22 Nov, 2010 – 24 comments
how to solve complex problems
suggest you view the slideshare in fullscreen, and then read the post below
I’m nervous. And when I’m nervous, it’s hard to push the words out, they bottle-neck in the back of my skull and tremble down to my fingers like marbles inside a drain pipe. I’m nervous because this feels like the most important post I’ve written here. Which, to be fair, the most important post of a fairly unimportant blog can’t be that important, but still. The nervousness. I should probably explain …
If you’ve been following the blog lately, you know that I’ve taken some time off to be with someone I love during a particularly difficult time in her life. And since I’ve been here, besides the odd freelance gig, I’ve been focusing on writing the book that over 200 people helped fund through the awesome invention of Kickstarter. If I hadn’t taken the time off, if I was still working in an office 10 hours a day, focusing on clients, office politics, and shiny new technology, the mission of the book would probably still be the same as it was when I first pitched the idea: a list of advertising/marketing best practices. But since I’ve had the time to ruminate, to read more books in 3 months than I’ve probably read in the last 3 years, and to dwell over my last 5 years in this business, the vision behind the book project has grown.
I met advertising at a very strange time in its life. As I came to know it, it seemed on the verge of self-destruction in order to remake itself, to realize the promise of technology, to tap networks of interconnected consumers, and to graft itself across the various organs of its clients. More than ever before, it wants to do more, to be more, and to mean more. And the people within the industry crave a greater understanding of how to change the world. It’s cliche, but it’s true: it’s a remarkable time to be in advertising and marketing. And we shouldn’t confuse frustration with cynicism – people are frustrated, change never seems to come quick enough, but its a productive frustration that permeates our community – consider the amount of creativity, experimentation, and innovation that’s being unleashed day-to-day.
With the opportunity to seek perspective has come a realization: moments like this are rare. Even beyond our industry, the sheer amount of creative power in the world today is unprecedented. As the powers-that-were stumble in this new environment, individuals feel empowered, and with that sense of empowerment has come something truly remarkable: they’re not afraid to care. People care about changing the world. But failure breeds apathy. If we want to sustain this moment, if we want to build a real movement, we have to help people translate their energy into action.
There’s an opportunity here.
In the future, I see a global network of 21st century problem solvers with the understanding and know-how to solve the most massively complex problems; challenges that face corporations, governments, and citizens. These individuals work together to unleash their passion and creativity towards ambitious objectives and tangible change. They undertake projects such as: increasing family retirement investing, ensuring the welfare of the poor, identifying new energy sources, protecting the world from terrorism, and making consumption more conscious – challenges that must be confronted, but have always been too complex for any single corporation, government, or voting block. And each objective, because of its complexity, results in a handful of simultaneous clients benefitting from the thinking and creating of this group (how or if this network charges for its work is a decision to be made by the group at a later date). This may seem like a fantasy today, but it’s nearer to our grasp than you realize.
I’m inspired by the collaborative experiments I see in our industry today:
- The TED community and the explosion of TEDx events
- OpenIDEO, created by IDEO to use design to help solve real problems
- Piers Fawkes, PSFK and its Purple List of experts
- Ty Montague’s recently founded co: collective which has established a network of problem solving shops
- John Winsor and Victor & Spoils, which I had the pleasure of working with all too briefly
- Josh Spear and the Young Global Leaders initiative of the World Economic Forum
- Ben Kaufman’s Quirky, which brings product ideas to life
- … and many many others
These experiments prove the potential for collaborative problem solving, the market demand for new thinking, and the will of the creative class to participate. I’m also inspired by Alex Bogusky’s and Rob Schuham‘s new initiative, FEARLESS, and its ambition to turn advertising into a force for consumer advocacy. In addition, I’ve paid special attention to Umair Haque’s call for a meaning-driven organization and Michael E. Porter’s vision of corporations creating shared value with the members of their local community. If you combine all of these existing ideas, you get something like what I envision for the future of the Bucket Brigade.
Of course, to ever achieve this grand ambition and vision for the future, there are baby steps to be made. First and foremost, to solve the most massively complex problems, participants in this network will need a foundational understanding of complexity itself. The challenges I mentioned above cannot be subdivided to be solved. We need an understanding of the interrelationships, patterns, and dynamics of the systems that produce those behaviors. For an example, you need look no further than the collapse of 2008 – every day we seem to be learning more about the systemic nature of that crisis. We need the tools to connect those dots, and to monitor fluid and dynamic environments. With a greater understanding of the system as a whole, we can select leverage points – the most important triggers on which to focus our attention. And with that attention well-placed, we can work together to generate an abundance of potential products and messages to impact the problem. The most effective solution for a complex problem is rarely ever a single solution, and this network will be able to swarm the challenge with elegant responses. Establishing this foundational understanding is the mission of the book now. The book, title still tentative, will establish a common understanding of complex systems for the reader – a vocabulary, mental models, tangible tools, and relevant case studies of confronting complex challenges. The goal of the book is to be a stepping stone for readers to join our network of complex problem solvers. Of course, if you simply want the knowledge and not the network, that’s your choice – but the value of that knowledge when connected with the experience and expertise of others seems, to me, to be too good to turn down.
So maybe now you understand my anxiety. I’m not hiding or hoarding any bit of this vision. I’m putting it out there, warts and all, for you to review, criticize, and/or to embrace. I can do this because I believe in this idea, I see myself, regardless of how many or how few of you join me, embracing the goal of helping people solve their most complex problems long after the book is finished. But admittedly, to fulfill the full vision I’ll need help – publishing the book, spreading the thinking inside of it, establishing an online presence with the tools for collaboration, and partnering with existing problem solving networks to assemble a truly interdisciplinary force. I want to see this network come to fruition, but I don’t have any obsession with owning or controlling every aspect of it. So if you’re reading this, can help, and feel inspired, think about connecting.
So what do you think? Of course, drop your opinions in the comments. ALSO, if you’re keen to learn more and stay in the loop, I urge you to visit this form and submit your information. I’ll think of submissions to the form as votes for the idea. Also, if you have feedback specifically about the book, what should go in it, someone to interview, or a case to study, there’s a form for that, too.
Wish me luck.
P.S. I want to extend my deep gratitude to the founding members of the Bucket Brigade, the editorial board, who have not only supported the project with their dollars, but have offered invaluable advice and guidance throughout the process.
In no particular order, thank you to: Neerav Bhatt, Ana Andjelic, Stephen Walker, James Sherrett, Mark Pollard, Dino Demopoulos, Ian Lyons, Carl Panczak, Phil Gillman, James Denman, Eugene Chung, Mark Gallagher, Mike Arauz, Matt Creamer, Helen Klein Ross, Casey Flanagan, Dave Daines, Faris Yakob, Balind Sieber, Dan Weingrod, Mark Avnet, Mark DiCristina, Michael Monello, Anjali Ramachandran, Bo Damgaard, Neil Perkin, Graeme Wood, Patrick Syms, Jason Oke, Andy Sandoz, Brian Jeremy, Matt Jones, Gareth Kay, Eva Hasson, Gavin Becker, Regan Meador, Johnny Vulkan, Josh Ehart, Fi Bendall, Mel Exon, Josh Boston, Brent Dixon, Laura Chavoen, William Shunn, Duane Brown, Patrick Berry, Ian Alexander, Darrell Whitelaw, Sarah Blue, Derrick Bradley, Tobias Wacker, Robin Grant, Mike Zeederberg, Adam Corney, James Robertson, John Sumser, Patrick Simkins, Jamie Wilkinson, Anne-Mette Jensen, Scott Bullard, Heather LeFevre, Erin Dorr, Tim Leake, Stephen Cox, Hugh Weber, Kimberly Carroll, Tobias Peggs, Sara Williams, Matthew Don, Carmel Hagen, Jane Friedman, Jabe Bloom, Sara Ashton, Johannes Kleske, Stuart Eccles, Utku Can, Robin Wong, Sean M Aaron, C.C. Chapman, Len Kendall, Terence Reis, Adam Wohl, Richard Nevins, Heather Ann Snodgrass, matt gierhart, Stuart Foster, Shaun Abrahamson, Ted Sink, Tim Malbon, Gavin Heaton, Cameron Maddux, Jurandir Craveiro, Jonathan Hopkins, John V Willshire, Mark Earls, Gabriel Puerto, Avin Narasimhan, Dave Castelletti, Mark MacSmith, Ben Abramowitz, Greg Christman, Ben Kaufman, APFIND, Gerrie Smits, Michael Ferdman, Arthur Alston, Rufus Winchester, Marisa Zupan, Gary Ellis, Ian Fitzpatrick, Chris Stephenson, Grant McCracken, James Cooper, Darryl King, Sabrina Caluori, Michael Kantrow, Tom Kelshaw, Emma Jenkins, and Ryan Jacoby