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Think BR: Be bold! Thoughts on the IPA West Coast Interactive Mission

There is a lot the advertising industry can learn from the innovative companies in Sillicon Valley. Maybe it's time we took on some of their practices, writes Becca Saraga, global business development director & partner, Addiction Worldwide.

Becca Saraga, global business development director & partner, Addiction Worldwide

Becca Saraga, global business development director & partner, Addiction Worldwide

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My recent Creative Pioneers trip to LA with the IPA for the West Coast Interactive Mission has left me energised about some of the challenges our industry is facing and how we might tackle them.

While we were there we visited a number of different companies in what was a very packed, but fascinating, schedule.

The companies included Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, Warner Brothers, Twitter and The Walt Disney Company among others, and when you're meeting companies of this calibre you can't help but be impressed by the phenomenal success that they have had.

These are companies that have not just 'existed' but have fundamentally changed the world's view of how things work and the potential for the future. They are taking risks and it is paying off for them.

I was struck by how strong the cultural identities of all these companies are. Some of the tech companies for example, encourage staff to 'play' for 20% of their time, allowing free-thinking and therefore creativity to thrive, while others instigate days when everyone is a creative.

It is built into their job remit, so it is not a token gesture or a 'nice to have' that gets lost as soon as the 'day job' gets busy. It is built into their working structure. 

This could be called crowdsourcing at ground level, but it ensures that all staff are part of the creative process, producing innovative results while forging stronger cross-function working relationships.

It also has proven ROI (for example Gmail was born out of a project undertaken by an engineer during '20% time'). 

One of the key recurring themes in all these tech companies is their deep-rooted understanding that failure is part of the journey to success.

Alberto Savoia, engineering director at Google, said "You can't escape the law of failure but you can use it to your advantage" and they do just that.

Even as some of them start to experience the inevitable growing pains, I believe that the organisations that stay true to their values will use these learnings to come out the other end stronger and those who don’t, well, just think how much we can all learn from that.

Many of the organisations we visited, particularly the tech start-ups,are values-based companies focused on a mission that is not limited to commercial success. 

They believe that they can change and are changing the world as we know it.

Facebook, for example, wholeheartedly believes that connections are currency, and that they can be a catalyst for an ideological shift in the societies in which we live

This is a pretty ambitious and radical way of thinking, whether you believe it to be possible or not.

Strong leadership is another key motivator for the employees of these companies. These leaders embody the values and mission of their organisation, never losing sight of their vision and behaving as nimble, passionate entrepreneurs even when leading a large multi-national workforce.

It is clear to see these behaviours filtering down, and indeed across the ranks, and allowing companies to manufacture environments that breathe innovation.

Every aspect of their company is steered towards making their work lives more conducive to innovation, including their physical workspace.

They don’t just talk, they do and if something doesn't work, they change it. Google has even gone a step further, and says it's no-longer about prototyping, it's about pretotyping - in their words "a way to test a product idea quickly and inexpensively by creating extremely simplified versions of that product to help validate the premise that "If we build it, they will use it." 

For our industry I think this is a really interesting premise that could be invaluable to our clients and consumers alike.

I feel creative companies in the UK and particularly the advertising industry can learn from the mindset of these companies, adopting some of the practices that could stand us in good stead during these tricky times. 

Our current focus is on the economy and the threat of further recession, which means agencies across the land are spending a great deal of their time trying to negate the effect of the hard times they anticipate are coming. 

This major distraction could have a long-term negative effect. The companies that we saw in Silicon Valley were not allowing themselves to be distracted or deterred by the problems facing the world outside of their 'bubble'.

They are focussing on and prototyping (or even pretotyping!), not only their products and services but also their organisational cultures.

This way of working is bringing them success commercially and otherwise, and we should be bold enough to take the same approach.

Becca Saraga, global business development director & partner, Addiction Worldwide

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