Disruption. Reinvention. Transformation. Those are the buzz words that have shaped much of the editorial in the ad agency biz over the last few years. Rightfully so. A curious force that goes by the name Digital has been reshaping every facet of the trade for more than a decade. And continues to do so. But it was at a big trade conference hosted in the name of transformation (4A’s 2016) that another buzz word got a grip on the conversation: DIVERSITY. And it’s still buzzy months later.
The issue of diversity surfaced in the wake of too many Mad Men scenarios in too many upper management circles in too many geographies, typically expressed in gender inequality and sexual harassment, ethnic tensions and lookalike cultures (rather than lookalike audiences).
Let’s agree: it is ironic that an industry so shaped by culture, so reflective of culture, so immersed in culture, lags so far behind culture in erasing boundaries, shattering stereotypes and rising above exploitation.
Ali Merifield has wise words regarding diversity in her May 11, 2017, column in Campaign US:
“Diverse teams mean people coming together from different backgrounds, experiences, cultures and educational baselines.” – Ali Merifield
Notice she doesn’t even mention gender or ethnicity, which are the diversity hot buttons. Perhaps that’s by design. Ms. Merifield’s wisdom is in going beyond the headlines to get at the real values that make diversity worth seeking:
• celebrating individual perspective,
• stimulating remixes of culture and cultures,
• dissolving echo chambers,
• welcoming discomfort.
Of course, agencies can pursue diversity in staffing and even approach the mix of thinking it’s meant to deliver. But the aim of diversity will be scuttled if clients do not also accept or demand diverse thinking themselves. Clients have been known to train agencies to turn over strategies and ideas that fall into a comfort zone, in the name of branding. But even brands languish that seek stasis rather than dynamism. Clients, like their agencies, are subject to their own echo chambers, even as they often do lip service to seeking an expansive world of ideas.
To borrow from David Krakauer of Santa Fe Institute, we need to be open to SURPRISE. In this algorithm-driven digital world, we are growing accustomed to being served up films, songs, books and products that match our preferences. In social platforms we immerse ourselves in virtual gatherings of like-minded “friends.” Adjacency is efficient and comforting and can even be interesting. For a while. But finally, it grows boring.
“The tools we now possess, which are so incredible, should be allowing us to have freedoms that are unprecedented.” – David Krakauer
Algorithms end up narrowing our field of view when in fact, they should be instruments of surprise. And frankly, for the foreseeable future, it is the “human algorithm” that promises to be the most creative force we can imagine. As it always has been. We can all benefit from a surprise button as we surf through experiences, both virtual and real, all the while becoming more creative rather than more silo’d. Frankly diversity is not merely the just goal of enterprises and organizations, it makes the world a far more interesting – surprising – place!
Diversity Is That Surprise Button
We may achieve diversity by staffing diverse talents. But we should be doing everything we can to elicit additional points of view. Even ideas that are off-center can lead to a fresh place. Clients should revel in surprise, step out of the comfort zone, see where discomfort takes them. Agencies should engineer themselves to generate surprise. Diversity will deliver, assuming we have the will to pursue it.
“Championing diversity won’t be easy, but it will take you into new directions you didn’t expect.” – Ali Merifield
Boom Ideanet is one of those new directions: An on demand diversity resource that delivers creative thinking from trusted outsiders in a model you’d never expect to generate so much value. In-house agencies, agencies, brands can press the surprise button by engaging Boom. Diversity by design. Boom connects a network of talented people from across the geographic and cultural spectrum. Members hail from 25 U.S. states and 17 countries. While the network is vetted and members sign non-disclosure agreements, they are never asked to identify their gender or ethnicity. When they accept creative challenges they are asked to respect brand guidelines, but more importantly, they are expected to dig into their individual orientations, leverage their cultural experiences — and differences — to create original answers and offer up unexpected solutions. It’s a plug-and-play creative model predicated entirely on diversity.
Diversity, finally, becomes a kind of disruption. Which takes us full circle.