Less Thinking, More Doing.

February 19, 2014

by Shawn Fenton

A couple of years ago, Tom Wujec gave a TED talk about “The Marshmallow Challenge”. Teams are given 20 minutes to build the tallest structure possible that can support a marshmallow using only uncooked spaghetti, tape and string. Surprisingly, kindergartners consistently outperform MBA graduates in this challenge.

The kindergartners began building immediately. They adjusted what failed and capitalized on what worked. Working iteratively, their innovative results were a success because they spent less time thinking and more time doing. The MBA grads spent too much time planning. By the time they began construction they had no practical experience and their structures suffered.

Similarly, when tasking agencies to develop concepts, the client’s approach is to identify the single best solution before pulling the trigger on a given project. And in this business, it is only natural for clients to want more ideas, faster and for less money. More often, the turnaround for concepts is now days, not weeks. This leaves agencies little time to think. There is no time for strategy development, thorough research or well-planned mock-ups. This, coupled with the client’s urgency to get to the big idea, generates conflict.

How can we present the very best concept to our clients without time to vet or detail our ideas? How can we expect clients to make informed decisions when they do not have enough information? Under this scenario, agencies often revise a concept repeatedly without any results or fail to move on to develop different ones. A lot of wheels are spinning, but little to no distance is travelled.

How can we improve the process? How can we quickly get a few people in a room and paint the walls with actionable material that gets productive feedback from clients? Simple: stop thinking so much.

Agencies can be more effective if we stop falling into the details of a concept before taking steps towards developing against them. To do this in a digital agency, Creative Technologists are key. Brainstorms must include a well-rounded technologist who, along with a designer, can grasp a concept quickly and then break off to work on a proof of concept while the full conceptual 360 is finalized in the brainstorm room. Working in this parallel path, the lessons learned during the rapid prototyping of these POC’s will remove variables and provide more data around the concepts giving clients something “tangible” to review and make more informed decisions on with these tight turnarounds.

There are several tools currently available that can assist us in the rapid prototyping POC’s for digital executions. Tools like Foundation and Coda can help to quickly pull together functioning elements towards a proof of concept that a client can then react to. And since these prototyping tools utilize code that is often proven and solid, the initial concept work can be used in the finished product. Perhaps even more significant is that using tools like these will free up time to allow our developers to put creative energies towards new innovative solutions on each project.

When we were kindergartners, we learned from our mistakes and took those lessons with us. Now we try to avoid mistakes at a high, and often unperceived, cost. If we can apply the lessons of the marshmallow challenge to our own concept development, what we end up building might not be polished, but its foundation will be stronger, and the idea will stand taller. The old adage, “Work smarter, not harder” never mentions thinking. Next time you are asked to bring some ideas to the table, channel your inner child. Think less and do more.