Already understand creative immersion and want to cut to the chase? Find out more about TIE Accelerator and how to get involved here: https://tieaccelerator.com/
Working to protect the Brazilian Atlantic rainforest and improve the lives of people who work there. Fighting for children’s rights with the Shaishav Trust in India. Creating a new strategy for a Zambian theatre group.
I’m guessing these are worlds away from your day job. But there’s a strong case for why they shouldn’t be.
Over the course of more than 20 years now, we’ve been helping create customer-led success. It sounds straightforward. Obvious even. But it’s surprisingly hard to do. We’ve realised that there are two issues at play here: one is a problem of perspective and the other a lack of belief.
The first problem occurs because organisations see things from the inside-out. We’re near to colleagues and far from customers, absorbed by our sector or industry but distant from what’s going on in the wider world. Consequently, companies continue to peddle what they’ve always sold rather than asking what problems customers really need solving now and how they might provide solutions in new and better ways.
But just seeing things differently isn’t enough. Customer truths and the action needed to address them are often inconvenient. As a result, market research gets ignored with the usual excuses mumbled about ‘inappropriate sample’, and stretching recommendations are dismissed out of hand as ‘not being feasible’. What’s missing here is belief. Which is why we developed immersion.
Immersion means experiencing the outside-in first hand and viscerally, and there are two parts to it. The first is with customers, immersing in their lives to uncover the things that really matter to them and the problems they need solving. It means talking to customers over the course of a month to find out about their savings behaviours or going on their weekly shop to understand what drives their decisions, not seeing a quote in a presentation or a data point in a report. The latter may tell you that ‘68% of people say they don’t buy pre-prepared food’, while sending a senior client at a food manufacturer on a customer’s weekly shop revealed that ready-to-microwave mashed potato was a convenient staple for a busy parent (and fitted somewhat loosely with their declared preference of ‘cooking from scratch’). That single experience uncovered a profound customer insight in a way that run-of-the-mill research couldn’t have – and one that lives on in the organisation as a story retold time and again.
The second is creative immersion. It involves direct exposure to situations and stimuli that build belief in both the possibility and feasibility of new and better ways to solve customer problems. It might mean hearing a story from someone that’s faced a challenge with some similarities (and many differences) to the one you’re facing, warts and all, not reading a case study in a journal. While the latter might give you a bright new idea, it’s unlikely to build the courage and commitment needed to strike out into the unknown – and take a team and a business along with you. Creative immersion entails getting out of your sector, or even of the world of business altogether to where you can find successful examples of things being done differently. Using creative immersion, we’ve seen the UK’s tax collection department inspire eBay to totally re-think their attitude to trust and redefine their seller experience, and helped a financial services company launch a new customer proposition based on a conversation with an elite athlete.
Being creatures of habit, humans find this sort of thing hard to do at the best of times – perhaps more so as we find ourselves in a second lockdown and retreat back to the mental and physical stasis that come with working from home. Thanks to friend of The Foundation Philippa White, that doesn’t have to be the case. She has launched one of the most stretching and exciting examples of creative immersion that we’ve come across to date: TIE Accelerator. It’s a community of strategists, entrepreneurs, designers, marketers, teachers and more who come together to tackle big, real world problems - like the aforementioned rainforest preservation and children’s rights. White explained at a previous Forum her belief that: “It’s how we can get individuals to feel genuinely proud of their [private-sector] skillset and that it has some kind of purpose; how we can get the private sector to stand for more and reshape itself; and how we do that by developing future leaders and getting them to think and work in different ways.” The TIE approach takes ‘getting out of your bubble’ to the extreme, creating new cross-disciplinary teams of six carefully selected strangers and pairing them with an NGO that needs help with a specific challenge, then supporting them over the course of a month as they work together (now remotely) to tackle it.
We doubt there’s further you could get from your day-to-day while still being in your home office. Plunging yourself headfirst into a new challenge, likely in a different sector, alongside new co-workers with different perspectives and skills may not be for the fainthearted, but we’d wager there’s nothing like having impact on a pressing problem to grow confidence and belief in new ways of doing things. And as she explained at the Forum, one previous TIE secondee’s experience demonstrated exactly how well it works as a form of creative immersion too:
Another placement took a young woman to Brazil where she eked out minimal resources to launch a big campaign for a youth-based human rights organisation. The week she returned to the day job, also in advertising, she showed up for a shoot for a prominent makeup brand to find that the budget had been slashed and the team resigned to giving up and going home. But, fresh from her experience of doing more with less, she redesigned the set and galvanised the crew into doing something quite different, changing everyone’s attitude to what’s possible in the process.
The scheme is currently open to applications for four virtual assignments about which you can find out more and apply here. Next (virtual) stop: will it be the Atlantic rainforest or Zambia’s theatres?