Successful modern communications plans are integrated communications plans. They require co-operation, collaboration and co-creation between the communication specialisms. We could learn a thing or two by unlearning. By remembering what we did as kids – writes Scott Guthrie

When I think of Picasso I attribute a quote to him: “It took me 60 years to see through the eyes of a child.” I don’t know if he actually said these words, and perhaps, it doesn’t matter. The line makes a lot of sense to me because play is a key to learning. Most of what we learn as kids is learned through play. Through trial and error as we try to marry up what we think is going to happen when we do something with what actually does happen – i.e. it’s about matching our inner expectations with outer reality.

Peter Skillman has introduced a design challenge called the marshmallow challenge. You can watch Tom Wujec speak about it in a TED Talk. There’s a website, too. The idea is that teams of four have 18 minutes to build the tallest, free-standing tower using only 20 strands of dried spaghetti, a yard of tape, a yard of string and one marshmallow. The marshmallow must sit on top of the structure.

Over the years the game has been played with scores of groups ranging from CTOs and CEOs to architects, MBA students and small children.

And guess what? Guess which group tends to fare better than most of the others? That’s right, the kindergarten kids. Whilst the ‘grown ups’ rationalise, plan, organise, try to perfect a design and often run out of time in the process, the kids just get on with it. The children don’t assign each other roles. They don’t elbow each other out of the way to lead the group. They don’t try to find the ‘best of breed’ solution. They just have a go; learning by trial and error.

Embracing child's play through creativity
Play is a key to learning. What we learn as kids is learned through play. Through trial and error.

The MBA students are some of the worst at the task. They’re looking for ‘optimal return on their investment’ of time and effort. They’re trying to create the best framework and only then are they willing to execute their plan.

Well, you can have the best strategy document, printed on premium 180GSM paper, dutifully bound. But if no one executes it? Your strategy becomes just an expensive door stop for your office.

The kindergarten children start with the marshmallow, and they build prototypes. They collaborate, they build more prototypes. It’s an iterative process. And with each version, kids get instant feedback about what works and what doesn’t work.

There are many parallels between child’s play and adult creativity for internal and external communicators.

Communications plans need co-creation, collaboration and co-operation 

Today’s successful communications plans are integrated communications plans. Plans which necessitate collaboration and co-creation. Where paid media sits cheek-by-jowl with earned media. Where content is created and shared with engaged publics who are pulled to an organisation’s owned media.

This means breaching the barricades. Smashing down the walls between public relations, marketing and advertising. Learning to creatively solve problems for our clients rather than promoting our own specialities to the exclusion of others.

SEE ALSO How to solve big questions asking one small question

To achieve this we can do worse than to develop our sense of curiosity and play. Play is a kind of grounded fantasy. It’s neither completely real nor completely fantastical. When my four-and-a-half-year-old daughter plays with her younger brother in a cardboard box the box changes at will instantly becoming a boat or a car, or a shop or just a box to store toys.

As communicators when we have one foot in reality and the other in fantasy the tension between the two can be very productive. In fact this is the basic principle behind many creative methods.

Just as I don’t tell my children: ‘it’s just a box; not a rocket ship’ at work a brainstorming session is a setting where unreal imagination is not just acceptable; but to be encouraged.

I wrote recently about solving big problems by asking one small question. Using the technique of repeating the question ‘why?’ to explore the context and depth of a problem. To generate and cluster possible solutions. Not jumping to the conclusion that the presenting symptoms are the core of the problem. Imagining perfect and perfectly horrendous future states adds to this process. Just asking wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could create a this … or wouldn’t it be awful if that happened … . Learning  to unlearn, to re-imagine. To see through the eyes of a child again.


Scott Guthrie is a professional adviser within the influencer marketing industry. He is an event speaker, university guest lecturer, media commentator on influencer marketing and active blogger. He works with brands, agencies and platforms to achieve meaningful results from influencer marketing. That tells you something about him but it's not giving you a lot of detail, is it? So, read more here.

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