Thinking Wrong: How Might We Rethink the Agency Model?

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Thinking Wrong: How Might We Rethink the Agency Model?


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Think Wrong in Action.

Kari Hernandez is the President + Co-founder of INK Communications Co. in Austin, Texas. Kari became a Certified Wrong Thinker at a recent Think Wrong Master Class. Thanks Kari for sharing this early story of how you’re using Think Wrong at INK Communications Co.!

This article was originally posted on the INK Communications Co. Blog July 12, 2018

 

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We hosted a two-day retreat in Austin for the whole staff last month. For some new folks, it was their first chance to meet colleagues from other offices in person. For others, it was the chance to be with their everyday companions with a different agenda, or how about no agenda for a change? For me, it was an opportunity to test out our new Think Wrong chops with our whole team and see collectively what we could dream up for the future of PR and INK.

Our mission is good work with good people makes for a good life. It’s a balancing act and sometimes in our fast-paced agency world of client service and media relations, that good life side can take a hit. We all felt that coming out of a very busy Q1 and Q2. We talked about it a lot as a group over the last few months – how we were and were not living our mission – and a lot of our woes and challenges came back to the same thing: not enough time in the day.

We were recently certified in Think Wrong, the radical problem-solving system that helps you imagine, create, and operate what’s next. During that training, when the group would break, our team would rush to their computers and pound away for as long as they would let us while the other students would chat, step outside, or have a snack. This prompted us to ponder the reason why PR, more than any other creative service, is so “always on.” The obvious answer is that it’s because of media cycles – the news is always on, therefore, so are we. But then what is driving this for our digital, design, and content teams?

We put the traditional agency model to the test on the first day of our retreat. The challenge of the day was, “How might we rethink time and space, in a way that allows us to live our mission, so that we might do more thoughtful and meaningful work that inspires ourselves and others?” We wanted to look at agency life with an open mind, unrestricted from how it is now and has been, outside of structure and rules.

We used a drill called Moonshot, inspired of course by Kennedy’s original moonshot as well as Google X. (In this TED talk from 2016, Astro Teller talks about Google X’s moonshot strategy and the amazing things that can happen when you reward failure.) In this exercise, teams are challenged to think of the most astounding thing they might do together that would have an impact beyond our walls and lives, based on the challenge.

Our teams took on the status quo of agency life.

The first idea? Eliminate timesheets!

That might not be astounding or impact millions of people (or would it?) but it gets at a bigger opportunity: changing we way we value our work. We thought through the absurdity that every hour of work is worth the same amount of money. We asked how we might instead set a budget through the potential value of the impact we’re making for a client. Or the value of the team of specialists needed to attack a particular campaign strategy.

Other teams looked beyond the billable hour at how we form our teams. Two groups rethought our semi-permanent team structure and argued for the benefits of a more dynamic ecosystem of talent where people move more fluidly between clients and projects and even between specializations. We definitely see the value at INK of breaking down silos – between offices, communications specializations, and accounts to share value and experience and form truly integrated programs and cooperative teams. (Our one big happy family “1BHF” approach.) But this is taking that much further and we’re interested to look at how we can continue to meld our skillsets and make them available to our clients more dynamically.

Another interesting concept that bubbled up was eliminating the stigma of stress, anxiety, and depression in our industry. If change is a constant in life, and certainly our industry, and anxiety is a natural brain reaction to change and uncertainty (damn lizard brain), then how we all deal with that is a skill we should teach, and a normal part of being human. It’s certainly not something to hide or feel alone about. We all feel it in some way. We’ll definitely be thinking through this more within our culture at INK and looking for opportunities and resources to help all of us navigate change, and the stress and anxiety it brings, more peacefully.

Overall, we knew an hour-long drill or a day-long discussion wasn’t going to map out the future of the agency. But it was a great way of setting up some themes that we can continue to explore and discuss in our effort to make INK – and hopefully, other agencies out there – a place where you can do good work with good people, and at the same time, live a great life.

What do you think? How might we, as an industry, rethink the agency model to allow for more thoughtful work and eliminate the “always on” mentality in areas where it no longer serves a purpose?

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Think Outside the Box (At Your Own Peril).

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Think Outside the Box (At Your Own Peril).

Artists, like many founders of startups, are bootstrapping their artistic lives. They are raising funds through their in-the-box-jobs and putting that money directly into their art—uncertain if there will be financial returns, yet compelled to do their work.  

So, how might leaders tap into the passion and transformative power of artists rather than alienate and run them off?

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Is a “Culture of Innovation” just bulls**t?

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Is a “Culture of Innovation” just bulls**t?

I admit, I have almost as big a problem with the platitude “Culture of Innovation” as I do with “Failing Fast.”

It’s a collision of ambiguities. Ask 20 people what they think organizational culture is, and you’ll get back 20 different answers (at least). Ask them what innovation is, and you’ll end up with Justice Potter Stewart’s take on pornography—"I know it when I see it.”

There’s agreement, head nodding, and lip service given to the need for a “Culture of Innovation”—but people deeply disagree on what it actually means.

So, I embarked on a foolhardy Googling, reading, parsing, pondering snipe hunt for a definitive meaning. Which only confirmed my confusion. One article even recommended organizations “spend several months” studying and defining innovation, which sounds like the antithesis of Culture of Innovation to me.

As a literary review of sorts, let’s take the definition of culture from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

“The ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.”

Starting with the social behaviors—the way we act with one another—I removed all the consultant-speak from the vast bloat of articles, boiled that down, and came up with behavioral buckets that were consistently repeated:

  • Be respectful
  • Be inclusive
  • Be open to learning
  • Trust one another
  • Reward the behavior you want from others
  • Make good choices and understand the consequence of your actions

Wait a minute. What if I add, “Don’t run in the classroom”? You get where I’m going. These behaviors describe how to be a healthy, well-adjusted, and functional group of humans. These behavioral norms have nothing, yet absolutely everything, to do with innovation.

Insight #1

The better you are at those six behaviors, the better you’ll be at innovating. Or pretty much anything else. The foundation of having a Culture of Innovation, is to have a good culture, and conversely if you haven’t got that, stop reading and go fix it. Piling innovation on top isn’t going to help anything.


Moving on to the next part of the OED’s culture definition: customs. The processes, systems, and things that people actually do to innovate.

Once again, I’ll try to distill my readings down to simple English (as I’m both simple and English):

  • Have a strategic intent. Tie innovation back to your organization’s why (your purpose in the world)—and keep tying it back. If it doesn’t fit, make a decision on the idea, your strategy, or your purpose. Something’s gotta give.
  • Find the true nature of a challenge, customer pain, or job to be done—the root why of the problem. Then keep on clarifying.
  • Generate lots of bold hypotheses, prioritize and test those with the highest option value first. Then keep on testing.
  • Try to disprove your hypothesis as fast as you can, continually asking these four questions:
  1. “Is it wanted?”
  2. “Can we do it?”
  3. “Is it worth it?”
  4. and “How might we know?”

Admittedly, that’s quite a bit to unpack—but if you have the discipline and processes in place to perform them routinely you’ll bring a portfolio of solutions to market that you should be doing, and that address real challenges, are wanted, can be made, and are worth doing.

Insight #2

Innovation is systematic, in the same way that procurement, product development, and financials are systematic. You can, and should, operationalize your Cultural Customs of Innovation—otherwise you’re just waiting for lightning to strike.


Which takes us to the final part of the OED’s definition of culture—ideas. This is where it starts to get a little tricky… but I’ve boiled the collective wisdom down to one (not particularly useful) line: Deploy the right people, to do the right things, at the right time, with the right time.

Insight #3

Innovation needs ideas, and ideas come from people. An organizational structure must be in place that supports ideas being created, developed, and deployed—and that might be the hardest and most disruptive step of all in creating a Culture of Innovation, as it involves deconstructing, amongst other things, hierarchies, compensation, titles, hiring, benefits, budgeting, program planning, etc. Those are the kind of actions that require approval from the C-suite, and maybe even the Board. Yes and… they are in place to keep you operating in the here-and-now. Talk about tension. 


So. Do I think that “Culture of Innovation” is a bunch of B.S.?

Nope. But a lot of the stuff that floats around it is.

If you are serious about fostering a “Culture of Innovation,” and not merely promulgating a glib platitude, you’ve got to execute on all three aspects of culture—as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary:

  • Behavior: How we act with one another.
  • Customs: The tools, processes, and practices we use to get things done.
  • Ideas: Organizational structures that support human ingenuity.

At Future Partners we focus our energy on the customs. We’ve created language, frameworks, and tools that you can use to get started. Check them out via our training, software, and services.

You can also get our epic book on Amazon:  Think Wrong: How to conquer the status quo and do work that matters

 

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How might we learn to solve next, when we really don’t want to?

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How might we learn to solve next, when we really don’t want to?

Even in our own small business we use automation, algorithms, AI, SaaS packages and Amaze-on Web Services to do many tasks that were previously done by us mere mortals. As astounding as this new technology is, none of it would have been created without human creativity, curiosity, innovation, imagination, and passion.

To maintain your ever fleeting competitive advantage (Check out Rita Gunther McGrath’s point of view on competitive advantage) in a hyper-disruptive-amazon-fueled world you’ll want to focus on the people who can imagine how you might use those tools in clever, practical, and original ways to deliver effective satisfaction to the jobs to be done for existing and new customers.

But, we humans have a bug in our operating systems—we’re evolutionarily coded to have an emotional bias towards the status quo, because good enough was good enough when the choice was eating the bland thing you knew rather than being poisoned by a delicious looking berry, or when acting counter-culturally resulted in being thrown into a volcano or being ostracized from your village only to be eaten by a saber toothed tiger. And let’s be honest, that still happens in the workplace.

So how do you manage the opposing forces of knowing how to change and not wanting to with each other to produce the killer solutions that leverage these just-a-click-away assets to power your organization’s future state?

On one hand we know humans are ingenious. On the other hand we know that we are hard-wired to keep doing what’s been done before and is good enough (for both rational and irrational reasons, but with no real ability to discern the difference).

To achieve the results, we’ve been charged with achieving and create a cognitive advantage for our organization, we have to consciously, deliberately, and systematically solve problems by learning to trick our brains, and creating a cultural context where it’s OK to do so—especially in larger or established organizations where the immediate risk of starvation is less. (Scott Kirsner has a provocative take on the difference between Intrapreneurs and Entrepreneurs that’s worth a read).

Both sides of that equation are tricky without a defined language, frameworks, and tools that are culturally inclusive—exclusive change is going to be a losing battle (just ask the Sneetches).

We created the Think Wrong problem-solving-system to provide just such a common language, frameworks, and tools. We like to describe it as design thinking’s punky little brother mashed up with the scientific method, and topped up with a dollop of behavioral science to help your people create and propel solutions beyond the status quo.

We’ve also learned that, to overcome those pesky heuristic and cultural biases, you need to adopt a scalable, habit-forming, learning-system that gets people excited, provides the pokes and coaching they need to keep putting what they’ve learned into action—and ultimately to be confident and fluent enough in the system to teach and coach others how to use it too.

Click here to learn more about how you can achieve scalable learning and inclusive problem-solving to address your organization’s gnarliest problems.

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WWJD—How Jamie Oliver Revolutionized Our Business.

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WWJD—How Jamie Oliver Revolutionized Our Business.

The pukka British chef, celebrity, restaurateur, and activist has had an oversized influence on our business over the last year or so.

We applied the Let Go practice and performed a Brand Takeover - where we imagined what would happen if Jamie Oliver took over our business—“What would Jamie do?”

The obvious thing was his books, they have a style and an attitude about them merging stories, instruction, photography and design in a way that projects who Jamie is, they’re aspirational, easy, and fast - they represent a lifestyle. Compare that to the average snore-fest of a business book—crappy paper, black and white, pages of text after text after unread-put-down-never-to-be finished text… Jamie wouldn’t do that, so nor would we.

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As the former owner of an advertising and design firm I really loved this book. First of all, it is insanely well-designed, a joy to read, look at, and hold your hands.
— John B. Spence—Author, Professional Speaker / Trainer

The next weapon in Jamie’s arsenal that inspired us was his iPad app - it’s really quite beautiful. It’s easy to navigate, discoverable, and consistent in style and tone with his books - delivering short videos and instructions that not only help you make that dish, but make you a better cook beyond that moment of need. This was a pivotal moment for us - Jamie’s app is the model for our software. Indeed, until that point it wasn’t altogether clear that we needed software, and if we did what form it should take.

Thirdly, when you look at Jamie’s business - he has restaurants around the world - we’re pretty sure Jamie isn’t cooking at them all! How does he scale a business that relies so heavily on him? He developed a system, makes that system easy to implement and scale, and puts his strong brand against it… we asked "how could we do that?"  Much of the system went into the software tool and the online content, but it became apparent that for the more complex scenarios we would have to once again look to Jamie—like Jamie we’ve started running intensive, immersive master classes that would enable others to run our process too.

 Image Source: http://www.jamieolivercookeryschool.com/bundles/appweb/img/slider_1.jpg?v=1

Image Source: http://www.jamieolivercookeryschool.com/bundles/appweb/img/slider_1.jpg?v=1

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So a huge thank you Jamie Oliver - you've inspired us in a way you probably never imagined, helping us conquer our own status quo and forge a path that only in hindsight seems obvious.

All I ever wanted to do was to make food accessible to everyone; to show that you can make mistakes—I do all the time—but it doesn’t matter.
— Jamie Oliver

Brand Takeover is an insanely easy Drill to run, and always leads to unexpected outcomes that can help you become unstuck, and energize a team by freeing you from what you think you already know will halt your progress - give it a try by asking yourself the question "What would ________ do if they took-over our organization?" - let us know what happens! #brandtakeover

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And if you like any of this and want to solve problems and drive change in your life, or your organization—please read the book, join the Lab, and come to a Master Class.

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Challenge the Challenge


Use when you want to encourage, build, and grow a culture that questions the way things are.


Think Right
Accept challenge as given.

Think Wrong
Push back and challenge.


Outcomes

  • Multiple entry points for addressing a challenge or opportunity that matters to you and your people
  • Identification of the people that you wish to serve
 

Instructions


Step 1
Introduce the Challenge the Challenge Drill.

Step 2
Based Deflection Point Drill (see 17 Nov 16 Free Brains) and Moonshoot Drills (see 22 Nov 16 Free Brains), have Wrong Thinkers reframe the challenge statement to reflect the greatest impact they might hope to have.

Step 3
Ask each team to share their new challenge statement with the group.

Tip
Invite teams to edit, hack, or toss the existing challenge statement and start again.
 

 

Free Think Wrong Resources

Try our Challenge Framing tool—it's available in Free Resources on the Think Wrong Book website.

Get it here.


When to use the Drill

Introducing the Drill

Running the Drill


Want to run more Think Wrong Drills?


Buy the book here.

Sign up for FREE online resources to help run the 18 drills featured in Think Wrong here.

Sign up for our next Think Wrong Master Class here. Enter promo code: FREE BRAINS for a 20% discount.

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Fail Fast. F*&k That!

How often do you hear platitudes about failing fast, failing forward, celebrating failure, embracing failure, feeling free to fail?

Well I’m here to say—f*&k that.

I’m here to say failing is not good, whether it’s done fast, forward, or by high fiving each other in an end of year celebration.

If you are a Chief Innovation Officer you know the truth: People don’t like failure. Failing is scary. Failing hurts. Failing is something to be avoided.

Why?

Because failure is what happens when you try, things don’t turn out as you expected, and don’t learn from it.

When we appropriate cool sounding glib alliterations, they cover up and excuse failure—they invite ignorance, laziness, incuriosity, and poor performance. Who wants to celebrate that?

So here’s what I invite you to do instead: Hypothesize, explore, experiment, invite the unexpected, observe, be surprised, learn fast, change your hypothesis. 

And do it all again.
And again.
And again.

That’s not failing.
That’s learning.  

Failing and learning are not the same thing, they are antithetical. They shouldn’t be clumsily exchanged with one another.

Buckminster Fuller said: “There is no such thing as a failed experiment, only experiments with unexpected outcomes.”

Too often in business, when things don’t turn out as expected, it is labeled a failure. The brakes are put on. Someone gets a black mark. And attention and resources are shifted elsewhere.

That’s what real failure looks like.

A failure to recognize the unexpected as a promising window into a breakthrough.

A failure to stop and say, “Wow, I never imagined that would happen! What did we learn? And how does it change what we should do?”

F*&k failure. It should be  feared and avoided at all costs.

So, if there’s a need for a pithy platitude, here’s one I just made up: “Learn without fail.”

Or here’s another: “Fail to learn or learn to fail.”

At Future we’ve developed six Think Wrong Practices and over 150 Think Wrong Drills that we use to help organizations create a Culture of Learning not a Festival of Failure.

 
 

If you want to learn how to do this yourself, we have a handbook that will help you do just that.


“The founders of Future take readers on a wonderful first hand journey of disruptive innovation. Think Wrong is as inviting as a cookbook by Jamie Oliver and as instructive as a business book by Clayton Christensen. The authors show us how to unlock human ingenuity to build and grow clever, practical, original, and viable solutions to our biggest challenges and most exciting opportunities.”
Rita Gunther McGrath
Professor at Columbia School of Business, Best-selling author of The End of Competitive Advantage
 

And if you’re already in love with the prospect of thinking wrong you can learn about our cloud based problem solving system and in-person service here.


“Branson can’t afford his pilots to fail again or fail better or fail forward or, frankly, fail at all. Ever. Pretending to embrace failure when you don’t is disingenuous and potentially dangerous.”

Rob Ashgar pulls back the curtain on Silicon Valley’s Fail Fast lie in this Forbes article from July 2014. “Why Silicon Valley’s ‘Fail Fast’ Mantra is Just Hype”


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Our Thanksgiving Think Wrong Heroes


At this time of giving thanks, we are grateful for the Wrong Thinkers at Patagonia.


While retailers across the land have been gearing up for months for the windfall of a contrived shopping frenzy called Black Friday, Patagonia has been busy thinking wrong about how they might use all that pent up shopping gusto for good. 

We've long admired their counter-consumerism culture. In recent years their "Don't Buy This Jacket" ad has brought a smile to our mouths and tears of appreciation to our eyes. 

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How can they be so damned smart, do damned right, and so damned good? 
Patagonia, you are officially our Thanksgiving Think Wrong Heroes!

Keep kicking the status quo where it counts!


Worn Wear: a Film About the Stories We Wear Presented by Patagonia Directed by Keith, Lauren, Chris, and Dan Malloy.

Worn Wear is an exploration of quality—in the things we own and the lives we live.

Check out this CNN Money Holiday Shopping article to learn more about Patagonia's bold move on behalf of our planet.

"The threats facing our planet affect people of every political stripe, of every demographic, in every part of the country," Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario, wrote in a company blogpost detailing the Black Friday effort. "We all stand to benefit from a healthy environment." 


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Build a Rocket

Be Bold: Moonshot Drill


Use when you need to escape the biases, orthodoxies, and assumptions that define the status quo—and that limit the impact you might have.


Think Right
Operate within the status quo pursuing incremental improvement and risk mitigation tactics such as market research and adoption of best practices.

Think Wrong
Boldly seek challenges and opportunities that exist beyond the limitations of the status quo. Imagine impact others would never dare to.


Outcomes

  • Elevated impact
  • Shared vision of impact
  • Aspirational goals
  • Reasons to believe

Instructions


Step 1
Introduce the Moonshot Drill.

Step 2
Have Blitzers generate ideas for the most astounding thing we might do to address the Blitz Challenge.

Step 3
Give three dots to each Blitzer. Have Blitzers dot vote on the three moonshots that they find most compelling.

Step 4
Have Blitzers move their top vote-getting moonshot to the “Why people will think that is crazy?” portion of the Moonshot Poster.

Step 5
Have Blitzers identify why people with think that they are crazy for pursing the promoted moonshot.

Step 6
Give Blitzers three more dots. Have Blitzers dot vote on the three most compelling reasons people will think their moonshot is crazy.

Step 7
Have Blitzers move their top vote-getting reason people will think their moonshot is crazy to the “What we know that they don’t” portion of the Moonshot Poster.

Step 8
Have Blitzers identify what we know that no one else knows—why we believe the moonshot is possible.

Tip: It can be challenging for teams to push away from the status quo to set goals and imagine moonshots. Visit each team as they’re generating moonshot ideas and encourage them to be as aspirational as possible—“Imagine achieving something that your grand children’s peers might be amazed to learn you were a part of.”

 

When to use the Drill

Introduce the Drill

Run the Drill


The Origins of Moonshot

Astro Teller is the inspiration for the Be Bold: Moonshot Drill. Watch his recent TED talk about the role of moonshots at X (formerly Google X).


Want to use more Think Wrong Drills to generate status-quo busting solutions?


Buy Think Wrong, the book here.

Get the Moonshot Poster and other FREE online resources to help you run the 18 drills featured in Think Wrong here.

Sign up for our next Think Wrong Master Class here. Enter promo code: FREE BRAINS for an additional 10% discount.


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Set brazen goals.

Be Bold: Deflection Point Drill


Use when you want to explore the difference you might make—and the change that might require.


Think Right
Optimize the status quo.

Think Wrong
Create a bold path that deflects from the status quo to change things from how they are to how they might be.


Outcomes

  • The way things are and how they might be are framed
  • Identification of useful trends and global forces that might be leveraged
  • People and partners are emotionally and functionally engaged

Instructions


Step 1
Introduce the Deflection Point Drill.

Step 2
Have Wrong Thinkers make a horizontal line on the wall with blue painters tape. Have them write: “Today’s Path” on the line with a Sharpie.

Step 3
Using Post-its, ask Wrong Thinkers to describe “Today’s Path” (e.g., vulnerable food supply, disconnect between food and seed, general apathy, etc.).

Step 4
Using the blue tape, have Wrong Thinkers create a new line coming off the status quo at a 45° angle, and label it “The Bold Path.”

Step 5
Using Post-its, ask Wrong Thinkers to describe “The Bold Path” (e.g., sustainable food supply, a clear connection between food and seed, real interest among the public, etc.).

Tips You might spend time considering big trends you can take advantage of to help shift from Today’s Path to your Bold Path. 

You might also take stock of current assumptions, orthodoxies, and biases that keep you on Today’s paths, and new habits, ways of working, or capabilities that might help you create and stay on your Bold Path.

 

When to use the Drill

Introducing Drill

Running the Drill


Want run more Think Wrong Drills?


Buy the book here.

Sign up for FREE online resources to help run the 18 drills featured in Think Wrong here.

Sign up for our next Think Wrong Master Class here. Enter promo code: FREE BRAINS for an additional 10% discount.


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