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Thinking Wrong: How Might We Rethink the Agency Model?

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Thinking Wrong: How Might We Rethink the Agency Model?


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Think Wrong in Action.

Kari Hernandez is the President + Co-founder of INK Communications Co. in Austin, Texas. Kari became a Certified Wrong Thinker at a recent Think Wrong Master Class. Thanks Kari for sharing this early story of how you’re using Think Wrong at INK Communications Co.!

This article was originally posted on the INK Communications Co. Blog July 12, 2018

 

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We hosted a two-day retreat in Austin for the whole staff last month. For some new folks, it was their first chance to meet colleagues from other offices in person. For others, it was the chance to be with their everyday companions with a different agenda, or how about no agenda for a change? For me, it was an opportunity to test out our new Think Wrong chops with our whole team and see collectively what we could dream up for the future of PR and INK.

Our mission is good work with good people makes for a good life. It’s a balancing act and sometimes in our fast-paced agency world of client service and media relations, that good life side can take a hit. We all felt that coming out of a very busy Q1 and Q2. We talked about it a lot as a group over the last few months – how we were and were not living our mission – and a lot of our woes and challenges came back to the same thing: not enough time in the day.

We were recently certified in Think Wrong, the radical problem-solving system that helps you imagine, create, and operate what’s next. During that training, when the group would break, our team would rush to their computers and pound away for as long as they would let us while the other students would chat, step outside, or have a snack. This prompted us to ponder the reason why PR, more than any other creative service, is so “always on.” The obvious answer is that it’s because of media cycles – the news is always on, therefore, so are we. But then what is driving this for our digital, design, and content teams?

We put the traditional agency model to the test on the first day of our retreat. The challenge of the day was, “How might we rethink time and space, in a way that allows us to live our mission, so that we might do more thoughtful and meaningful work that inspires ourselves and others?” We wanted to look at agency life with an open mind, unrestricted from how it is now and has been, outside of structure and rules.

We used a drill called Moonshot, inspired of course by Kennedy’s original moonshot as well as Google X. (In this TED talk from 2016, Astro Teller talks about Google X’s moonshot strategy and the amazing things that can happen when you reward failure.) In this exercise, teams are challenged to think of the most astounding thing they might do together that would have an impact beyond our walls and lives, based on the challenge.

Our teams took on the status quo of agency life.

The first idea? Eliminate timesheets!

That might not be astounding or impact millions of people (or would it?) but it gets at a bigger opportunity: changing we way we value our work. We thought through the absurdity that every hour of work is worth the same amount of money. We asked how we might instead set a budget through the potential value of the impact we’re making for a client. Or the value of the team of specialists needed to attack a particular campaign strategy.

Other teams looked beyond the billable hour at how we form our teams. Two groups rethought our semi-permanent team structure and argued for the benefits of a more dynamic ecosystem of talent where people move more fluidly between clients and projects and even between specializations. We definitely see the value at INK of breaking down silos – between offices, communications specializations, and accounts to share value and experience and form truly integrated programs and cooperative teams. (Our one big happy family “1BHF” approach.) But this is taking that much further and we’re interested to look at how we can continue to meld our skillsets and make them available to our clients more dynamically.

Another interesting concept that bubbled up was eliminating the stigma of stress, anxiety, and depression in our industry. If change is a constant in life, and certainly our industry, and anxiety is a natural brain reaction to change and uncertainty (damn lizard brain), then how we all deal with that is a skill we should teach, and a normal part of being human. It’s certainly not something to hide or feel alone about. We all feel it in some way. We’ll definitely be thinking through this more within our culture at INK and looking for opportunities and resources to help all of us navigate change, and the stress and anxiety it brings, more peacefully.

Overall, we knew an hour-long drill or a day-long discussion wasn’t going to map out the future of the agency. But it was a great way of setting up some themes that we can continue to explore and discuss in our effort to make INK – and hopefully, other agencies out there – a place where you can do good work with good people, and at the same time, live a great life.

What do you think? How might we, as an industry, rethink the agency model to allow for more thoughtful work and eliminate the “always on” mentality in areas where it no longer serves a purpose?

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Welcome to Campando Maryknoll

Original art: Tucker Nichols Hack: Tena Watts (Think Wrong Master Class grad)

Original art: Tucker Nichols
Hack: Tena Watts (Think Wrong Master Class grad)


A report from Eugene Shirley, a recently certified Wrong Thinker from last week’s Think Wrong Master Class.


I had a great meeting today with our favorite nuns and we’re confirmed for Campando, Jan. 20, 21 and 22 at the Maryknoll Sisters compound in Monrovia, at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. (bears included). They will provide food and lodging, targeting LA County millennial leaders from social justice and environmental communities who feel in need of rejuvenation (a small group at first, to experiment). We will Make Stuff and Bet Small—prototyping a program they hope to replicate multiple times throughout the year.

I took the Make Stuff: Name It Poster (see photo with three of the sisters pictured), used it to catch them up on our ideas from last week, and then they took it from there. I took along two extra blank posters and they wanted me to leave them so they could think wrong on their own.  

Eugene lead the sisters in the Make Stuff: Name It Drill

Eugene lead the sisters in the Make Stuff: Name It Drill

They loved the name of Campando, only suggesting we call this specific event “Campando Maryknoll” in order to make it their own. One sister in particular loved “Pandonista.” She had just returned from El Paso helping to settle a recent influx of emigres from Mexico who have aimed to get back across the border and with their families before the presidency changes (these nuns are fierce). “Just live it” seemed to them exactly right as a tagline. Of course, everyone LOVED the hack of Tucker Nichol's wonderful image of the Pando trees.  

The sisters started working on the program. They were very focused on reflection and rejuvenation. They thought the idea of this being an oasis of reflection—an idea inspired by the Get Out: That's Odd Drill (Virgin Tub) seemed exactly right. The sisters suggested we start on Friday night with a wine and beer Happy Hour, and end the weekend with a hike in the mountains and brunch at a waterfall with a ritual focused on giving Pandonistas strength for their social justice and environmental missions. The sisters have served in the most dangerous places all over the world and will share their stories on Saturday. We’ll use the Think Wrong Lab to design the program.

They brilliantly suggested this be declared a cellphone-free zone (I remember seeing photos of Tucker’s images around FB on that) and that Pandonistas place their cellphones in a box on a common table during orientation on Friday night. They can give their significant others the convent’s switchboard number in case of emergency. I absolutely fell in love with this idea. 


Eugene B. Shirley, Jr. is founding president and CEO of Pando Populus and a long-time entrepreneur. For twenty-five years, he produced prime-time programming for PBS and some 30 countries under Pacem Productions. He was founding CEO of a text analytics firm.  He is a former Jennings Randolph Fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace.


Sign up for the next Think Wrong Master Class here.

Learn, apply, and master Solve Next’s radical problem-solving system to reliably produce surprising, ingenious, and sometimes magical solutions to your most wicked questions and opportunities.


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Innovators Start Your Engines


(Or, Design Thinking’s Fatal Flaw)


If I asked you to choose between two machines that could determine how your organization might compete, create value, grow market share, increase revenues, and deliver impact in the future how would you know which one to pick?

Chief Innovation Officers have been kicking the tires on design thinking’s engine for more than a few years now. But Think Wrong is not just this year’s model.

What’s the difference?

Design thinking and thinking wrong are both problem solving systems. Like a machine, each requires certain inputs, performs specific functions, and generates outputs that produce value.

Design thinking is defined by IDEO (the driving force behind popularizing design thinking) as: “A human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

At Solve Next, we define thinking wrong as: “The ability to conquer biology and culture to change things from how they are to how they might be.”

Picture design thinking as a machine that puts the the person for whom you are solving at its center.

Picture thinking wrong as a machine that puts the impact your organization wants to have and the people to whom that impact matters at its center.

Design thinking produces simpler, more intuitive solutions than what existed before—solutions that reflect the users’ environments, ways of operating, and their cultures.

Thinking wrong produces unexpected, disruptive solutions that break the biases, orthodoxies, and assumptions that form that status quo and have the ability to drive the positive change their champions aspire to create in the world.

IDEO and design thinking found their way into the popular vernacular in 1999, when ABC’s Nightline ran a story on them. That segment included IDEO’s redesign of the shopping cart. It featured their user-centered observations in supermarkets and what they revealed about shoppers’ behaviors. It showcased IDEO’s futuristic cart with a detachable basket—IDEO had noted that shoppers repeatedly parked their carts and walked down aisles for specific items. They designed a cart that had the potential to improve things for shoppers. Disappointingly, 17 years later, shopping carts remain largely unchanged and unimproved.

Think Wrong problem solving machine would not have started with observations of shoppers. Instead, it would begin by exploring what the client (grocers in this case) most aspired to accomplish. Thinking wrong would challenge the grocers to be bold and to imagine the greatest impact they might have. It would ask: “What value are they seeking to produce for the communities they serve, their stakeholders, society at large, the environment, and future generations?” It would invite shoppers into the process, to ensure their wants, needs, and ideas were central solutions that might create that positive change. It would enable grocer and shopper to imagine, prototype, and implement new ways of shopping that might lead to that impact together.

Like design thinking clients, think wrong clients need help putting their customers, beneficiaries, constituents, members, partners, and people at the center of their design efforts. But they also want to have impact that is not just marginally better than others. They want to change the game. They want what John and I have for years had called “Big D” design. Not the decorative stuff that gets applied after the strategic thinking has been done, but the kind that has the power to change the course of markets, nations, society, and future generations.

So, choose design thinking when you want to make a significant improvement to the way things are. But if you’re aim is to change the way things are to how you think they should be, choose thinking wrong.


“REBBL has $1 billion opportunity ahead of it. That’s quite a market for a company that currently has annual sales of less than $10 million, and just six employees.” Mark Rampolla, co-founder of PowerPlant Ventures, in a recent Fortune Magazine article.

REBBL is a wonderful example of what the Think Wrong engine can produce. It was born at Not For Sale’s Montara Circle, where Solve Next helped more than 50 leaders from across the private and public sectors take on the challenge of ending the exploitation of villagers and their environment in the Peruvian Amazon. The result, a refreshing tonic made, in part, from ingredients purchased from those villagers, economically inoculating them from exploitation. “We love launching products that have the power to change culture, start conversations, and challenge the status quo” says Palo Hawken, co-founder of REBBL in this recent BEVNET release.


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Too Big to Solve


(Or, The World’s A Mess And We’re Taking It Personally)


Our partner John often gives a talk that begins with many of the big problems facing us as a species:

Hunger, poverty, war, obesity, AIDs, climate change.

It can be pretty daunting. His despair about these issues is real. So is the optimism he, Mike, and I share about mankind’s ability to create ingenious solutions to those challenges.

It might matter less to us if we were not fathers. I hope not. I like to think that we’re conscientious people who care about our fellow man. But, because we are dads, it’s personal.

Our children will inherit the crises made by our and prior right thinking generations. Solving those crises requires stepping outside the status quo—conquering biology and culture—and coming up with answers that might seem crazy or impossible today.

We started Future to put a dent in that particular universe of problems. We’ve sought to work with people who do work that matters. We built our business inspired by—and to help more—leaders like you.

People who are working hard to make the world a better place through their businesses, foundations, government agencies, nonprofits, and schools.

People who are not happy with the way things are.

People who have a vision for a better tomorrow—and the scars to prove how hard they have been battling to create that change.

As a consulting firm run by three partners we've always sought out clients and partners with whom we might be multipliers for good. When we all join forces we make a big difference. But what we can accomplish through our services alone is not enough.

That’s why we’ve written our forthcoming book, Think Wrong: How to Conquer The Status Quo and Do Work That Matters, and why we’ve built the Think Wrong Lab, our cloud-based software.

We want to foster resilient, resourceful leaders and organizations capable of making a difference and blazing bold new paths.

We want to unleash what one of our Think Wrong Heroes, Yvon Chouinard, CEO of Patagonia, might refer to as your inner-juvenile delinquent. He recently told Bloomberg, “...to understand an entrepreneur, you should study a juvenile delinquent. They're both saying: ‘This sucks and I'm going to do it another way.’ You have to want to break the rules and prove that your way works.”

We couldn't agree more. We want to equip that restless delinquent, our children, and their peers with the necessary resources to bring crazy, mind-bending, rule-breaking solutions to life.

If we do our job well, the next time someone proclaims a challenge, “Too big to solve” you’ll have the confidence to reject the way things are, to think wrong, and to leave the world a better place than you found it.


Watch a recent TEDx talk by John. Thinking wrong is the opposite of following accepted orthodoxy. Future has developed an undeniable problem solving system that works across many disciplines and levels of difficulty. It's the best of design thinking married with positive change and impact.


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