When working with a designer to produce your marketing material, the most dangerous thing you can say is “I’ll know it when I see it.” True innovation comes from taking risks – it is impossible to “know it when you see it.” In fact, most ideas that are truly new often times lack a lot of initial appeal. In The Myths of Innovation, Scott Berkun speaks to the idea of resistance in innovation: “The secret tragedy of innovators is that their desire to improve the world is rarely matched by support from those they hope to help.” In Google’s early years, they pitched the idea of “ranking” searches to Yahoo and other major Silicon Valley companies, but were shot down constantly. Shortly after Alexander Bell invented the telephone, he approached Western Union for financial assistance. They saw no value in his invention, and asked him to leave – oops. These kinds of game-changing ideas take getting used to. You need to understand them from all angles before coming to a judgement. When the familiar and the unfamiliar exist together as a sea of options to pick from, the familiar will always win.
Marshall McCluhan has a brilliant quote: “I don’t know who discovered water, but it was not a fish.” What this quote is getting at is the idea that when you are so deep within something, you actually miss all of the most obvious solutions and ideas around you. When developing your marketing materials and your brand strategy, it is crucial that the work is done by someone with an entirely fresh perspective on what you are doing. If you take on everything yourself, you are setting yourself up for failure.
Naiveté is a crucial element of true innovation. Real change comes fresh perspectives on old fields, from individuals with confidence to shout out ridiculous ideas, because they don’t know better. You need to be flexible when it comes to your problems.
We all feel the need to have a logo, a website, a facebook page, a twitter account, etc. If we are not getting the kind of response rate we hope for – we blame it on the fact that our website is not good enough, or complain about how bad our search engine optimization is. We shout: “Damn you, Google!!” We are all guilty of these assumptions and quick conclusions.
Creating something new requires us to completely reconsider our assumptions – true innovation comes when you are surprised by the outcomes of an endeavor, not when you work towards making the thing you expected to make. When an organization approaches a designer with a task, they will receive exactly what they asked for. You want a logo? You will get a dozen to pick from. You want a website? Here are a couple pretty home pages.
We are in an age in which the role of a designer is shifting dramatically – design is no longer about production, it is as much about thought leadership and problem discovery as it is about crafting solutions.
IDEO, an innovation consultancy, was approached by a major hospital that was looking to enhance the patient experience. They did not ask for a new website, they did not ask for a new iphone app – they did not ask for anything at all, really. Leveraging Human Centered Design principles, one of IDEOs designers strapped a camera to his head, and stepped into the shoes of a hospital patient. What he quickly realized was that 95% of the time, he was laying on his back, in a hospital bed, looking at the ceiling. The project therefore resulted in an innovative experience to take place on the hospital ceilings.
If the client had jumped to a logical assumption, it is safe to say that the conclusion would have likely been a new mural. By leaving the assumptions at the door, this hospital was able to find a new, more authentic way of engaging with their customers – and it was so obvious.
Instead of stating what they need, people that want to leverage the full potential of design when developing marketing materials and strategies should instead be stating what their problem is, and should be open to the many places a solution may be found. By approaching a consultant with the task to develop a website for your company, you immediately are closing off infinite other potential approaches to solving the problem you are facing.
Be open to mistakes, be open to failure. Instead of just saying “this is the thing I need to make to solve my problem” and then going about making it, the best thing to do is just start making things in general. Be open to the seemingly random paths you get taken on. Designers refer to this idea as “learning through making.” Instead of having an end goal, just make stuff, it will lead you down a path, and something will happen – something that you could never have imagined before. This is my advice to you to try to apply not just to marketing strategies and product development, but also to your larger practice as social entrepreneurs.
Marketing and design is shifting significantly, and the role of designers, right now, is drastically different than it was during those Mad Men days. We are entering a future in which every thing around us, from the sidewalks we walk on, to the cities we live in, to the hats on our head, can be mediums for communication and engagement. Because of this reality, discovering problems and solutions will become a very difficult task. The role of a designer will soon not be to produce materials, but instead to define and discover the root of a problem that cannot be seen with a naked eye. There is a good chance that you don’t actually need a website – that the root of your problem, if uncovered, can give way to something else, something unimaginable – I invite you to be open to that possibility.