Serendipity in business might sound like a bolt-from-the-blue-gift-from-the-Almighty, but it’s actually rather common. Some of the inventions that have most transformed humanity, notably plastics and penicillin, came about accidentally. Even Akron’s own industry boasts a rash of serendipitous developments. Vulcanized rubber was developed in 1840, when Charles Goodyear dropped a mixture of rubber and sulfur onto a hot stove. After the Civil War, Akron became home to this great industry simply because Benjamin Franklin Goodrich got off his train at the wrong station.
But, a business cannot base its operation on the assumption that serendipity is bound to strike sometime, somewhere. Any business can benefit from the inevitable bounty of fortune simply by being receptive to it. This means building flexibility into your business plan, so that your operation can take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves. It means keeping resources available for new, promising enterprises. Most of all, it means that you must train your own sensitivity, so that you recognize serendipity when you see it. Keep lines of communications open and network relentlessly. Spread the word that you’re interested in new opportunities. And pay close attention to your own organization; your receptionist might be a stock-picking genius, and your new sales rep could be building a better mousetrap in the basement.
An old saying maintains that we create our own opportunities. That’s true to a degree, but it’s also true that sometimes opportunity simply appears. Our reaction to serendipity is what we control best; and that reaction can very well spell the difference between prosperity and regret.
What is the face of advertising? Ask any industry insider–agency exec, artist, writer, even corporate advertiser–they’ll likely answer the question with a question: Which face?” Technology, demographics, and the rise of a global village has turned advertising into a hydra, a being with faces too numerous to count.
Far be it from us to complain, but advertising was simple once. Take a look at any newspaper from the late Victorian era and you’ll see what we mean: “Try Dr. Pumpernickel’s Incomparable Wart Cream–It Makes Warts Go Away.”
Creative people love a challenge, though, so we have never lamented the dizzying evolution of our industry. Radio changed it drastically, and then television came along. We embraced television, then saw an explosion in digital communications. In the second half of the 20th Century, frequent and parallel quantum leaps in new media and markets and computer technology have kept advertisers in a never-ending race to master the latest advances, and use them to the benefit of our clients.
And it hasn’t just been technology that has changed the faces of advertising. Often, we have needed to adapt our strategies to the changing structure of society itself. Entire population segments that were once ignored by advertisers have gained formidable economic strength. The advertiser that ignores the buying clout of retirees, or minorities, or teenagers, does so at his or her own peril.
So what is the future of advertising? The only predictable element is...change. But don’t worry. We’re used to it, we will adapt to it, we will master it. Heck, we even like it. Change sharpens our skills and challenges our minds. It offers new and innovative ways to share our clients’ messages with a worldwide audience. We are ready for change because it has become the norm of our industry...and it will come whether we’re ready or not.
Pity the poor loner. Sure, he’s blessed with peace and solitude, and the tranquility of his own thoughts. But...what if he seeks to grow, to innovate, to conquer new frontiers? No matter how exceptional his brainpower, the loner has access to a single person’s ideas: his own. Albert Einstein surrounded himself with the most brilliant physicists of his day, and Thomas Edison filled his Menlo Park workshop with the best engineers he could find. Even solitary geniuses such as these recognized a simple equation: if creativity comes from people, then more people equals more creativity.
Most companies tragically under utilize one of their greatest assets: the collective brilliance of their own staff. This is not to say they are deaf to the ideas of their employees; suggestion boxes, open-door policies, even frank blowing off steam” sessions are widespread in today’s corporate America. Many companies report successful, profitable programs that were born of such openness. But too few companies take the next step: a structured, proactive process to stoke creativity and elicit ideas.
In 1939, Walt Disney inaugurated a new creative process–one mostly founded on desperation. At that time, Disney employed some of the most gifted artists in the entertainment industry–animators, writers, musicians, composers and others. Each were impeccable in their own sphere, but they understood little about the processes of the others. Worse, they often failed to realize how their own efforts impacted the work of other departments. Disney knew that if he was to realize the full potential of this exceptional team, he had to find a way to help them work together.
Disney developed a process called Storyboarding, a forum to encourage communication throughout his organization. In the beginning, it was little more than a discussion group, convened to outline upcoming projects and offer each department an opportunity to share its expected needs and challenges. But then something extraordinary happened. The group found itself conquering old systemic bottlenecks while simultaneously floating a slew of new concepts. Great ideas would come at a fast and furious pace, and afterwards the slightly dazed participants would be at a loss as to where such bright, burning creativity had come from.
Disney had stumbled upon Group Dynamics, the happy phenomenon wherein a collective grows to be exponentially more than the sum of its parts. Group Dynamics produces ideas–lots of ideas. Its success, though, is based on much more than sheer numbers. The development of good ideas comes from the delicate interplay of psyches and personalities. Ideas are shaped and refined collectively, and sometimes simple word association among the group is all that is required to discover new avenues of creativity. Group Dynamics means that a group of people can solve knotty problems and craft inspired new programs simply by talking them through and hitchhiking on each other’s ideas.
Caler & Company has adapted Storyboarding to serve the universe of businesses and organizations. Our version, called Jump Start, is a facilitated meeting of up to seven key staff members. A Jump Start session begins by identifying specific priorities and objectives. After that, though, there are few rules and fewer barriers. Criticism of any idea is strictly forbidden, as success hinges on the uninhibited input of all. Ideas are spoken aloud, then written on a card and posted categorically on a board. Often, a single two- or three-hour Jump Start process is all that is required to invigorate a team with lasting creativity, and with the ability to drive a multitude of new marketing programs, strategic objectives and business solutions.
We so firmly believe in this process that we have utilized it consistently for our own growth, since our founding in 1984. It’s a process that we are confident will work for your organization, just as it has for scores of our clients. At its core, it’s really just an example of efficiency–the efficient utilization of your company’s most valuable resource.