Kids Play With Rocks All the Time

Kids play with rocks all the time but we never let them play with matches. That’s because anyone can strike a match.

One match head against a striking surface can set just about anything flammable ablaze. Once it ignites, there’s no turning back. But slamming two rocks together in search of a spark requires a more discretionary process of arrangement: tinder, then kindling, and finally timber. There is an investment in process, a study in vantage points and respect for the craft of getting it right. Spark + oxygen + tinder is a ceremony of creativity—an investment in the potential of change.

No matter how lean your thinking, there is always the hope that this solution, the one you’re sketching out right now is the one. Perhaps with just a few minor tweaks, this could be it. Business objectives addressed—check. Users needs solved—check. Market and pricing established – check and check. If we can just present this to the client correctly, we’re golden. (High fives around the room.)

Queue up Powerpoint and Omnigraffle. Volley the pitch language back and forth on Google Docs. Set that meeting to present your solution to the client and then: wait. Perhaps you tweak, polish some pixels, sharpen the copy but mostly, you wait.

Patience vs Waiting
Patience makes the choice to select small rewards in the short term—or to hold out for a more valuable reward further down the road. Waiting consists of sitting on your hands, in suspension until the next move or counting on being selected. (More often the latter.)

Waiting is a common trait of the failed solution. It often highlights failures in client/agency or intradepartmental communication, lack of clarity in scope, or a broken/unearned circle of trust. It’s an indicator that those grand ideas will likely remain ideas, or else be sublimated by committee. The reason? The environment required to nurture the solution is not in place. The change management required for the concept to flourish is too much for your organization to tackle.

Friction is a necessity of good creativity
Differences of opinion get a bad rap. Exchanging information about a project—data points, best practices, past project histories, team members, business goals, user needs etc.—is an exercise that thrives on the collision of assumptions. It’s the consistency of that friction which creates energy and change, not the big presentation or the one-off strike. In fact the danger is the one off strike, the big simplified presentation.

We want both to cut our meetings down to 15 minutes and ensure that we are leaving no stone unturned in our discovery and research as we march towards an innovative solution. But you can’t have both until you are operating in a culture that values true solutions. Finding the next great idea or innovation is not that hard if you are patient. There are smart, talented people in your organization (or at the agency you work with) with creative concepts that, with a little friction, could start a fire that radically improves your business. But friction requires two stones, not a stone and wall. Untangling the resistance to change is often an exercise in artfully reassessing power structures. That’s sometimes really hard work. The answer is not a new creative director or an agency shift or a revolving door of CMOs, but a commitment to a culture where friction is honored as a means for propulsion.

 

-Ian

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