Alex Mecklenburg on maintenance and why we need better stories
alex-festival of maintenance 2018.jpg

Jen McArther from Festival of Maintenance has interviewed Alex in the preparation for their 2019 Festival. It’s a great summation of her talk from last year.

Two things have changed fundamentally – again they are simple things, not big things. Firstly, collaboration and co-creation: inviting people who see it differently. There is a certain humbleness and vulnerability in these processes, whereas in the past there was a fear that openly critical conversations could kill creativity.
— Alex Mecklenburg talking to Festival of Maintenance

Read the full interview at Festival of Maintenance.

Creativity is dead! Long live create!
This a wonderfully (un)chained piece of graffiti from Mexico City. I love the duck.

This a wonderfully (un)chained piece of graffiti from Mexico City. I love the duck.

These are interesting times for the creative industry.

Traditional hotshot agencies are protecting their creative turf and talent pool with statements like BBH’s Sir John Hegarty that the in-house model is for “boring creatives”.

Big agencies are watching their bottom lines get squeezed into oblivion (read Madison Ave Manslaughter) and responding with aggressive resizing (Ogilvy) and mergers (Wunderman Thompson).

Old holding companies like WPP are streamlining to become a “creative transformation company”, while new holding companies like S4 Capital and You and Mr Jones are built on the idea that data drives creativity.

Not to mention management consultancies like Accenture who have seen the value of delivering creative assets, not just business services.

Organisations of all sorts are experimenting with in-house creative services, or subcontracted units of agencies, or communities of creative collectives, with various degrees of success.

The CMO of RBS has said that clients “can’t do creative communication”, yet 78% of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) in 2018 had an in-house agency.

So, are they all failing at their jobs?

With so many opinions about what is and isn’t creative, who is right?

After 18 years as a creative at Ogilvy and adam&eveDDB I co-founded a consultancy called Truth & Spectacle to see what creativity in business could become.

A big part of my journey outside of the traditional creative industry has been working with an award winning tech company called what3words.

Over the last two years what3words has successfully scaled up to create most of its marketing, brand design and product design in-house; and we’ve had the same debates everyone else is having about the quality of work, striking the balance between pragmatism and belief, attracting and keeping talent, outsourcing and in-housing.

what3words x Airbnb with the reindeer tribes in Northern Mongolia in 2018. Photo by Chris Sheldrick.

How has a tech company like what3words become good at creating?

Early on the management team understood the impact of storytelling on the company’s value and sales, and invested in their own people to improve that skill.

There’s a studio but there is no “creative department”, creativity is the responsibility of everyone in the business.

what3words is confident in telling its core story through everything it does, whether it’s through products, sales conversations, video content, PR, or event posters.

And finally, we’re comfortable challenging our best ideas and experiment constantly to be fit for purpose.

When management consultancy McKinsey looked at the correlation between creativity and financial performance they found that more creative firms outperform their peers, so it seems to be more important than ever.

I believe we could do with less narrow minded rhetoric about who owns creativity and concentrate more on how we’re going to create.

In these interesting times it’ll take open minds to help the industry and discipline flourish in every organisation.

What do you think?

 
Creating a User Experience for Everyone

This is a video of a talk I gave at the Interact UX Conference which was held at The British Museum (///orders.behind.tanks) in October 2018.

I have the pleasure of being the Creative Director of what3words and presentations to a specialist audience give me a great opportunity to look at what I do from a different perspective. In this case, User Experience.

For me, the definition of UX is simply everything a company says and does.

But in reality “everything” is incredibly complex to manage, so how do we do it at what3words and what have we learned?

I explain how a 3 word address works, the design decisions that we’ve made in order to make it a global standard, how we work with voice, and show people around the world use the system.

It’s amazing what people can create with a few simple words.

Thanks to Henry and Nomensa for the invitation and for producing this video.

Maintenance vs Innovation
Creativity and maintenance go hand in hand. And in a mature ecosystem as much energy goes to maintenance as goes to creativity.
— Gary Snyder

Calen Cole at Stripe Partners does a neat blog post about the Festival of Maintenance. He quotes Alex so you know it must be good ;)

Definitely worth a read if you’re passionate about innovation.

The Festival as a whole was a provocative and eye-opening experience. It was also a strange experience – after all, Stripe Partners specialises in innovation. We spend our time and effort doing the research, ideation and facilitation that produce innovation that works. Our work is nearly always focused on new offerings, new markets, new consumer groups.

The Festival got me thinking: are maintenance and innovation necessarily antagonistic?
— Calen Cole | Stripe Partners
City Hall Digital Leadership
City Hall has been piloting a digital leadership programme, starting with senior teams, in partnership with @doteveryoneuk
— Theo Blackwell, Chief Digital Officer London City Hall

Alex has been hard at work with DotEveryone and London City Hall on their digital leadership programme. She's having a fantastic time working with people who really care about leading with digital understanding and responsibility. New cohorts start in September 2018.

👏🏼 👏🏼 👏🏼 great work @petite_a who’s leading this programme for us at @doteveryoneuk - building understanding of digital and responsible leadership across the senior team at the GLA - it would be great to see more Mayoral teams do this.
— @CassieRobinson, Strategic Design Director DotEveryone

We can't wait to see how the programme goes from strength to strength.

Female Founders Program at PwC
Image: Kinga Incze

Image: Kinga Incze

Our very own Alex (fifth from the right) was a coach and speaker at PwC's first Female Founders Programme

Partnering with Blooming Founders, its designed to help startups scale in the B2B space.

It was an excellent day - so much energy, dedication, authenticity and openness. Made my week. So many shared stories and shared ambition.
— Alex Mecklenburg
Innovation obstacles and their simple solutions

Scott Kirsner writes in the Harvard Business Review about a study done for Innovation Leader about the obstacles innovation faces in large businesses. 

On one hand CEO's are happily not to blame, but on the other internal politics, turf wars and a lack of alignment are a monster cited by 55% of the study. 

Three things got my attention in the study and the feelings of the respondents.

Firstly, it was the simple inability of large businesses to react to market changes. Large businesses can lack structures or processes to test or attempt effective action. It means innovation never moves past the knowledge that something needs to be done, or a well-meaning strategic PowerPoint presentation.

...what mechanisms exist to set up collaborations with outside vendors or startups, or run a quick pilot test with a function or business unit? Too many companies wait for the annual strategic off-site to roll around before they address the changing dynamics of their market.
— Harvard Business Review / Scott Kirsner
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Then the need to influence corporate culture and create an inclusive innovation story can't be underestimated. 45% of respondents blamed cultural issues for a lack of innovation which is remarkable for such a poorly defined aspect of our working lives. 

I'd argue that it's a side-effect of positive innovation actions that failed or were dropped too quickly after people invested their reputations or energy into them. Few things reinforce a feeling of inertia more than I-told-you-so disappointment. 

Few things infuse a culture with self-belief better than turning ideas into reality, even if they aren't perfect every time. Start-ups disrupt with action, not perfection. 

Kirsner's final point cuts to the chase and is brilliantly simple, "long-term commitment is essential". 

Corporate cultures reject many new initiatives if people believe they are the flavor-of-the-month. When CEOs and other leaders talk about innovation, they need to make it clear it will be more like a daily exercise regimen — part of the way things are done here, from now on — than a magical incantation that delivers instant results.
— Harvard Business Review / Scott Kirsner
Ten things about digital transformation by 10 Digital Ladies

10 Digital Ladies is a networking group for women working in digital practitioner roles such as product management, strategy, engineering and marketing.

Their panel about digital transformation had some interesting insights about inclusive stories, using digital tools well, and managing an organisation going through changes. 

We live in an age of ever increasing complexity. To help us cope with this rate of change, organisations have looked for simple answers to complex questions – adopting digital technologies, tactics, methodologies and ‘digital ways of working’ as the silver bullets of organisation change.

But over and over again we see digital programmes failing to deliver real, meaningful change. 10 Digital Ladies decided to ask why, and what could be done differently at our meetup “Why it’s time digital grew up: transformation beyond easy answers”.
— by Nina Lovelace and Alexandra Burson

You can read their full article on LinkedIn - click here.


10 Digital Ladies is a networking group for women working in digital practitioner roles such as product management, strategy, engineering and marketing.

They run small, informal ‘support and networking’ meetings in London, where mid to senior level women can discuss issues that relate to their digital career and could help them reach their full potential.