It was an important year for the 3% Conference. Not only because of their 5th anniversary, and highest attendance ever, but also the conference’s message of inclusivity and unity felt more relevant and urgent than ever before. In the face of adversity, uncertainty, and a divisive election, the 3% movement is a strong reminder that there is power in each and every one of us.
Full disclosure, this was my first 3% Conference, and it was truly enlightening. I came away from it understanding that we all have a responsibility to ourselves, the industry and the world to use our individuality as a force of change. To find our purpose in our struggles and use our experiences as strengths. To find what is missing in culture and hire that, find that, be that. To create an industry and world that is both inclusive and connected in a real way.
The conference’s theme “What are you going to do about it?” was a rallying cry, with a focus on “you.” Many of the talks addressed how we can change ourselves, or rather, our attitude to become better and in turn change the industry for the better. There was a lot of talk about honesty and authenticity and taking all your past struggles, your background, your unique experiences and turning them into your own strength and point of view.
Business visionary and author Nilofer Merchant described this as Onlyness. She explained how our need for belonging is the enemy of creativity and how fitting in often means disguising your true self. You hide those things that make you stand out as an individual and as a result there’s a group mentality that prevents the unexpected. “Studies show that when 50% of a group is the same, the rest of the group is compelled to join them,” she said. “In essence, you will be forced to become a part of the majority.” The way to combat that is to see your point of view as valuable because no one else has had the experiences you have and therefore the ability to see things in the same way and draw ideas from it. Basically, we can’t be original thinkers until we are comfortable being authentically ourselves.
Wharton School professor Adam Grant ’s talk on ideation and creative process addressed the problem of people not knowing what ideas to bet on because we tend to base our feedback on what has been successful in the past. To that, Adam says “What has worked in the past has no relevance to what will work now or in the future.” In other words, the most innovative and unique ideas are complete risks. There is no way to know if they will be successful because they’ve never been done before. This gives us permission to try new things, and bet on unexpected people or ideas. He also emphasized the importance of hiring based on culture gap and not culture fit. If we hire based on culture fit, we will continue to get the same kind of people with the same point of view or what he calls “group think.” It is better to ask what is missing from the company’s culture and hire that.
Freelance creative director Ivan Cash is a perfect example of someone who tries to find what is missing in culture and uses creative solutions to overcome that. He finds places where people are uncomfortable and sees it as an opportunity for creativity and change. He makes people interact with each other where they least expect it, for example, by taking surveys on airplanes or asking strangers to share the last picture they took on their phone. He experiences some rejection, but usually what comes out of these interactions is unexpected, funny, and inspiring. Cash creates inclusion and connection where it didn’t exist before.
The closing speaker, Cindy Gallop, urged everyone in the conference to start their own agency right away. She gave us a step by step tutorial. Cindy begged us to ask ourselves, what is missing in the industry? What can I contribute? What do I love doing? Under what conditions?
She urged us to go out and make it happen.
Cindy put it all in a nutshell. Her talk was a call to action, literally to start your own agency. But as someone relatively new to the advertising industry, I prefer to think of her suggestion as a provocation, and a metaphor. Starting your own agency doesn’t necessarily mean opening up a shop (Although she totally encourages it.) One of the definitions of agency is: “a thing or person that acts to produce a particular result.”
On every level, we should all be “agencies” of change. Working to make ourselves, our companies and our industry a place that includes us, inspires us and allows us to continue to create and push boundaries. What am I going to do about it? Keep pushing myself to speak up for what I believe in and create work I am proud of. Work that works to make a difference.
Maybe I’ll even start my own agency someday.
Paula Coral (left) is a junior art director at Zambezi in California. Zambezi was Ad Age’s small agency of the year in 2016.