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    This is the personal blog of Simon Kendrick and covers my interests in media, technology and popular culture. All opinions expressed are my own and may not be representative of past or present employers
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Google Firestarters 8: The Agency Innovation Conundrum

The latest in the series of Firestarters events hosted by Google and curated by Neil Perkin was all about Agency innovation. With 8 speakers each having a 10 minute slot, a great deal of ground was covered. I’ve synthesised my main thoughts and recollections below, but I’d recommend clicking through the links at the bottom of this post in order to get the full goodness of the speakers – particularly since I haven’t attributed specific points to individuals.

Innovation by scriberia

The speakers all had a slightly different perspectives, but there were several common threads running across the talks – notably muppets, memes and motherfather fruity language.

One major question was why we should be innovating at all. Lots of great stuff already exists, so why try and change things just for the sake of it? Well, on one hand, customers are constantly evolving their behaviours so innovation is required just to keep up with them. But also, and quite self-servingly, agencies are employed to be the smartest people in the room and so there is an implicit requirement to innovate in order to justify their hiring.

This can understandably be a problem, because if you are an agency specialising in x, then the answer to the business question will obviously be x, irrespective of what the question is. There can also be a tension between “innovation snobbery” and appreciation of the target audience: people in Cannes and Campaign magazine might appreciate the shiny new idea, but the general public may not.

For innovation to be effective, it needs to be beyond an idea. It should be about ends and not means. Innovations should affect our audience’s behaviours, and to do this we need to influence their motivations and opportunities.

To reflect that, innovation shouldn’t be limited to processes or environments, but to entire business models. It shouldn’t be about answering the how, but the what. And even beyond the what, the why: Why are we in this business? What are we trying to achieve? This requires investment, to fully appraise and understand the situation, and to experiment. Because innovation requires bets – strategic risks that may or may not pay off. But before that can happen, the role of innovation needs to be properly defined.

And coming up with a specific definition can be problematic. Innovation is such a wide and fuzzy topic that the disparity between theory and practice can be wide. Which is apt, as it facilitates creative experimentation to close the gap.

The talks were:

sk

Image credit: Neil Perkin

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Links – 22nd February 2009

Some of the things I’ve read over the past week and would recommend:

  • A thought-provoking article in the Atlantic on the future of TV. It argues that TV’s USP is immediacy. While there are still cultural reference points via TV, scripted shows will increasingly see TV as just another distribution pattern. TV will therefore move to concentrate on news, current affairs, live reality shows and sport. This makes sense to me given my research – TV excels at events which are essentially DTR-proof, and the most popular shows online are dramas and comedies that can be viewed at leisure and shared/discussed asynchronously. However, I would argue that successful scripted shows still need TV as that anchor point for mainstream cultural crossover.
  • Ana Andjelic has a great post on our general failure to accurately predict the future. Not only does she argue that a lot of campaigns will fail, but also that our limited perspective means we will often follow the same patterns (potentially of failure)

sk

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