At the end of July, we returned to DigitasLBi for the second Thinking Around Corners event, run in partnership with Firefish. These one-hour sessions are designed to stimulate unconventional thinking and deliver uncommon sense. In this way, they attempt to answer those complex, strategic questions whose answers evade even the best planners and strategists.
The panel for the night was chaired by Firefish’s Group CEO Jem Fawcus, and its members included: Nick Hirst, Head of Planning at adam&eveDDB; Alex Lewis, co-founder of Revolt; and, Tracey Follows, Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer at The Future Laboratory.
The format for the event is straightforward: three questions to be tackled in the space of an hour, and some healthy debate along the way.
First up: “How do you get people to concentrate on one thing for more than a minute?”
Nick kicked us off with the theory of top-down versus bottom-up thinking. He stated that, in a bottom-up approach to information processing, we take in a concept, idea, service, or message, and then ladder this up to what it means and how we then value it. Applying this strategy to the planning process, he argued that if you analyse how the message will be interpreted and processed through an individuals’ belief structures and value systems, you have a much better chance of being able to get them to concentrate longer…maybe even as long as a minute.
In the context of brands and advertising, a challenge came from the audience – they queried whether those in the industry care too much about people concentrating fully on the message they are putting out, as some form of subliminal and unconscious processing will be taking place in any case. This point – well-made – was challenged by the thought that limiting outside stimulus to allow people to concentrate for longer is well out of the control of the industry. And so, remaining focused on what you can control – namely the creative process and understanding the target – should be key.
Alex went on to say that people like to play games and that most puzzles and modern console games take a small-goals approach to game progression to keep the player’s attention. Yes, there is a final goal to most games, but the smaller, in-game puzzles and goals keep the player interested for longer. Another strategy would be to introduce intrigue in to the process – taking people on a journey like a good murder mystery – to keep their attention and concentration. From a psychological perspective, our innate desire for closure would support this, as we like to seek out information and often need a resolute end to our enquiry of a subject.
Tracey closed off this question by underlining the importance of context when it comes to how this change in concentration might impact the future. She quickly ran through a practical example of how a Futures Wheel might provide the solution for someone seeking the answer. Just as she was concluding, the timer went off and we had to move on to our next question: “How do you help people feel more secure without imposing more security on them?”
This question initially came from some of our clients in the financial services sector and, at once, the topic of data security became the frame for the discussion. An observation made was how quickly this came up and how the other half of the crowd decided to frame it around security in travel.
One recurring anchor point in discussions was the fact that we tend to have a distorted sense of salience when it comes to risk, driven by the world in which we live today; the endless news headlines of some form of (cyber or terrorist) attack and so on. To this end, Nick said that it is necessary to counterbalance this in new ways within the smaller assessments we make every day. Using TfL as an example, he referenced how announcements are now made about there being a “good service running on all lines”, which inherently makes people feel more positive about their experiences of the service as a whole. Referencing the theory of Ontogolocial Security, he concluded that we feel a sense of stability when there is continuity in our repeated experiences.
Alex also used TfL as an example when talking about how tools and symbols can be used to help society collectively feel responsible for creating a sense of security. The introduction of badges by TfL – not only for pregnant passengers but also the newly introduced Please Offer Me A Seat campaign for those with not-immediately-visible impairments, conditions or illnesses – has been shown to help people communicate and show a little care for one another. In turn, this creates a sense that those around you “have your back” and are helping keep you safe and secure.
So, to the final question of the night: “How do you get people to value a service they rarely or never use?” Two of our panellists looked at this challenge from a social service point of view – namely the police and NHS, but with slightly different perspectives. From the point of view of the police, when not visible, people often complain that they are not correctly allocated to priority issues. As individuals and communities care about local crime and safety, a simple solution to this problem is to increase officers on the beat, in this way enhancing their visibility to the civilian eye and so leaving people with a greater sense of value.
For the NHS, Alex talked about the junior doctors and nurses’ strike and how coming together against a common “enemy” or single point of focus – in this case, health secretary, Jeremy Hunt – drove people to action and ultimately left people with a renewed sense of value for those on strike. Obviously, citizens value the NHS itself as an organisation and a concept. However, humanising those within it – and showing how Jeremy Hunt was not willing to enter into negotiation with them – helped better explain the reasons why they were striking. Again, this allowed people to add new value perceptions towards the service as a whole, as well the individuals within it. Tracey closed this section by talking through an analysis model that can help more effectively shape a future, called Causal Layered Analysis.
The discussion concluded that, by going beyond the idea of hearing about a trend and creating something to meet a need, longevity can be created by looking at the systems that impact and govern it. To properly understand human experience and the human condition, we need to consider what existing systems create barriers and how these can affect outcomes. We need to take account of unconscious beliefs, of myths, and metaphors that people commonly hold and the impact they have. In the end, the final product, service, or solution developed in response to a real human need can have a much greater impact if it goes through and considers the influence of all of these layers. In the case of a service that people rarely use – in this case, the police or the NHS – the aspiration is that, by taking this type of human-led, holistic approach, a meaningful solution can be found that makes people appreciate having it, even if they don’t use it every day. If all we did was simply meet the needs of current trends, then businesses would quickly die out or be much more easily disrupted.
By bringing together leading figures from our expanded network, the APG Thinking Around Corners events apply unconventional thinking and approaches to tackle questions that often prove to be elusive. As human strategists, we often find uncommon sense in the most unexpected of places. The events are our approach to understanding the human experience in microcosm, and they show how we bring the unconventional to the heart of the decision-making process. This is the best way we know to help brands innovate, communicate and grow.
This was first published on the Firefish website on 28th August 2017