf_Final PROMAX LOGOS _6_09_16.00_01_40_05.Still007One major area of growth is our deeper understanding of human behaviors, regardless of what technology we use. It’s important for companies to understand the viewer, user or participant’s POV and their psyche, because it all comes back to how you tell the story. You can create a beautiful sci-fi film using the best tools available, but when you combine these visuals with a well-told story, it becomes a much deeper experience that far surpasses the luster and gloss of new technology and VFX. Audiences want to be swept away not only visually, but emotionally. Now, we’re masters of those techniques, but the question is, what are we going to do with them?

I think most companies do a good job of keeping up with technology. However, in order to best wield its power, we must remember that technology can never replace our story — and that tools and tricks should never be our crutch. Only after you’ve established a strong foundation that distinguishes who you are and what you stand for, will technology enhance the narrative journey you create for others. True innovation happens when the forces of culture, creativity and consumerism collide. We’re still telling the same stories we always have, but we’re just using new tools to tell them in a different way.

08
Jul

By The Numbers: How Data Should Drive Our Storytelling

Data-driven storytelling is a buzzy phrase right now, but what does it mean? In broad strokes, the phrase suggests a new era of demographic-tailored brand messaging. Brands are experiencing a new wave of creative freedom, where they can finally leave behind market research and strategies that began in the 1920s.

Data allows the dynamic of storytelling to meaningfully engage with consumers and audiences. Because companies have access to technology and new data-capture techniques, it’s now possible to collect, store and decode billions of information bytes about customer likes, dislikes and behaviors, allowing us to predict what people are doing, what they might want or consume in the future. It’s a formidable leap for brands, which as we know, are in the business of storytelling. And storytelling is deceptively simple. It’s using messaging and the brand’s attributes to make people’s lives better. Adding data to that equation can inform brands in developing content and media or champion ideas that people will want, and that matter.

Let’s be clear, data contains dazzling potential, but it’s still pieces of information, numbers, and part of a social context. While we can use data from social media tracking, for example, to build models, predict tastes and wants, it’s still difficult for data and science to reveal all. Whether culled from samples, surveys, research or charts, data works when paired with the dynamics of everyday life. Along with data, our worlds are “thick,” as cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz described it, with codes and meanings.

As Director of Strategy and Research at Oishii Creative, providing context for this data for our clients and using it to shape our approach is a key part of my role. It’s important to combine raw numbers with culture and culture dynamics and the applicable disciplines of studying how we humans invent and form ideas, values and behaviors, opinions and experiences in everyday life.

For example, we recently partnered with 24-hour preschool network Sprout on a series of brand spots as part of a rebrand. As a network for kids and parents, we knew we had to reflect and tell the story of modern families, and the family mindset. For the campaigns, not only did we look at the raw numbers of what makes up a family today, such as birth, marriage and divorce rates, but we also looked at sentiment, feelings and values people have around their families. We found that even with relatively high divorce rates, people believe in love and the institution of marriage. Most research points to a new era of marriage and family, whereby people don’t just blend, but they create their own version of the marriage ideal, one that works for them. That’s the power of culture. It’s the remaking of tradition in the new context. Commitment to family in its core form remains strong; it’s taking shape in new ways. Culture and data together help us understand this.

So, when you’re strategizing your next campaign, it’s important to run the numbers. Market research samples can be small and biased, so sometimes, in order to get a real idea of what your audience is looking for, it helps to merge a broader cultural picture with a more rigorous scientific view. And to do that, you’ve got to go to the source. After all, numbers don’t lie.

27
May

Want a Strong Company Culture? Define It

A company culture is typically defined as an organizational set of shared ideas, values, beliefs and behaviors within an organization. A work culture influences people in both big and small ways — everything from clothing choices to meeting styles to the systems for getting work done.

While this definition seems fairly straightforward, it’s recently taken on more complex understandings and practicalities in work spaces. Now, offices must consider all aspects of human thinking and creative needs, designing and building out spaces and offering benefits best suited for churning out innovative ideas and behaviors.

This new perception of work culture now factors into how we see a company’s success (no matter how much money you’re making your investors, if you’re employees are miserable, it’s just bad business) and its outside appeal. Some companies like Zappos, Google and REI draw new recruits in just based off of their famed cultures. And studies have shown that flexible work cultures and ones that value further development of their employees’ talents are especially appealing to Millennials. But while we’re all familiar with free lunches, in-office yoga and “unlimited” vacation time, what’s really at the base of a company culture that will make it strong?

Turns out, for a company culture to have the most chance of success, it doesn’t really matter what perks you’re offering. What really determines whether a culture will thrive is how well it’s defined. If everyone feels they’re operating under different, or even competing goals, it can cause conflict and distort expectations. In fact, having a strong company culture is so important, that according to Fast Company, even having a negative company culture can be better than having no company culture at all; at the very least, it provides employees with a structure, and set of values and expectations from which to operate. We’re certainly not advocating for a toxic work culture for anyone, but the fact is, even knowing what you’re working against can help you make something better.

And while there is proof that positive work cultures make people more productive, what employees really want is a sense of consistency and the ability to be part of a work community, where they can contribute to ideas and solutions. In fact, a little push can be just what a business needs. A little candor on everyone’s part, and even some healthy conflict, can start a conversation, get people actively thinking, talking and ruminating on ideas.

So, if your culture isn’t clearly defined, maybe it’s time to sit down and recap your essential principles and define it. Or better yet, invite your team to contribute. By including their input, you may be taking the first step to fostering the strong, community-oriented culture that draws people in and keeps them engaged.

31
Mar

How Passion Projects Drive Innovation

From books and how-tos to best practices and research, the inspiration and tools for innovation are seemingly everywhere, making creative disruption achievable if we just give it room and time to thrive… or so the thinking goes. The truth is that innovation isn’t just new thinking, it’s actually putting those new ideas into practice. Or, as John Maynard Keynes said, “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.”

And allowing our teams the freedom to escape those old ideas and innovate new ones is a large part of the thinking behind encouraging employee passion projects goes.

Google may have made the concept famous with their (defunct in name only) 20% time rule, where employees could spend 20% of their time experimenting with their own ideas. But the concept is a lot wider than just the search giant. Many startups have utilized the idea, and of course, 3M is possibly the original pioneer of the idea that giving employees more freedom and time to pursue what they love will result in happier, more productive employees.

As creative professionals, this concept should come naturally to us, but it’s often hard to justify the luxury of a passion project. However, when you feel a certain sense of creative freedom or opportunity to pursue a project just for the sake of enjoyment, you’re more likely to be inspired, refreshed and reconnected with your work. As we’ve said before, sometimes we are judged by our amount of structured creative output, rather than our quality, which can hinder us from taking real creative risks and innovating our processes, our work and ourselves.

So don’t discount those doodles, scribbles and side projects your employees may be doing in their downtime. You never know what will spark their next successful idea, and giving them the space, encouragement and freedom to explore their creativity will foster a more supportive, rewarding environment. After all, if they feel they can be open about their experimental projects, who knows what they will share with you — and how those ideas will be actualized in the real world.

10
Mar

Playing to Work, Working to Play

According to Pablo Picasso, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Even though we work in a creative industry, many of us are faced with this same issue, but the solution could live in our childhoods as well. When we were young, most of us spent a great deal of time making our own fun by engaging in unstructured imaginative play, and it turns out that all those hours on the playground might have been developing our brains as much as our time in the classroom. But as we’ve grown older, most adults are faced with a constant barrage of meetings, deadlines and the monotony of the day-to-day, which often gets in the way of us feeling like true creative beings and competes for any leftover time we might have to engage in playful activities.

Studies have shown that even under-stimulated adults can suffer from play deficiency, the same way we suffer from sleep deficiency if we don’t get our required allotment of hours every night. In fact, those grownups who do engage in consistent play have been proven to be more productive at work. According to Brian Sutton-Smith, the developmental psychologist who devoted his life’s work to studying the importance of play in both adults and children said, “The opposite of play is not work, it is depression.” Play isn’t just an activity; it is a powerful mindstate and a skill that requires commitment and challenges us to stay creative yet focused and must live in everything we do.

But what is play? According to Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of nonprofit the National Institute for Play, “Play is something done for its own sake. It’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.”

So, it could be a game of office foosball or trivia night, keeping playdough or some other fun, stimulating activity at your desk or even just engaging in work that feels playful. At Oishii, we’ve been lucky to have worked on several projects for children’s brands, from our rebrand of The Hub to our recent award-winning work for Sprout, which have kept us on our toes creatively and reminded us about the wonder a child’s imagination and an afternoon of unfettered playtime can hold. Those projects had budgets and deadlines and meetings, but we were able to find a sense of fun in each of them, and tap back into our younger years of unstructured play.

In the process, we’ve been able to strengthen ourselves as creatives, build better relationships with our coworkers and even relieve stress. And by engaging in our own versions of play, we can keep our minds and hearts open to new creative ideas. After all, you never know when that sense of kid-like wonder will spark your next great idea.

18
Feb

Killing Your Creative: When Your Big Idea Isn’t Working

We’ve all been there — you have the perfect idea! It’s already all fleshed out in your mind… trouble is, you may have overestimated its potential and underestimated the downfalls. It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that your big idea may be great, but isn’t right for your client or project; however, shoehorning it in is never going to work. When this happens, it’s time to kill your darlings. And the sooner you identify what’s not working, the sooner you can save what is.

It’s going to be painful, but trust us, it will make the project better in the long run. Here’s four of the most common pain areas that, when disregarded, can turn a great idea into a dead end.

Budget
Leonardo DiCaprio sampling your client’s product while a Rolling Stones single plays in the background may seem like a winning combination, but unless you’re Martin Scorsese, structuring your entire idea around such an expensive premise is a quick way to kill it. No matter how brilliant your pitch, if your idea requires a blockbuster budget, and your client’s bottom line is closer to Blockbuster Video, it’s time to let it go. If an idea is truly brilliant at its core, then it should be able to hold up to a little creative compromise, even if that means a little less flash and no “Sympathy for the Devil.”

Similarity
As Mark Twain famously said, “There is no such thing as a new idea… We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations.” So, while there’s almost no chance that whatever you’re pitching is going to be mind-blowing in its originality (we create reference boards for a reason after all), we still must strive to make each project our own unique take. It doesn’t matter whether or not your idea was consciously inspired by someone else’s, if the similarity is too close, it’s time to abandon it. You don’t want to be accused of stealing another advertiser’s idea.

Specialty
This one is tough, because we’d all like to believe that our creative abilities span across the industry’s needs, but the truth is, most creative shops specialize in certain crafts for a reason. So, even if your client loves the Annie Leibovitz-inspired photo series you’ve pitched, if your staff’s only photography experience is with Instagram selfies, it’s time to be realistic. The good news with this pinch point is that just because you may not have the skills on hand to execute, it doesn’t mean your idea is bound to fail. With a little self-honesty, the idea can still be saved. As long as you’re willing to admit that the work may be best served by partnering with another company or outsourcing it altogether, you can still see your concept succeed.

Client
Maybe you’ve been storing up a great idea you’ve had since the last Art Basel, but your client is in a conservative industry, and to them, pushing the envelope is literally redoing the logos on their envelopes. Even if your idea is gorgeous, groundbreaking and, hey, totally budget-friendly, if your client isn’t in a position to take a creative chance and you end up feeling like you’re pushing too hard, it’s time to take a step back. We’d all like to believe that we know best when it comes to our client’s needs, but sometimes, we have to trust what they’re saying is what they really do (or don’t) want. And many ideas are evergreen. Just because it’s not the right fit for this client doesn’t mean it’s not worth filing away for later. After all, some of our best ideas are already in the back of our minds, just waiting for the right turn of that creative kaleidoscope.  

09
Oct

Does Your Company Dare to Go Teal?

Recently, The New Republic published a very in-depth (and lengthy) inside look at online shoe retailer Zappos’ radical decision to do away with all managers. There is a lot of interesting information about the company’s transition, what it means for their future, and how it’s affected the notoriously positive work atmosphere, but the part that stuck out to us was how Zappos is striving to be a “Teal Organization.”

As The New Republic explains, the phrase comes from the book Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux and the colorfully named term corresponds with one of many stages in the evolution of human consciousness and its influence on our organizational paradigms. When it comes to organizations, at the base level of this thought process is Red (aggressive gang and mafia-like organizations); then progressive of that is the highly formal and organized Amber (government, military, some churches), followed by Orange (investment banks, multinational corporations), which focuses on innovation, progress and development; Green, which seeks to build upon the achievement mindset of Orange by adding meaning and purpose, and finally at the top of the hierarchy, Teal.

Teal organizations are sort of the Buddhists of the business world, meaning that ideally, according to the author, “Teal organizations [seek] to empower its members to be creative, independent, adaptable, and self-directed… [and] do away with hierarchies of people and of power and replace them with a hierarchy of purpose.”

Although there are drawbacks to this type of organization, especially for massive companies like Zappos, we couldn’t help but find some inspiration in it. Afterall, the three basic traits of a Teal Organization are self-management, wholeness, and a deeper sense of purpose — three traits that we wholeheartedly support and strive for at Oishii. As we’ve previously stated, we believe any paradigm for success starts with nurturing a team of creative entrepreneurs, and trusting and valuing their contributions and supporting their desire for meaningful work.

So, while we’re not quite ready to do away with managers (our EPs keep us sane after all), we do think there are some positives to be learned from Zappos going Teal.

21
Aug

Think Like A Tourist: Why Tedium Boosts Your Creative Work

Photo courtesy of Splitshire.com

Photo courtesy of Splitshire.com

Researchers continue to uncover secrets of creativity and in the process, make sense as to how innovation occurs. This new information is applicable to organizations and individuals alike. Anyone who works in the “creative services” industries needs to pay attention to this research.

In a recent study conducted by teams at MIT and the University of Toronto, which was featured in the New York Times, researchers studied 6,000 Kickstarter projects, looking at the relationship between time and the effect on “innovative” ideas. Over the course of nine months, researchers observed patterns of heavy ideation work and administrative or execution of idea work. The study suggested that ideas need robust doses of “non-creative” or process time to help the original idea along. In other words, good ideas need these “uncreative” administrative tasks to become great ideas on the market.

While the study was small, it has implications for creative workplaces. Most directly, it challenges prevailing notions we generally hold about creativity, innovation and how we work.

Ideas Need Process
The big takeaway challenges our mythical attachment to ideas. Most of us love and value creativity, and we see and want the effects of innovation. A singular idea disrupts markets. A visionary with her strength smashes through to markets with the power of her idea. We find ourselves drawn to the story of Newton’s “apple falling on his head” story. We get lost in the romance of the marathon brainstorming session where an idea magically comes to life. However, as the study suggests, there are processes that do the heavy lifting for intangible ideas.

Nurture Ideas
Ideas, as the study suggests, develop through a company pipeline only if encouraged by way of company policies, structures, processes and culture. There is a value to ideas only if they are kept in motion. As many companies proclaim to pursue innovation, creative workers need to continue raising awareness and helping to make tangible the benefits, for example, of innovation hubs to test out ideas. Companies, too, need to invest in idea think-tank teams with dedicated resources and people to keep ideas at play.

Brain Rest
The study pointed out what neuroscience is already telling us: our brains are more creative with lots of time spent relaxing and daydreaming. Obsessive focus yields nothing in the way of creative breakthroughs. Most creatives don’t lack ideas, they are deluged with them. It’s the connecting of different types that yields a new idea or improves an idea already churning through the brain. That’s because the brain needs to go into default mode. As neuroscientist Rex Jung has noted, taking time off doesn’t shut the brain off so much as it gives it license to yield into the unconscious. As the study implies, there was a lot of work going on while the Kickstarter owners went offline.

I hope you’ve found this topic useful in your work. What’s your experience with the generation of creative ideas? How has the power of process helped or hindered your work?


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