If you're anything like me, the future can be absolutely terrifying. As the philosophy goes looking backwards too much is depression, looking forward too much is anxiety, living in the present is peace. So how do you focus on the future without becoming anxious? How do you learn from the past without being depressed and live in the now whilst embracing what's next?
I know it's cool to embrace the future, love Elon Musk and pretend like you're a pioneer of a revolution that's on the brink of changing the world, but it's not uncommon for humans to be fairly scared of change too. Particularly when it fundamentally threatens your job, sense of purpose and life as you know it. For that reason I now respect my elders, parents and grandparents even more so than before. The oldest person I know is an amazing 94 year old Irish lady, just think of the world as she knew it 94 years ago and what she sees around her now and how she openly embraces it. Yet a friend of mine who also works in the agency world recently told me if you took someone from 300 years ago and you put them in today's world instantaneously they would actually die from the stress of what they saw around them. So yeah, I'm afraid to break it to you, when Marty McFly teleports in his Delorian to a world with flying skateboards and super charged Nike trainers he quite possibly would have just been so overwhelmed he’d have popped his clogs.
Moore's law says that computer chip power is compounding and will therefore double year on year. So if you imagine we started in 1970 at 1, 57 years on we are up to a number I can’t calculate. The point is the power of chip technology is still often cited as the single biggest barometer of technological advancement. Recently on a surprise trip to see my brother for his 40th birthday I was picking his brains on the matter (he’s a nano physicist in Lyon University and I'm immensely proud of him, so this is a shout out to him). He tells me his even more intellectual other half is working on “more than Moore's”. So whatever we all thought was going to happen may all of a sudden change dramatically. The point is it's unpredictable and nobody actually really knows. If you'd told taxi drivers 15 years ago that there would be button on your phone that connected a global network of taxi drivers and that you could that very same app in London, New York and Tokyo they simply wouldn't have believed it, nor would most of us. The Ubers of the next decade haven't and couldn’t have even been imagined yet.
I often talk to people about the pairing of technologies and how this also can make huge step changes in the world as we know it too. For instance, talking purely hypothetically, Pinterest’s image matching algorithms might all of a sudden be used by a start up that's creating A.I. powered creative output. Think graphic designer, copywriter, researcher, planner and strategist all bundled into one and sat inside a computer program. The next minute you have a tool that can look at every single image on Pinterest which is now in the region of 75 Billion and can create something based on the creative of the best designers on the planet in a second. Nutella this year created a series of 70,000 different packaging designs that were made by A.I. technology. They say A.I. is only as powerful as the data source that it's working from; Instagram, the app we all load 80 million images to a day and then tag with all the content titles of the images to help them out even more, well that right there is one of the best image research data sources for a creative A.I. bot on the planet.
Which is probably why people often ask “I don't know how you do what you do, it's always changing, how do you run a business and grow revenue in a space that you don't know one year to the next?” My answer to that right now is that it's in the relationships. Innovate and excite your clients with new ideas that will help them achieve their objectives and beyond and you should be able to adapt your offering around those relationships. John Foenander at Sapient Nitro told me when I met with him earlier this year that Sapient’s business plan is changing every 12 months with the rapid pace of change that technology is shaping the world we operate in. So that's what we all have to do.
None of us really know what the future of the world is, A.I. is on the cover of the worlds largest publications weekly and LinkedIn is awash with articles saying that A.I. will wipe out up to 90% of jobs as we know them. The chances are that that also includes the agency world.
I loved Ian Hambleton's piece on the future of agencies where there is a guy who lives in a box film inside a virtual world. He did a great job of creating a perfect picture of what an agency could potentially look like in the future. He nailed a descriptive outlook of exactly what the next 10 years of work in this industry could look like, so go look at that here https://www.linkedin.com/pulse...
Spencer Gallagher does a brilliant job of regularly delivering talks about future-proofing your agency and the future of agencies (shameless plug for Spencer, if you're running an agency and you're worried about this stuff sign up to The Agency Collective).
Some big agency owners like Ryan Hall from Nice are much more focused on the here and now and I don't blame them; Ryan's done very well and he needs to keep a big team focused on the job. Having been acquired by Accenture his outlook is slightly different and very interesting as he believes a lot of the future of agencies is in the larger consultancies making a big play in the space now, having traditionally always held off and kept away from the space. If you think of it that Accenture has enough money to buy both Publicis and WPP with change in their pocket it puts into perspective the power and financial might of the big four.
Big companies take much longer to do things and to innovate, for me that's where the current opportunities lie. They are always looking for hungry, innovative and ideas-driven agencies that will help them think differently. That's where I think you should be right now for what it's worth. Don't get too tied down in a service offering, try to stay agnostic, be seen to be keeping your eyes firmly on the future and big brands will want to work with you. As for 10… even 5 years, well we might all be living in the digital singularity, Elon Musk might have blown up the planet and flown to Mars or Trump and Kim Jong-Un may have thrown their nuclear missiles out of the pram. On a more optimistic note though we may all be being given a universal basic income after losing all of our jobs to the technocratic billionaires, being served by really nice and friendly robots that don't want to kill you and being able to paint and make music and spend time with our families thinking philosophically. Basically like Romans but with Robots.
So as I begun this article… a lesson in life and philosophy for me as well as a lesson in running a company that will change faster than you can say technology. Don’t dwell too much on the past and I see this a lot with agency owners often talking about the glory days (you can no longer charge £500,000 for a 3 page website I'm afraid) or think too much about the future (you'll drive yourself crazy if you do). Be in the present, learn from the past and be ready to embrace the future and whatever that might be year on year. Gear your business to be able to adapt and mould itself regularly or run the imminent risk of dying. I live by the mantras “adapt or die” and “you either win or you learn”.
Like Axelrod said in Billions (the best show on TV) the greats can focus on the present whilst thinking about the future and that's what you've got to do.