The Princes of Serendip – How to combine the power of science and art by leaving nothing to chance

This is a presentation I gave recently at Google’s Weird Science event on creativity and science coming together in marketing….

Here are the speaker notes to make sense of the pictures:

Slide 2. In the context of this afternoons session by science I mean technology and data

and by art I mean creativity and the expression of ideas and human insight

It is interesting that historically Science and Art have been very close bedfellows. Da Vinci was of course a master artist and expert scientist. It is really only since the enlightenment that they started to become separate and distinct disciplines

Slide 3. So the main challenge we now face in the world of modern marketing is to find ways of bringing art and science together as a natural part of how we solve problems creatively, rather than just rely on luck and happenstance. How can we blend skills, talent, mindsets and ideas from both art and science?

Slide 4. We can learn a lot about how to do this from the three princes of serendip whose exploits inspired Horace Walpole to coin the term Serendipity

These three princes according to the ancient myth were sent out to explore the Kingdom by their father in preparation for Kingship. Their exploits taught them so much and prepared them so well, that when stood accused of stealing by a neighbouring king they were able to explain their innocence and escape. They became famed for “always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.”

Slide 5. So serendipity isn’t about good fortune or fate or luck. It is about doing everything you can to be prepared to capitalize on good fortune when it comes your way.

In the creative marketing context serendipity is a crucial part of harnessing the power of bringing art and science together. Creative breakthroughs often come from chance discoveries, conversations and experiments. And they are more likely to happen if we create the right conditions and put in the spadework in advance.

As Louis Pasteur observed, “chance favors only the prepared mind “

Slide 6. So I am going to share 6 ways that at Dare we try to bring help art and science together to give us the best chance of serendipitous results

Slide 7. Firstly you have got to put the scientist and artist together

This is the Dare creative department it is a PR shot, so it really only looks this tidy and calm once a year. We physically put artists and scientists next to each other. Not a unique or massive breakthrough but a crucial first step to combining art and science.

We also run what we call craft teams who work in an agile iterative way. These are multi disciplinary teams of specialists working together on problems. Truly collaborating not just passing the baton.

Slide 8. A pure example of this way of working is something we call Dare 24. Every month we take a team of people from lots of disciplines and give them 24 hours to work with a local business or charity completely free of charge to try to solve a business problem they are facing. It is a small team, focusing on one thing, with lots of differing points of view and skills where the idea can come from anywhere.

Slide 9. In a similar way this app for Penguins launch of Stephen Fry’s new book was developed by a craft team

In this case the craft team included a partner from outside of Dare, an artist called Stephanie Posavie who designed the visual flower device.

Slide 10. To truly combine the power of art and science you need to be prepared to collaborate with people outside the building. And you also need to be prepared to do what you can to get better at collaboration. I think there are some key changes we need to make to how we collaborate which I have blogged about in the past…..

1.Change up the goal of collaborations from just being about building consensus to instead about achieving greatness

2. Change up the role of the client to become the cross agency team’s quarterback

3. Change Up remuneration so participants are rewarded for the group’s performance

4. Change up working practices and environment to foster and enable collaboration

Slide 11. The second way to combine art and science is to create a culture in which every idea counts. Where ideas can come from anywhere, from scientist or artists.

Of course we care about the “big idea” – it is often an essential part of creating coherence and value for the customer across multiple channels.

But brands are built slowly piece by piece in the mind of consumers and so it is important to care about small ideas like this one.

This piece of creative search for B+Q ran around stories about England cricketer Matt Prior’s breaking of a window with a cricket bat.

A culture in which every idea counts is more likely to encourage ideas that blend art and science to bubble up from any where in the team

Slide 12. The other thing we always try and do is use art to keep people at the heart of what we do and use science to empower them

In this campaign for EA , users were able to customise an avatar.. This was a highly relevant way to bring the core proposition of the game to life as it was all about customisability.

But in this case the avatar was human! We let the community vote and the human avatar got a mohican, steam punk outfit and angel wing tattoo. Using tech to give gamers control was of course a highly relevant way to engage the gaming community!

Slide 13. Sometimes the simplest ideas are the most effective

For this launch of Baileys new flavour we used a simple Network effect to create reach. For the launch of Baileys Biscotti we invited Facebook fans to nominate a friend and they would both receive a free sample.

This created a network effect that added 200k fans to the Baileys page in just 2 weeks and contributed to their most successful new variant launch

Slide 14. Literally bringing art and science together by informing every step of the creative development process with Data

Data has always been used by agencies to create insights and generate the brief

But why not use data to inform execution and implementation as well. Having a true test and learn approach to marketing development.

Slide 15. The lean start up movement embodies this principle and is about taking the simplest version of a product to market as possible in order to learn from customer behaviour and then relaunch moving through this cycle as quickly as possible

Slide 16. This sort of site work for our client Sainsburys is only really possible with a craft team approach

Conceived and designed and developed in 3 months it brings to life the brands new proposition live well for less

Required the collaboration between brand planners, user experience planers, designers and developers. And of course the client

Slide 17. Another way we can blend art and science is to think about the role of magic. Magic is the ability to create something unbelievable that seems like it doesn’t have any real world explanation. And as arthur c clarke put it , “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”

This is a product that our Dare labs team created called Remote Pallette. It is an app for iphone and ipad that lets you use your iphone as a pallette and your ipad as a canvas

So it is quite a simple technical product, but quite a magical experience. Somehow you feel that the paint is actually being transferred from one device to the other by your finger.

Often there is an opportunity to create a magic in the minds of consumers with quite simple technology

Slide 18. But the ultimate way of creating the chance for serendipity and bringing together art and science is to start with firm foundations and ask why are we doing this in the first place?

Its all too easy to start with assumptions about the answer to a brief, and then relegate artists skills to just colouring in and scientific skills to simply engineer.

And it is easy to rely on intermediate, soft measures as a sign of success – how many people were engaged? Did we get enough likes?

Instead we like to start with a game of truth and Dare. What is the truth that is at the heart of how the brand plays in the real world. What do we dare to do about it?

It helps us think about growth – how to make brands distinctive so they are top of mind, how to use engagement to increase our constituency of adopters and drive reach.

And it helps us get to something that is of a higher order What is the vision, belief or values of our brand?

Slide 19. It is also important to create a brief for art and science that is a problem that needs solving

“Constraints shape and focus problems and provide clear challenges to overcome” Marrissa Mayer of Google (now Yahoo)

Art and science have more of an imperative to come together to solve problems when there are constraints to over come

It is like Frank Gehry’s Disney Hall in LA, constraints to do with acoustics, audiences and locations meant he and his team needed more daring creative solutions.

But it can be easy to make the mistake of using parameters or a list of deliverables to create constraints. And then all you get is an expected answer.

The best type of constraint is a problem. Problems are constraints that challenge us to be creative to solve them.

Slide 20. My final thought is that combining art and science is not destined to turn out well. It is largely up to us.

Andrew Keen in his recent book Digital Vertigo describes the feeling of being overwhelmed by digital and social technology that one feels compelled to be involved with.

And the implicit bargain that is at its heart – that access to free digital services in exchange for personal data.

But the thing that really stuck with me is Keen’s description of technology as a “macguffin”. A macguffin is the filmic device that hitchcock uses in all his films. It is a plot device that seemingly is important but just turns out to be a tool for dramatic effect.

If technology is a macguffin, then what matters most isn’t the tech itself, it is what we use it for and how it represents us a human beings.

Brands and their agencies are responsible for a lot of the digital world that people interact with and can play a large role in shaping a positive future for digital technology’s role in our lives.

So I think we could do with talking more about how the work we produce can improve our relationship with technology.

How can we do more to champion interoperatbility, openness and generative, diverse and expressive digital products.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s