Maria Sit
Jun 27, 2016

Cannes 2016: A 'virgin’ reflects on this year's festival

First-time festival-goer Maria Sit of HeathWallace finds a sober moment to reflect on the meaning of it all.

Maria Sit
Maria Sit

So I admit, I am a Cannes festival virgin. The sheer array of talks by an amazing and diverse group of people, established brands and young startups, has been simply overwhelming. And the amount of networking drinks, dinners and parties has been dizzying. Finding a sober moment to reflect on what has been shared and the meaning of all the Cannes discourse can be a challenge, but it’s a good tonic for hangovers.

The sessions I attended centred on the Lions Innovation forum over the course of two stimulating days of talks, demos and startup showcases. Topics presented ranged from “Disruption by design” by R/GA to “Invisible UI: Transforming the way we think about wearables” by Fjord to “Hacking yourself creative” by IDEO”, to “The augmented human” by QUID founder to “How to make sure you’re not replaced by an algorithm” by FCB to “Unleashing the power of diversity in tech” by CEO Founder of Girls Who Code, just to name a few.

When all is said and done, a lot of the themes discussed can be appreciated and understood as the visions and evolutions that are worthwhile for the industry to explore or pursue. They oscillated across three territories: the individual human 'self', the economic and social collective of 'organisations' and the broader society at large.

Our human 'self'

As the world accelerates its pace of change, fuelled by the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), an existential question about the relevance and value of the human individual in this world became a common thread across a number of talks. Where AI and algorithms are based on predictable patterns and are iterative, humans are about breakthroughs and unpredictability,. The lateral and difficult-to-attribute nature of human creativity, despite the methodological approach of the creative process based on design thinking, may be one of the remaining frontiers that makes humans human, as the limitations on speed and accuracy in human cognitive processes are being overcome by technology.

The 'organisation'

There is no denying that all organisations that plan to steer clear of extinction have to re-think their business models and the way they work—and do so in an accelerated manner. Whether you are a leading consumer brand, management consultancy or communication agency, the pace of reinvention has never been so rapid. As an example, R/GA has evolved its business model to offer an “agency accelerator” service that is designed to help inject creative capital for startups to complement the financial capital they need.

Other advertising players, such as 72andSunny, talked about how they consciously foster innovation within their agency and with their clients through the deliberate assessment and tuning of the key success enablers of mindset, space and timing. The talk by PepsiCo on “how to create a culture of innovation” reinforced similar ethos as the company created smaller teams to work in much leaner, quicker, collaborative yet autonomous fashion with room to experiment, make mistakes and learn quickly. A more analytical perspective was offered by the Harvard Business School, which presented a structured approach on how to construct new business models that create new value from decoupling the current value chains run by corporate America. All in all, a deliberate and rigorous approach to value creation and mindset shift seems to be a key recipe of next generation businesses that are transforming our economic and social landscapes.

Society at large

Last but not least, if our world is to rapidly evolve and do so in a sustainable and inclusive way, the drive for gender diversity that harnesses the power of female capital must be firmly placed on top of global economic agenda. The range of battles includes creating more authentic and well-rounded portrayals of women in media that fuel cultural and social perceptions of women as discussed during the stimulating 'female tribe' panel hosted by J. Walter Thompson on board a yacht.

The need to shift perceptions and mindsets must also start young, as passionately argued by Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, a non-profit that is dedicated to grooming the next generation of female technologists. The cultural forces that shape how girls are socialised and taught are shockingly biased today that if not addressed will severely hold back humankind. How so you may wonder – if women are not involved in innovation, it will impact on what problems in the world that get solved. The impetus to nurture a generation of female talent in STEM has never been so great. The unconscious biases that take place every day so powerfully shaped by the media and communications industry can be tackled consciously.

It is a purposeful time to be in the industry we are in.

Maria Sit is the APAC MD for HeathWallace, part of Mirum

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