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WWGT (What Would Grandma Think?) and Three Other Paths to the Future

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Predicting the future of media is like knowing which baseball teams will be in the playoffs in 2014. That's great for Vegas but actually kind of cheating or lazy for our industry since most predictions are just based on what's currently happening now. I think "holy crap I wish I would have thought of that" media innovations will be designed around a human experience borne out of the basic tenants of game changing innovation. We can and should look outside the media and advertising world for inspiration.

In exploring the possibilities, what's the direction?

A simple goal. A goal that grandma can understand. Getting to the moon was enormously complicated, involved hundreds of thousands of people and a big game changer on many levels. However, it was based on two simple goals. One the teams could see every night. The moon. The second was the number Zero. That's the number of deaths we wanted to achieve to get there and back. Everyone could understand those two goals. All the engineering, testing, Apollo missions 1-10 and innovation were in the service of Zero. All designed around a human experience. We get too in our heads with marketing speak. Let's pick simple, big goals rooted in human behavior. What's our moon and zero?

Challenge the incumbents. How often do you hear "Don't reinvent the wheel?" Take that literally. The MIT Media Lab did just that by moving the engine of their City Car out of the front where it always is and into each wheel. This allows the car to fold in half, with you in it, so you can park five of them in one traditional spot. An entire new human experience, a new kind of city, can be designed around this incumbent-challenging notion. What are our incumbents? Nielsen TV ratings, DDS/MediaBank (now MediaOcean), spec pitches, FTE $ math....

The art of taking away. If you really want to change the game in an industry or way of doing something, take away the heart of that industry and design a new algorithm. Click Diagnostics removed the core of health care in third world countries: the brick and mortar health clinic. By designing a new algorithm of an SUV, a healthcare worker and a smartphone connected to a network of thousands of doctors worldwide serving thousands of patients (instead of hundreds) people in dire need can get diagnosis, a treatment plan and connected to funds to pay for treatment in a matter of minutes/hours instead of weeks, months or not at all. What could we take away? What if the browser didn't exist? What would the human experience feel like as a result of a new Internet algorithm? We're already seeing it. Spending time thinking about an alternative doesn't take long and it's easy. Having the guts to pull it off, well, that's just fun.

Open play. Seeing around a corner in technology is just a trick of environment and timing. Knock down traditional barriers of R&D and demand collaboration to create a fluid environment. The life-saving passenger side airbag was developed by a guy watching new technology being used by a bunch of kids playing music chairs in a lab he walked across the hall to visit. That's the "open" part; what about "play?" Give people a chance to collaboratively work on problems for which no solution exists today or next week. That's 101 stuff and many organizations do that now. What if you let your people invent solutions for problems that don't exist -- yet? Now we're having fun. Bank all that play knowledge and invention. A need will arise and a wonderful human experience will result. People will think you had a crystal ball.

I'm enormously optimistic about our industry because I know some of our partners, our people and clients are thinking like this already. Game-changing innovation will happen in our industry by setting simple goals, challenging and replacing the incumbent cores all through an environment of open collaboration and play.

This week is one week where lots of talented, smart people are all together. What if we actually had an open environment to collaborate and think of bold actions for just five days? The other 360 days can be about holding your cards close to your vest, looking over your shoulder, trying to outsmart the other agencies, beating your chest about how amazing your company is?

I think it's a safe bet that cocktails will be served this week, so rather than trying to figure this out in sub-committee or on some panel, grab some friends and a drink and dream up a simple big "crazy" goal, challenge incumbents and create new algorithms by imagining things that we hold dear to our core can be replaced by something better. That will create the future of our media.