Laboratory of Innovation

A collision is not an accident!

Think of the greatest inventions of the modern era, those which have completely revolutionised our way of living. Whether your first association is electricity, the Internet, plastic, or even Viagra; there is one common element which they all share. These world-shattering ideas, as many others, resulted from encounters between different disciplines; scientific collisions if you will. They were conceived when insight from one field was applied onto a totally different one. That is why remote, sometimes opposite, schools of thought have a tendency of creating concepts and ideas when they collide (even coincidently).

When the same person succeeds in bringing together the different disciplines, they are often considered prodigies (or serendipitous). Archimedes was simply playing in his bathtub when he suddenly shouted ‘Eureka’ and discovered how to measure irregular bodies in water. Isaac Newton was inspired by a random apple falling to calculate the orbit of the moon. Even LSD was discovered by one clumsy scientist, Albert Hofmann, whose experiment went wrong. Yet, such scientific collisions rarely take place within the mind of the same person, especially at our time of professional specialisation. They are much more likely when people of different backgrounds meet.

It is thus no wonder that the late Steve Jobs insisted to build Pixar’s Emeryville offices restrooms in the middle of the building. He realised that his company’s best creations could be born out of random hallway conversations between people who would otherwise never meet. Others who have recognised the potential of colliding disciplines created laboratories whose sole reason of existence is bringing different professions together and exchanging ideas. Think of initiatives likes The Hub, the TED lectures or even the World Economic Forums in Davos!

It’s digital marketing, stupid!

In another article I described the way in which the digital revolution changed everything we (thought we) knew about consumption and consumerism. Now that ownership is turning from an asset into a burden, brands’ relationships with their clients is being redefined, and their marketing strategies must change accordingly. The challenge of standing out in the blizzard of digital information is far greater, requiring constantly-changing expertise.

The way to address this challenge is non-stop innovation. You may squeeze your eyebrows upon reading this, thinking that the world of marketing has already seen and heard it all. Yet, advertising is no different than other fields of science whose progress is nourished by the inter-disciplinary collisions I described above. Many of its successes are also owed to impossible combinations of ideas. Take for example last summer’s TV show, The Spiral, which swept away hundred of thousands of viewers across Europe. Its popularity stemmed from the programme’s ability to bring together a TV series, online gaming, and real-time events like no one had tried before. The latest campaign of the Audi A3 Sportback (for the Belgian market) is another example of how integrating expertise creates a significant added value. The campaign’s advertisers made sophisticated use of direct-mailing, in combination with online augmented reality and tablet gaming to generate high-quality leads. Yet, taking an advertisement campaign to such a large scope is not an obvious task, to say the least. It requires a broad in-house talent consisting of a wide mix of professionals.

The recognition that radical diversity fosters innovation was fundamental when we created Emakina. We intentionally hired people from a very wide range of fields; from game developers to business analysts and from copywriters to political strategists. These talents challenge each other’s conceptions and sometimes even their own pre-existing axioms. I deeply believe that if we succeeded in becoming a laboratory for new inter-disciplinary ideas, it is thanks to this thought-provoking climate.