Chris Stephenson
Nov 10, 2011

Opinion: My name is Chris Stephenson, and I’m a doer

Chris Stephenson, strategy director for PHD Australia, discusses why we need to be making, prototyping and programming our way through "digitaria".

Opinion: My name is Chris Stephenson, and I’m a doer

It was Great Britain’s Prime Minister Harold Wilson who said that a week is a long time in politics. 

I’m not sure what Wilson would make of a week in digital. The last seven days have seen the launch of Google+ pages, a tie-up between Microsoft, Yahoo! And AOL to take on Facebook and Google by selling each other’s unsold display ads, the launch in Australia of Microsoft’s Ad Exchange and the announcement that Google’s Creative Labs will open its doors down under in January spearheaded by none other than Google and YouTube Creative Director Tom Uglow.

We live in unrelenting times.  Times that call for change.  Times that call for those of us who work in media and communications planning to change.  Times that call for us all, to become doers.  Let me explain…

On Tuesday evening I was lucky enough to be invited to play at Google’s Creative Sandbox at Sydney’s Carriageworks.  On display, or rather at play, were the latest innovations from Google Wallet, YouTube, Google Maps, Google TV, Chrome, and Double-Click.

Giving the keynote speech was Ed Sanders of Google’s Creative Labs in New York.  Sanders shared Labs’ approach to the ideas they develop, ideas that have included the Wilderness Downtown with Arcade Fire, Chrome Fast, Google Gravity, Translate for Animals and Epic Docs (if you haven’t seen the latter type ‘epic docs’ into your search engine of choice, sit back, and enjoy).

Sanders cited Epic Docs as an example of showing not telling, one of several principles that underlie what Labs do and how they do it.  Don’t describe what can be done, do it.  Don’t imagine what could be made, make it.

It was a sentiment echoed by CCO / Partner at Crispin Porter + Bogusky Jeff Benjamin who spoke at this week’s NineMSN Digital Media Summit.  One of fourteen observations from the self-professed nerd was that “Inventions don’t live on paper”.  His advice is to prototype fast and prototype often, and noted that “everyone is an inventor”.

Sanders and Benjamin’s comments reflect a quiet revolution that’s been building momentum for several years.  People all around the world are making things.  In a world presciently described by Cory Doctorow in his book Makers, in which Perry and Lester invent Boogie Woogie Elmo dolls that drive cars and seashell robots that make toast, people are designing and creating anything and everything they can imagine.

In this Etsy-shaped world, people are inventing with open source microcontroller platforms like Arduino.  3D printers – that allow you to open-source 3D designs and then print three-dimensional items for you and your friends – are not just real but about to go from innovator to early-adopter in their adoption cycle.  And why wouldn’t they?  Why wait for someone else to invent and make something when you can invent and make – and sell – something for yourself.

Inventions don’t live on paper – and neither, increasingly, do ideas.  This digital life is making makers of us all.  As both Sanders and Benjamin observe, success relies more than ever before on being able to show not tell clients and co-collaborators our ideas.  Success now relies on being able to prototype fast and often to demonstrate what’s possible.

The great opportunity offered by this maker revolution presents an equally great challenge … we must learn to make – and with that comes learning and whole new sets of skills.  I’m afraid people that it’s time to call time on the fifty page PowerPoint decks, time to throw down the shackles of bullet points and builds.  It’s time to pick up a new set of tools.

In a Hang-Out conversation at the end of his presentation at Google Creative Sandbox, Sanders discussed that one of the problems in this new world is that developers talk a different language to the creatives.  He observed that “at what point do you bring in the developers is the wrong question … the better question is what is your mix of creatives and developers?”

It’s a question that’s not just relevant for agencies but for any of us personally.  This fast-paced and relentless digital life is making doers of us all.  But let’s not look our children’s children in their doting eyes, and say we took part in the revolution because ‘digital made us’.  Let us take part in the revolution and become fully-fledged makers of things, because we can.  Because our work is better for it, because brands are stronger for it, and because the world is brighter for it.

This digital world belongs to the makers and the builders.  It belongs to the designers and prototypers.  It belongs to the programmers, and it belongs to the doers.

My name is Chris Stephenson, and I’m a doer.

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