Is small the big idea?
July 18, 2009 § Leave a comment
In Gareth Kay’s most recent op-ed for Agency Spy, he espouses the pursuit of smaller, more useful and socially conscious ideas in contrast to our current obsession with chasing big, spectacular awareness-driving ideas. He writes:
Now clearly spectacle has been a powerful force in culture over time, but it’s one type of execution and a type that feels increasingly at odds with a more intimate and invisible culture. We’re getting better but we’re still not very good as an industry at celebrating small, relatively invisible things but increasingly these are the ideas (think Nike+, Fiat Ecodrive, even iTunes and the Obama campaign) that are driving culture, that seem to thrive in an increasingly digital world and are able to change behavior.
Kay goes on to laud BakerTweet, a Twitter-based service developed by the smart folks at Poke as an example of a powerful small idea:
While I agree with Kay in that our obsession with spectacle can be a distraction from truly useful, behavior-changing ideas, it’s really not BIG ideas nor small ideas that are the issue here: It’s smart, platform-based innovation. BakerTweet is indeed a smart little idea that provides a convenient little service. But it’s real power lies in the fact that it is proof-of-concept for a whole platform of simple Twitter appliance-based innovations. Bakers can turn a nob and press a button to effortlessly tell the world what’s coming out of their ovens. Wouldn’t it be nice if your local Secretary of State facility could do the same to tweet line waiting times? One can imagine a variety of labor-intensive, time-sensitive service scenarios that could benefit from a computer-free relatively hands-off Twitter appliance. Ah, the joys of an open API combined with little electronics prototyping platforms like Arduino.
So what I’m proposing is that ideas like BakerTweet may seem small to advertising folks because we’re trained to look for big insights that lead to big campaigns, and we call everything under that “tactics” (sometimes we even treat tactics as a four-letter word when we’re in the midst of a strategic conversation). But in the eyes of a design planner, BakerTweet is proof-of-concept of a platform for innovation. In fact, Kay’s other examples are cases of exactly this. iTunes and the Obama campaign are not, as Kay puts it, “small, relatively invisible things” — they are entire ecosystems of innovation. They are aggregates of many small ideas and innovations that work together toward a common purpose. They essentially become their own micro-economies.
Here’s a great talk by Larry Keeley of Doblin addressing platform-level thinking (He gets to it about 20 minutes into the lecture if you want to fast forward):
So I think we can all look forward to lots more BakerTweets, Secretary-of-StateTweets, FarmerCo-OpTweets, MyPartyStoreIsGettingRobbedTweets etc. . . all Twitter-based appliances designed for very specific purposes when other means of accessing Twitter simply won’t suffice. Perhaps the Twitter API combined with things like Arduino isn’t such a small idea after all.