Etsy for solder – Tindie sounds like it should be about dating, but it’s about making.

No matter how commercial or  ‘mainstream’ people say SXSW has gotten, you can always rely on Bruce Sterling to keep it weird. He used his closing address to quietly scare everyone to death with his prediction for the future (ageing + urbanization + climate change = big problems), before announcing that he was giving up being a ‘science fiction writer’ to become a ‘science fiction maker’.

 

Sterling, SXSW, climate change

 

Along the way, he gave us an insightful, eclectic and rather foreboding list of people he believes should be at SXSW in the very near future:

Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet: this French politician is educated, feminist, ambitious, environmental, vocal and extremely adept at turning social media visibility into public influence. Sadly, Sterling thinks these are also the reasons she has ‘almost no chance’ of winning the Parisian Mayoral Race.

Gianroberto Casaleggio: Italian web master for the ‘5 star Movement’ (M5S or MoVimento Cinque Stelle). An entrepreneur turned political activist, Sterling sees here an early prototype of what will happen “when smart, connected people with almost no political experience get into power – it’s not going to end well.”

Bruce Sterling, SXSW, climate change

Bruce Sterling has seen the future. It’s not pretty.

Barrett Brown: political writer and satirist, sometimes referred to as the unofficial spokesperson of hacktivist group ‘Anonymous’ and is currently facing 100 years in prison for sharing a link to document relating to the Stratfor email leak. “At the very least, send the guy some books.”

Cody Wilson: a right-wing and free-market anarchist who created Defense Distributed, an organization that created The Liberator, a fully-functioning 3D printable handgun, which has been downloaded 100,000 times. “Thanks to this guy, Austin now has gun stores that accept bitcoins.” 

Ross William Ulbricht: also known as “Dread Pirate Roberts”, the founder of Silk Road: the world’s largest online drugs market, operating on the deep web. “The dark side of all your 2.0 optimism.”

Texas Cryptologic Center: a wing of the NSA that doctors hardware for surveillance and “Answers, really, to no-one.”

Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG): a British government intelligence group that Sterling describes as secret police, agent provocateurs and disruptors of political discourse. “You may well be offered a job by these guys. Don’t accept it. You will not sleep well after this.”

Californians: in huge numbers, due to irrevocable water shortages caused by climate change. “They’ll be incredibly wealthy and they’ll need somewhere to run their tech businesses from. They’ll just move to established cities that have water and buy everything”. If that sounds far-fetched, Sterling reminded us of how California got started in the first place.

 

I travelled to Austin, Texas to cover SXSW 2014 for Ogilvydo, the digital magazine of thought leadership from Ogilvy & Mather.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: main photograph used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.

 

 

Some people call them brainstorms. Some call them ‘Ideation sessions’. Still others call them “a complete waste of time”. Whatever you call it, the act of getting two or more people together in a room to think on the outside of their heads is almost certainly going to happen to you.

So you might as well set it up for success by following these 5 simple rules I was lucky enough to learn from the SXSW panel “Turning a blank page into a great idea”:

1. Get the numbers right.

You often can’t control how many people are going to be in a session, but if you can, keep it around the dozen mark – then plus or minus one. Odd numbers create a more natural sense of dynamism, which is crucial if you want progress. Dealing with large numbers? Break the room up into ‘cafe groups’. Y’know, a natural number of people you might see around one table in a cafe.

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brainstorm, creativity, ides

Brainstorms are often an exercise in random creativity. they shouldn’t be

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2. Get your timing right.

Below two hours is rarely enough time to establish group dynamics, wade through all the obvious ‘first idea’ responses and start generating fresh thinking – maybe even with some consensus. Beyond three hours, people get bored and, even worse, distracted by FOMO*.

3. Do your homework.

Group idea sessions don’t (generally) occur for  no reason. There should be research, background material, competitive analysis** and, if you’re really lucky, a brief. Read them all. Understand them. Then, summarise everything you’ve learned (plus some of your own research) to a series of sketches (not slides) and have them on the wall before you start.

4. Start as you mean to continue.

Don’t wander through introductions or meander through the brief, kick the session off with a short, impactful and creative intro. It could be as simple as a clip from YouTube or a quick game or quiz – but make sure it is at least tangentially related to the topic at hand. Put some thought and effort into your opener and you’ll communicate your expectations: thought and effort from your participants.

5. Pass the mic (or the marker).

Ask your participants to describe their idea, or problem or example (or whatever they are trying to express) as a sketch, without words. You’ll force them to think clearly about what they are trying to express, because they’ll want to boil it down to a simple a picture as possible. It’s also a good leveler: seniority and politics get replaced by drawing skill.

 

These 5 tips were distilled from the SXSW Panel: “Turning a blank page into a great idea”, presented by Edelman Strategist and Ideator JB Hopkins along with New Yorker cartoonist Matt Diffee, who also revealed his 5 simple ways to improve an idea.

 

* Fear Of Missing Out. It’s why you check your mobile phone Every. Thirty. Goddamn. Seconds.

** I was once handed a folder marked “Competitive Anal”. It might have been an abbreviation, but I didn’t want to risk it, so I left it unopened.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.

 

While kickstarter projects and tech-hipster “maker faires” get all the press coverage in the West, China is quietly leapfrogging the hobbyist phase and developing a maker culture that’s a natural precursor chemical to the manufacturing industries that have been the engine of its stunning economic development over the last 30 years. Welcome to the world’s newest hotspot of maker culture: Hua Qiang Bei district in Shenzhen, the sprawling manufacturing city in China’s Special Economic Zone.

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maker, shenzhen, arduino

Imagine RadioShack the size of Wallmart, times 15 city blocks.

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University of California Irvine researcher Silvia Lindtner gave the SXSW crowd an eye-opening update on the state of Chinese maker culture recently in her talk “Made with China,” and the implications are profound. While ‘maker spaces’ are mushrooming in the west, the Chinese government is planning to virtually carpet bomb their cities with xin che jian (literally translates to “new factory”). The first of these spaces to appear in China was opened by a small group of tech entrepreneurs as an annex to their existing co-working space in late 2010. There are about 18 official makerspaces in China right now, but the city of Shanghai alone expects to open 100 more by the end of this year, including a bunch aimed specifically at schoolkids. Next-level is about to go next-gen.

Location, location, location.

It is in the Southern city of Shenzhen, however, where Lindtner sees the most powerful version of these new makerspaces emerging. Imagine setting up your space in a small, abandoned factory in the midst of a 15-block suburb crammed with multi-story electronic and mechanical component department stores. The real kicker is your next-door neighbour: the most concentrated, competitive and varied manufacturing area in the world.

In this situation, the DIY ethos of ‘maker spaces’ goes from tech tinkering to something completely different: a viable platform for rapid prototyping and affordable mass production, which then becomes an on-ramp for building sustainable product-based tech businesses. It doesn’t hurt to be in a tax-exempt Special Economic Zone and have one of the world’s busiest commercial ports just down the road, either.

Culture, culture, culture.

Maker culture is certainly starting to emerge in China, with the establishment of several incubator-style programs and spaces, boosted by the close involvement of MakerBot co-founder Zach Hoeken, who reportedly now spends half his time in Shenzhen. Former Foxxcon CEO Terry Cheng is also involved in the scene, and the government is funding a string of makerspace education facilities aimed specifically at kids.

China, innovation, maker, hacker

China + makerspaces + popup = boom

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Lindtner sees some interesting parallels to Chinese culture in this budding movement, including innovation born of necessity (almost every corner in every city sports an electronics repair shop) and also the often-maligned culture of Shanzhai, which has been described as either  “Robin Hood’s center for design” or a pit of shameless IP theft, depending on your point of view. More recently, the shanzhai manufacturers have started ‘open sourcing’ their own production methods, by readily sharing their ‘bill of materials’(the ingredients list of components and specifications for manufacturing hardware) and this approach has led to genuine innovation, such as Seed Studio’s reworking of the popular Arduino microcontroller board, now dubbed the “Seeduino‘.

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arduino, seed studios, shaizen, innovation

Better, faster, cheaper. What’s not to like about innovation?

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The real hurdle to developing a widespread maker culture of innovation and production, however, may be the Chinese attitude to manual labour. In an era when parents are eager to see their children in office jobs and white-collar professions, a return to the transistor radio repairman may be a tough sell.

Still, there’s a real velocity to what Lindtner is seeing on the ground. Shenzen hosts a recurring maker carnival, organized by China’s Communist Youth League, and 3 local kickstarter-style funding platforms have emerged in just the last year.

It seems the maker revolution is about to go into production.

A version of this story originally appeared on Ogilvydo.com as part of the agency’s coverage of SXSW 2014.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

Transmedia? Interactive storytelling? Multimedia narratives? Whatever you call it, whichever technology you use, you have to start with the fundamental ingredient: a great story.  If you want to be as successful at telling it, follow these rules from The Goggles, self-described ‘old media guys’ and Interactive Directors of multi-award winning interactive documentary “Welcome to Pine Point”:

Keep it Linear

Humans have been trained, for thousands of years, to follow a linear storyline, so help them to understand yours by sticking (largely) to the formula. While digital does allow for a completely unstructured and non-linear format (and it’s good for deliberately non-linear experiences like games), your audience might find it overwhelming. Take their hand, guide them. Pine Point really only allowed users to go forward, or back.

The Goggles took 2 years and about $500k to build their 'online documentary'

The Goggles took 2 years and about $500k to build their ‘online documentary’

 

Make it Layered

Humans are also complex and, when they like you (or your story), they will want to get involved, to spend some time. This is where digital really works, allowing you to create little piles of detail and texture, within a ‘chapter’ or segment of your largely linear story. Pine Point lets users shuffle through a pile of photographs of characters featured in a chapter.

Strive to Remain Human

The Goggles believe another problem with digital is that it encourages us to make things that are too perfect – perfectly flat, straight, round, photoshopped, aligned and cropped. Life, and the people who live it, are not perfect so leave room for imperfections, for ragged edges, in a digital storytelling experience. The aesthetics of Pine Point are very handmade

‘Chasing the Sun’, ‘Touch’ and ‘The Ghosts in Our Machine’ are some of the upcoming ‘new media storytelling’ projects from The Goggles.

A version of this story originally appeared on Ogilvydo.com as part of the agency’s coverage of SXSW 2014.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

 

 

Late last year, an American researcher used anonymised, aggregated data from multiple public sources to answer a question that had previously been only guessed at by traditional in-person or phone surveys: How many American men are gay?

For marketers what’s fascinating about this research is not that we finally know how many American men are gay (about 5%, it seems), but that the answer was made possible by marketing’s buzzingest new buzzword: Big Data.

Predictably, most of the media reaction to the research focused on the political implications of the findings (Here’s the headline: US states that are less tolerant of same-sex relationships don’t have fewer gay men, they just keep more of their gay men in the closet). However, the researcher Seth Stephens-Davidowitz revealed in a podcast interview with Dan Savage (warning NSFW) that he personally has little interest in the topic itself.

Multiple sources is the secret sauce.

In his role as a data scientist with Google and a NY Times columnist, Stephens-Davidowitz has been shining the ‘big data’ flashlight on some fairly provocative topics, but his interest is not in being provocative, per se. His work focuses on the potential of data analytics, fueled by the almost unlimited information generated by our use of the internet, to accurately answer questions we could previously only resolve with expensive surveys of limited scope and questionable accuracy.

Big Data, closet, gay, insight, truth, research, customer survey

Big Data can now measure closets accurately.

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Rather than relying on a single source of direct-survey information, Stephens-Davidowitz combined aggregate data from Facebook (relationship status), porn keyword searches (obvious enough), Craigslist (casual encounters listings), popular dating sites (profile and seeking data) and Google searches (including prevalence of the query “Is my husband gay?”). He then overlayed these sets with more traditional sources such as the US census and Gallup polls and found very strong correlations: a classic case study of combining multiple-source, multiple format data from unlikely vendors to learn something new and, perhaps, previously unknowable.

Let me tell you what I think you want to hear.

Survey data is notoriously unreliable, for a whole host of reasons. I’ve had B2B publishers confide that readers who claim they are responsible for major purchasing budgets, for example, rarely are. Junior staff talk up their roles to feel important, while more senior execs talk theirs down, knowing that publishers and advertisers are fishing for prospects and they can do without the spam. You can ask any advertising creative who has witnessed a ‘focus group’ in action to supply further examples of what people will say to earn a free sandwich and a turn on the microphone.

While prompted surveys are good for measuring intention, big data is increasingly being used to measure un-provoked behaviour. Which is otherwise known as ‘the truth’. As anyone who’s ever signed up for a gym membership can tell you, intention and behaviour are two entirely different animals.

9 out of 10 Marketers plan to use Big Data in their next campaign.*

It seems that while a lot of the marketing industry talk around “big data” is reveling in the technical wizardry of the tools and offering generic business double-speak about competitive advantages, the real story here is that big data, ultimately, knows the truth.

Big Data, marketing, research

Put your hand up if you like the idea of Big Data.

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It will, however, require creative minds to find and combine previously un-related data sets that reveal the truth about our preferences, purchases and behaviours. And this truth, in turn, will set creative marketers free – free to develop counter-intuitive strategies, pursue previously-dismissed niche markets and deliver provocative messages that resonate profoundly with an audience who knows, deep inside, that there is a brand who truly understands them.

* This statistic** is entirely made up, but can you imagine what would prompt a marketer to publicly admit they have no intention of using the latest marketing technology?

** 37% of all statistics are made up.

This post originally appeared on the Firebrand Talent blog.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.

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This week, I’m handing the w2fm keyboard over to Ogilvy Sydney Art Director Leisa Ilander who won this year’s GROWIE award and, therefore, a week with us in the Singapore office:

“I’m sitting in a small room with Barrie Seppings and two women infinitely smarter than I am. They’re talking about co-collaboration, startups and innovation and I’m quietly thinking to myself “this wasn’t in the brochure”…

singapore, growies, ogilvy

Singapore takes its architecture seriously.

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But come to think of it, I’m not certain what type of brochure I was reading. Winning a chance to work in the Ogilvy Singapore office for a week appeared to be welcome relief to what has been a hectic start to the year in Sydney.However during the week, as I’ve been welcomed into this incredibly (both literally and metaphorically) warm office, I’ve realised I may have to re-write that brochure.

Start by visiting the land of un-paralleled award opportunities

On my first day I wasn’t given one brief. I wasn’t given two. I was given twenty nine. Each, bar one, was from the “wall of opportunity”; a magical place where briefs are given a new chance; and where an IBM creative can have a crack at a brief for Castrol, The Red Cross or Coca-Cola; in the hope of producing an award-winning idea.

At first the competitive part of me stepped into overdrive – where do I begin; which do I tackle first; how many can I do in a week; breathe, Leisa, breathe. By the end of the week I realised how far I travel down this path is up to me, but the fact this path exists; breathing space outside of the routine, makes it a uniquely refreshing place to visit.

Discover innovation

By Wednesday I’d settled into my routine of walking the twenty odd minutes from my hotel to the office (something I’m told Singaporeans do NOT do, due to the heat), and was taken to my next sightseeing destination – the IBM Lab.

And although my imagination was not satisfied aesthetically (no scientists in lab coats doing experiments), our imaginations were ignited by the current projects demonstrated to us. Projects I’m sure the NDA would disapprove of sharing here, suffice to say we walked away with ideas for new campaigns outside of any currently briefed work. A trip I’d definitely be interested to replicate when I get back home. A similar one, I’m told, was where a boy and his atom originated.

singapore, ogilvy

But its not all glass and steel

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Don’t forget to see the outside world

Which brings me to my meeting with Bernice Ang and Grace Clapham. As anyone working on the IBM account would know, you need to have something between your ears to work on this client. In a job where we sell complex software and service solutions every day, you need to be able to comprehend a thing or two.

But as Barrie begins his interview I am completely overwhelmed. By their intelligence. By their ambition. And by their comprehension of something so completely out of our world.

Barrie is preparing his uniquely Asian-centric coverage of SXSW, and these two women are giving us a sneak peak into their talk Co-Creation by Design: Asia, Women & Innovation. And it’s incredibly enlightening. Not only in it’s content; but the action itself. To look outside of our agency and category bubble and to prepare ourselves for the future is not only relevant, but possibly crucial for our survival as thought-leaders and taste-makers.

These three things I’ve learnt from just a week working with Barrie and the IBM team in the Singapore office. I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone; I’ve thoroughly enjoyed re-writing the brochure with you.

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Leisa Ilander is an Art Director in Sydney, who always keeps her heels, head and standards high. You can follow her on twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

Most of the interesting work I’ve been pursuing for brands over the last couple of years was directly influenced by the things I learned at South By Southwest, where nerds are celebrities and everyone is trying to launch the next Twitter.

With over 800 scheduled sessions, there is a hell of a lot you can learn in 5 days, but for the sake of brevity, I boiled the findings from my last trip down to a seminar called 10 Things Agencies Can Learn From SXSW.

For me, the most valuable thing I took away was a framework of authenticity, content, relevance and utility as guiding principles for creative and strategic development.

2014: we’re back, baby.

SXSW, texas, Austin, BBQ, Salt Lick

The Salt Lick: the other reason Austin is famous.

Thanks to my friends over at Ogilvydo (the agency’s online magazine for thought-leadership), I am fortunate enough to be heading to Austin again, as part of a larger Ogilvy team bringing you trends and insights for brands, marketers and innovators. My particular focus will be on storytelling: how stories are originated, structured, produced, managed and distributed for brands and their audiences.

There are well over two dozen individual sessions, including a handful of long-form workshops dedicated just to this area and I’ll be doing my best to learn from them all. I’m also looking at startups and innovation culture, growth hacking and future publishing. Here’s my schedule of sessions I’m planning/hoping to attend – if you’ve got recommendations or suggestion I’d love to hear from you.

South By South East Asia: Is America’s biggest tech festival broadening its outlook?

SXSW tara talk

Living in an Asian Megacity is the mother of this particular invention

I spent yesterday afternoon interviewing regional analyst and trendwatcher Tara Hirebet, who is based here in Singapore and operates out of the local chapter of The HUB, a global network of co-working spaces for entrepreneurs, technologists and creatives.

If you’re looking for evidence that startup culture is alive and kicking in Asia, I recommend you start here: it was virtually standing room only on a Tuesday afternoon. Tara was selected to present at this year’s SXSW and I got a sneak preview of her session,  ‘How Overcrowded Asian Cities Inspire Innovation’, which is one of several this year with a distinctly Asian focus.

Another is ‘Co-Creation by Design: Asia, Women & Innovation’ from Singapore-based entrepreneurs Grace Clapham and Bernice Ang. Look for the interviews and previews on Ogilvydo in the next couple of weeks.

You look taller than your avatar

One of the real joys of these conferences is the chance to meet IRL the people that you’ve been reading, following, retweeting and upvoting. If you’re reading this and you’re heading to SXSW, give me a shout @BarrieSeppings

There will be no shortage of SXSW advice articles in the next few weeks (and they all say: stay hydrated, wear comfortable shoes and A.B.C.*), so I won’t add to the pile except to point to the web services I’m relying on to get me there and get me through it:

- hitting up Airbnb for accommodation (which always scarce)

- grooving to these Spotify playlists

- getting some “I met you at” cards from moo.com

- pre-registering for a bunch of events with rsvpster

- keeping Uber up my phone sleeve (taxis are also scarce)

- finding a few local spots via ATXThrillist, if the lanyard crowd gets all too much

Despite all the planning and preparation, I like to think that the random talks – and people – are often the best. It’s always good to have a plan, as long as you remember to stay open to possibilities.

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* Always Be Charging

SXSW Interactive runs from March 7 to 11.

Tara Hirebet is an Asian Trend & Innovation Consultant & Ex-Head of Asia Pacific, trendwatching.com. She will be delivering “How Overcrowded Asian Cities Inspire Innovation” on Monday March 10 at SXSW, Austin, Texas.

Ogilvydo will be covering SXSW Interactive 2014, focusing on trends and insights for brands, marketers and innovators.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

Startup Accelerator 'Boomtown' Launches in Boulder with Alex Bogusky's Help  

Warning: humblebrag approaching

I’m paid to generate ideas and that’s fun, but it’s becoming clearer that execution is the new black. If that’s true, then I’m here to declare longevity is the new chrome. One of the better ideas I’ve had (okay, stolen) in recent times is an internal program we’ve established at Ogilvy Singapore called the Ogilvy Adventure Squad.

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Know the face, but not the name.

The program was created to help tackle the siloification that invariably happens in organisations as they become larger, both in terms of headcount and areas of specialisation. The mechanics of the idea involves throwing a small group of people from different departments together for a short but reasonably hardcore adventure trip, doing or learning something new and physically demanding.

The Adventure Squad kicked off last year with trips to Malaysia to go rockclimbing, out into the South China Sea to go scuba diving and over to Sri Lanka for a what turned out to be an unbelievably good surf trip (4 to 6ft of swell and glassy conditions, in case you were wondering). All the trips offered something for the enthusiasts as well as professional lessons and gear hires for newbies.

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Shared experiences lead to shared goals

The result was a whole bunch of new informal connections and networks springing up all over the business between people who could probably help each other a lot, but so far have found no real reason to say anything beyond “Hi” in the lunchroom. And here’s the truly heartening result: in 2014, the agency is backing it again.

Not coincidentally, the agency is also restructuring to foster more integration between specialisations (I know: everyone says they are doing it but I’m yet to see it happen, at scale, as a result an intentional). While structure and method and org charts are important, I’m a big believer in getting the bloodware right, which is much more an ongoing management process than a run-and-done engineering task.

snowboard

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to pack my Burton jacket and Anon goggles – the next Ogilvy Adventure Squad mission is our snowboard trip to Hakuba, Japan, where the forecast is for snow, snow and quite possibly more snow.

 

 

 

 

 

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

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