By Nik Roope, ECD & Co-Founder, POKE
Innovation is usually the product of creativity. To do something new you have to imagine it first and also realize the importance of selling, lobbying and building to turn that thought into something tangible.
But creativity doesn't inevitably lead to innovation. The act of making something is not ultimately the act of solving a problem or creating new value. Look around you. The world is full of things that don't add value; they just add another footprint to a world already choking with the sheer volume of stuff. Ever wondered why those self storage depots are becoming more abundant than churches and post offices? That's the reason. We've got more stuff than room to put it.
The world of ideas is equally polluted and inundated with low value material. It doesn't make us happy, or sad, it doesn't inspire us, give us anything or take anything away. It's just there, slowing everything down.
In our business we're as guilty as every other for bilging out these pollutants. What we choose to call 'innovation' often tends to be more 'novelty', ideas that create juicy press releases rather than any long term nourishment. We've all seen them: they often win the grand prix and then we never hear of or see them again.
The problem we have is that when we say 'creativity' we're talking about a certain type of problem solving, one geared around storytelling that operates in a separate bubble to the machinations of service operations and product qualities and behaviours. But because they operate on different plains the effect of so-called innovations can only ever be superficial; their power can't reach down and become a part of the actual product / service experience and thus can only add limited value in reputation and brand narrative but not the core drivers that really define outcomes for businesses.
We're in turbulent times to say the least. Tried and tested ways are failing big-business and thus innovation has shifted from being the cherry on the icing on the cake to the cake itself. If, as a business you're not mastering innovation, you're going to start losing the battle with those that are. For every UBER there's an army of red-faced cabbies wondering what the f**k happened to their livelihood. Competitors, startups or just new models now swing in to disrupt and redirect your revenue stream down a new, unforeseen path.
Even if agency-land does have a strong tendency for jury-baiting novelty, it does possess a potent ability for lateral creativity that can crack conceptual problems in ways the logicians, with their quasi-scientific reductive methodologies could never spawn. There's a big difference between charting new ideas with scientific methods as opposed to creative imagining. Logical thought inherits a narrowed scope because everything has to add up, and thus anything that doesn't must be dismissed. Therefore those outcomes are both procedural and linear while the lateral creative mind can jump around wherever it chooses. "Adding up" for the creative mind is an expression of "making sense", and "working" not necessarily that a concept or idea sits neatly on top of a logical argument (although they may tell you that it does).
Take this contrast in approaches to an institutional level and you've got the McKinsey's et al on one hand peddling logical, reductive, defensible innovation strategies and on the other agencies fumbling around trying to drive innovation through creative cultures lacking a robust grasp of the deeper implications of innovation on their client business partners.
If as agencies we want to be innovators, not just gadgeteers, we have to sober up and realise what valuable innovation is, what it really means to innovate and also, critically that it's going to take a lot of time and a lot of effort to perform. The more valuable an innovation for a company, the more painful and involved that transformation will be. That said, the value of performing these changes is incredible, and when understood and unleashed, gives the same giddy sensation as watching that Super Bowl spot put a smile on a nation's faces.
Were you hoping you'd rock up to a hack day and create a deeply impactful innovation before the craft-beer bottles get cracked for tea time? I'm sorry to break the spell, it's really not that easy.
I used to believe ideas took organisations forward and that all you needed to create prosperity for clients was a great new, innovative idea. The truth that I've subsequently discovered is that organisations need to be ready for innovation and this state of readiness is something we can help to shape and nurture as trusted guardians of client brands. Their fertility and receptiveness to new ideas and new models is at least as important as the ideas themselves. You see that really good ideas, with all that ugly effort attached, are not easy to buy. Why eat brown rice when you can smash ketchup-lubed chips down your neck and kick those boring lifestyle changes later down the road?
We have a tremendous resource of creative capital in our agencies, we simply need to leverage it better for our clients. And if we can do that for our clients, our own fortunes will be sealed.