Don't confuse diversity of people with diversity of thought
A view from Sam Ball

Don't confuse diversity of people with diversity of thought

The future belongs to agencies that inject diversity of thought into their people, instead of imposing 'their culture', writes the former M&C Saatchi creative director.

The worst thing for creativity is a bunch of like-minded people in a room.

Nevertheless, that’s how the majority of agencies operate. Process and productivity often takes precedence over creativity. Groupthink means there is a desire for harmony, causing people to shy away from conflict.

You know the meetings Biscuits & Bullshit, Coffee & Conformity. It’s painfully boring.

The best ideas polarise people. They are born from discussion, disagreement, I would go so far as to say if you’re not worried, scared or ever so slightly shitting it you’re not trying hard enough.

This can best be achieved when we inject "Diversity of thought" into our teams and into our processes.

How do you get diversity of thought?

Hiring someone different from you is a good start, but that alone is not enough. Often agencies will hire a someone and then spend much effort indoctrinating them into their way of thinking.

Think of that scene from A Clockwork Orange where Alex is submitted to the aversion therapy. He is forced to watch to watch violent images for extended periods of time, with the objective being the development of a nauseous association when experiencing or thinking about violence.

Now substitute the violent images with mind-numbing Powerpoint slides and advertising doublespeak. The experience renders the most diverse person unable to engage in any type of radical thinking or perform any outlandish creative act.

Of course hiring more diverse people is important, not least because advertising at it’s best is a mirror of society, but don’t confuse diversity of thought with diversity of people, they are different. I see "diversity of thought" as a concept bigger than people, it encompasses processes and even the infrastructure of our businesses. It is not the preserve of the minority, it is something you can inject into an advertising stereotypical, a white, middle class man with a beard (in other words, me).

Steve Jobs did it with the building he commissioned at Pixar and Eno famously did it with his set of Oblique Strategies cards.

I introduced the concept of diversity of thought into M&C Saatchi when I was creative director back in 2016 and I was pleased to read in Campaign that they are now making it a pillar of their business. One of the things I did was to devise an elaborate experiment called Misfits and Madmen, I presented the findings in Cannes, but I will give you little flavour of the thinking behind it here.

I posed the question: what if the creative department had some new additions? People whom you wouldn’t ordinarily find working in the advertising industry. Over the course of three months I injected the creative department with a bunch of misfits.

A cage Fighter, a poet, an international rugby player, a philosopher, a hairdresser, a data manager, a science student, a client, an investment banker, and an adventurer.

I set them all the same brief for Converse and then collaborating with creative teams they came up them come up with ideas.  

The results were incredible. The Misfit’s novel observations and unorthodox utterances combined with the creative teams talents to spot, nurture and execute and idea meant the work went to a place, that left to their own devices, the teams would never have got to – which was the point of the whole experiment.

It taught me that you have to be open to the ideas of those who know much less than you (they may really know much more).

I can’t tell you with any certainty where you will find your best ideas, but I can tell you were they are not. You wont find them in the places where everyone else is looking, you wont find them sitting at your desk for eight hours, you wont find them on any advertising website, you wont find them in any creative director.

In fact, you probably won't find them at work and you’re certainly not going to find them sitting in a room with a bunch of like-minded people.

So when you find yourself in that situation turn over a card, invite a misfit along, or inject some novelty in your own unique way.

Because the future belongs to the agencies that inject diversity of thought into their people and their processes and in the end all I can promise you is it won’t be boring.

Sam Ball is a creative consultant and former M&C Saatchi creative director

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