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      A lesson from Apollo 13 about creative thinking and marketing communications

      By John Almond     

      As, hopefully, we ease out of lockdown many are girding their loins for the daily rush hours and return to work – maybe with an enlightened balance between working from both the home and the office. Many voices have suddenly become experts on how to handle getting back to the office – usually of course, they have no more idea of the consequences than you or me.

      One post suggested that it’s analogous to a spacecraft re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. Get it wrong by a very fine margin and all is doomed for you. I found this analogy interesting. Maybe I needed to check out the film Apollo 13 again. Tom Hanks must be the ideal guy to re-assure me about my path back to water cooler conversations. So I dutifully spooled up and re-ran the movie.

      What struck me most was the way that an almost insoluble problem was resolved by cohesive, collective creativity. A combination of diverse talent, from physicists to spacemen and beyond, all residing at mission control sat in a room and, collectively, solved the problem. Apollo 13 gets back to earth safely, including the re-entry.

      Mathew Syed’s “Rebel Ideas, The Power of Diverse Thinking” pursues a compelling argument that explains why big problems are best solved by deliberately including diversity in a team. After all, most of us (unconscious bias) prefer to work with like-minded people, with attitudes and values derived from similar family and cultural backgrounds, education etc. We don’t tend to warm to people who disagree with our viewpoints. Read The Times’s on-line comments to an article to get first hand evidence. We are all clones constantly seeking re-assurance from our own ‘tribe’. So no surprise that clients and agencies alike are frequented by clone like behavior.

      When we do re-enter the office environment one suspects that clients’ and agencies’ first instincts will be to play safe in the context of marketing communications. A continuation of the creative vacuum of Zoom. Judging by the last year or so of marketing communications output this seems ill-advised. With notable exceptions of course, I’ve usually been confronted with ever more obtuse meerkat ads or bombarded with on-line betting companies telling teenagers and the like to spend all their money, or somebody else’s, whilst gambling responsibly.

      So upon return to reality, however that manifests itself, I suggest that narrow cast “hard(dead)line” meetings (in whatever medium) are offset with a dramatic increase in broader cast collaborations including deliberately chosen challenging rebels to complement and challenge the team when exploring new marketing communication opportunities.

      By way of example, I was recently working on a project to re-position a leading bookseller. I was initially taken aback by the linear thinking which went down well trodden paths, including expensive research. I suggested, so as to introduce some rebel thinking, getting a Bishop (who I knew!) to write a sermon on, “the beauty of the knowledge acquired from reading.” The enlightened output looked at the opportunity from a fresh angle. It was an important contribution to a distinctive new strategy and very distinctive creative work.

      There’s a need to re-invigorate the marketing communications process with jabs of creativity throughout the process. If only to avoid more strains of mediocrity. Better briefs and judgement and more compelling presentations will all result. And, as a consequence, better creative work will break the surface.

      My world is about working with clients and/or agencies to help them be more creative at every stage in the way that they plan and execute marketing communications.

      Book to attend a workshop, or get in touch to find out more or discuss training for your team.