The future of the creative workplace will be forever beta – as it should be

By Ian Haworth, Chief creative officer

August 14, 2018 | 6 min read

Like death, change comes for everyone. Whether or not that involves a white horse is debatable.

Photo by anna on Unsplash

But unlike death, change isn’t the end. Despite what people say.

I’m an older bloke. Well, ‘old’ for my industry, I guess. Not exactly Prince Philip. But I keep myself in shape. I go swimming every day. Hopefully, I’m not going to drop anytime soon.

Given my age, people would assume that technology terrifies me. Threatens me.

But it’s the opposite. Change excites me.

And nothing’s changing faster than our industry’s creative workplace. Technological advancements in AI and machine learning are defining and altering our capabilities.

It means we’re forever in beta – always evolving, always improving.

We should welcome this.

Because we need technology to augment our imagination – not hinder it

Tech and creativity need one another in our industry. A robot won’t be able to create an imaginative ad campaign. Our spontaneous, gut reactions can’t be emulated by a machine. But they can be enhanced.

Technology will have its place, delivering and augmenting our originality of thought. No question.

Creativity will still be king, queen and everything in between. It’s just that technology will play an even bigger role in the future.

Therefore it’s imperative that people are motivated, that they can be bothered to learn, to keep up with this change.

The breakneck speed of agency life now requires us to work at pace. You’ve got multi-skilled teams brought together for short periods of time.

So despite the whole ‘technology destroys interactions’ spiel, it’s actually going to bring creatives closer together. But only if they let it.

Interpersonal skills will improve. Not by way of animojis or gifs broadcast straight into your frontal lobe. By talking. By using new tech to communicate, to get where we need to be by going forward together.

Because if you can’t collaborate, can’t iterate with people from different disciplines, then you just can’t move forward. Like the technology you’ll be using, you have to be open-source. Able to bend to what the task at hand requires.

The industry waxes lyrical about this a lot, but it’s not as widespread as you’d think. Often, people won’t aim for goals beyond their P&L, outside their department. The tech is shut-off, the people are shut-off.

This is silly. This is siloed. This is going to change.

Because technology’s going to give us more time to be creative.

Technology can be seen as a tool – a means to an end in the creative craft. You’ve got stuff like Adobe’s digital painting kits, which spatter your screen with the same precise flicks of an actual paintbrush. It’s there to help, not hinder.

Tech drives the advancement of creative tools – stuff like AI, AR and VR. Stuff that’s going to eventually catch up with our expectations, with what we’ve seen in sci-fi films. You get more toys to play with when you embed tech within creative.

On the contrary, it can also be really, really boring. It can deliver production on scale, using machine learning to dig through stock photos in minutes. That used to take you hours. Sometimes even a whole day. It’s labour intensive. Mechanisation doesn’t take away your responsibilities – you still use your creative skills to judge the images.

When you don’t have to trawl through stock libraries littered with memes and bad actors, you can focus on your actual job. Thinking. Doing. Tech is an enabler to the modern creative.

With that liberation comes a crackdown on creative cowardice.

As the rate of change accelerates, courage will be the key differentiator. We have to work with our clients to give them the confidence to take risks with their work. If not, they’ll get comfortable. Then they’ll get left behind.

You’ve got to adopt that constant beta mindset. That’s key to the thinking behind Google – and it seems to do all right.

Google is constantly iterating and taking risks, leaping ahead of the competition as a result. As creatives heading into the future, it’s imperative that we’re comfortable with being uncomfortable.

And even on a superficial level, the creative workplace will be overturned.

Flexible working hours and locations are synonymous with millennials and Gen Z, but an ageing workforce brings another level of elasticity into play. People live longer now. They have buckets of experience. They’ll either move from different departments, or even from entirely different industries.

There is an economic divide in our industry at the moment, and that may well increase further. We need people from different backgrounds. We need people who can easily adapt to the global market, because the creative workplace is going to spread multinationally, like jam that comes up with really great ideas.

The future of an industry obsessed with a certain stereotype looks very different now.

You get a lot of naysayers moaning that we’ll be slave to adtech companies, that everything will be programmatic to the point where there’s several thousand bids deciding which toothpaste you use.

But at the end of the day, if you don’t have an original idea, it’s redundant.

I’ve been reading The 100-Year Life and it’s put everything into perspective. Life’s too short to dwell on the past. I was just as excited about the first Mac as I was the new iPhone.

Maybe I’m naive. But I’ve lived through a ludicrous amount of change and I’m still hungry. I’m still curious to learn about every incremental rung we climb up the ladder of progress.

This is a Darwinian crossroads we’ve reached.

To never be beaten, you’ve got to be forever beta.

Ian Haworth is chief creative officer UK & EMEA at Wunderman


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