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Why innovation isn't always positive

Posted by Chris Arens on August 20th, 2014 at 4:04 pm

Editor's note: Chris Arens is the host of the iMedia Brand Summit.

I'm sure most of you have heard that there are two sides to every story, or that for every positive there is a negative. For some of you who enjoy pontificating on paradoxical challenges such as these you might have surmised that our entire world is made up of opposing forces. Think about it a battery has a positive and negative side, volume up (+) volume down (-), temperature (I mean why is Kelvin not just "0" rather than -273.15 degrees?), and even basic numbers have a positive and negative attribute. Lastly, the Earth is controlled by two magnetic fields playing off of each other creating Poles (i.e. polar opposites). So given this dynamic and ever-present relationship with one another, I've come to realize that for everything in our world there is a seemingly positive and negative state - One man's heaven is another's hell!

Recently, I've been studying up on human behavior, and really all of us in the advertising and marketing world should always be brushing up on this subject matter. Through my studies though, I've found that our brains are attuned to creating efficiencies in our everyday lives. It's how we can go from a band of wild clansmen to a "civilized" society that can transport 400+ people via air, over the course of a few thousand years (side note: think about that for a second, just a few thousand years ago Arches were the biggest accomplishment in human engineering, and now seemingly a second later - in universal time whereby all that we understand to be true is condensed into one calendar year a few thousand years is nothing more than a few milliseconds of time - we can take flight and even leave our planet!). There is an innate drive in our collective brains that strives for efficiency - we are compelled to build a better tomorrow. But for all of these efficiency gains, I can't help but feel there is an equal and opposite force that, perhaps, isn't even being considered. I have to ask myself what's the downside to building a better tomorrow?

Well - I've found one!

Take a step back and think about present day. I have the ability, day-in and day-out to touch the lives of thousands of people (both positively and negatively, I might add) throughout the globe and through a variety of different means: Social media, Air travel, email, phone calls, text messages, IM, video chat, etc... This is all possible because of our drive toward innovation and ultimately toward making things "easier." But is it really easier?

Not that long ago if I wanted to reach millions of people with my brand's message, there was one easy solution: TV Primetime. Not today! Let's just focus on TV for a second, my connected TV has over 1,000 channels of content to choose from and that doesn't include the basic broadcast and cable channels that my Satellite provider delivers via a coaxial cable. So while as a consumer getting the type of content I want may be easier and cheaper (but again, not sure it is really cheaper - but that's another post waiting to happen) as a marketer this has made our lives a living hell!

The always-on, connected consumer is harder to reach and harder to engage and ultimately more expensive to have a relationship with. Even the promise of true accountability via digital delivery systems, hasn't really made us that much smarter. In fact it's driving an industry culture that moves away from traditional creativity - and moves us into truth and evidentiary execution (that's both good and bad).

So back to my earlier point, what if all of this easier has really just made our world more complex. What if that's the story? That efficiency and a better life are nice goals, but without a truly platform approach to the world at large we are creating more complexity and ultimately a harder life than we could have ever imagined. And if that is the narrative, well damn our jobs DID just get harder and we are left holding the bag of S%&$ with our bosses asking us to "figure it out" and to do something about it.

Well, that certainly turned into a dismal state of affairs didn't it...but remember there are always two, and many might argue, three sides to every story. And I have to face the fact that grim and bleak are not true for me and that I tend to focus on the positive side of the spectrum(s). So I bring with me a bag of hope to go along with that other bag I just dropped in your lap: What if all of this complexity is there because we are overlooking a simplicity that binds it all together?

Well - I've found one of those too!

Values! We are all human, and by nature are tied to some fundamental laws that govern our very existence. I implore you to look beyond the demographics, the psychographics, the qualitative, and the quantitative and recognize that value-alignment is the new s! See each organization, mostly subconsciously, emits a set of values that create the M.O. of the company. In our over-commoditized existence, customers, mostly subconsciously, pick the brands that they feel best align with their own set of values. Don't mistake this for a value trade off between organization and it's customers. I'm literally talking about the character of a company to be an alignment mechanism to the character of a person or set of persons. Think about it for a second: when you feel aligned with another person, you can't wait to be in their presence again and again. Well, let's face it a company is nothing more than a band of people that have dubbed themselves by a moniker that identifies them.

SO...Your mission, should you choose to accept it - walk away from your computer, think about your organization and what it stands for. What's the purpose for your existence? Now how does that align with your customers’ value-system? When you start to answer these questions, your job and life will become easier, I promise! Only that's a lie, because you'll actually have to execute and that's where it get's harder....

"Broken light bulb on red background" image via Shutterstock.

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