Last week I met with the smart and energetic Minter Dial to record a podcast. We talked about a number of things including digital transformation, Google Firestarters and Fraggl. And I said the word 'so' a lot. You can give it a listen here:
My first job after University (which was actually a Polytechnic if you can remember back when there were such things) was selling space in recruitment directories. There was a recession on at the time (hence very few jobs for graduates with non-vocational degrees) and I kind of fell into it. But in many ways I think it was the best start I could have had. It was a telesales job, cold-calling businesses, selling them advertising space. I had to make at least 80 calls a day in order to reach a daily target minimum of 20 effective phone calls (ones that reached a decision-maker). I learned about how to persuade. I learned about persistence, I learned about the importance of listening. About matching benefits to needs. I learned how to sell. It's a skill that I think is fantastically useful.
One of the things that stuck with me from that time was how we always had visual representations of bookings and targets up on the wall. You could see, as every booking was made, the target coming ever closer and closer. It was hugely motivating. And I was reminded of this when I read this short piece on the power of visual cues in building and maintaining good habits. It's so true. And it makes me wonder why, when we have access to so much data now, companies don't use this more (beyond obvious vertical functions) in the service of creating simple visualisations to enable staff to see progress toward a specific objectives. Such a simple thing, and yet so powerful.
I thought this Scientific American piece on the messy minds of creative people (based on research by Psychologists Guillaume Furst, Paolo Ghisletta and Todd Lubart) was the best thing I’d read on how creativity works in ages.
What was fascinating about it was that it acknowledged the many different (and sometimes contradictory) components, characteristics and personality traits that comprise creativity, and how they play a different role at different stages of the process.
What was also interesting for me though, was how much you could apply this thinking to companies as well as individuals (after all, an organisation is but a bunch of people put together). We all know just how important creativity is as an organisational differentiator, and not just to creative sector businesses - an IBM survey a while back found that global CEOs believed it to be the most important quality in being able to navigate an increasingly complex world. So taking the key points in the piece, here’s how you might view the critical attributes of a creative organisation.
The researchers identified three “super-factors” of personality that predict creativity: Plasticity, Divergence, and Convergence.
Plasticity comprises personality traits including extraversion, high energy, being open to experience and inspiration. The common factor in this is a high drive for exploration, and the comparator here is with organisational willingness and propensity to be externally facing and exploratory. Too many companies become increasingly internally focused as they scale, mature or face ongoing challenges and this is about outwardly-looking organisational energy, curiosity, scrutiny and ambition. About a willingness to try new things, to experiment and learn at a fast pace.
Divergence consists of 'non-conformity, impulsivity, low agreeableness'. For me, this is about organisational independence of thought, a willingness to be misunderstood, to try new and different things, stubbornness and uniqueness of vision.
This relates to qualities such as precision, persistence, critical sense and conscientiousness. The equivalent organisational qualities here might be taken to be data-driven decision making and validation, a strong purpose, a focused approach, aligned and informed decision-making.
The article goes on to talk about how convergence often related to plasticity and how 'those who were open to new experiences, inspired, energetic, and exploratory tended to also have high levels of persistence and precision'. I can see this being true of companies too. But they also mention how these different, and sometimes seemingly contradictory characteristics may be used at different stages. Those who were creative were able to combine both generative (coming up with lots of original ideas) and selective (being able to critique, evaluate, and elaborate on ideas effectively) skills. And I think this is true of companies as well.
Being able to imagine lots of different possibilities, originate quality ideas but also focus on those which have the most potential value are key attributes of the creative organisation. And it is those that are able to combine these different behaviours and switch between them in flexible ways, that are best suited to world in which we now find ourselves.
For the seventh in our series of Firestarters events for the performance marketing community, we focused on a specific but fascinating aspect of mobile marketing - the question of whether its future will be more defined by performance or brand advertising.
Ian Maude from Enders Analysis gave a great scene setter supported by some good data showing how mobile is the driving force in both digital commerce and digital ad growth. Whilst PC penetration is forecast to remain relatively stable and mobile adoption is reaching maturity, Enders predict that Mobile will soon (by 2020) account for 75% of time online. We’ve seen rapid growth in mobile search and performance advertising and whilst this will continue it will be joined by a new wave of brand advertising on mobile as consumption increases and ad spend follows the eyeballs. Enders predict that we are moving towards half of all advertising spend being on the internet, with advertising becoming less TV centric, but the ability to fuse TV and internet/mobile audience data will be key.
Alex Hewson, Media Director at M & C Saatchi Mobile, talked about how 90% of their billings currently come from performance based marketing, and how performance based data underpins just about every aspect of their work. Their approach to planning for mobile incorporates elements of the customer journey from brand performance (intent, engagement), user acquisition (app install, registration, subscription), to life-time value (usage, retention, (re)purchase). He gave examples of how specific types of mobile-friendly targeting can be used to drive these different kinds of objectives, and then how a layered approach to buying (buying against different metrics to support different staged objectives) can minimise risk, and how post-install data for apps is key to properly judging value (given the wide gap that often exists between install and usage rates - something that is in-turn creating additional options to drive improved ROI).
Alex finished by talking a bit about mobile creative in the context of data-driven test-and-learn, a theme built on by Ben Rickard, Head of Mobile at MEC, who spoke about what he called ‘mobile’s dirty little secret’ - their research had indicated that up to 75-80% of UK mobile inventory is still standard 320 x 50 or 300 x 50 banner formats, meaning a huge missed opportunity for advertisers to utilise the kind of larger, more engaging in-feed formats that he believes will be key to the future of brand advertising on mobile. In terms of formats, said Ben, brand ads are running on old rolling stock whilst social ad formats are becoming the norm. And in fact the latest UK IAB Ad Spend data for the full year 2014 (out that very day) supports this assertion showing content and native ads (including in-feed advertising) are now a fifth of total display with social media advertising (powered by native) growing by 65% year-on-year, and representing one half of all mobile display now. Ben laid down a challenge calling for a new approach to planning with objectives driving formats, the centralisation of creative analytics and insights (through Celtra), greater availability (from owners) and demand (from advertisers) for larger, in-feed formats and mobile video, and improved standards across Europe on mobile brand advertising.
Scott Seaborn, Global Head of Mobile Strategy for Aimia (Nectar and Air Miles), finished with a witty and entertaining talk about moments in mobile history and how we tend to view the future through the lens of the past. Scott’s challenge was for brands to be braver about iterating in market with mobile, and to start with the unique, ‘personal’ attributes of mobile as a way to create compelling, creative, mobile-first ideas (he talked a lot about how mobile makes you feel, rather than just its visual aspects).
It was a fascinating evening and the debate afterwards echoed the fact that whilst consumption is in rapid growth, and ad spend is now really starting to follow that growth, there are still many questions that we do not have the answers to just yet. It certainly felt as though whilst the performance side of mobile marketing might have mature more rapidly, it is in the brand marketing side that many of these questions remain, but lots of optimism from our speakers that we are potentially on the verge of a step change in how we do brand advertising on mobile. The amazing Sciberia were on hand as always to take visual notes of the talks, and you can see their visualisation in all its glory here. My thanks as always to Google for hosting, to everyone that came along, and of-course to our excellent speakers.
Chris Messina (who invented the Twitter Hashtag) wrote a post last week describing what he called the ‘Full Stack Employee’. This is, says Chris, the type of employee that has a powerful combination of skills, are adept at navigating the rapidly evolving and shifting technological landscape, and ‘make intuitive decisions amidst information-abundance, where sparse facts mingle loosely with data-drenched opinions’.
Whilst not necessarily having deep vertical expertise in more than one domain, such employees have an intuitive understanding of the value of design and UX, engineering and algorithms, but also narrative and storytelling, and can work with simple prototypes to develop learning. They are able to dynamically deal with shifting priorities and expectations and prioritise well. But they also have a strong curiosity, an appetite for new ideas, best practices, and also a desire to be more productive and happy in their work. It is this curiosity and desire to stay on top of developments in their own industry and others that separates them out.
In ‘How Google Works’ Eric Schmidt describes the people that can have the biggest potential impact in a business - so-called 'Smart Creatives' are the product folk who combine a triumvirate of skills around technical knowledge, business expertise and creativity: 'when you put today's technology tools in their hands and give them lots of freedom’, he says, ‘they can do amazing things, amazingly fast'.
Lord knows with 'Smart Creatives', 'T-shaped' and 'Pi-shaped' people, and now 'Full-Stack Employees', we're not short of monikers to describe people who may have strong vertical expertise, but also have lateral empathy, knowledge and attributes that mean they can work well in rapidly changing, ambiguous environments.
But the point remains a good one. As Chris Messina says, the conventional seams between disciplines are becoming ever more blurred, the set of skills necessary to succeed are broader and more nebulous than they’ve been before, and so being a polymath has real value to businesses. It may sound like a big ask to accommodate so many attributes in one person, but it is increasingly employees like this that make the difference within and for organisations, and as Chris says:
‘the nature of work is changing, and the highest value employees are those who can handle ambiguity and synthesizing enormous amounts of information into strategically useful tactics.’
Nobody's saying that those with deep, vertical expertise have little value - an organisation needs many different types of people to thrive after all. But I like this idea a lot, not least because I have always found it hard to categorise my own skills and knowledge or even career focus into a neat box labelled with a job title.
Photo Credit: See-ming Lee 李思明 SML