Today's landscape demands a culture where there are no barriers between technology, production, creative and strategy—where the same people you hire to ideate and create will be the ones who make and build. Agencies who want to push their clients' brands forward must go beyond a response to a brief and instead deliver work that is inventive, solves a business problem and exceeds expectations.
I believe the key to hitting that sweet spot is by fostering an invention mindset not only with technologists and creatives but throughout an agency. To do that, we need to keep stimulating and challenging our talent with projects that get their hands on technology, and break them out of their comfort zones and daily routines.
In my 25 years in the industry, I've taken a few key takeaways and learnings in all my endeavors:
Encourage a DIY Environment
When people on your team are encouraged to have an invention mindset, they are pushed to be curious, ask questions and to try things for themselves, sparking further creativity. While agency billable time is sacred, team downtime is a gift that should be embraced as well. Whenever it is possible, look for possibilities to mix staff interests with internal projects and learning opportunities. When staff are engaged with passion projects, they are more likely to be receptive to pushing themselves and possibly making use of a new emerging technology.
At Barbarian, we have a program called "Maker Mondays," where we host internal classes for people to work with electronics and emerging technologies. It exposes our creatives and even our strategists to scenarios they might not normally deal with. Cracking open a new skill, like basic coding, or soldering, has a way of building confidence in an unexpected way. People think, "Wow, if I can do this, maybe I'd be able to do that, too."
The reality is it has never been easier to learn a new skill, as there are thousands of free tutorials on the internet and project ideas to get people started with anything they might want to learn or do. Encouraging DIY attitudes in an office can empower staff to push forward with their own ideas and even motivate others without waiting for formal permission.
No Comfort Zones
Creatives always need to tackle a project from different angles and in fresh ways. If you're constantly using the same tools, you tend to fall into old patterns and won't feel the necessity to break out of that. You also need to find new ways to work that are more efficient or powerful.
Our "Strangers in Residence" program is an ongoing quarterly effort that allows our team members to work with artists and gives them new kinds of work, getting involved as much as possible in that project and performance. We've also hosted "VR Fridays," where our team leverages emerging technology to get a better understanding of what's happening in the world through a new and compelling medium. Agencies need to be inventive not only in the creative work they pump out but in the ways they are approaching that work, which in some cases means trying something new and unconventional.
Focus on Agency-Wide Invention
Invention is quickly becoming the highest performance metric for any business in our rapidly changing landscape. But encouraging an invention mindset among technologists and creatives won't be enough. Rather, agencies need to cultivate invention mindsets throughout all of their teams, and across the entire agency. The goal is to achieve an entire organization that is brainstorming together and continuously thinking outside of the box.
In order to create such an environment, agencies must start at the leadership level, ensuring leaders are demonstrating bold thinking, open communication, and communicating trust in their entire team base. Leadership sets the tone, and if they focus on embracing original thinking, challenging the status quo, experimentation and creative intuition, this will go a long way in cultivating an atmosphere that fosters innovation organically, across teams and across departments.
Be Aware of Your (and Your Teams') Motivation Levels
We all go through cycles of feeling inventive, curious, productive or less so. If you feel like you have fallen into a pattern or are going through the same motions, it's important to break out of it. It's OK to spend some time going with the flow, but eventually you need to push yourself and your teams to make things happen beyond the typical work.
This can be very difficult when there just isn't time or resources, but rewarding and celebrating what team members make, and sharing those projects in the gaps between paid work, will make all the difference in the world. These efforts are the seeds of bigger and more interesting opportunities that can be embraced when time and resources free up.
An inventive mindset is more than just implementing a program into the workplace—it's about encouraging an agency culture with an inventive mindset. To accomplish this, leadership must demonstrate bold and innovative thinking themselves, and they must communicate to their team members across the board that they're trusted to think independently.
We've all encountered the kind of stellar creative work that sparks sheer astonishment and awe. With the right environment and the right dynamics at work, every agency has the capacity to harness innovation and brew up the next game-changing idea or campaign.