Leading at the Edge of Chaos… Sounds familiar for anyone in a leadership position, at any point in the past two-and-a-half years – so much more than a punchy soundbite from a creative leadership book. Profound and continuing changes to the way we live and work have marked an uncomfortable cadence, especially for independent agencies such as XYZ. If that has been the recent reality, what on earth does the future hold for us?
If you haven’t had to revisit fundamental aspects of your business since 2020, you weren’t listening to what the world was telling you. What we heard was the need to embrace fluidity, uncertainty and complexity (it may be a little long in the tooth now, but the VUCA – volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity – model has definitely had a renaissance), and figure out ways to make those virtues, rather than constraints, in the way we work. It’s no overstatement to say that experiential was one of the hardest hit of all marketing disciplines in the pandemic, often putting our peers out of business. Our response was to embrace what we call non-binary thinking.
It means we no longer think in terms of back to the office versus remote-first. It’s both. Experiences don’t have to be URL or IRL, they can (and sometimes should) be both. Non-binary thinking isn’t about letting yourself be blown around by forces beyond your control. On the contrary, you need to be confidently rooted in what it is you bring to the world in order to enable fluidity and flexibility it demands. Being 100% confident in your proposition, expertise and skills are what’s needed to make your ability to deal with uncertainty a competitive advantage.
One thing the existential struggles of the pandemic galvanised was that XYZ is a brand experience agency, not a software developer or a tech company, and certainly not a supplier of PPE. What it also taught us is that we can be flexible, expansive and innovative in how we go about defining, designing and delivering brand experiences for our clients.
It’s not about trying to be all things to all people but having the confidence to be open-minded in finding the most interesting and effective ways of getting to your objectives. That in itself embraces the tension of non-binary thinking, being certain of some aspects, yet flexible in others. Once you apply it to one part of your approach, you soon find other areas that benefit from integrative thinking, from the strategic to the tactical and the operational.
The year ahead for XYZ (and indeed the years beyond) will be informed by balancing the tensions of learning and unlearning, being grounded yet fluid, engaging in pragmatic optimism and collectively independent. But what does that look like on the ground? Further developing the potential of our Connector platform. Born of necessity during the pandemic, it helped Levi’s and Nike connect meaningfully with international audiences both physically and digitally when they really needed to.
The opportunities to build on the space between digital and physical have never been greater, and while we celebrate this year’s return to live, in-person experiences, what lies ahead is going to be even more exciting – especially if we leave behind fixed, binary thinking.