Crafts skills and creativity are central to African culture and passed on from one generation to another. In Ghana skills such as sewing, carpentry, weaving, textiles design, drawing and painting are a part of core curriculum in schools and colleges. The mix of an entrepreneurial culture with wonderful craft skills and imagination has a certain potency and draws enormous pride.
Venus Tawiah, Director of Business Development at the Advertising agency, Now Available Africa (NAA) describes a time when she visited a public college in Accra. Venus and the team from NAA saw a visual arts department adorned with beautiful and technically complex hand painted art. Enthusiastic students were drawing, gathered around a table. Venus asked the students if they always drew by hand. One student replied sarcastically: “How else would we? Do you think you can do this on a computer?”. At that moment the NAA team realised that if those students were to pursue this discipline as a profession then they would need to have the knowledge of what technology has made possible.
Accra is a hub for the advertising industry and creative talent. Yet students at this college in the heart of the city, preparing for creative careers, had no knowledge of what technology existed or what can be possible when artisans apply technology to the skills they are learning.
Internet penetration has grown rapidly in Africa, with countries such as Kenya (89.4%), South Africa (54%), Tunisia (50.9%), Nigeria (47.7%), and Uganda (45.6%) leading the way. Over the last four years, particularly in countries like Nigeria, Ghana and more recently Cote d’Ivoire, there has been an awakening to the influence of social media and digital. Facebook and Google have placed stamps of confidence by establishing regional offices on the continent. In Ghana this awakening has created opportunities for brands to fill distinctive gaps in a market.
Venus believes that while creative talent is abundant in Ghana, the education system is not producing students with the knowledge of and practical skills for the digital advertising sector to meet demand. For example most people at agencies such as NAA have learnt what they know about social media and digital out of passion and curiosity, and via informal on-the-job training. Moreover Venus recognises that without more exposure to the realities of working within a creative agency environment, students will be ill-prepared to succeed and build their careers.
As a member of the first major independent advertising agency in Ghana to include digital advertising in its pan-Africa capabilities, Venus sees first-hand how global, technological innovations are rapidly assimilated into a local context. By intimately understanding the local consumer and producing locally relevant content, brands can connect and engage in new ways that allow more personal, real-time, measurable and insightful experiences. Venus reports that this is almost always a ‘mobile-first’ conversation, where all aspects of a creative and campaign must work on and be accessible via mobile first before any other device; as this is the primary way of consuming content across the continent.
To deliver ‘Neutral Advertising’ with digital at the forefront, Venus sees a demand for creatives who can birth ideas that can live in both a digital and a traditional space. ’T-shaped’ creatives who have broad craft skills and knowledge of industry innovations, with a deep appreciation of local users and consumers. Animators, Digital Videographers, Digital Strategists, Paid Media Managers, Community Managers (for Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, SnapChat, Twitter, LinkedIn), Copywriters for Digital are some of the roles in demand, as well as senior leaders who understand how to manage and grow this type of business.
Venus believes that the advertising industry and educators at every level need to work together in countries like Ghana to build on the craft skills heritage and grow the talent that will drive and lead innovation, locally and globally. There are examples such as Ashei University in Ghana with strong ties with industry that allow students to get the industry exposure they need, as well as KNUST (Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology), the only public university in Ghana offering a Communications Design course. For years MEST (Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology) in Ghana has been at the forefront of growing African entrepreneurial talent in the technology sector. One example, Dropifi, a Web-based start-up by a group of MEST entrepreneurs, in 2013 became the first African company to join the 500 Start-Up programme, one of the best known Silicon Valley based seed accelerator and investment funds.
And as Venus highlighted at the first Accra Social Media Week ( @smwiacca ), 140 Character CV session held at University of Ghana, the future talent of the industry does not need to wait for others to provide opportunities and training. Most of what they are doing for fun - posting, commenting, managing web pages, creating YouTube videos - are actual jobs that people are being employed to do, now!. So people can get on with building their skills through intelligent use of social media platforms as well as showcasing their talent.
Ian Roberts and Venus Tawiah, September 2017.
 Copyright © 2017, Internet World Stats, Miniwatts Marketing Group.
Venus Tawiah is Director of Business Development at Now Available Africa (NAA) (http://naafrica.com) She brings people together in the new world of integrated creative, traditional and digital propositions. She can be found at email@example.com. NAA is committed to growing the best industry talent and has thriving internship programme.
On Desert Island Discs, the comedian, writer and presenter Sue Perkins talked about a comment on one of her school reports: “What Susan lacks in intelligence, she makes up for in stupidity.”
Sue grew up in Croydon. Her father worked for a local car dealer and her mother was employed as a secretary. When considering higher education Sue went to her father and asked him what the best university was; Cambridge he replied. So Sue decided that she was going to Cambridge. Without too much external pressure or expectation she educated herself, developed her own stance towards the world and stormed the entrance interview.
Then later at university this shy person, encouraged by her roommate, leaned into her fear and took to the stage to perform some stand-up comedy improvisation. Sue eventually became the Footlights president. When asked on Desert Island Discs about what drove her, she replied that it was doing what was least expected, challenging herself and taking on dares.
The interview with Sue Perkins brings to mind the research of Professor Carol Dweck. Carol describes two primary mind-sets: A fixed mindset and a growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset come to believe that they have innate talents and expect to be successful. They tend to attribute setbacks to the environment and others, and can give up too easily. Potential is seen as pre-determined.
People with a growth mindset are more likely to believe they have to work hard at the right things to make the most of their talents. They are more likely to learn from setbacks and criticism, and believe that anything is possible.
Developing a growth mindset is liberating for the young person starting on their path, the ambitious creative or the experienced leader. Too often we get trapped by a fixed mindset. We settle. We play to our limits, fearing disappointment, failure. Feedback can solidify into this is the type of person I am. Not creative, not very good with numbers, shy, good with people, bright. Destinies that we can spend our lives following.
We can choose a growth mindset. We can take responsibility, do what is least expected, experiment and make change. And believe ‘not yet’. We dare you.
In conversation with Tim Ferris, the actor and director Edward Norton tells a story of Marlon Brando in an acting class in Greenwich Village. His teacher, Stella Adler, set-up an improvisation scenario: “Ok. One person is in his apartment, and the other one enters. You’re the person who’s on your couch in your apartment. The other one enters. Just run with it.”
People in the class were trying to force conversation or create a scenario. Supposedly, Brando sat on the couch and started reading a magazine. Someone in the class walked in through his door. He looked up, jumped up and grabbed the guy by the shirt-front and threw him out, slamming the door. Everyone was shocked and the teacher asked Brando: “What the hell are you doing?”. Brando explained: “I don’t know who that f****ing guy is. He just walked into my apartment. He scared the s*** out of me.”
Rather than conforming to an expectation of how he should act, Brando drew on his imagination of what was realistic. He was a genius. Thoughtful practising of improvisation was a part of his genius. He helped the group and himself see the possibilities for the scene. It became an experience and one they never forgot; one that prepared them for handling that particular scene and others.
Practising improvisation helps actors to think on their feet, and to become more aware of the other actors around them and the possibilities of their characters. They learn to listen carefully, communicate clearly, tap into their personal resources, develop their own style and be creative. It can remove a natural fear of the unknown or unexpected.
Improvisation is not simply getting up on stage and making up a performance on the spot. Through practise actors discover certain rules so that interactions are constructive and go smoothly. Brando frequently disrupted the assumed improvisation rules to illustrate greater possibilities. Brando showed his colleagues (and his teacher) that improvisation is a process for the experience and creation of a vocabulary of behaviours prior to performance.
We improvise in all areas of our life, often within familiar meta patterns. Unlike many professionals, as creative and media leaders we generally don’t practise improvisation scenarios for the big scenes in our working lives. So the lessons we learn are in the field and in work this can mean ideas shelved, talent leaving, costly mistakes and less risk-taking.
Yet 90% of learning is informal?
The 70/20/10[i] formula of how leadership learning occurs is well known. It says 70% of any learning comes from real life and on-the-job experiences, tasks and problem solving. 20% from observing and working with role models and getting feedback, and only 10% from formal training.
Intuitive, yet there appears to be no research evidence to support the formula. There are other problems too. The informal learning may be partial or unhelpful, or may be the only type of support available. Leaders may dismiss the practical value of formal development or be reluctant to take time away from their immediate tasks. So they leave their development to chance.
What do we know from the research?
Practising, repetition and rehearsing lead to better learning. Retrieval practise is accessing tacit knowledge or long-term memory when triggered by a contextual cue. When the learning context and retrieval context are the same, learners remember more[ii]. In other words learning is more likely to stick when people learn in a similar environment to when they have to put that learning into practice. We also know that experiential learning is more effective when supported by scaffolding: people must have building blocks of knowledge and a cognitive map to interpret and engage with new information[iii]. Learning experiences that tap into emotions, variety and surprise have greater impact than predictable or passive approaches. Feedback is so important it’s a wonder why we don’t pay more attention to it. Providing a mix of task, process, self-regulatory and person-oriented feedback can have a positive impact if done effectively; negative if done badly. [iv]
What is the Rehearsal Room?
We developed the Rehearsal Room based on what we know from research, what we see that is missing and what clients tell us. It is a space in-between informal and formal learning: where authentic scenarios, live issues and improvisation practise create experiences that support employees’ development and organisational success. For example participants may practise a contract negotiation coming up, a client development meeting or a performance review.
In the Rehearsal Room creative and media leaders practise improvisation. Not working with actors on how to act: they work with expert facilitators who understand the business context and people dynamics. Participants discover and practise ways of responding and where conversations can go. They discover and experience what they need to learn and use improvisation rules to perform with spontaneity and skill.
It is a structured ‘holding environment’ that is safe and stretching so that leaders can think anew and challenge their assumptions. They can practise giving and receiving feedback, as well as experimenting with certain skills and approaches. A certain level of intensity in the experience demands learning and attention. Yet the Rehearsal Room is more than just a one-off event. It is an approach: learning is built into everyday life through practising the improvisation rules.
We are excited about the power of immersive experiences in people development and how we can take this forward in the Rehearsal Room approach. In fact we’ve already seen how Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality can bring the learning context and retrieval context even closer. For example one of our clients, Gorilla in the Room, has the world’s first VR mindfulness experience (http://www.gorillaitr.com/blog/the-worlds-first-vr-mindfulness-experience).
[i]70/20/10 learning concept was developed by Morgan McCall, Robert W. Eichinger, and Michael M. Lombardo at the Center for Creative Leadership [ii]Thalheimer, W (2003) The Decisive Dozen: Research Background Abridged Work-Learning Research, Inc. Somerville, MA, USA. [iii] De Bruyckere, P.; Kirchner, P.A., and Hulshof, C.D. (2015) Urban Myths About Learning and Education, Elsevier. [iv]Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007) The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81-112
THE STRATEGY OF THE PERSUADER
People talk about our Post-Truth world of fake news and lying politicians. What about a Post-Sales media marketplace? A new era where once you are selling and telling you've already lost the business?
Try to directly sell and tell me what I need and I’m never going to buy; even if you are a seller and I am a buyer – in fact especially if you are the seller and I am the buyer. This is because you won't know what I really care about and what my problems are. When someone tells me to buy exactly what they have because I need it, I recoil in pain. Fans of Dr Thomas Gordon will be familiar with the ineffectiveness of 'you messaging'; it literally never hits the spot.
If you are selling a commodity then telling people it is good value might be helpful if they don’t wish to waste their money; however, sometimes you can’t give away free money! The sellers and tellers who say that they do everything the best, at better value than the others are simply commoditising what they are good at and reducing their chances of achieving the right value for their genius.
If it really is your role to come up with original ideas, new angles and genuinely novel approaches to creative, digital or media solutions then what you are purveying is not a commodity. Are you selling and telling like they are? Are your credentials so long that no-one sees the unique value you bring to the party?I believe Archetypal behaviour influences each stage of a creative, strategic or commercial process in distinct ways. Archetypes are recognisable patterns of thinking, feeling, strategising and acting. They show approaches, qualities and shadows rather than fixed personalities. Their influence feels instinctual, sitting just below surface of awareness.
The Persuader is one of the Towards People leadership Archetypes. The selling and telling behaviour emanates from the Persuader’s shadow side – that typically emerges under stress. As desperation increases to win that commission, assignment, sale, or project; the shadow side behaviour increases and you are pitching in every elevator.In the Post-Sales world the strategic approach of the Persuader Archetype is defined by an instinct and skill in asking open questions while listening actively to discover a potential customer’s interests. These open questions also finesse the type of person they are dealing with; their modalities and how they process the world. The Persuader is knowledgeable about people and therefore is well positioned to build rapport and make a connection.
When the Persuader discovers interests they also learn what the potential customer really cares about, their underlying needs, values, purposes and the problems to be solved. So rather than the traditional preconceived pitch and selling of a specific idea, product or service, the Persuader does not produce anything too specific in advance of the first meeting.The Persuader continues to ask open questions to expand a discussion which actually helps the other see their needs more clearly.
The genuine demonstration of interest validates the other person. The fact that they have been listened to and felt the genuine curious interest creates feelings of warmth and a greater desire for collaboration.
The Persuader's strategy is patient, expansive and flexible; to invent, improve, suspend judgement and generate options – never to narrow development of an idea in order to 'close'; never desperate to decide solutions too quickly. The positive influence of Persuader Archetype is to be mindful of not falling into selling and telling, while also having genuine curiosity to demonstrate empathy for another and what they really need to solve.
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