In this opinion piece, Brian Dargan, strategy director at Mentally Friendly, recounts his journey from digital agency to advertising agency to digital product studio, and why he’s learnt to embrace creative change and “co-create” himself.
I have never really had a plan but I have always had a creed, “Myself I Must Remake” (thank you, WB Yeats) and here I am decades, careers and continents later as strategy director at Mentally Friendly.
Here are some of the reasons (more thoughts than reasons actually), as to why I believe life is actually better and just more more interesting, if you open yourself up to change and creativity, especially with other people.
We’re all gonna die!
As Lenny Bruce so aptly screamed, so you need to ensure you get the most out of your professional journey and change the scenery accordingly because it’s the only ride you are going to get. In fact, the ride itself is really more important than the destination because that terminus is terminal, and ultimately fatal, to both you and your career.
So before that happens, you could see the change in your career as a series of discarded misshapen jumbled objects scattered in the rear view mirror on your own highway of regret, or you could see them as the islands on the archipelago of your career destiny that you charter and conquer through experience and learning, acquiring more knowledge on people, technology, business and change along the way.
You are not alone
Trying to ‘do’ digital in an advertising or marketing agency is akin to joining AA, in the sense that you will only ever succeed in either environments if you agree to surrender yourself to a higher power. In AA’s case, God; in a communication agency’s case, the Creative Idea.
Digital is really only required to serve and flatter (binary jewels encrusted onto an analogue format); it is not necessarily required to innovate or transform. You are the lone engineer tinkering away on an electric car in the artisan factory where beautiful steam powered stallions are still being made.
The world of product design treads a different path and worships a different deity – the team. No one is encouraged to think or walk alone, ideas are best transformed into a product when all stakeholders are engaged as multi-disciplinary-hive-mind across the entire process – co-creating and co-designing their way out of the problem.
No alarms and no surprises
General George S. Patton once said, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking”. He probably wasn’t directly critiquing how agencies structure their process but he might have been.
The idea that an idea needs to be compartmentally assembled and articulated before being shown (or worse, revealed) to the client whose business and customer it’s ultimately for, is a rather outdated, closed and restrictive practice.
There really is no need in the 21st Century for generals barking orders or magicians with “Ta-Da!” moments. Clients are the experts in their business and their customers, and product studios are the experts in working with the client to discover and develop the digital solutions they need.
And these solutions get developed together, clients and studios – upskilling and transferring knowledge via problem solving frameworks and processes, avoiding groupthink and giving voice to lesser heard clients. Because happy teams get results. The world may not be flat but your teams will benefit if they are.
Essentially at its core, strategy is all about sacrifice, because for any organisation (or individual) to attain something of greater value, they must give up something of lesser value. And the role of strategy to ensure the reward is the greater of the variables selected.
I have learnt on my journey that strategy is the constant, digital is the variable. This is because it is always accelerating change and empowering connectivity. Embracing that curiosity and understanding can position you as a multi-tasking swiss army blade – useful in environments that are needing to adapt to change, quickly (of which there are ever increasing numbers).
Ultimately you chose, do you want to see your journey as the opportunity to re-develop yourself as part of new product ripe for disrupting the market, or as simply the occasional update to your personal operating system with some new features?