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More on Agile Creativity

Advertising, Marketing & PR

As covered recently on this blog, Agile Creativity is a relatively new way of thinking about the creative & innovation process, inspired by the digital world and championed by Google, as they look to align “the brilliance of Silicon Valley with the brilliance of Madison Avenue”. Google has since released further content and thinking on the subject, and it continues to be an interesting approach – so we thought we’d share more on it here in our quest to learn more about how to be creative in business.

You can get an overview of Agile Creativity by heading over to Think With Google’s G+ page. We also spent 50 valuable minutes watching an associated Hangout on Air led by Google’s Torrence Boone with some of Google’s engineering staff and ad agency partners. Here’s our take on it all:

The insights around rapid development and evaluation underpin the theme. From a product design point of view, it was interesting to hear a commentary from Rich DeVaul (given as part of the Hangout on Air mentioned above), who is part of Google X, a highly secretive department of Google responsible for projects including Google’s Driverless Car and Project Glass – augmented reality glasses.

DeVaul describes the innovation process at Google X: rapid prototyping and evaluation, employing a multidisciplinary team – so in developing Project Glass they gathered people together from many different backgrounds including industrial designers, engineers, specialists in user experience, researchers and people from the wearables community. They gather in autonomous teams of between 5-13 people and hammer out prototype after prototype, with early versions – although clunky and dorky – highly valuable in informing the learning and development process. Project Glass went through 20 or more versions before evolving into the more polished – though still prototype – version we see today. They were mindful of not being blinded by how ugly an early prototype might look – more key to them was establishing that there was a key value there that was worth developing further. If at any point they hadn’t seen that value, the project would have been ruthlessly dumped.

One of the most interesting things about Agile Creativity is how Google is applying it to advertising agencies. Two agency heads, BBH‘s Greg Andersen and 72 and Sunny‘s John Boiler, share their interpretations and working practices. Andersen explains that BBH’s approach is to be more prolific than epic, which is a response to the changing media environment – production budgets aren’t expanding, but the proliferation of different channels, devices and platforms means that agencies need to design campaigns to cover more spaces in different ways. Instead of putting all their time and resources into developing one big idea, BBH will now put out up to 10 ideas, then manage and develop those ideas based on feedback from real-time data. So they are now in a position where they have campaigns that change and evolve in real time based on the things that people interact with and respond to most.

Boiler describes his agency’s ‘Work Wall’ and way of working with ‘hybrid’ people as opposed to the more traditional advertising agency model of art directors, writers, management all arranged in separate silos. Now, when a brief comes in, it is first discussed by everyone together. They then go back to their desks and begin to develop ideas. After as little as 10 hours, they all put their work up on the wall, and everything is discussed again. The process repeats several times, with the result that the agency now comes up with twice as many iterations before presenting back to the client.

The process only works where the culture is arranged around collaboration, listening, shared values and trust. ‘Productive failure’ is rewarded, and ‘personal accountability’ is sought. When a team does well, this is recognised and rewarded quickly, without waiting for monthly / annual reviews. Likewise when mistakes are made, these are addressed and discussed quickly, before issues fester and motivation dips.

Google’s way of describing this link between the tech sector and advertising agencies is “Hackathon Mode”: given that Hackathons are time-constrained events where technologists quickly crank out ideas and build software, agencies can model after these compressed timelines to foster creativity and get ideas out the door.

Chee Chew, an engineer at Google+, points out that the body is happiest when you push it hard, then rest, then push it hard, then rest again – this is how we build up fitness. In the same way, he advocates short bursts of focusing and working hard, then sitting back and evaluating, then repeating the process again and again. He recommends this approach as not only effective but more fun, full of contagious energy.

We’ll continue to monitor this Agile Creativity campaign and report back any further developments.

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