SXSW2014: Combinatorial Creativity: The Future of Innovation

This session, which was quickly renamed “Awesome combos” by the panelists, was described as follows:

Some of the most transformative new ideas and products are being created in both the skunkwork labs of tech giants and by digital artists, hackers, and other collectives; and in some instances the two sides are joining forces. The thread that connects these two seemingly opposite walks of life is the concept of combinatorial creativity: the idea that the most revolutionary, earth-shattering innovations are born as the result of collaboration and assimilating other great ideas into new ones. the idea that the most revolutionary, earth-shattering innovations are born as the result of collaboration and assimilating other great ideas into new ones. We’ll also meet the people, companies, and products that are leading this charge. The track is sponsored by the Knight Foundation.

I was surprised and disappointed as it unplayed to essentially discuss the role of agencies in allowing brands to do “edgy stuff”. I had come to this session really expecting something that spoke to individuals as to how to best foster innovation, yet it really felt like agencies extolling the virtues of agencies (I tweeted as much and garnered some ‘favorite’s, which I will take as agreement).

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Ultimately I didnt feel like the panelists had any specific insights or guidance to offer the audience about how to foster (what will be the future of) innovation. (even despite the selected hashtag of #newideas)

Their conversation DID cause a few thoughts to roll around the ole noggin, however. The idea of using an agency as a safeguard: because someone associated with the brand doesn’t want to risk losing his job. Instead, he outsources the work and if it fails, they just fire the agency. How does that align with all this lean stuff? “Pivot or persevere” “Fail fast to succeed sooner”. Now, I understand there may be a distinction here between using a creative agency for a particular campaign as opposed to actual product design and development. But why should marketers be afraid to fail if the company allows for experimentation in production?

Is the fact a company enlists the help of an agency a sign that it is stodgy and stuck in an old “perfectionism” paradigm? I’d expect not, and assume many of my agency friends would quickly shut down that idea. No, partnering with a strong strategic agency lets you learn from their expertise: they can be the experts in their field while you focus on yours.

SXSW is an interesting place: lots of entrepreneurs wanting to start their own thing, and lots of mentors and agencies seeking to offer strategic advice and guidance. But isn’t there a tension there, where an entrepreneur accepts learning as a valid outcome from his own experiment but not from his agency?

#newideas