In this day and age everyone, every company, every organization that believes in ideas needs skunkworks – not only agencies, but above all agencies since their whole business models relies on the creation of ideas. I have long been in awe of BBH Labs (@bbhlabs) founded by Mel Exon (@melex) and Ben Malbon (@malbonnington) in 2008; in this time they have become experts in anything cool and have potentially reinforced the already strong position of BBH as a thought leader in the communications business.
Ideas and innovation have always been the key to success – that hasn’t changed across any industry over the last x hundred years; what has changed is the world around them and the types of ideas. Today ideas aren’t simply about changing from hand built cars to a production line, or creating a wireless transmitter but they are about how we use the web, how technology enables humans to communicate and how society has become more than just a network of people, but one of ideas. To be able to sell an idea today, it is no longer enough to jot down three lines on a piece of paper, or show a key visual – we need to understand how it works, what is the execution of the idea, how will it feel to the user and how will they interact with it. Ideas are about the idea and the execution.
In agencies too many ideas simply don’t get sold to the client because they haven’t been prepared, explained and delivered in the right way and they end up in the idea graveyard – festering with the hope that they can be reused in another situation (where they aren’t always a perfect fit, or simply forgotten and left to die). To the dismay of many creatives this happens a great deal more often than we would like – and many a time you can see teams come out of meetings with a sad look on their face and the words ‘they just don’t get it’ passing between them. This happens for a variety of different reasons, sometimes because the ideas are lost in a vat of other work ranging from traditional TV and print to social media applications, and other times because the client can’t fathom that their simple ‘advertising’ agency could contribute to the development of their product, let alone their business and add real value.
The solution is to do it yourself
This is where skunkworks comes in – this is where a unit can choose to take on a project and build it, make it work and deliver it so that everyone can see the full value. Only by applying investment behind good ideas to take them from an embryo to a fully viable proposition can we really show the potential of what we have in mind.
But this takes vision and an understanding of the market that we are in today – where agencies have the opportunity to work for themselves as well as for their clients – and particularly an understanding of the value of the human capital that they have at their disposal. When we hear of companies like Google with their “20% time” this is skunkworks in action – this is an investment on behalf of the organisation in the human capital of the company to push ahead with projects that might not otherwise have seen the light – and it works, see this article of the process in action.
So if today you haven’t got this skunkworks going on, if you haven’t got a process, a vision, a light at the end of the tunnel that lets you build on your great ideas – how can you survive in an ideas economy?