Open, Neutral, and Communal: A Commitment to Innovation

Certainly, within a particular agency or marketing department, we rely very heavily on strategic thinkers and creative geniuses who conceive of ways to communicate brand values to interested consumers. But we always do this – in nearly all cases – using something that someone, somewhere has come up with.

The list of innovations that advertising relies upon is nearly endless. Advertising (as we know it) came about in the first place thanks to the rapid rise of magazines in the early 20th century. It spread thanks to the creation of radio networks in the ’20s and ’30s. Television multiplied the potential of advertising’s reach and creative potential, starting in the ’50s, and was further catapulted by the creative brains Lucille Ball, Ed Sullivan, and Carrol O’Connor. In the ’80s, we had the explosion of cable television and the ’90s got us the Internet and mobile phones. This decade has given us social media and streaming media.

Clearly, advertisers are deeply reliant upon a world where innovation flows very freely. But we shouldn’t simply be passengers on the Innovation Train. We should actively be engaged and informed, not only about what is currently happening (we have lots of newsfeeds and great blogs for that) but also where we are headed and, most importantly, if there is anything that is getting in the way.

As we begin to close the books on 2010 and look toward 2011, I think we should commit ourselves, as individuals and as an industry toward ensuring we are operating in an environment where innovation can happen. We can do that by focusing on three qualities that are absolutely critical for innovations. We need a world that is open, neutral, and communal.

The Three Elements of Innovation

Innovation is now intimately tied to communications technology. In part this is because many innovations use that underlying technology. But just as importantly, many innovations become known to the greater world through these channels. These channels are the ones that need to be cultivated.

The first way we can do this is to consistently ensure that there is a large amount of content that is open and available. It has become clear that one of the key ways that we get new things is from the combination of already created things. This is true of technology and it is also true of content. The artist Girl Talk has created a complete album pulling samples from other songs. That album was released with a Creative Commons license, which means it can be further taken and embedded into other new works. The concept of “open” needs to infuse our creative thinking, allowing us to make better new things leveraging others work, but also driving us to release our work out to the world to see what new things they can make.

The second thing we need to ensure is that our networks remain neutral. I mentioned this in my last column but it bears repeating. We have to have a network where every piece of data is transported equally. We can’t allow any single entity to give preferential treatment to content of a certain type or from a certain source. If we do this, we are going to narrow our future, because we will decrease the chances that something from somewhere we’ve never heard of will pop up.

The last thing we need to tie all of this together is to ensure that our networks are communal. By that, I mean that we need to take the concepts of social networks – that we operate within a context of the people we know and trust – and infuse it into many of the things that we do. This is probably the biggest new element of the networks that we use and is a redefinition of the concept. Networks previously were built and operated by highly-skilled people with a lot of funding. If you wanted in, you needed to pay for it and play by their rules. Today, networks are built among a group of people with a common interest.

2011 Resolutions

We all love innovation, and many of us want to do innovation. But it’s more critical that we focus on creating a world where innovation can happen. This is what I plan to focus on in the coming year. I want to make sure that this industry sustains itself as it evolves, and that the great things of the past don’t overtake the amazing potential of the future.

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