Dishing: Keep Those I's on the Prize

News flash: there may be no "I" in team, but there most certainly is one in media. In fact, there are three: insight, ideas, and innovation. With the sweeping pace of change in the media landscape, this triple-I combo spells the new core competencies in our industry. They are the catalysts for success and the launch pads for the fast track. In other words, they're "must have" ingredients for communications platforms that combine content with context so compellingly that they capture consumer attention amid increasing clutter, noise, distractions, time scarcity, consumer control, and every other sky-is-falling trend bemoaned at media conferences.

Fortunately, the three I's are all members of one family - born of the same gene pool, sharing common DNA. That DNA has creativity at its core - the ability to develop a new thought, find new connections, and establish new links between existing concepts.

Roger von Oech, the famous head-whacking, pants-kicking creative thinking guru, once said, "Creative thinking involves imagining familiar things in a new light, digging below the surface to find previously undetected patterns, and finding connections among unrelated phenomena." Definitions of insight, ideas, and innovation clearly reflect their evolution from this lineage.

Insight includes creative vision, intuition, and the quest for underlying truth. Its dictionary definition is "the capacity to discern the true nature of a situation; penetration" and "an elucidating glimpse." In our company, insights are derived by identifying common themes and idea-inspiring linkages between consumer, brand, and media truths.

Ideas are informed by insights. They require a sense of discovery, which Nobel Prize winner Albert Szent-Gy"rgyi described as "seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought." Jack Foster, in his illuminating book, How To Get Ideas, defines an idea as "nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements."

Innovation, as defined in James Higgins' book 101 Creative Problem Solving Techniques, takes creativity a step further by defining it as "the process of creating something new that has significant value to an individual, a group, an organization, an industry, or a society." Innovation, then, could crassly be said to convert creativity into cash.

These three creative I-concepts spell the recipe for our media product today. Insight offers the consumer understanding that serves as the launch pad for our work. A compelling idea should drive the strategy that outlines a fresh path to consumer captivation. And innovation should be the yardstick for activation so that every dollar we invest on our client's behalf pays back in value far exceeding that dollar.

Now we know that insights, ideas, and innovation are three siblings in the family of creativity. The question is: How do we nurture these I-deals in our companies?

It starts with our hiring process. I've heard that recruiting in the days of the full-service agency "media department" typically involved a math test and questions about Excel competence. Certainly, when we are investing billions of dollars on our clients' behalf, being able to account for that investment and balance the books remains a critical core competency.

But in today's environment, we must demand more. Consider what one of Leo Burnett's legendary top creatives once did. This imposing, cowboy-like creative director started an interview by asking a young account exec candidate to describe something creative he had done. Then he asked for another example, then another. And he continued down this path for the entire 45-minute session. Just one question, with many answers required.

Ask the same of your existing talent, too. Make it a part of an annual performance feedback process and a part of regular team discussions, as well. What insights has the team had or leveraged? What ideas frame its strategies? What innovations highlight the activation plan?

Hire idea people. Then reward them for their ideas. This will ensure that your Excel spreadsheets reflect high profits for the long term and that your company defines the successful media company of the future.

Jana O'Brien is chief research officer, GM Planworks. (

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