Media Perspective: Time marketing's secret society saw the bigger picture

I went to a marketing conference a few weeks back. It was very good, for a marketing conference, but it felt like the same old stuff, the same old conversations that we'd been having for years.

And it was marketers talking about marketing, using examples from marketing. I know that seems sensible. But it makes for a stale, flat and unprofitable culture - it's a closed loop, a self-referential spiral.

While I was there, I was watching a bunch of other people twittering from a conference in Denmark called "reboot", and the contrast between the two events was obvious. Reboot is a sort of open-source conference, about technology and the web and stuff like that, but the culture it represents has an omnivorous curiosity that puts marketing to shame.

The rebooters pulled their ideas from everywhere - science, art, life, culture - and examined their own issues in the light of these analogies, then pushed everything back into the world because of a compulsive need to share. This creates a culture that can learn, assimilate, test and move on, incredibly quickly.

The medieval alchemists stumbled upon all sorts of scientific breakthroughs while trying to make gold, but because they did everything in secret, each discovery was denied to their peers and there was no communal learning. That's what marketing feels like at the moment, a secretive, inward-looking, self-interested world.

So, in an attempt to break out of this cabalist enclave, I went to a conference of experience designers in Brighton last week just to see what another world might be like, and frankly, to see what I could steal. And you might have to Google some of these things, because I don't have the words to explain them all.

To start with, look up "adaptive design": it's the idea that you should design systems so they can self-adapt to respond to changes in the world around them, and not need constant attention and redesign. There seems like a good parallel there for our world - could you do that with a marketing campaign?

Or try looking up "agile software development" and consider whether the way your business works could learn something from a less constrained (or maybe "differently constrained"), less linear way of working. Agile development applies these principles to tasks that are vastly more complicated and interdependent than most marketing campaigns, and they make it work. Maybe you could too.

And, finally, look up the "chicken-sexing" entry on Wikipedia, click through some of the links, and see if that doesn't make you think about the nature of expertise and the training programmes you run. It should do. I promise.

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