Start-up culture: Hype or helpful?

3 things I learned from the start-up culture to implement in your team today.

Last year I joined GroupM’s nCo project mSpark – a new model for collaborative learning, experimentation and development. We invited four GroupM clients to nominate a problem that keeps them up at night, and got a small team to work on a solution over the course of 6 weeks. Within this model, we partnered with start-ups through co-working space Vibewire.

But what do these so-called “start-ups” bring to our business and the complex problems our clients are facing? Did we just buy into the hype of the start-up culture or was it actually useful?

Six weeks later I can assure you it’s the latter – for the simple reason that young entrepreneurs are not limited in their thinking and approach in any way. Sure, creative agencies are innovative and like to push the boundaries. However, working on clients’ marketing and media problems gets us in a certain routine and process in which we tackle briefs. Start-ups are working purely for their own product, with their vision, passion and determination to make their idea work.

As agencies, we can’t approach every day like a start-up would. But we can learn from them, and implement their way of thinking in our process and ways of working. Here are three practical things I learned from the start-up culture and ways of working:

1. Post-it’s are everything

We probably used an average of 50 post-it’s per person, per day. Every brainstorm, exercise and discussion was documented on A3 paper and lots of post-it’s. They are one of the easiest ways to categorise, collaborate, and restructure your team’s thinking during discussions.

I also learned why my post-it’s always fall quicker than everyone else’s – peel sideways, not upwards. Minor detail, major impact.

2. Don’t get stuck working on one task

As soon as you start working on a big brief, there’s a chance you get stuck on one task before you move to the next one. Can’t make your way through the competitive review, or can’t seem to nail the one consumer insight? Move onto the next task and revisit later.

Start-ups usually don’t have the time to get stuck for days or even hours – something they do have in common with creative agencies. They move onto another task or a different way to approach the task and change their mindset.

3. Switch roles from time to time

The Creative Director comes up with ideas, the Account Manager works on the budget and the Designer makes it all look pretty. While I wouldn’t encourage anyone to challenge me with Photoshop, switching things up occasionally brings a fresh take on things.

While we were working on our prototype and user testing plan, we divided into roles such as Researcher, Copywriter, Designer. None of us works in either of these roles in their day job, so it was challenging at first to be responsible for one element of our prototype. After an hour, we switched roles and built upon each other’s progress.

How could we apply this in our day-to-day jobs? While I wouldn’t leave budget tracking to our designer (and vice versa!), in brainstorms or during a pitch process switching things up can be the magic trick to great ideas.


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