Category: Strategy

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.

20
Oct

Clarity Builds Strength: How Brand Transparency Builds Consumer Loyalty

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Reviewing their inspiration board. Via CNBC.

We loved working with the Flex Watch founders and their investor, Marcus Lemonis, on a recent episode of this season’s CNBC’s series “The Profit.” When we met with team Flex, our role was simple — re-aligning the brand, which was faced with a tangle of confusing advertising and slumping sales. Like many businesses, Flex launched strong, but lost its way in the clutter of market competition. When they launched in 2010, the company, whose tagline is “Time to Make a Difference,” had a clear vision and purpose-driven direction. They offered 10 colors of watches, donating 10% of the profits to 10 set charities. A straightforward and well-defined approach that saw strong company growth for the first two years. But as Flex caved to market pressure and begun expanding their offerings to include more expensive items and redirecting their market to a newer “hip” consumer base, sales began to falter.

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Flex Watches pitching Flip Flop Shop. Via CNBC.

As the episode showed, the team struggled to find solutions; however, with renewed focus and outside help, the team was able to connect back with its authentic, essential brand, telling its story with purpose.

The Flex team problems aren’t unique. Losing sight of brand story and an overarching vision and mission aren’t just the problems of early days of frenetic start-ups, they can happen at any stage of growth. Take for instance, behemoth brand McDonald’s. With weak sales and sluggish growth, the fast food giant needed a way to re-shape public perceptions. With the launch of the global digital campaign, “Our Food Your Questions,” the company hopes to remind customers of its original brand promise of quality fast food. Will today’s nutrition-smart eater trust the brand to deliver its promise? It’s probably too soon to tell. But we can generalize that messaging reminders and repeats of brand values or promises do not pivot a brand for growth or spark nutrition, dietary or food conversations the public cares about.

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Marcus Lemonis and the Flex Watches team. Via CNBC.

Some companies align brand, story and message tightly, gaining competitive advantage without sacrificing history, essence and identity. Southwest Airlines, for example, has built its brand around trust from its niche origins as a low-cost air carrier. By positioning itself outside the mainstream largess of other commercial airlines, the company has developed loyalty and trust while also using brand story to broaden conversations beyond ticket prices. With its “Transfarency” campaign, Southwest adds layers into its brand history while leading a conversation people want and care about.  

These case studies illuminate the importance of aligning brand fundamentals. Cast your brand story too far away from your vision, mission, values, and personality, and you’ll soon lose your place with audiences. Maybe McDonald’s can afford a “do-over” in the public’s mind, but not all companies have unlimited talent, money, and resources to create a cultural reinvention. Besides, consumers today tend to see right through such messaging-cum-brand story. Athletic clothing line Lululemon has yet to regain the trust of its once passionate brand loyalists. Once its CEO lashed out at his target consumers about the “right” kind of bodies fitting into its yoga pants — poof! He went all the way “downward dog” and lost brand trust (and his job), while the company’s stock and its brand story took a hefty hit and has never fully recovered.

That’s because we’re living in an age of brand transparency. Consumers expect a real partnership with companies, more than marketing. It means doing research and matching core brand offerings to what consumers want, need and value. They’ll buy from you so long as you make their lives better, even a teensy weensy bit. It means giving consumers key information about the brand, company, and products, which is often achieved through the brand personality. It’s giving a peek into not just how the business “works,” but long exchanges with the values and passions of the founders and the company. And if this isn’t authentic or genuine or transparent, like the Flex Watches before their brand pivot episode, you’ll find yourself adrift amidst the competition.

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.

06
May

Don’t Fear Conflict. Work Through It!

Your workday was going fine. The pitch went well, you just delivered your latest project (and on time!), and then suddenly, a coworker wants to “have a word” about a grievance. Suddenly, your day has been upended, and with just a few words, your heart is racing and your stomach is turning. You’ve just been faced with conflict in the workplace.

Negatively processing and reacting to conflict is bad for us. Aside from the immediate “fight or flight” response your body experiences, ongoing conflict elicits large amounts of stress in our bodies and can have a lasting impact on our memory, mood and even lifespans. Studies have shown the toll of the stress from conflict on our bodies can even lead to increased work-related injuries.

So, what can we do to minimize the negative impacts of workplace conflict on ourselves and those we’re interacting with? According to the Harvard Business Review, choosing your words carefully is the best start. When emotions are high, we often don’t take time to carefully consider what we’re saying to the other person, or how we’re coming across, which can further escalate the situation. Another issue is that in our rush to get our point across and convince the other party why we’re in the right, we fail to actively listen to them, thereby shutting ourselves off from a potential resolution and further aggravating the situation. Here are six more do’s and don’ts for dealing with workplace conflict.

Don’t rush. Take a breath. Take a walk. Take your time to respond to that email. Even if you have to excuse yourself for a few minutes, do not push yourself into a response before you’re fully calm. When things are tense, the wrong response could make them worse.

Do listen without interrupting. This could be difficult, especially when you feel you’re the wronged party, but it’s imperative to moving forward that both sides feel they’ve had a proper chance to express themselves.

Don’t focus on a winner. It’s a win-or-lose mentality that gets people into conflict in the first place. By letting go of the need to be the victor, and instead focusing on a resolution, you can shift the focus to healing the matter together.

Do accept responsibility. Also in Harvard Business Review, leadership author and Harvard Business professor Linda Hill, advises not to act like there’s only one point of view. “You need to own your perception. Start sentences with ‘I’ not ‘you,’” she explains.

Don’t fear conflict. It’s inevitable in any workplace, or in life. And if you’re in a leadership position, it’s just part of your job. By ignoring the situation, you’ll only make it worse. So, take a deep breath, relax your muscles and try to focus on a solution.

No one says it’ll be fun or easy, but properly dealing with conflict is mental strength training for all of us.

26
Feb

In Order to Think Big, Sometimes You Have to Think Small

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Photo Credit: Alejandro Escamilla

Most companies value creativity and want to capture the generative powers of novel ideas for their employees and businesses. And yet, we’ve only begun to grapple with how to bring the complex powers of creativity into our offices. The main challenge is the mechanics of how it works still remains elusive. And if we don’t understand the mechanics of creative production, how can we thoroughly encourage it in our teams? Right now, most companies aren’t, at least not successfully.

A recent Harvard Business School study surveyed 3,500 companies and found that few employees were given incentives, time or resources to creatively solve business problems or seek new paths of innovation. Even Google, the world’s most innovative company, whose leaders are vocal champions of group work and collaboration, recently released a study of its own methods for organizing collaborative group work and surprisingly concluded there were no clear patterns for productive group work.

Part of the problem, say some neuroscientists, is we shouldn’t start with the group, team or company to study creativity. We’ve got to think small, at the level of the individual. We’ve got to grapple with the ways our individual brains churn out ideas, take imaginative leaps on smaller problems before we tackle understanding how groups can best come up with new product lines and ideas.

In their new book Wired to Create: Unravelling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire reinforce this point. In their analysis, understanding the models we use in our daily lives, predicts, to some degree, how well we can expect to accomplish at work:

“We are, all in some way, wired to create everyday, and that everyday life presents opportunities to exercise and express that creativity. This can take the form of approaching a problem in a new way, seeking out beauty, developing and sticking to our own opinions (even if they are unpopular), challenging social norms, taking risks, or expressing ourselves through personal style.”

A personal style? Yes, Kaufman and Gregoire suggest there is a relationship between professional creative output, the projects we finish, the ideas we follow through to completion, and what they describe as a general creative style or sensibility. How we run our personal lives and solve our own problems. So, for example, if we spend our weekend mostly binge-watching television, or if we mostly go out and drink with friends, this will impact our overall creative personal style we use at the office:

“People who engage in a creative lifestyle—perhaps by drifting off in daydreams, taking photographs just for fun, talking passionately about personal goals, writing thoughtful cards or letters to friends or family, keeping a journal… tend to be more open minded, imaginative, intellectually curious, energetic, outgoing, persistent and intrinsically motivated by their activity,” according to the co-authors.

So, while we prep for the weekend, take some time to think about what your personal style is. Whether it’s a nonstop schedule of surfing, some fun-filled family time or even Netflix binging, however you spend your Saturday and Sunday will probably dictate your Monday as well.

04
Dec

Decoding Modern Families

Anyone who celebrated Thanksgiving with their loved ones or who’s planning an upcoming holiday dinner knows it’s hard to please every family member. Perhaps no one understands this better than marketers. With continually diversified options for what screens families watch, the choices compound the task of reaching each family member. So, we were thrilled when PromaxBDA gave us the opportunity to share our take on the constantly changing definition of the modern family and how best to emotionally connect with them.
Head over to Brief to read the whole piece.

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?

02
Jul

Step 2: Why Your Company Needs to Build a Brain Trust

Now that we’ve talked about creative entrepreneurship, let’s build a brain trust, shall we?

It takes more than one person and half an idea, which is why entrepreneurs need to set art, imagination and design loose into the company. One’s particular if not unique talents are small in comparison to a generative, empowered brain trust. By setting talent into motion, they can systematize imagination and let art and strategic design help solve problems collaboratively.

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A company is only as good as its people. For imaginative and capable people, everything is a canvas for the imagination, to paraphrase Thoreau. But with not so capable people, ideas are a punishment to be endured. So, cultivating great talent means not only finding the right people, but also planning and building out a brain trust. As Steven Johnson has argued, most of us walk around with half ideas in our heads; and we need others to test our assumptions, put them into practice and, ultimately, accomplish our visions.

Talent who can create, spread and adopt ideas are integral to a brain trust. They animate the organization’s environment and shape its culture – no wonder creative teams need to be intellectually, creatively and temperamentally diverse. From loud to quiet, left to right-brained, logical to free-form, a blend of perspectives and skill-sets is what makes an exceptional creative team. While the process is a raucous bustle and tussle of talking, arguing and sharing, it’s how truly innovative ideas take root and grow.

We’ve built this into our culture. Transcending the design discipline to include social scientists, MBAs and humanities graduates, our brain trust is unconventionally dynamic and collaborative.

It’s not unusual, for example, for one person to question the purpose of the traditional upfront while another deconstructs a logo from a different perspective or investigates the history of lower thirds, transitions or swipes. As Johnson puts it, “chance favors the connected mind.”

17
Jun

The State of the Industry Remix

Can you see your humans in the clutter of brand work? Photo courtesy of Thomas Brault via unplashed.com

Can you see your humans in the clutter of brand work? Photo courtesy of Thomas Brault via unplashed.com 

While waiting for the venerable Lee Hunt and his annual New Best Practices talk at PromaxBDA, a quote came to mind:

“Branding is the manifestation of the human condition.” –– Wolff Olins

How can a vague psychological term relate to the future of television, let alone programming, bumpers, IDs and promos? But we see a connection between this concept about the human condition and Mr. Hunt’s strategy-oriented observations and analysis of our industry.

The truth is, industry best practices and the state of design spool out from the invisible thread of us humans. It always starts with a curiosity and drive to aggregate and distill information into something usable.

People want to be more than facial hair. Photo courtesy of Ryan McGuire via gratisphotography.com

People want to be more than facial hair. Photo courtesy of Ryan McGuire via gratisphotography.com

The future of television depends on how well we understand all that is knowable about us humans, particularly the ways science, technology, education, social science and demography tell the story of us.

Do you know how to untangle the thread?

27
May

A ‘Brief’ Encounter and Why Your Company Needs a Chief Creative Officer

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We were recently featured in PromaxBDA Creative Brief, calling out our multidisciplinary talent.

You see, “Strategy” is more than a service offering at Oishii Creative. In fact, it’s so woven into our culture and business practices that you’re as likely to run into a political scientist here, as you are an accomplished creative director, animator or film historian.

Being a creative solutions partner to TV clients means more than having talented designers, directors and strategists. It’s pitching our tent outside the folds of “business-as-usual,” and building a culture of people who are empowered to think about the future today.

Imagine using design in new ways and always questioning everything we take for granted. Only you know what business model suits your particular strengths and capabilities, but we hope that a glimpse into the workings of Oishii’s business model and culture will illustrate a paradigm for success. It all starts with creative entrepreneurs. You can read more about this at the jump, and be sure to come back next week as we discuss the importance of building a brain trust and democratizing design solutions.

Start With Creative Entrepreneurs

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People start companies for a variety of reasons. Passion, purpose and profits motivate them to take huge risks.

Creative companies – just like us in the broadcast and design industry – are typically founded by artists who happen to be entrepreneurs. Harmut Esslinger describes it as ‘the designer who wants to use design beyond beautification.” Another way to look at it is, designers have a unique skill: creating a commercial enterprise through the mergence of design and art.

What distinguishes creative entrepreneurs from their counterparts is the ability to see the value of operationalizing creativity. After all, they’re running a business and chasing innovation.

After Harvard Business Review author and professor Jeffrey H. Dyer studied over 3,000 executives and entrepreneurs, he concluded that the most innovative leaders spent 50% more time on what his team called the “discovery activities of innovation: questioning, observing, experimenting and networking.”

This isn’t just a matter of “let’s think about television’s problems.” It’s systemic – and teams have to see how design and television are experienced through every relevant lens, whether it’s history, demographics, art, business or technology. It’s the ambient knowledge that everyone can tap into. This is how the truly creative entrepreneur wants people to find meaningful work.


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