“The Great Resignation” or “Great Re-shuffle” is reshaping the world of work for the better, as it forces employers to look outside of traditional pools for talent and pushes diversity and inclusion up on the agenda. As Steve Ingham, CEO of PageGroup, observed recently, employers are finally starting to realize and appreciate the power of diverse talent.
The business case for diversity is exceptionally strong, with companies with a gender-mixed leadership team being 25% more likely to experience above-average profitability, and those in the top quartile of ethnic and cultural diversity being 36% more likely to outperform, according to McKinsey.
Businesses are also becoming more focused on building a multi-skilled workforce and investing in broadening the skills of individual employees, with a new survey showing an 85% rise in employers citing multi-skilling as a top priority. Having diverse and multi-skilled teams and individuals within your organization also helps promote divergent thinking; a creative process where solutions stemming from different starting points are offered to solve a problem.
At Wolff Olins, we’re fairly fanatical about approaching each engagement with a multidisciplinary team, pulling members from each of our discipline communities. The belief is that every brand strategy definition is strengthened by designers working alongside our strategists to define the challenge and push the thinking. Equally, what might seem like a pure-play design project can always benefit from a strategic or client engagement brain helping to refine our sense of the audience’s need or business challenge at hand. This triangular thinking approach takes discipline – through how we build our teams, the way we critique design and strategic work as a global organization, and how we make decisions about our recommendations.
We do this because we believe that an approach that is focused on boosting diversity, multi-skilling, and encouraging divergent thinking, could help the industry find its way out of the ‘sea of sameness’ that it’s drifted into. This ‘sameness’ was never more in evidence than at the beginning of the pandemic, when brands churned out identikit ‘we’re here for you’ messaging en masse. If agencies and marketers are all pulling from the same sources for their ideas, then no one can hope to stand out.
To challenge the norm and cultivate a more multi-disciplinary approach, I encourage teams to look beyond the usual places and open doors to adjacent rooms to expand the landscape for problem-solving. After all, we live in a world of increasingly blurred industry lines (who isn’t in “Tech”?) and if clients could find the answer with their closest competitor or the data they already have, they might not be seeking our help.
For me, it’s not only what keeps the thinking fresher, but it’s also what can keep a practitioner engaged in the work.
Finally, a multidisciplinary mindset is also crucial for making the strategic and creative ideas we recommend actually come to life within companies. The brand book, teeming with ideas, often landed with a thud on the desks of business leads, product teams, and people organizations. By always thinking laterally about how ideas can not just build a brand’s perception but a brand’s internal reality, you give your work a better chance of taking hold internally and making its way into customer’s lives in a meaningful way.
With this approach, we are able to push beyond the first solution into new territories. A few examples:
- By thinking about rocket science and NASA, we’ve been able to help a fintech startup draw inspiration to not just sell their core platform but rather upend assumptions about how things work and demonstrate their mission to rebuild the financial system to be more equitable.
- By thinking about history and how labor has evolved, we helped an HR and retirement consultancy highlight that the fundamental relationship between employees and employers is shifting in a way that constitutes a new social contract.
- By using thinking from sociology and urban studies, we helped an emerging mobility player understand that their product is of a lot more value if it’s seen less as just a mode of transportation and more as a key part of building the social infrastructure of cities.
We also see this out in the world. A great example of an outside influence in business is the idea of biomimicry. Often, natural systems have solutions for challenges – physical/structure and conceptual – that we can lift and re-apply in business.
For marketing practitioners across creative and strategy, adopting a multidisciplinary approach enables fresh ideas and new ways of working. For your ideas to succeed, they require:
- Relevance – brands and consumers live in the real world and your influences should too;
- Differentiation – draw on truths from other fields such as psychology, anthropology, and cultural studies;
- Authenticity – connect through your stories, be honest, transparent, and consistent.
To challenge conventional thinking and get better outcomes for brands, here are some key steps practitioners can take:
Look left and right for learning
If your employer sponsors continuing education opportunities, or even if they don’t, seek out free or paid learning in adjacent spaces. Most of the learning you do for your core skills will be on the job. If you’re a brand strategist, use these moments to take a step into an adjacent space, such as service design, UX, psychology, art, etc. I’ve done courses with General Assembly and Cooper to go deeper into design, but consider anthropology, language, literature or other academic disciplines to broaden and deepen your well for ideas.
Fine-tune your filter
Time-starved clients and teams are often afraid to cast a wide net for fear of wasting time or energy with deadlines looming. Push past that concern and find sources of information and inspiration that get you out of your (and your client’s) every day. As you do, you will refine your filter for the ideas or data that could be useful to you.
Overlay and re-mix to make new
Often, the magic happens when you combine or overlay insights from a couple of different points of view – what’s a human truth that might be an analog to a dynamic you’re seeing in a business? Using insights from further afield from the challenge at hand can help reframe and get teams outside of their immediate context.
Lateral thinking helps you make jumps from well-accepted ideas to applying them in new ways to solve problems. Don’t be afraid to do that with language as well. Reject category codes and jargon to avoid ideas and concepts that play into well-worn tropes.