A Culture of Non-Stop Innovation is a Culture of Non-Stop Learning.

I’d like to pick up on our past discussions about cultures of innovation. We’ve talked about what makes up a culture of innovation, where it resides, why we need more of it, what can kill it, and how to lead it.

Today I want to talk about how to teach it.

Since no two creative people and no two creative solutions are alike, how do you foster a shared understanding of the principles of creativity so that everyone has an opportunity to experiment, learn and grow?

In our culture of continually accelerating change,
how you learn is vastly more important than what you learn.

While both matter, the ability to quickly absorb and adapt to new information, knowledge and insights is what will keep you from becoming a dinosaur... irrelevant and extinct.

The ability to acquire new knowledge quickly is the fundamental skill that underpins a culture of innovation.

According to Drucker, “Every enterprise is a teaching and learning institution. Training and development must be built into it at all levels – training and development that never stop.”

If you want to build and foster a culture of non-stop innovation, then you must build a culture of non-stop learning and training.

But what does this training look like?

According to our good friend Marty Neumeier, he calls this “branded training.”

It’s training that “bridges the gap between university knowledge and industry knowledge, and between industry knowledge and company knowledge.”

It teaches personal mastery and collaboration, so that “personal mastery can inform collaboration and so that collaboration can inform personal mastery."

This kind of ongoing training and learning is what builds and feeds a culture of innovation.

It identifies and builds the value of your internal brand.

It aligns each individual’s actions in your organization with the overall business strategy.

And, most importantly, it creates happy and loyal customers who are benefiting from this ongoing and rapidly adapting knowledge as it is applied by you to meet and exceed their needs.

If you want a culture of innovation, you must have people who never want to stop learning and who know how to share what they've learned.


The Creative Pitch: Two Schools of Thought.

Without a doubt, ideas are the DNA of the advertising business. Ideas are the stock in trade of advertising agencies and the holy grail of the creatives who staff them.

A powerful idea can put an unknown brand on the map in an instant or can open a new market for an iconic brand and kick its sales into the stratosphere.

It’s more than a bit ironic, and has been the subject of many a contentious debate, that we simply give away these powerful ideas when pitching a new account, without any hope of compensation. Unless, of course, you happen to win the business.

Not only is presenting creative in a new business pitch not going away anytime soon, and it actually has been ratcheted up a few notches in this tough economy, but it is also finding its way into places it traditionally hadn’t been before, such as nonprofit account pitches. (For which I’ll take at least some of the blame.)

Now, we can bemoan the fact that we give away immense brain power on a daily basis to win an account. And we can talk about how demeaning it is to put on a show to prove we know how to put on a show, even though we can demonstrate to clients case after case after case that what we do works and how well it works. But that’s a post for another day.

I want to talk about the pitch itself and the two schools of thought I often find taking place when preparing the creative that is to be presented.

The first I call the shotgun approach and the second is the surgical strike.

Now these are not just different approaches because of how much work is presented, they are completely different core philosophies as well.

In the shotgun approach, the thinking often is to present as much work as possible believing that this will dazzle the prospective client. Often, a lot of time is spent wondering what the client would like to see. Sometimes this question has even been asked of the prospect prior to the pitch.

Now, while on the surface it may make sense to want to please your prospective client. We are in a service business after all. But, bottom line, I think this approach couldn’t be more wrong. Especially in a new business pitch.

To begin with, creating lots of work may seem like it will impress a prospect, and it may actually impress some, but the smart ones will see though this and will come to a couple of conclusions that will not be favorable for you.

First, the client will see that you don’t really have a clear direction. How can they? Your work is all over the place. This will make them uneasy.

First and foremost, if they are a smart and potentially good client, they are holding a review of agencies because they know they need help finding a clear and compelling strategy and direction for their business.

And you certainly haven’t provided that.

Secondly, the client will see that you are simply too eager to please them. If this doesn’t bother them, then they may not be the kind of client you really want. If you have a client that wants to dictate the creative, do you really want to work for them? I certainly don’t.

So what is the right approach to pitching?

Well, I’ll let Lee Clow answer this question. He’s one of the founders and the head creative of one of the most successful and imaginative agencies in the country, Chiat/Day, now TBWA/Worldwide.

In his book,
Casting for Big Ideas, Andrew Jeffe interviewed Clow and asked this very question. Here’s some of what he has to say about pitching:

• Don’t spend too much time trying to figure out what the client wants
to hear. Figure out what you have to tell them.

• Present only ideas you believe in. Every idea you present should be
something you wouldn’t mind doing, not just for a few months but for a
few years.

• If you’re going to show disruptive work, take the time to give it the
context of a business strategy. It’s not disruptive for the fun of it – it’s
disruptive because it’s smart.

• Advertising that maintains the status quo is going to leave the client
company in the same place it was yesterday. Disruptive advertising might be scary at first, but it’s scary for a reason. It’s going to let the brand leap over the competition. Take time to show how this will happen.

• People with disruptive ideas don’t have to be jerks. Be smart and good
and intelligent – not arrogant – but if the client is going to dictate the
advertising, maybe you don’t belong in the room.

What Clow calls “disruptive ideas” are what I was referring to earlier as a “surgical strike.” These are the kinds of powerful ideas that cut so sharply, so directly and so accurately that your target audience has no choice but to notice them, internalize them and respond to them.

Notice I said “your target audience.” Your true audience is not your prospective client, it’s your client’s customers. Don’t mistake one for the other. While you may indeed be pitching to your prospect, it is their customers you are actually targeting.

Powerful, disruptive ideas like this can only come out of a deep, internalized knowledge of the brand and the brand’s customers.

Only from this intimate knowledge can you divine a clear, brilliant and relevant strategy.

Only from such a strategy can come the powerful, relevant and finely honed creative that will put the prospective client’s brand on the map.

And this can only happen with a scalpel, not a shotgun.