How systems change and how to affect change in the ad industry
This is a video from a group of people called the Berkana Institute. As I understand it, they are a non-profit organisation that looks to use the power of community to create sustainable change for the greater good of the planet.
A fundamental component which drives what they do (or did – they are in a period of ‘rest’) is their theory on how systems change.
As one system culminates and starts to collapse, isolated alternatives slowly begin to arise and give way to the new
How Berkana describe what they actually do based on this insight around systems change is fascinating and I think there is a real opportunity for the ad industry to borrow from this model (perhaps rather crassly given the worthiness of the Berkana Institute’s mission and I’m repurposing for the ad industry…)
In the video Deborah in the video describes, the institue does four things to facilitate change:
1. Name… whilst many pioneers work on problems in isolation, they may be unaware that they are part of a global community with shared values, problems, ambitions etc So the Institute looks to name the good work that these pockets of pioneers are doing to highlight the importance of their work on the global stage
2. Connect… Berkana create the spaces,both virtual and real for the exchange of ideas to provide clarity of thought and motivation for the pioneers.
3. Nourish… create the conditions and resources that enable the sharing of wisdom and building of relationships for the pioneers to progress.
4. Illuminate… putting the spotlight on the pioneers to enable others to join in and get behind their efforts
But what I found most interesting was their role in providing ‘hospice’ for the ‘dying systems’ – the compassion for the ideas and people that are failing. Because when you want the system to change, you also need to offer a lifeboat for the people from the old system to participate in the new.
Much of the doom-mongering dialogue in the ad industry is based on this theory of systems change. Old network monolith agencies in need of hospice versus the new, young, hotshop, digital, ‘agile’ agencies that are coalescing to create the new order and offering the path of future advertising enlightenment – often offering up a new way to create sustainable demand and economic growth (if growth is the answer – but that’s another blog post).
Having worked in both large and small agencies, I think there is a definite opportunity for an industry body to assume the roles of the Berkana Institute. This would accelerate the systemic change the industry needs right now. Some bodies will claim they are already doing this but what I don’t see much of is ‘hospicing’. Many of us are all too quick to champion the pioneers and alternative ways of doing things but to really accelerate the systemic change required across the industry (whether that system change is to address the talent shortage, agency renumeration models, retention of IP, moving from a post-industrial economic growth driven model etc etc) we have to learn to bridge the gap between the stability and robustness offered by the network agencies (the global ad guys who have the ear of Fortune 100 CEOs) and the new systems of thinking that are forming outside of the established relationships.
Which leads me to my final thought – right now, where is the better place to be a catalyst for changing the advertising system? Do you think it’s better to be on the inside, within a global network agency – the established system – leading the global strategic conversations and influencing multi-billion dollar corporations from the ‘inside’, or on the outside of the established system, riding the wave of Moore’s Law, working on truly innovative projects with like minded people at a pace and impact that has the potential to disrupt the old system and force externally. Initiatives like Alex Bogusky’s Common spring to mind where he left his agency to start his movement free of the shackles placed on him by the old system. Or Damon Collins and Richard Exon who recently launched their new venture ‘Joint’ after leaving Y&R/RKCR.
I’m sure there is no right answer but would be interested to know your thoughts. And if this idea of how systems change can be applied to the ad industry what is the likely dominant new system that is going to emerge?