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Managing Marketing: The role of innovation, creativity and technology in driving change

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Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Annalie Killian is the Director of Human Networks at Sparks & Honey and was the Founder and Curator of the AMPlify Festival. Here she talks with Darren on the role of creativity and innovation in driving change through organisations and the importance for organisations to embrace change and technology to stay relevant.

You can listen to the podcast here:

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Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome back to Managing Marketing. I’m in New York today and I’m meeting with an old friend, Annalie Killian, who’s the Future-maker and Director of human networks at Sparks and Honey. Welcome.

Annalie:

Hi. Thanks, Darren, it’s great to see you.

Darren:

It’s been interesting because we actually met quite a while ago at the foreshore at Nielson Park, didn’t we?

Annalie:

Was it there or was it through James Welsh?

Darren:

Yes, it was actually on the foreshore there on Australia Day, I remember it very well because at the time you were introduced by a very interesting title, he said something about magic.

Annalie:

Yeah, ‘catalyst for magic’.

Darren:

You were the catalyst for magic, which I thought was a terrific title. That’s because of your role of being the founder and executive producer and curator of the Amplify series, wasn’t it?

Annalie:

That’s right, yes. So, that was while I was at AMP in Australia.

Leading an innovative culture through accelerated learning

Darren:

Now one of the things that Amplify seemed to be all about was bringing an interesting network of people together and then sharing new and innovative thoughts, that’s right isn’t it?

Annalie:

There was actually a very purposeful design; the bringing together of the people was a consequence of the design. But essentially what I saw when I was asked to lead innovation culture by the CIO who hired me for this role was that I found that organisational learning was way too slow and really not plugged into the edge where the change was happening.

And so, what I wanted to do was create the mechanism for accelerated learning and the people that I brought in were hand-picked for their edge-dwelling capabilities. Then brought together in an experiential learning environment where also we applied the same kind of principle of emergence; let everybody come and learn and then work out what they do with it themselves.

So, it was very much around presenting people with change that was happening at the edge in a way that was accessible and that they could process and then take back to the office.

Darren:

So it’s exposing people to these new ideas, new concepts, new principles?

Annalie:

Closing the gap.

Darren:

But not in a forceful way because it was very much, as you say, it was an immersion process. People could take away from it what was useful to them at the time.

Annalie:

The principle really emerged from complex systems change because you cannot change a system but you can seed change within the system. And so, this was about introducing the seeds to create the change mechanism and to sort of accelerate it through the designs that we did through Amplify.

So, what we found over time was that in the first year you would introduce ideas and they would be like seeds and then they would incubate and then by the time the next Amplify came around we would find that people had taken those ideas, internalised them and applied them to business problems and we would start seeing the projects for investments coming out of the expo at the next Amplify festival so it was a cycle.

It was like the seeds were planted and then by the next Amplify they were seedlings growing and they were presented for, you know, ‘do we want to invest in these projects or do we want to cull them?’

Darren:

What I like about that is it goes to the very core of the philosophy of education, which is ‘people only learn by building new on top of what they already know’.

Annalie:

Yeah, they integrate it with their past experience and also with what they need to do today and how does it relate to their work. It comes back to this concept of relevance.

The transformation of marketing through technology

Darren:

We do a lot of work with marketing teams that are challenged with their digital transformation or their technology transformation or sometimes they’ll say their customer-centric transformation and they really struggle with this concept of evolving or innovating to move forward because they want certainty around it.

They want to have a plan for how they’re going to transform and how they’re going to innovate in this new space. And so, it’s the lack of certainty often in that area that makes them fearful.

Annalie:

I think that this is not just marketing people’s problem. This is a human problem; that we all love certainty. So, the dilemma of we need to innovate but we are comfortable in our zone because it doesn’t require so much effort and risk. So, I don’t think it’s unique to marketing people.

But one of the things I think that is problematic with corporate design and thinking is that people don’t necessarily learn complex systems thinking as part of the education system.

Darren:

That’s true.

Annalie:

Therefore there is a mental model of treating everything as if it’s a complex problem. And a complex problem has a solution; you just have to find it. But when you’re in an ever-evolving system that is changing at an accelerating pace you will never ever be able to have a single solution to a complex problem. You need to have a series of iterations that respond to the system, and it’s test and learn, test and learn, test and learn.

Darren:

It’s very much the Cynefin Framework of operating in complexity and the fact that there is no best practice in complexity because it’s constantly emerging or evolving practice.

Annalie:

Yeah. And the futurists talk about the VUCA world; volatile, uncertain. You just have to open any newspaper or any screen today to know that we are living in a volatile world.

Darren:

Absolutely.

Annalie:

Even people who made strategic plans in September last year could not have possibly foreseen the election outcome that we have now. So, I’m kind of wondering what this does to human resources strategies in large companies that are reliant on a diverse work force.

If you can’t adapt fast you’re going to be in a bind.

Darren:

Adapt or die.

Annalie:

You’re going to be in a bind. Your costs, your engagement is going to be affected. Your ability to attract, retain and incentivise people is going to be significantly impacted.

Darren:

That’s why it’s interesting how many big corporations look towards technology start-ups because they hear words like agility and nimble and they see that in these start-ups. They’re often looking for what’s the secret sauce or secret ingredient and what makes those work?

Annalie:

That’s because of the mindset; it’s a complex problem—there is one solution we just have to find it so let’s go and see what they do and copy it. But culture is a system. Culture is not a single thing.

That’s one of the reasons why I love what I do now because I think the model here has totally nailed this concept of being constantly connected to the edge in real time learning, real time adaptation, which is faster even than most start-ups.

The importance of developing your human networks

Darren:

Well, let’s talk about what you’re doing now because the title is director of human networks but I would have said you’ve been doing that most of your life haven’t you?

Annalie:

Yes, very much so. I’m very much a magpie for interesting people.

Darren:

A maven.

Annalie:

A maven, yes.

Darren:

You go around picking up interesting people who have interesting thoughts and connecting people in interesting ways.

Annalie:

Yeah, I think one of the articles that has shaped a lot of my thinking over the last few years, it really started in 2004 when I had to architect a strategic approach for the way to build an innovation culture at AMP.

I read a Mark S. Granovetter paper, ‘The strength of weak ties’ and it was just like a blinding flash of the obvious that we surround ourselves with people like us and there is actually very little newness that flows into your network because of all the biases and all the things that just reinforce who you are and what you already know.

Therefore, if you really want to be ahead, edgy you really want to seek out difference.

Darren:

That’s been played back to us. You raised the U.S. election at the end of last year and one of the things that’s come back is that so much of the social networks that people spend time in have actually become echo chambers because you’re inclined to connect with people that are like you so all you’re hearing back is your own opinion.

Annalie:

Yeah but I think people who connect only to people that they know probably do that in real life too. I bet they’re the same people that when they go to a cocktail party they look for their colleagues; they sit next to people they know. So, their online behaviour mirrors their offline behaviour.

On the other hand, there are millions of people who have used social and online platforms to discover the edge dwellers. I have totally used it that way. I almost invariably spend as much time with my weak-tie networks as with my strong-tie networks because if I look for something new I go to the edge to people I don’t know.

Or I seed a question to the universe and there’s usually somebody that comes back that I haven’t heard from or don’t know and they’d respond and that would start a conversation.

Darren:

Social media networks are actually a very convenient way of being able to maintain quite large networks. There was that anthropological study that said I think it’s about 120 people…

Annalie:

150 – the Dunbar, yeah.

Darren:

Dunbar, right, 150 people that are your direct connections and that’s about as large as you can get. But I’m not sure about you; your social networks must be much larger than that.

Annalie:

I think it’s not about the size of the network.

Darren:

Your diversity.

The role of social media in building and maintaining human networks

Annalie:

But the Dunbar effect, it probably relates more to how many people you can maintain a close relationship with so that’s more a factor of time and preference. But social networks do allow you to scale a little bit better. For example, I have now (this is my third continent) a network in South Africa, I have a very big network in Australia, and I’m now growing a vast network here.

So, I tend to find that I spend more of my available time now on the networks that yield the best immediate value for me in my current environment but that doesn’t mean to say I neglect my past networks. Because of Facebook and LinkedIn every time I share what I’m up to all of those networks are still connected. That’s why you and I are here talking today.

Darren:

Absolutely.

Annalie:

So I didn’t have to actively keep messaging you because of my posts you know oh, Annalie is in New York. I see her posts and as soon as I get a message from Darren, ‘oh my God, of course, Darren, we’re going to meet up’.

So, it’s allowed us to scale by being available 24/7 without actually having to give it cognitive attention all that time.

Darren:

There is an amazing convenience and joy as well because I travel obviously quite a lot with the business and being able to write, ‘I’ve just come to New York from the U.K.’ and when you meet people they already have a shared knowledge of what you’ve been up to and you have that shared knowledge.

So, you don’t spend as much time catching up so you then have the time to really get into and pick up on where that relationship is and move it forward.

Annalie:

When you catch up with old friends, you know university and school time friends, the social networks have created the glue of continuity, as you say, in their lives so you can plug straight in with relevance.

You know that your old-school friend has had a double mastectomy so you’re going to show up and say, ‘I’m really sorry to hear that; how are you doing?’

Darren:

Yeah we share the best and worst with our close friends through these networks and I think that does bind us. It creates that or continues that human connection that you have with those people and yet I hear that quite a lot of people (especially baby boomers) are becoming incredibly cynical about the superficiality that they see in social media networks they maintain.

Annalie:

You say Baby Boomers are saying that because I actually see that in my young children. My children are 19 and 22 and they have, on a number of occasions, completely deleted their Facebook accounts and started again. And it’s because I think they’re going through a formative stage of friendships and as their identities unfold whereas for me I wouldn’t ever dream of deleting everybody on Facebook.

Yeah, sometimes I feel like…

Darren:

Blocking a few.

Annalie:

Yeah, well I’ve done that but I’m also very selective (well not that selective). I don’t generally friend somebody that I haven’t got anything in common with. But I’ve seen my kids in tears because of the idealised life that they are expected to portray or needing to be liked.

Darren:

This curation of perfection especially Instagram because of the superficiality of representing everything in an image and then it’s all about how many people like it.

Annalie:

That’s right and because my youngest daughter is now working and starting into the fashion and retail industry she feels under tremendous pressure to maintain this appearance and an Instagram account because she won’t get a job in the industry without them looking at her Instagram account.

That’s the reality. And so, the kids feel under tremendous pressure all the time.

Darren:

So your resume says, ‘and my social media networks are x, y and z’ so that you can check it out.

Annalie:

Yes, totally. I’ve been hiring people on that basis for many years in communication roles. I would have applicants that we would hire for a communications role or to do social media or marketing for an Amplify festival and you would look at their online profile and it didn’t exist or they had a very poorly completed LinkedIn account.

So, for me it wasn’t about the glamour of it, it was more about seeing do they have an understanding of the communication landscape that we live in.

Darren:

Which is different isn’t it? One’s about how well you create a perfect image for yourself. You are using it to see if they actually understand the tools that are essential these days for a communications person.

Annalie:

Yeah. And do they have cultural relevance?

Darren:

That’s one of the things I think sometimes the idea the world’s changing rapidly, culturally it’s changing that perhaps some people are feeling left behind, that they’re not adapting to the world as fast as they think they should.

I said Baby Boomers only because the comments came from people who were getting upset about the content being shared by their networks and feeling like they didn’t understand their networks anymore.

Annalie:

Was this political content?

Darren:

Primarily, yeah.

Annalie:

What has been very interesting has been living through these times right here in the U.S. and seeing how one of the people on the advisory board here at Sparks and Honey, a woman called Laurie Davis, she’s an online dating and relationship expert; she actually wrote a blog post about how people should approach Thanksgiving and Christmas in the post-election stage (because it was just after the election outcome) because even people are swiping left or right on Tinder based on political perspective.

Darren:

Republican, Republican, Democrat, Republican.

Annalie:

It’s made its way into all of our tools and so families are fractured and dating is impacted by it. You know you can’t get in a shared car in New York without political conversation.

Darren:

Or declaring your political allegiance.

Annalie:

Sometimes I think these drivers are saints because they just stick to their eyes on the road but the conversations in the shared cars are amazing.

The role of creativity in business transformation versus advertising transformation

Darren:

I want to change focus just for a minute because one of the key areas that we obviously deal with working with marketers, advertisers, and their various agencies is this idea of creativity and the way that it is interpreted, first of all at a business level, and then at marketing and specifically at an advertising level.

When we talk to agencies they talk about creativity but it’s almost spoken about as a tool rather than a process. I’m wondering have you noticed any changes? Do you think business is much more open to the idea of embracing creativity as a way of adapting to the changing world? Or do you think creativity has become a debased concept?

Annalie:

You know I hope you’re so wrong about that because I think in the long run the only work that will remain in the world will be your ability to be creative in problem solving. I think that language and semantics cloud things.

In business people talk about they want to hire problem solvers. They don’t talk about let’s hire some creatives. Creatives belong in some arty world in the business community. But do they want problem solvers that can think outside of the box? Absolutely.

It’s just that I think the language hasn’t really been embraced under the word ‘creativity’, which is a shame because creativity is not only about problem solving it is also about generative thinking and seeing new opportunities where sometimes there isn’t a problem yet.

Darren:

Creating new patterns that haven’t previously been recognised.

Annalie:

That’s right and I saw an amazing tweet the other day, can’t remember who said it and I thought sometimes you see something in a fleeting moment and the world’s wisdom is locked in 140 characters and you go ‘oh my God, that is such a profound way of thinking’. The tweet went something like ‘the driver of entrepreneurs who change the world is not money; it is the desire to create’.

And I thought we misunderstand this internal need to create something that is bigger than ourselves. It is such an important driver for people who end up being successful in making change real.

Darren:

Well, I think it’s a driver for all people because in a way changing the world, creating something, making a mark, leaving something behind is so important to people. Even though we’re not like the Middle Ages where you’re going to die at 30 and life expectancy is longer I think inside everyone there’s a desire to make a difference.

Annalie:

For some people it would be in a large scale. For some people, it’s in a small scale. It could be a mother creating a meal or creating a home. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a mother; let’s not gender stereotype. It’s about doing something outside of yourself.

And when we understand human behaviour and what make us our best selves creativity has to feature in that. So, if you want to lead people whether you’re in business, whether you’re in government, whether you’re in an NGO or creative community if you don’t understand the basic connection between how people are motivated and creativity then you’re definitely not going to get the best results.

Darren:

From people. Because I’ve come from a science background and when I got into advertising one of the things I hated was the use of creative as a noun—you know being a creative person.

Often the conversation would go along the lines of ‘how did you come from science, which is not creative at all,’ and as soon as someone said that I went ‘oh my God, you really have no idea about the role of creativity in science. Because, in fact, there are parts of science that are incredibly creative.

Annalie:

There was perhaps a time where there was a mental model put forward that you had a left brain and a right brain and one was rational and logical and the other was creative. Well that has been debunked for a long long time now; it doesn’t really work like that. Your brain zigzags between the hemispheres all the time to integrate things. I think those models kind of put creativity even further away from what we thought was rational, logical and composed.

Darren:

With this idea that somehow you had something different from everyone else.

Annalie:

Yeah, you’re special, kissed by the gods kind of thing.

Darren:

Yet creativity is part of the human experience. Everyone has the ability to be creative, to think creatively, to actually create something. It really comes down to culture and experience as to whether that’s something they suppress or not.

I’ve got a very good friend who is a very senior partner in an accounting firm who wears kaftans and does painting on the weekend but would never share that with his business partners. It’s almost like having suppressed his creativity in that environment that it’s burst out in his personal life almost to an exaggerated form because it’s getting balance back into his life.

Annalie:

The yin and the yang. I think also sometimes people put a ring fence around that as well. It’s like sometimes they protect it because they feel it’s their zone for chilling out and they want to keep that separate. And it’s O.K if that’s by choice but what a waste of human potential if we have access to people with an expansive capability and we pigeonhole them in a particular way.

Darren:

That’s right; we stop them fulfilling their complete potential.

Annalie:

I think the other part of creativity that is absolutely important and it goes back to this thing of why entrepreneurs do what they do, is their desire to create personal agency.

The reason why creativity is stifled in many traditional businesses is that very few people have control, to make decisions by themselves. They have to go up and down an approval hierarchy so they don’t feel they can apply their creativity to get to an outcome in a better way because they have to go through a massive approval process or they have to comply with the system.

Therefore, old and outdated mechanisms get perpetuated because people just keep following the rules because challenging the rule could get you into trouble. It takes a lot of courage to push back and say, ‘there’s a better way’ or ‘I’m going to try something different’ especially if you’re knowingly swimming outside the flags.

Darren:

It’s funny you should use that metaphor.

Annalie:

No, they don’t understand it here.

Darren:

Some friends (from Canada) came to Sydney and we went to Bondi Beach and I was trying to explain to them why the red and yellow flags were there—that that was the safe zone. ‘But there’s people swimming outside those’. ‘That’s O.K, they’ve chosen to do that but that’s the safe zone; stay between the flags and you’ll be safe, go outside and you’re taking a risk’.

Annalie:

But nobody’s going to lock you up for that.

Darren:

No, it’s a personal choice.

Annalie:

It’s a personal choice and so those people have agency. They can decide that they’re going to do that but they’re very fully aware of the consequences of doing so.

The impact of technology as a driver or enabler of cultural change

Darren:

Now one last topic I’d love to touch on is technology because it’s every part of our lives. We’re both sitting here and our phones are flashing and things are going off. I’m just wondering, your perspective on technology because some people see technology as a driver of all of this change and others talk about it being an enabler that allows us to change.

While it may be seen as quite a subtle difference I think it actually makes a fundamental difference in people’s relationship with technology. Those that see it as a driver feel like it’s something external to them that’s actually pushing change through whereas enabling them means that the technology is there to help them be more about who they are. What do you think about that?

Annalie:

Maybe technology is a bit like culture. When we feel that we’re in control of the technology then it’s an enabler. When we feel the technology is pushing us it’s a driver. We don’t control all aspects of technology so sometimes technology drives the changes that we don’t want but in all instances technology was created by us.

Darren:

By people.

Annalie:

Therefore, at some point it was created as an enabler but it doesn’t enable all of us equally all the time. So, I give you an example; I find that I’m increasingly concerned by the way in which technology has enabled (combined with big data) manipulation at an individual level, at an emotional level. And at the same time that technology can be used to manipulate us to do things that we’re not even consciously aware of.

Darren:

You’re talking about Cambridge analytics?

Annalie:

Well that’s amongst other things and massive automation that is going to be the driver of job losses in large industries. The retail industry is a fantastic example of that and the flow on consequences on real estate and cost of living as a result of the real estate in cities becoming vacant and obsolete and that pushes up taxes and all sorts of things, and pushes out schools and the ability to afford things and so on.

So for those people I think they’ll find they were driven by the technology.

Darren:

So you think it’s more an indication of whether people feel it’s been a positive or negative impact or whether they’ve had any sort of control or free will about it or whether it’s enforced on them or embraced?

Annalie:

So it’s both a driver and an enabler.

Darren:

It’s interesting. For me it’s like going back to complexity systems; all technology is another point of stimulus into the system. And we’ve seen technology that’s been invented because it can be and just failed miserably. Because, ultimately technology is about finding usefulness and utility either for the individual or for the system as a whole.

So for people to say it’s a driver, I’d say it’s a stimulus. The innovation, the invention of various types of technology actually stimulates the system to respond to it in some way.

Annalie:

What’s different between stimulus and driver?

Darren:

A driver somehow infers it pushes. Stimulus is it comes along and stimulates something. It stimulates a reaction. You either embrace it or reject it. People are either getting behind it and encouraging it because you can have what you think is the best technology in the world and we’ve seen so many start-ups that end up going nowhere because they’ve invented something that really has never got traction with the market place.

They’re trying to stimulate a response to their technology, hopefully being positive but the stimulus is it falls flat.

Annalie:

But I think if the stimulus succeeds and there is somebody in front of the stimulus they will feel that that technology is driving them.

Darren:

Yeah, of course. But the best technologies are the ones people embrace because they find utility in it

Annalie:

Yeah, but so do criminals, so do the shadow world. I found one of the most interesting tracks that I attended at Singularity University a few years ago was on the future of crime. I sat there with my mouth gaping to get an insight into just how we were using big data and analytics, and prediction, and machine learning in large businesses to understand our customers better.

The shadow world was employing all the same systems and was very sophisticated and had hierarchies and organisations that mirrored exactly how a large corporation works and it was like a world that was invisible to me. I was stunned and it just made me realise how blindsided I was about that and that technology is just a tool; it’s how you use it.

Darren:

It could be used for good or evil but it comes with great responsibility to quote Spiderman.

Annalie:

Absolutely, and I do worry that technologies can basically mimic and outperform the cognitive abilities of humans. It’s kind of in a different class to machines and robotics that could outperform humans in the physical sense. And so I think we are on the cusp of a significant change in civilisation and I do worry that the makers of these technologies and the policy makers in decision-making seats are just not grasping what they need to grasp or moving fast enough to safeguard humanity.

Because I don’t think technology is the enemy. I think it’s our inability to understand how to use this in a way that favours humanity rather than the technology.

Darren:

Or profit alone.

Annalie:

Yeah, profit alone.

Darren:

Ultimately people have to be before profit.

Annalie:

Absolutely, so we are completely in sync on that. When we make decisions that put humanity second all of humanity is at risk.

Darren:

Of course.

Annalie:

And humanity; I include the natural world under that. It’s not just about humans; it’s the animal world, it’s the plants, it’s the environment, it’s the ecosystem.

Darren:

We’ve only got one planet although Elon Musk is rapidly working towards being able to transport us to Mars.

Annalie:

I wonder. Back to the start of the conversation about systems thinking is that who is looking after keeping space clean? So, this is private enterprise shooting off into space. The world around us is already filled with 2 billion pieces of space junk—hello? Who is thinking about that? Who is making policy for space junk?

Darren:

They talk about it occasionally.

Annalie:

But that’s the reality; a piece a centimetre worth floating in space can be the undoing of a space journey to Mars and I don’t know how you clean up space debris.

Darren:

Maybe we need a similar type of agreement that they made about Antarctica and they actually just divide space up and say, ‘this is your bit; keep it clean’

Annalie:

But that will be really interesting because they are in orbit.

Darren:

Yeah, they’re not in stationary orbit.

Annalie:

When it comes to your square spot you have to catch it. Flick that one to the Russians.

Darren:

Thanks for your time.

Annalie:

Thanks, Darren.

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Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

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