Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Liam Brennan: Don’t let your transformation go to pot

Liam Brennan (@LCBrennan), Global Director of Innovation, MediaCom is one of our industry’s preeminent thinkers in innovation and NDA’s monthly columnist.

Last weekend my wife and I brought a designer plant pot for our new flat.  Handcrafted in Germany, a brushed, industrial concrete look, and most importantly, half price as part of a post-lockdown stock clearance.

We weren’t entirely sure what look we wanted for our living room, but the opportunity to snap up a designer household item at a bargain price was an opportunity too good to pass on.

However, once we had arrived home, we realised that whilst our ability to spot a bargain may have been excellent, our eye for interior design was not. The pot was a poor fit for the décor of the living room, and most frustratingly, the pot was too large to house our existing indoor plants.

The high-end/useless plant pot now sits in the spare bedroom, hidden in a corner, waiting to be filled by a larger plant, which we now need to go out of our way and purchase.

An unexpected increase in overall costs, extra effort to build a use case for the pot, and ultimately, not the solution we needed to house our indoor ferns.

Deciding on the best approach to transformation is often not as simple as selecting one or more of the ‘best solutions’. Like selecting a new plant pot to enhance the look of a common area, assessing a tool or piece of technology based purely on its functional merits can often lead to negative financial impact, resource drain and long term missed opportunity.

You need to see the bigger, and longer term, picture.

A hangover of the ‘digital’ era is a cultural overcorrect in regard to technical and operational excellence, which has often left businesses with solutions that may be market leading in and of themselves, but not fit for wider business purpose now and future.

This non-business oriented and piecemeal approach to transformation is leading to bloated and increasingly incompatible tech stacks, data collection and application strategies without purpose, tangible benefit or economic rationale, or the introduction of initiatives that exist to justify the use of existing infrastructure rather than for their initial purpose (“Goodhart’s Law: When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure”).

Of course, there are many moving parts to delivering a strong end decision, and rarely does one individual hold all the answers. So why continue to deploy siloed expertise?

An unguided approach to implementation is arguably just as dangerous to a business long term as deploying someone with little to no expertise. Both will likely recommend the wrong solution, just one will do so with a higher degree of confidence than the other.

As long as the media and marketing landscape remains complex, both in terms of the volume of variety of solutions available, it will become increasingly important to have access to a wider variety of expertise either within the business or externally.

But for this expertise to be truly useful, it first needs to be guided in terms of business need, case nuance and the ultimate desired outcome, in both the short and long term. A transition from a team of experts to an expert term shifts the outcome from a series of good solutions to managed business first transformation and future roadmap.

Talking a step back from the list of ‘solutions’ my wife and I needed for our living room, and instead focusing our time on what we want the room to look and feel like, may take an investment now in terms of time and effort, but the financial, resource and cosmetic benefits will pay back over the long term.

Businesses would have greater benefit for their transformation efforts if they focused less on solutions and the experts needed to evaluate and implement them, and more on the actual need for transformation (if any), business nuance, the desired outcome and the steps that need to be taken to get there.

Thankfully, my wife and I can walk away from the plant pot incident with little financial or long-term impact beyond damage to our credibility as amateur interior designers. Other more misguided transformation efforts are still stuck in the weeds.