This past Friday, I was fortunate enough (along with a crew of fellow Arnold planner
types) to be able to attend the PSFK conference in NYC
. As you’ve probably heard already, an awesome day filled with lots of inspiring talks and panels with amazing people
. It was my first time being able to attend any of the PSFK sessions, despite wanting to go the past few years something always seemed to get in the way. And I now know that all the hype wasn’t really hype, it is that good.
Several people have already written great recaps and implications
from the day, and I guess that’s what I get for being days behind in posting my own. Not sure how much I’m adding to the dialogue, but for what it’s worth, here goes with some stuff I took away from the day.
The gap between invention and true innovation.
This is basically a theme pulled from one part of one discussion, but I thought it was telling and interesting enough to stand on its own. One of my favorite quotes (paraphrased a bit as I tried to keep up with the rapid fire discussion) from the session on ‘What’s Next’ was from Ayesha Khanna
She was talking broadly about the R&D culture in the U.S., and how it is very good at coming up with amazing things in research labs and getting patents filed. But how many of those patents and inventions see the light of day is a very different story. Her point was that while other countries may be lagging behind on paper when it comes to # of patents, they’re (quickly) getting better at getting stuff made and out into the world, where it can either be deemed useful or a flop by the masses.
Got me thinking that agencies have a very similar problem— plenty of really interesting ideas (inventions) exist within all of our walls- on concept boards, as rough sketches on napkins or tear sheets, or just in random conversations between smart minds who work in the same building. Yet more often than not those ideas go nowhere, either because a client wasn’t ready for it, it wasn’t sold in right, it simply wasn’t feasible, not the right time, etc etc. Places like Made By Many
, BBH’s new venture Black Sheep Fund
, and others are countering this and focusing on getting stuff made and out into the world, but by and large agencies haven’t broken out of the invention vs innovation trap. The more we can get stuff out of our dark labs and into the world where it can either fly or die a quick death, the better off we’ll be.
Speaking of which- for planners, how may we best balance rigor with speed to innovate?
This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently and the conference was yet another reminder. In nearly every job description for planners you will see (or that you may be writing now), “planning rigor” in some form is almost always mentioned. Not that it should be surprising- applying strategic rigor, examining ideas and territories from every angle, is critical in getting to the best work. But the term and associated ‘process’ can tend to feel somewhat academic to me. How much rigor is too much, and is there a point when it gets in the way of true innovation? I guess what I’m asking is— despite best intentions, do we run the risk of sometimes getting in our own way? I don’t really have an answer to this, but feels like an interesting area as we all try to evolve planning broadly, and specifically within our own agencies. Making stuff, not just thinking, has been a popular rally cry for a bit now in planner echo chambers, but are getting there fast enough?
We’ve only scratched the surface on the impact gaming is having on culture.
gave one of my favorite talks of the day, an adaptation of sorts of his new book Game Frame
. He provided some lessons about how game mechanics can fundamentally change not just our approach to our work, but the workplace itself. And importantly he brought up some powerful points about how incorporating game mechanics doesn’t mean just adding points and badges to everything you do. But rather thinking about the underlying behavioral motivations and how those can translate into gaming experiences in the business world (read: “gamification” ain’t your answer). Bottom line, it’s about to get so much more interesting and exciting. After watching Aaron speak, am definitely putting his book at the top of the reading list. Some of his lessons for what can be turned into a game (again paraphrased, hope I’m doing it justice):
Most startups didn’t spend much time talking about marketing and/or advertising (at the conference, or in general, it seems).
. Justin Gignac
and his NYC Garbage project
(as awesome as it sounds). The most inspiring people of the day didn’t really mention advertising, marketing, agencies, or the like. Nor did they seem to agonize about it much in the early phases of their respective ventures. They had an idea (ideas that do, as Gareth
puts it), along with a million reasons why it could probably fail, but they just went ahead and did it. No overthinking, no grand ‘social engagement experiential explosion contact mapping plan’ that promised this thing would be the next Twitter, they just put their heads down and did it. They tried some stuff, it failed, and they went back and tried other stuff until something worked. It’s a mentality we talk a lot about around agencies, but one that isn’t quite yet in practice more often than not. Ed Cotton
probably captured what all of this means best in his PSFK recap
on how the makers are now the heroes, and if agencies hope to draw in the best people, perhaps we need to start infusing the values and ideals of the startups that inspire us all. Somewhat of a side note- nobody really talked about Facebook.
Perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not. But I found it interesting- and honestly somewhat refreshing- that facebook occupied very little of the overall discussion and speaker sessions. This isn’t some rant against FB, I’m a fan, I’m on it far too much, yada yada. And besides, the value (or lack) of it for both personal social connections and potential for brands has been talked about ad nauseum. Maybe it’s because so many of those in attendance feel similarly, and spend so much time discussing it at their respective places of business, that it felt like this wasn’t the place to talk even more about it. Or perhaps it means facebook is fully getting to the place Clay Shirky has written
about: “communications tools don’t become socially interesting until they become technologically boring”. Despite the constant changes and updates from Zuck and co, maybe it has actually just started to become part of the fabric, an assumed part of the world that doesn’t need to be discussed in tech innovation circles. So what did I miss? I’m sure there’s plenty.
I’ve realized that aside from a steady stream of hashtagged tweets (or perhaps because of that), I’m not too good at taking actual notes during conferences. Look forward to hearing others thoughts in the coming days. In the meantime, big thanks to Piers Fawkes
and the rest of the PSFK crew, and all the fantastic speakers who were good enough to share their time, energy, and perspectives with the rest of us.
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