Adam Murphy has an extensive career in research, insights and innovation, particularly focusing on the brewing industry. This has led him to founding Curioso, to champion a culture of curiosity in the commercial world. Adam shares his belief in the importance of fostering curiosity within organisations as an essential skill. Yet many organisations are dominated by counter-curiosity beliefs and practices that are putting their survival at risk.
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Welcome to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast where we discuss the issues and opportunities facing marketing, media, and advertising with industry thought leaders and practitioners.
Today, I’m sitting down with Adam Murphy who, after an extensive career in research insights and innovation, particularly in the beer industry, has founded Curioso, to champion a culture of curiosity in the commercial world. Welcome, Adam.
Thank you, Darren. Thanks for having me.
Curiosity, the old cliche is it killed the cat.
But it’s actually a really important part of the human condition, isn’t it?
Yeah, indeed. For every cat that it may have killed, it’s done some wonderful things in terms of putting us on the moon and giving us jazz music, and any number of things that have come from humans being curious.
And I really believe that almost all great discoveries and progress has come from one curious person following a hypothesis or a hunch that they might have, and following that through and seeing where it led them until something great has happened. And that could be something small, could be something huge. But I think it really is a core part of innovation and progress in many ways.
Yeah. Well, everyone says that curiosity is just a natural part of human beings when we are born, but we sort of seem to lose it along the way, don’t we? I know Ken Robinson – so Ken Robinson, the great British author and educationalist said that the education system has a lot to answer for.
Yeah, well, I definitely would agree with Ken there. I think we are all born curious, it’s how we survive. If we weren’t curious, we couldn’t figure out how to make it out of being a baby or a toddler. But I definitely think that the education system as we go through starts to teach us that there is a right answer to things.
We learn that one plus one is two, and it will always equal two which occasionally, I’ve challenged. So, if you think of, if you’re looking in the sky and you see one cloud and another cloud and the wind blows those two together, how many clouds are there? In that case, one plus one equals one. And of course, people always talk about one plus one equals three when the sum of the parts is worth more than the whole.
But we do start to learn in school that there is a right answer to every question. And to a certain extent, or to a good extent, that’s also then perpetuated in a lot of corporate cultures where young people come into businesses and we train them the right way to do things and the right answer, and the way that the company thinks about a given topic.
And so, we in many ways, start to discourage people from letting their natural curiosity lead them and start to steer towards things like … that we suggest that the all-knowing leader is what everybody should aspire to be, the sage that’s been in the industry for so long that they know everything that there is to know, and people start to mould themselves on that.
It’s interesting because you actually see that in small children where especially when they’re drawing and they first pick up either a paintbrush or a crayon or something, and they just start to draw, and then there’s that sort of criticism about, well, what is it? And it doesn’t look like the thing it’s meant to be, and here’s the way you should draw a person, and here’s the way you draw a house.
And so, I absolutely get this thing about it’s where we bring a perception of what things should be, the way they should be, that starts to mould and reduce that curiosity. Or is it just part of naturally developing our skill sets by learning from others?
No, I think by all means, we need to grow and that the whole point of curiosity is actually to learn, but not stop at that first answer, I guess.
So, in that example that you’re giving, which is all too common: I often start training sessions around design thinking and ideation, asking people to draw a house. You have a large group say, draw a house on a post-it note. It’s funny how many of them are a little square with a triangle on top, and then a rectangular door and window on either side of the door, because we’ve kind of been taught that that is the right way.
I think that the curious mind then says, well, why is that a house? Why can’t houses also look like this? And that’s where kids are — I find that one of the things that bring me back to curiosity when I get lost a bit is just spending time with my kids and talking to them about things and the way that they see the world, because they approach things with more questions than answers, and then try to connect the answers together and build on the answers.
I think one of the behaviours you see in the corporate world that we could do better at is not taking the first answer: having questions about the answers. But often, because of the hustle and bustle, the urgency to move projects along, we have a question, we find an answer, and an answer’s better than no answer. So, we kind of run with the first answer there. And often, there are reasons why we might want to question that answer and try to get beneath it and start to understand more of the complexity around that answer.
Because particularly in advertising, there’s a belief that curiosity is the source of creativity, the creative department in an advertising agency. The sheer fact that they’re called the creative department means that that’s the place where creativity happens and that those people are naturally curious. That’s the source of their creativity that doesn’t seem to occur anywhere else, either in the agency or in the client body.
Yeah. It’s funny how often any discussion around curiosity ends up inevitably talking about creativity as well. And there is a huge amount of curiosity required, I think, to continue to be truly creative. Because if we think of creativity as a practice, trying to generate things that are new and things, which violate people’s expectations in a way, then we have to be willing to look at the world through a different lens and ask questions about why things are how they are and how else could they be.
A lot of creativity is asking the question of what might be rather than how are things. But I think that if we leave curiosity only to the creative disciplines — I’ve worked in marketing departments in massive CPG or FMCG organizations, and if we just leave curiosity for when we’re trying to be creative, we miss so many opportunities. And it shouldn’t also just be the gamut.
In some other organisations, they may say, “Well, we leave that to the insights people” which is great. Insights teams should be the champions of curiosity within organisations and open the organisation’s eyes to the things that it doesn’t know, or the beliefs that may not be true. Or what I call the organisations’ blindly accepted truths, where we say something is real but we actually, when you dig down, people don’t have a lot of evidence behind that.
And that could be because it was true 20 years ago and it’s not true now, or it could be because the CEO said it one day, so we’ve all hopped on the train behind that idea. But curiosity can really help people do a great job wherever they are: the supply chain, the finance team, wherever it may be to say, “Well, why do we do things the way that we do? Why do the bookkeeping that way, maybe there’s a different way?”
So, I’m getting from the way you’re talking about this, that you see curiosity as the source of innovating, of changing things, of creating things. So, in a way, it is the source of change, it’s the source of creativity.
Yeah, I think we often box innovation in a particular mindset, especially I’ve worked in the consumer goods industry for so long. I think we often kind of box innovation around thinking about new product development or service innovation.
But when you think about innovation in process, or as you said, it’s really about change, changing the way that we do things, changing our processes, change even in things like employee policies and things like that. The starting point for so much of that is asking either the question about why are things how they are or as I said, how might things be different or how might they be better? And taking that moment to pause and look at how else that ecosystem might play out or how else that landscape could look.
And that’s one of the challenges that are very real for organisations to work through. If you’re trying to be a more curious organisation, does your structure and your processes allow people the time because curiosity does take a little bit of time? It’s easy to take the answer we have, it’s harder to take a moment to look at what other answers might there be, but in my experience, it pays off in the long run.
A little bit of time spent at the front end to make sure that we are talking about the right problem and that we’ve got the full extent of information and knowledge and perspectives that we could handle that problem means that you can move much more rapidly at the back end as you to try to solve that problem, wherever it might be in the organisation.
Adam, do you think part of this loss of curiosity in organisations is a factor of size? Because we often hear about — and everyone points towards startups and when something is small, they’re often innovative, they’re agile, they’re constantly evolving, they’re finding faster and different ways of doing things because it’s nice and small.
But I think it’s anthropologists have defined that once you get to, I think it’s around 150 people in an organisation, that it becomes incredibly difficult for people to just interact with each other in that loose way. And that’s why we have to have these processes and structures and things that in some ways, become counter to curiosity and innovation.
Yeah, I think size is certainly … or bigger organisations would have a harder time be because as you said, there are more people, but I also look at it from the sense of there’s often, once an organisation gets bigger, more layers between decision-makers and the problem — be the problem understanding consumers or how things work going through the factory or whatever it may be, we start to end up with layers in between and people become a bit more distant from the source of new knowledge.
So, in the consumer marketing world, you mentioned that I’ve worked in the beer industry for a long time. It becomes more challenging for the people who are in decision-making roles that maybe aren’t involved in our consumer insights work or spending a lot of time with consumers. And maybe not spending a lot of time with the category outside of having their whatever it may be: CEO hat or GM of marketing hat or whatever it is on.
And so, you start to see the world only through a certain lens, and it’s harder to absorb all the things that are going to happen, especially the change, which is there. I have a lot of empathy for people who have been in an industry or an organisation for a long time and find themselves in a leadership role, because as they’ve been progressing, the industry’s probably been changing a lot.
And I think one of the important tenets that I attach to curiosity is it has to be never-ending. So, curiosity is not just the strong desire for knowledge as the dictionary entry would say. But for me, it’s the ongoing, or the perpetual desire for knowledge because the world is complex and we do celebrate sometimes simplicity. And we say, “Hey, I love working with that guy because he can really make the complex simple.”
For me, that’s important, but I see a big difference between having a deep understanding of a topic because you’ve curiously explored it and inquired it, and then being able to convey that simply is very different to having an overly simplistic view of that topic or ecosystem.
So, just going back a step, I think some of the best leaders in organisations are the ones that will say they regularly get out of their office and walk around the coal face, the work face because it’s the people doing it on a day-to-day basis, they have the best insights. Whether it’s the factory floor to say there’s a better way of reducing waste or improving productivity or improving quality, or whether it’s the sales team who are giving direct feedback about the customer interactions and the type of feedback they’re getting.
It’s really important for the decision-makers that can make things happen to actually be open to those insights and innovations that are coming from the work front, isn’t it?
Yeah, indeed, and that’s been my experience. I love working with leaders that are willing to commit to that. And in my time in the beer industry, I was lucky to work with a lot of CEOs and the other chief sales officers and chief marketing officers through my career that were willing to spend that time, not just with the teams to understand what was going on, but also getting out and connecting with consumers and pressing the flesh, so to speak, and talking to people and observing people and seeing people live.
And we tried to drive a strong culture of consumer closeness where we said, well, we have so many opportunities. And I think lots of businesses, where instead of … we used to go out and do market visits if we were travelling to one of our markets when I was in the global team of a beer company. And we’d often just walk around and look at trade execution on those visits.
And we changed that to start to try to find opportunities to talk with consumers, to interact with consumers while we were there, to observe them and see the way that they interact with stores. Because it’s one thing to kind of see our things, how the planogram says they’re meant to be, but it’s another thing to notice that consumers are actually having a hard time finding what they want in that planogram.
So, I think that that makes a huge difference and I think it can be very empowering for the leader as well then because I think as much as we all love and I think that the great leaders are also very decisive, so you don’t want to be curious forever and not actually take action. But I think you can take much stronger actions when you feel that that’s based on a really strong grounding.
Well, I think what it gives them is some stories to take back into the C-suite and the boardroom, which is actually stories from where the sales are occurring. You know, it’s great looking at P&Ls and balance sheets, but when you can tell stories of what’s actually driving that and ways of improving it, it makes it infinitely more compelling.
The other point you made is this idea of taking the complex and making it simple. And I think the quote and everyone says it was Einstein, but it’s this idea of making it simpler, but not necessarily simple. Because the danger with simple is that it invariably loses the nuance that is what’s required for feeding that and answering — or feeding the hunger of curiosity. It’s the nuance of a problem where the solution lies, not in the simplicity of the solution.
Yeah, indeed. I really believe as I mentioned before, this idea of having deep understanding is conveyed simply. I think that’s really what we crave. If you have someone with an overly simplistic view of a category and the ecosystem around it, the idea that you’ll find rich opportunities in there for innovation or for growth is going to be much less likely.
But if you have somebody who actually has spent the time and developed a deep understanding of that ecosystem and then can convey it simply so that the opportunities are very clear and very rich, I think that that’s what we appreciate because having someone explain that inner detail is not great.
And the analogy I often use with people is of your GP. So, if you go to the doctor and the doctor actually has what you would hope, fingers crossed, a very rich and detailed understanding of human anatomy, but they rarely say to you, “What’s happening is your pancreas is not producing enough insulin in order to convert the sugars in the food that you’re eating.”
They’ll say “You have diabetes.” And they might say, “Diabetes is a problem where your body can’t process sugar well.” That’s a deep understanding conveyed simply. It’s enough information for you to understand, okay? I hear what you’re saying-
Oh my God, you haven’t even mentioned the Krebs cycle there. We could go through all the parts of the Krebs cycle for the breakdown of glucose into energy.
But look, I absolutely get the point. I’m just wondering though, that is part of this because human beings really struggle with complexity? Have you heard of the Cynefin framework? It was developed in IBM a few years ago and defines these domains of simple, complicated, complex and chaotic. And how human beings love the simple, because it’s all about cause and effect.
If you shout abuse at someone and they come and punch you in the nose, there’s direct cause and effect. But as we move into complicated and complex, suddenly cause and effect are completely obscured from it. We can at best guess or make a hypothesis, but even then, trying to test it because there are so many variables, it becomes incredibly difficult for us and chaotic — well, we all know about chaos theory, it’s impossible to actually predict.
So, human beings love to exist in that simple, because we don’t like thinking, contrary to popular belief. Yes, we do have this massive brain, we just don’t particularly like using it because it takes too much energy. Is that part of the problem here, that it’s easy to follow the rules because we don’t have to think about it?
Well, for sure, Darren, I think we are cognitive misers. We are evolutionarily inclined to try to minimise the use of our brain because we want it to be ready and aware of that sabretooth tiger that might come around the corner that our brain is still worried about, even though they’ve been long extinct.
So, we do want simplicity. There is a reason things like the K.I.S.S. principle and these kinds of things do apply. We do find it easier to make decisions. We do find it easier to make forward progress when we can have a simple view of the world. But I think that applies to all of us in some way, but there are maybe you call them the few, the curious that can do a great job of actually understanding what’s going on behind that for us, and digging into that and helping us then to translate what is a complex ecosystem in a simple way that most people can process it.
And if you translate that to a company, I think that’s where providing the right room within the organisation by which I mean space, not physical room: but the right space in the organisation, putting the right people there to go and understand the complexities, understand the depth, but be able to bring that back to the decision-makers and the action takers in a way that presents it at a simple level that breaks it down into the parts that are really important for the decisions they’re going to make.
I think that’s where you can be really successful as an organisation because you don’t get tripped up by the stuff that you’re pretending isn’t there. Like it’s very easy to pretend that there’s not a health issue in your segment or that the pricing of your segment is not intermingled with another alternative that people could choose to satisfy that need.
It’s really easy to overlook those things. What’s smarter is to be able to go, “We know those are there, here’s how we’re going to make it simple for people to take action on those.”
One of the other things that I’ve noticed in that process is that the rise of what I call the false dichotomies or of the false dilemmas, that it’s become very popular, especially as a sales technique, whether that’s internally, when you’re making recommendations or externally when someone’s trying to sell something to your organisation — to reduce all the choices down to you either go for A or B because they’re the only choices. And the danger obviously, with that, is have you really considered everything else? Can every problem be reduced to two? Now, it’s clear why it’s two because that makes it very simple.
Yeah, we do have a tendency to … reinforce through culture, even the idea of everything being binary. Like very complex discussions, like race, for example, or abortion, all these, they get reduced and politics gets reduced to Liberal and Labour, Republican and Democrat.
We reduce these super-complex systems down because as I said, we are cognitive misers, and we don’t want to have to think about it too much. The challenge which you see, if you take those kinds of political examples that I used is that then in culture, self-fulfilling echo chambers form around each of those poles of that idea.
And if you take the classic example in the US, Republicans listening to Fox and Democrats listening to alternate channels, which just keeps-
Yeah, to CNN — those echo chambers just keep reinforcing and actually pulling the poles further away from each other.
And that can happen in organisations as well. If you break everything down into A or B, you actually set up even at the board table then, an arm wrestle to decide how are we going to resolve this between A and B, when most issues are so complex and have so many positions between A and B that we could take not as compromises, but in understanding that, well, actually, there’s far more points of view here and perspectives on this than we need to take than simplifying it to A and B.
But it does make for in many organisations, quick decision-making because you have another kind of unspoken rule, like the HIPPO (the highest-paid person’s opinion). So, well, if I go into rooms A and B, and I think the CEO is on A, and I’m betting on A, I might as well boil it down to A and B because we’ll quickly get A decided and we’ll move on. So, there are reasons that they exist.
So, it’s expedient.
It can be very expedient, whether it gets us to the best answer. If C was actually the right answer, is a different question.
Or W, because-
And that’s the thing that annoys me, is that there are often infinite solutions just as there are infinite strategies, and strategy is defining a solution for a problem or opportunities. So, when there’s an infinite, this reductive process of reducing it down to its simplest choice of A and B is always for me, counter-intuitive. And it could be because I have a science background.
Yeah, I think that kind of scientific method is a big part. Like scientific method in a way is the codification of curiosity. It tells you how to do it, but just to your point about how frustrating it can be when we take the A and B when it could be W, the other thing that’s forcing things to be a binary that people then place a bet on, and we plant the flag and say we’ve chosen A, is that it also doesn’t leave room for adaptation.
It often forces you to say, we believe whatever, raspberry is going to be the flavour of this summer. And now, we’ve locked in on raspberry. We’re not willing to evolve and we’re not willing to see when a new superfood pops up over the horizon that actually, we should also be talking about that. It forces us to double down.
And as human beings, we’re psychologically inclined so when confirmation bias kicks in, we start to only see reasons why we should keep sticking with A, when in actual fact, as a company, we might be better off pursuing A, but also looking at W and also experimenting and doing a test with B because any or all of them might be the right way forward.
I like that. And thank you for acknowledging the role of the scientific method. A lot of people, when I talk about the scientific method, their eyes glaze over and they start thinking, oh my God. But in actual fact, practiced properly, and it’s full of curiosity and even creativity, the observations are made, the hypothesis is created, which is a creative process based on observation, empirical evidence.
And then you put it to a test, you design a test using design thinking to actually create a way of testing how valid that hypothesis is, and it’s either proven, disproven, or uncertain. And so, you just keep going through that process. And yet in business, you hear people talking all the time about ‘test and learn’, but it just doesn’t seem to be part of the culture of organisations.
Yeah, I think that there are some organisations where that true test and learn exists. And I think with the advent of a lot of kinds of services and information businesses that are purely digital, it’s so much easier to control tests and do things. So, you do see some of those big companies having a very test-based approach. And I’ve talked with some folks that work in both … even promotion testing for consumer goods and retail in the grocery sector, where now, in the digital world, you can put lots of tests out there.
But they have a challenge, there are some clients that are well and truly entrenched in it, others that don’t so much. And I think often because test and learn can be treated as prove me right or else … like let’s do a test. As long as the test says we made the right choice — whereas test and learn, you should be assuming that you don’t get a complete answer the first time.
Test: you learn a bit about that, you say, well, now let’s change this condition and go through. And it is funny how AB testing which I’m a huge supporter of, is a human-centred design which I teach to people as well — they’re centred on the scientific method. They all in some way come back to that, which is when you look at the span of human history, that’s how we got to where we are now.
So, we shouldn’t forget about it. We shouldn’t put it to the back of the room. That’s how we ended polio and how we put rockets into space. And that’s how the internet works: it was people following that approach.
The scientific method from the time of the enlightenment has actually improved the living standards of the human race, unbelievably. If people want to deny science, then go back to the dark ages and low short lifespans and high infant mortality rates. We’ve created an incredible world that is increasingly dealing with all of the problems we’ve created for ourselves as part of that.
Yeah, for sure. And that journey of time is one of the examples that I use when I’m talking about that idea of the blindly accepted truths that might exist in your organisation, every organisation has them.
But one blindly accepted truth in culture and humanity more broadly was that mouldy bread is bad and you should get rid of it and destroy it. Except some smart person thought, I wonder what the mould’s all about. I wonder if there’s anything good about the mould. And now, we have penicillin. You get a cold, you go, they give you some Amoxil and away you go. All that came back to someone being curious about, well, what is the mould on bread? And I wonder if there’s any upside to the mould in bread.
Well, it was actually an accident. He left the plates out, I think the story goes, but that could be apocryphal. Anyway, look, Adam, I’m really curious about how you … because you’ve set up this practice, this business to help organisations embrace curiosity, right?
And what I’ve seen in the past is large organisations getting an innovation department, which as you say, ends up focusing on new product development rather than using it. It must be more than just having a group of people focusing on this. How do you go about building a culture of curiosity?
Yeah, it most certainly has to be an organisation-wide commitment to be a more curious organisation. You mentioned innovation departments being set up: you also see incubators, disruptive growth organisations — different companies call them different things where companies will set up a … if you want to call it a side business in curiosity or innovation.
To a certain extent, that can work. And I think that that comes back to your earlier points about we do seem to naturally feel that there’s more curiosity and creativity and innovation in startups where people are closer to the consumer still, they’re closer to the problem, still they’re doing something new. So, there aren’t a hundred years of patented knowledge and behaviour to base it on.
But I think the challenge if you do that, and I did work in a big organisation that had that approach, is that it starts to kind of become, as you talked about, the creative department that people say, “Well, that happens over there. I don’t need to be curious, those guys over there look after that. This is one of those problems, we’ll let those guys worry about it.”
But as we talked about the ability to create and innovate and do things differently exists all throughout the organisation. And as I’ve started to work with companies talking about this, it’s really clear that there’s two levels at which we have to have the discussion. The first and most important is we have to have leadership who’s on board with the idea of being a creative culture.
Because if it’s from the top, if the values and beliefs of the organisation don’t encourage curiosity (and even if it’s unintentional, many of them sometimes discourage curiosity), then there’s no point me or someone like me coming and training teams within the organisation to be more curious and follow the scientific method and to inquire before they take action, because people will then … their ideas won’t make it through the decision-making levels.
So, I talk to lots of people about values and beliefs, and then also, the rituals and the behavior and even the leadership style of the organisation: is it one which encourages curiosity, or are there certain phrases or big rituals that you have, or even with one organisation looking at the awards that they give. Do any of the awards recognise experimentation failure, curiosity, or do they only focus on results?
But when I talk about phrases, having been an insights person for a long time, you hate hearing the phrase, “I don’t need research to tell me that …” That tells a curious person who might have been trying to move your organisation a little bit forward, or in a little bit of a different direction, or to discover option W that you were talking about to say “I won’t try anymore if that’s the case.”
So, it can be really small things sometimes, but if culturally, it’s not there, then once that is bought into by leadership, then you can look at structure and process. Do people have the right time to apply the process? To experiment, test, learn, experiment, test, learn? Do they have the right resources to do that?
And then finally, capability. Do they actually have the skills because it is trained out of us in school and we might have been in different companies for 15 years, and it has been trained out of us. It’s not an innate thing that just pops back like breathing or riding a bike. You do actually have to reapply yourself, train yourself out of some of the things that have happened.
So, I think that those are the things that are important in making the change and what organisations need to make all of that happen is some kind of champion or inspiration for what could be better, whether that’s someone internal or external to excite them about, yeah, we could actually be better if we follow this way.
It’s interesting what you say about top-down, because part of it is redefining what success looks like. And success is not just doing the same thing over and over again. Success is, in many ways, the Toyota Motor Corporation, their idea of Kaizen, constant improvement, this curiosity to constantly find better ways of doing things.
And one of the things they do is that they move people around the organisation into different jobs because part of curiosity can be just giving someone a different perspective. You know, often, people that have the one job for 5, 10, 20 years, that’s the only way they see the organisation. You move them into different parts and suddenly, they’re seeing a different perspective and that can, in the right culture, trigger new ideas and innovation.
Yeah, I think for sure. And I was lucky enough to live that first-hand. So, I had had a long career at Nielsen in different research roles and Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer offered me a role to move in there and establish the shopper insights practice.
And after a couple of years of doing that, the chief sales officer at the time Bernardo Paiva, said to me “I want you to move into revenue management.” And I said, “But Bernardo, I don’t understand. I’m not a financial guy at all. I don’t understand much about pricing and margins and profit pools and these kinds of things.” And he said, “But no, but I’ve got a whole bunch of people in revenue management who know that stuff, but what you get that they don’t get is people and how people make decisions.”
And so, he said, “You go in there and learn all that stuff you just said you don’t know from that part of the business, but also bring what you know, your perspective on pricing, which is how people react to it, to those guys.” And it was two of the most enjoyable and best growth years of my career and did change the way that we did promotions around the world.
So, I think there’s a lot to be said by just bringing a different perspective and inviting people’s perspectives rather than thinking, “No, we know how to do revenue management. I’ll leave that to those guys.” Inviting a new perspective, change the way that those guys approach things as well.
It’s interesting you should say that because one of the things I say in this data-rich world is that data can tell you what people are doing, but it rarely tells you why or what the motivation is, you know. And that’s why when people say to me, “Oh, it’s all in the data,” no, it’s not. That can only get you a certain distance, but to really go beyond that requires a totally different way of thinking. It’s an interesting conundrum that I think the world faces.
And I think they’re trying to answer it with AI. It’ll be interesting to see how sophisticated AI can become to solve that problem.
Yeah, I definitely have a special thought in terms of the way that that goes, because I think there’s going to be a lot of challenges to train AI to be able to see a lot of insight comes from the violation of expectations. So, it takes a human mind to be sitting there going, “Wow, that is not how that intuitively would’ve gone, would’ve been. And now, that I see that happening a lot, what is this pattern about it?”
And so, I think AI so far is very good at recognising patterns. I think recognising the violations of patterns and digging into those, there’s always going to be a human component. But I also have this part of me that says, I hope we can. I hope we can. I think it’ll be good for progress if we can start to teach AI to do that.
But right where we are today, regardless of how much big data you have or thick data or how different people call it, different things, there’s no match for having a curious human being, looking at that and seeing/reading between the lines, so to speak, of the data and saying, “This is interesting. A lot can be informed by just reading the data as it is. But what’s really interesting is this piece over here where this doesn’t make any sense, we decreased the depth of this promotion, but it went five times better than it did the week before. What was different? Was it something contextual? Was it the way that we promoted the promotion? Was it the way we worded the promotion? Was the weather different? What was it?”
I think that this is where there’s a role for a curious human to make sense of this sea of data that we have.
Well, a curious human sitting in front of a huge data lake with a terrific algorithm, answering all those questions based on the data.
And that’s where we get that perfect match. One of the things that we constantly run into and I’d love your point of view on this, is the concept of best practice, because it always drives me crazy. At some point, a client will have designed a number of different models for them, for instance, their roster of agencies. And they’ll say to me, “Which one’s best practice?”
And I’ll say, “Well, what do you mean?” They go, “Well, who else is doing this?” So, I suddenly realise what they mean is common practice because they just want to know, well, who else is doing it? How do you answer that one?
Well, look, I actually think when we talk about best practice and I try to avoid that term and talk about great examples because often, people take one example of something that worked and say, well, this is best practice.
But I think it ties back to the earlier conversation that we were having about simplicity and complexity because I think you can generalise something as best practice if you overgeneralise an industry or a category or a type of decision about agency rosters in terms of saying, well, all agencies are more or less the same. They more or less are trying to do the same things. They’ve more or less got the same internal expertise and capability.
If you generalise all those things and ignore the simplicity — not understand the simplicity and convey it simply, but ignore the simplicity and try and make all agencies the same, then you can probably say, “Well, best practice would be this.” Because if everybody was the same, then what worked for that agency is going to work for this other agency.
But I think it’s overlooking some of the complexity. Whereas, the best thing is to look at trying to match examples of which agency looks the most, like it was dealing with the same things that you are going through, has the same track record, the same similar objectives, and what worked with them is probably better than the common practice because you may not fit the average … if we assume that all agencies are average, that’s not a world I really would want to hope for.
And in a complex world, taking every variable into consideration, that would be next to impossible. At best, you’re doing an approximation. And so, I think it’s really about alleviating the individual’s fear about, oh my God, perhaps doing something unique or new for the first time.
So, accept that every problem in many ways is unique and every solution could be exactly what’s always been done before, hoping for a different outcome, or trying something completely new.
Look, Adam Murphy, this has been a terrific conversation and one that I would enjoy extending for more time, but unfortunately, we’ve run out of that time. Thank you so much for coming and having a chat about managing marketing.
Thank you for inviting me, Darren. I really enjoyed the conversation and was happy to chat with anybody that wants to talk about curiosity anytime.
Fantastic. Look, I’ve got one question before you go, and that is of all the companies that you know of or you’re working within this practice, who do you think is doing it really well?
Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media, and commercial communications professionals, Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by Darren Woolley and special guests. Find all the episodes here