Media360 showed importance of balancing old with new

Mindshare's chief operating officer reflects on his key takeaways from last week's Media360 conference in Brighton.

Media360 showed importance of balancing old with new

Sitting quietly at my kitchen table, I’m resisting the urge to check Facebook, my emails or my notes from Brighton. It’s just me, a pen and paper, and my recollections of the last two days.

Sleep plays a critical part in forming memories, as dreaming enables our brains to replay our waking hours in fast forward, cataloguing and archiving vast amounts of data and reinforcing the most important information. So fresh from a good kip, now is the perfect time to draw on those memories and reflect on the impact Media360 has had on me.

In the past our industry has spent too much time arguing for one thing versus another. Data versus creativity. Traditional versus digital. Message versus medium. Debate can be useful of course, but we also need to recognise when it’s time to move on and get things done. This year’s Media360 did that, striking a positive tone with much talk of partnerships focussed on creative inspiration.

And it seems to me that finding the right balance in our thinking, debates and actions is the key to our future success.

Because the binary logic of "either/or" simply doesn’t reflect real world complexity. It’s an absurd term anyway, but "thinking digitally" certainly shouldn’t be taken literally. Our world is one of probabilities as well as possibilities, of complex and inter-connected ecosystems. It’s an exciting and dynamic world that demands we focus our efforts on working better together in order to thrive.

So how refreshing to finally be at a conference where there was near-universal acceptance that data is not killing creativity.

Endless panel debates in the past have reached the same conclusion. Good data can mean good insight. Good insight can generate good ideas. Good ideas can drive creativity. As long as you have good people at every stage who are prepared to work together.

Of course the artistry of creative agencies is as relevant as ever, but insights and ideas can come from many places, including from the people for whom the messages are intended. Most of our industry now accepts that data can drive creativity, so let’s just get on and do it. The enlightened will see the opportunity and will thrive. Those who don’t will go the way of the dinosaurs.

However, some debate around "traditional" versus "digital", or "old" versus "new" still lingers.

It’s simple. We must explore, but we mustn’t be lured into an obsession with the new. Humans are born curious and we grow up asking thousands of questions to build the knowledge we need to live. It’s our diversive curiosity that drives us to seek out the new. Exploration is important, but it can also be distracting if it’s unstructured. Often we can skip from one thing to another and develop only superficial knowledge as a result. You only have to look at how social media is used most of the time to see the evidence of that curiosity.

"Epistemic" curiosity on the other hand is a drive to go deep, to understand "how and why" things work. To be at our most productive, we need to balance our diversive and epistemic curiosities, to explore the new without losing sight of the value of the old. Most importantly, we must learn to ask the questions that will help us understand how and why they work best together. We must learn to "test and learn" with purpose.

One thing that is not up for debate is the need to find balance in the people in our businesses.

Diversity in the way we think and work is crucial if we are to thrive. We have to blend experience with unfettered new thinking, drawing on people from many backgrounds. Collaboration and discussion are needed, but so too are times of solitude that individuals need for productive deep thinking. There is much work to be done if our business is to get closer to a more productive balance of people.

So will data-driven creativity, purposeful test and learn and diversification mean evolution or revolution in our industry?

It’s a moot point in my view because there is a common misconception that evolution is a gradual process. It is not. It is however a topic I am epistemically curious about, having studied it for several years. The truth is that evolution is often rapid and violent.

Everything gets knocked out of place by an environmental change, allowing an explosion of new species as unfilled ecological niches appear. Waves of extinctions follow as the ecosystem consolidates, and whilst the essentials of living things remain unchanged, only the best-adapted organisms survive, doing so in forms and with behaviours that are radically different to what came before. This cycle is repeated again and again and again, driving the appearance of more diverse complex organisms and accelerating the rate of change in the ecosystem.

It is completely analogous with what is happening in our industry right now. Evolution or revolution, call it what you will, it will be rapid and fundamental change.

But whilst the acceleration in technology is driving changes in human behaviour, our intrinsic human traits, just like the essentials of all living things, remain the same.

Our emotions and motivations, the bonds we form and how we decide who to trust are the same as ever. We just fulfil them through different behaviours using different tools now. So whatever paths our businesses take to evolve, the impact of what we do on the experiences of fellow humans has to be foremost in all our thinking. This was a message that resonated time and again in Brighton.

Summing up, I would say that Media360 is like most things in life. You get out what you put in, and the true value of the experience only really dawns on you when you look back on it. This year it brought people together to share knowledge, and left many of us with many more questions to ask. Which is a good thing. It reminded us of the need to balance the old and the new, to test and learn with purpose, and to enrich our business thinking with people with diverse beliefs and backgrounds. And it reminded us that whilst it’s ok to reflect and think deeply about what to do next, whatever we decide to do we must act fast and evolve. Because if we don’t, somebody else will step in.

Paul Rowlinson is the chief operating officer of Mindshare. 


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