Are analytics killing creativity?

I have a dilemma! I am a firm believer in the power of analytics for monitoring and managing your marketing. But I also believe that we live in a world where we tend to overuse analysis tools. The key to reconciling this dilemma is the word OVERUSE!

Whilst I firmly believe that analysis is a key business tool, its overuse is a bad thing. Furthermore, analytics rarely give definitive answers and issues arise when indicators presented through analysis are presented as fact.

In my experience, one casualty of over analysis is creativity. Creativity takes time, and is inherently inefficient. If you are being truly creative, you can’t expect all of your output to be brilliant. It is likely that some of your work will, whilst important in the process, come to nothing!

Over analysing can lead you to kill creative projects that are not going in the direction you expect. But given time these projects may actually deliver great results.

John Cleese on Creativity

I grew up with Monty Pythons Flying Circus, and I believe that they were and are creative genii. I think (maybe because I took Latin at school) the graffiti sketch in the Life of Brian is one of the funniest bits of film ever! But watch full episodes of the Monty Python TV show. Much of it is not very funny, and that’s the stuff that made the screen!  My point is that even talented people like the Python’s don’t hit the mark all the time. But they need the freedom to produce the dogs, to allow them to hit the comedy gold like the graffiti sketch!

Search YouTube, and you will find John Cleese talking a lot about creativity. One point he makes is that to be creative, you need to create space and time “to play”. Analysis may suggest that much of this time is not very productive. Whilst this may be true, it is needed as part of the process, and your analysis needs to recognise this fact.

Its not the Analysis that’s at fault, its how it is used

Analysis itself is not at fault here, its how it is used. It is my view that analysis should be used to inform decisions, not make them. The danger where creativity and innovation is concerned is that the ability to analyse and measure things in detail, encourages a process where decision making is primarily evidence based, driven by data of what has happened/worked in the past.

However by definition, being creative means pushing the boundaries & trying things that have not been tried before. These activities are very difficult to justify based on evidence of past activities.  As Henry Ford is quoted as saying “If I asked people what they want, they would ask for a faster horse”. Whilst it is widely acknowledged that Mr Ford never uttered these words, it does illustrate the issue. If you base creativity purely on research looking to the past, you are never going to be truly creative.

So how do we square the circle?

As Einstein pointed out “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is insane”. As such using past activities & results to inform future actions can prevent you repeating old mistakes and thus is a vital part of business. But the flip of this is that just because there is no evidence to suggest something new will be a success, does not mean it is doomed to failure. Creativity requires you to say “That sounds interesting, my gut tells me it has potential, and there is nothing to suggest it has been tried & failed before and failed so lets give it a go and see what happens!”

Being creative is a punt!

Yes you weigh up the risks & rewards, but ultimately you have just got to put analysis to on side and jump into the unknown!

 

Is a short term cost focus stifling innovation?

If you’ve had a chance to listen to our latest Marketing Matters Podcast, you will have heard us talking about the value of innovation and how, according to management guru Peter Drucker,  innovation is key to building a successful business. However, there is a bit of a spanner in the works:

It’s unrealistic for a small business to be able to do everything in-house. Furthermore, many of the suppliers they may consider to support them in developing and implementing innovation are project-based. Even though the value of innovation is normally realised over time, companies helping to deliver that innovation are too often focussed on maximising the short-term project value. They are looking to their own needs rather than considering the benefit they should be delivering to their customer. For that customer, this can mean a significant, short-term investment cost with the benefit only being realised over a significant time frame. This can be a big risk, even to the point that it stifles the innovation from happening at all.

The problem is that innovative talent is increasingly expensive. Moreover, true talent is often truly expensive! This may be OK at the extremes (look at the earnings of Premiership footballers!), but the idea that talent is highly valuable filters down so that even mediocre talent often values itself beyond the reasonable means of most SME businesses.

The cost of implementation risks repressing business innovation.

A better way…

At BSA Marketing, we aren’t looking for a quick buck. We focus our business model on client-centred long-term relationships. Additionally, we recognise there can be a requirement for investment but we like to benefit alongside our client as they see the positive impact of our input over time.

Here are some examples of how we can deliver true innovation with the focus is on client business benefit

1: App Development.

Our client had an idea to develop an app to allow a wider market to access their products. They discussed their ideas with an App development company who quoted in excess of £10,000 for teh job. The figure was unrealistic for our client and the anticipated benefit they would gain.

We had been working with the client for several years so have a good understanding of their business. This long term relationship, coupled with our knowledge of their operation, allowed us to help them develop a more realistic specification.

By taking the time to truly understand the objectives we were able to go to the market and find an alternative supplier whose quote to develop an effective solution came in at 80% less! Now we have a realistic option!

2. Collaborative website development

An SME Website should be at the heart of marketing for the business. It can constantly evolve.  Often the best approach is to start simple and develop over time

In my experience, with a website development project, the norm is for everyone to focus on the technical build and the cost of ‘coding’ a website. Too often, no-one thinks about content, yet without the content to communicate the business proposition, the website is nothing.  It may not even launch.

The ‘technical build’ approach focuses on a project to implement all functionality from the start.  In practice, the initial use of a site when it is launched tends to be more basic as people learn about it. This early experience may also suggest there would have been better alternatives to the functionality that has already been included, even if it isn’t yet being used! AS with much in business, the reality is a process, not an event. Taking this approach can have commercial benefits.

Using a modern platform such as WordPress, a website can be readily developed for under £1000. (though adding a commercial graphic designer top the project can double this!)

Step by step

To build and launch a website, there are 3 primary cost elements:

  • Design & Coding
  • Creating Content
  • Managing Data

These elements do not all have to be considered as one. Alternatively, a project can be split into separate elements, allowing a company commissioning a website to have input into eth project based on their own unique knowledge of their business. The website company will build the site then give guidance and support to help their customer draw on their own expertise to build content for the site. This collaboration can significantly reduce development costs, and produce a better end result.

Taking this idea further, we have recently we have built a website framework for under £500. This includes full CMS allowing our client to add and then manage the site content. In this way, our client will truly own their website.

Our key is understanding the objectives of our client. A website is nothing more than a tool. It must work for the business. The best way to achieve this is through a thorough discussion and planning of complete, end to end, project beforehand. Most important, this includes discussion of the ultimate business objectives. What ia the site going to deliver for the business and how will it do this?

3. Adapting to lockdown

We wrote about this case earlier in the year. It is a good example of how the long-term relationship-based approach delivers benefits in the most unlikely circumstances. Who would have thought a client who organises specialist conferences would have to quickly switch everything from live events to online webcasts as a consequence of the covid lockdown.

Our existing relationship with our client enabled us allows us to develop a fully online webcast booking and delegate management system that went live in less than 4 weeks.

After only 2 webcasts, the new system had seen a more than tenfold ROI. Additionally, with a highly automated system, ongoing system running costs are negligible. As more online events are held, the value of the investment grows and our benefit grows as we continue to support delivery of the programmes

Taking a longer-term, collaborative approach allows a process of investment over time as the value to the business is realised. A true win: win situation

You can read the full story here.

 

Working from Home – Opportunities Arising

On 18th March the Government told us to stay at home (well, most of us). It was OK to carry on working so long as we didn’t have to go out. Working From Home was born! OK, there were homeworkers before this but now working from home became normal for most. At first, it was novel, then it became more challenging but now, 6 months later when most of us are ‘back in the office‘ I thought it would be interesting to reflect on the experience, not just as a reaction to lockdown, but more widely.

Lockdown forced a new way of thinking and operating but I reckon it has shed light on opportunities that can have a profound and long-term impact.

Working from home. Not for everyone

For some people, the shift to working from home was pretty straightforward. For others, it was more difficult, even impossible. The split between theses 2 groups really depends on the nature of your work.

1. Dealing with Data

These days, data means computers, devices and the internet. I know people who still swear by paper files but the fact is that the days of paper files are numbered. If you work with data that means you work on a computer of some sort and with the steady march to Cloud storage, it’s all about internet connections.  If you work with data and you have a reasonable internet connection, you can work anywhere.

There are other considerations which I will look at below but in principle, if you work with data, you can work from home – or the beach!

2. Dealing with stuff

The story is quite different if your work involves ‘stuff’. You have to be where the ‘stuff’ is. This may be a factory or field, a warehouse or cafe. Unless you can get the stuff you need at home, you have to go out to work.

While working from home is not an option for everyone or even the majority, there are millions of people who can benefit from the opportunities that the ‘Working From Home’ experience has opened up.

My own experience

Perhaps the best way to look at the practicalities is to reflect on my own experience. I worked from home exclusively from late March to early June. I do admit that there were factors that made my experience easier:

  1. No children – the demands of children at home can make working from home challenging
  2. A separate workspace – having to work on the dining table can make it difficult to separate work life and home life
  3. Decent internet – to be effective, your home internet connection needs to compare well with your work-based internet speed

Risk of isolation

With grown-up family at home, I wasn’t isolated but it is easy to see how isolating working at home can be – particularly if you live alone. I feel that working from home should be an option rather than a necessity. Being able to work from home when it suits and at the office, or elsewhere, at other times, maybe gives the best balance.

Importance of breaks

With fewer distractions (daytime TV excepted!), I found it easy to get lost in what I was doing. My home office is in the cellar so I can’t even look out of the window! I did find the lack of daylight to be a difficulty. For these reasons, regular breaks are important. My solution was walking. I tried to get out for fresh air every day.

Zoom is just a tool

Zoom (or Teams/Skype/Google Meet) are just tools allowing 2 or more people to meet remotely. I find them really useful but online meetings can be intense and certainly not the same as a real face-to-face meeting. Personally. I don’t like remote meetings (as opposed to webcasts etc.) for more than 4 or 5 people. There can only be one conversation at once. You simply don’t get the opportunity for ‘side chats’. Just like Homeworking itself, online meetings are now a mainstream addition to the world of work. I would hate to think that every meeting I have from now was online but sometimes, the video meeting is ideal (for modest numbers of participants!).

A change is as good as a rest

I must be honest. By early June, working in a daylight-free cellar every day was beginning to pale somewhat. There was no-one else in the office at that time so it was no big deal to go back to work. I was as socially isolated at Glossop Gasworks as I was at home – if not more so.  Nevertheless, there were some of my lockdown working experiences that I didn’t want to lose.  I have continued to find time for an hour or 2 walking most days and I am now working fewer days in the office. I know I can work effectively from home and I love the flexibility.

The value of convenience

Commuting is a pain! I am lucky as my commute is now only 10 minutes in the fresh air by bike but I have experienced the daily slog into the city centre where it can take over an hour to travel 10 miles. Many people spend even longer commuting to and from their work every day.

One of the real benefits of homeworking is that it is so darned convenient! Every week, working from home can free up a whole extra day to use as you wish. Never mind the savings in fuel, fancy city-centre coffees and that luxury £10 sandwich at lunchtime.  Sure, the shift to homework presents challenges to the coffee bars and sandwich shops that thrive on daily commuters, but I suggest this is only a temporary problem. Coffee bars and sandwich shops are just businesses set up to serve a market. If that market shifts from the city centre to the suburbs then the businesses will follow.

A new approach

I now split my working hours between the office and home. As they are only 10 minutes apart this is easy. I get the benefit of an office environment when I choose and home-work at other times. It is convenient and flexible. I can see the potential for real growth in demand for flexible office space closer to where people live. (Quick plug – check out Glossop Gasworks Workspace) I have heard numerous anecdotal stories of large office-based businesses planning to significantly reduce their reliance on large, expensive, city-centre offices in favour of a more flexible approach based on efficiently interconnected, practical suburban workspaces with a smaller, prestige city-centre location for when it is needed.

People like convenience and flexibility to work the way they choose. Undoubtedly, the lockdown has forced change to be brought on quickly but as new working practices become more normal, there are many effective tools and more options for efficient working than many had appreciated.

We are still in the early days of the new working world and it will be a while yet before the ‘new normal‘ becomes normal. Even so, the opportunities for a more attractive way of working will be hard to ignore in the long term.

Interesting times ahead. If you’d like to talk, do get in touch

Do people really want to work from home?

There is a lot of talk about WFH – or working from home at the moment. And based on the level of resistance to returning to the office when “told” to do so, its certain that people want an alternative to the daily commute. But do they really want to be working from home, or is it more complicated?

I suspect that in reality what people really want is twofold. Firstly to work more flexibly, and secondly to avoid the daily commute. Given this, one obvious solution is to work from home. This certainly delivers these two objectives, but is it really the answer?

Throughout my career I have commuted, including one point where I was doing some extreme commuting between Northampton in the UK, and Aarhus in Denmark.  and I have worked from home! In my experience, neither scenario was ideal. In my current situation, I live and work in Glossop. My trip to work is 3 minutes by car, or more usually a 20 minute walk. To me, this is “Living the dream”, with the best of both worlds!

Working from home has its downsides

Whilst I don’t feel the need to go into the downside of commuting (Though I do know people who claim to enjoy it!) The reality of “working from home” does invite closer inspection!

Whilst everyone is different, in my experience, working from home has three big downsides:

  1. Isolation – working in the office environment, you are surrounded by other people, whilst this makes it easy to interact on work matters, it also allows more general interaction. Those so called “Water cooler moments”, where you can chat to others whilst taking a break from work. Whilst zoom and other video meeting systems can go a long way to replacing face to face meetings required to “do your job” they do not replace more informal conversations so important in building rapport, and enhancing the working environment. In reality, working from home can be very isolating!
  2. The working environment – When working from home, I found the separation of work and home life a challenge! I was lucky enough to have the space to have a dedicated home office, and I would “commute” to that room every day. When I was in the home office I was was “at work”. Anywhere else I was “at home”. This allowed me to separate my work and home life. For many home workers however, this is not the scenario. The “office” is a laptop in the kitchen or dining room table, maybe I am getting old, but for me this is OK for the occasional bit of work that needs doing now, but not an environment that promotes sustained productivity. It can also make it more difficult to create an ergonomically correct environment. Living with a physiotherapist, I know how important this is to health and wellbeing!
  3. Distractions – Again, I was lucky in this aspect. when I was working at home, other occupants were out at work. But trying to maintain focus, when others are in the house going about their day can be a challenge, especially if you add children into the mix.

All in all, I find working from home on a regular basis a challenge!

The middle ground – The new way of “going to the office”

So if you are not wanting to work 100% from home, and not wanting to commute, what is the alterative. The alternative is finding a new place to work, somewhere where you can engage with others and get those “Water cooler moments”, and that are set up to provide an environment conducive to productive work, and a professional place to meet people should you need to, free from the distractions that can be all too common in the home environment. Somewhere that you can access as and when needed. Historically this place would belong to the company you work for, but it doesn’t need to. Increasingly these facilities are found in business centres, shared offices and co-working spaces. Whilst these are widely used by the likes of Start-ups and freelancers, they provide the perfect working environment for all those more traditional jobs that are now being done “from home”.

To conclude – A prediction

I think when all this washes out, the idea of everyone commuting to a central location to work in a corporate office will be seen as old hat. Central offices will be smaller & more flexible. A place to meet clients and for teams to get together when zoom just doesn’t cut it. I think these offices will be smaller and more importantly cheaper.

By not investing in big central corporate offices, this should free up resources to allow workers to access more flexible facilities close to where they live. Whilst they may not be appropriate all the time – even for me working from home occasionally is a great option – they would add useful flexibility to the mix.

In closing, I think its is worth highlighting the fact that this scenario works for part of the workforce, if you are in a job where you are working with “things”, whether manufacturing or distributing them then the traditional, central model may be here to stay. But for everyone else a more de-centralised model may be the future.

As for the city centre infrastructure (Cafes, bars shops and the like) that are now struggling as people avoid the commute. In reality, their customers still exist and still want these services. They have just moved. I am sure that the smart business will follow them!