Change has come (part 1)
Thoughts on speed.
I’ve found it difficult to write about the future of marketing while living in the present. Because, if you hadn’t noticed *gestures all around, with an exhausted sigh*.
But, what I’ve noticed (as a strategy person), is a massive shift in both speed, and tolerance for complexity. Today, let’s talk about speed.
Because nearly every plan any company made for 2020 is now entirely unsuited to the moment, and there’s a real need to figure out what the heck businesses are going to do to get through this, fast.
Situations that require a rapid increase in speed are difficult, because human brains (or at least, mine) can only tolerate a certain number of caffeine-driven sprints. There’s a hard upper limit to how fast most brains can go and for how long they can maintain that pace. (I’ve hit the wall at least twice in the last two months, and have relied on a mix of good colleagues, sleep and a tolerant partner to bounce back and keep going.)
But speed also requires totally different ways of working, and most of the cheat-codes for going fast have a negative impact on the collaborative nature of creative & strategic exercises. Several times over the last 6 or so weeks, I’ve thought or said the words “if you need to go far, go together, if you need to go fast, go alone”. I’ve also been going alone (or in very small groups) more than I’ve been truly collaborating, leaning into the ‘lone wolf’ strategist stereotype that I have spent a lot of time advocating against.
(This all completely ignores the impact on speed and collaboration that results from a global pandemic and unprecedented level of work from home. Which is a much larger deal, but also entirely out of anyone’s control.)
This level of speed isn’t going away, the same way work from home isn’t going away. There is a very low chance that the speed I, and nearly every strategist I know, has been ‘proving’ we can work at, will not become the new expectation for nearly everything. There are probably many people who do not want to hear this, but doing things fast feels GREAT, especially when you’re not the one doing the lifting. I’ve worked with people who schedule an email for the next morning (despite finishing the work in the evening) because they don’t want to set the expectation they can move instantly. I don’t really know of anyone doing that, right now. Obviously that kind of behaviour feels less righteous when words like “global recession” are getting thrown around, and when your clients and partners actually need answers and solutions at this pace.
Crisis changes things. I think this crisis has (at least temporarily) changed the expectations for how fast we can think, dissect, solve and create. It’s going to require new ways of working - asynchronously, asymmetrically, and in parallel, for a start - to ensure that we waste less time, and also that we don’t create bottlenecks and lag as everyone is sprinting.
The idea that an insight, or a brief, or a strategy needs to be ‘perfect’ before you can move forward was always a delusion of perfectionism, but it likely won’t fly in most situations now, not even for the extra 4 hours you’re certain you need to get it ‘right’.
Because we’re re-orienting the marketing machine of basically the whole world, in real time, in response to uncertain and changing circumstances.
So, this is now a velocity industry. Meaning anyone with a strong background in responsive, real time, digital/social or XM is going to have an advantage, because they’ve been judged on speed for a long, long time.
Next time, we’ll talk about unnecessary complexity, and why I don’t think it’s going to be as tolerated, for the foreseeable future.