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Opinion and Insight

The Science and Whimsy of Strategy: Why It Takes Both To Make A Thing Go Right, 2 years, 5 months ago

Ben Cheney, Strategist, Sylvain Labs, on striking the perfect balance

The Science and Whimsy of Strategy: Why It Takes Both To Make A Thing Go Right

As strategists, our jobs aren’t always easily defined. We are listeners, nugget hunters, instigators, truth seekers, inspirers, creators, provocateurs, arguers, eye openers and more. Sometimes our job is to definitively answer a question for a client or creative. Other times our job is to give a client or creative the perspective necessary to answer their own question(s). Or our job may be to actually uncover the question in the first place. No matter the ask du jour, as strategists we must approach every job from two angles: science and whimsy. 

It doesn’t matter what flavor strategist you are, in what segment of the advertising/branding/media/marketing/innovation industry you work, whether you fancy the title ‘planner’ over ‘strategist”’(or vice versa), or who you are reporting into. The science of strategy is always best served with a healthy dose of whimsy. Science-heavy strategy is rigorous, but runs the risk of being uninspired. Whimsy-heavy strategy is exciting and inspirational, but runs the risk of being fluffy and void of substance. When one outweighs the other you run the risk of suboptimal output that requires the client or creative to take the final step on their own. Blending science and whimsy properly, however, yields rigorous, gut-driven, research-backed insights that are brought to life through creative storytelling.

Let's dissect.

Science is very much the rigor of the strategic process. While following any sort of ‘formula’ is often kryptonite to creativity, being disciplined within a loose process, like the Scientific Method, provides just enough structure to ensure rigor without hindering the creative or strategic potential of the output. A loose scientific method gives us a controlled environment in which to uncover the wildly uncontrollable human truths.

Science alone will answer most questions, but science alone rarely excites. Science alone rarely jazzes. Science alone rarely triggers insane thoughts that lead to breakthrough creative work or bleeding-edge new products. 

Enter whimsy. Whimsy is injecting humanity into the science by seeing the unsaid. Whimsy is using your gut to take the leap because the data doesn’t exist. Whimsy is using creativity to simplify a complicated story. Whimsy ignites the science. Its permutations are endless.

Whimsy can take the shape of off-the-wall analogies, that perfect but seemingly unrelated question, real world immersion experiences, creative thought starters, crude prototypes, thoughtful client recommendations based on a burgeoning trends or varying audiences – and the list goes on. 

When strategically approached and thoughtfully delivered, whimsy softens the rigor of science with a culturally-relevant human touch and intuitional leaps. It gives context to the content so clients can confidently make the ‘best’ decisions, explore new territories, and create the unknown.   

Strategy, and the role of the strategist, has evolved. What may have once been a straight-forward, single-dimensional role that fit neatly inside of a very linear process, is now amorphous, multi-dimensional, and ever-present. In today’s culture – where everything is micro-scrutinized and the market is overcrowded with all the amazing products and services you don’t even know you need yet – a great creative idea or new product innovation is only as good as the strategy and rigor behind it.

The burden is on today’s strategists to break through the confines of tradition and process. Every new problem that comes through the door warrants a bespoke approach toward its solution. To blend science and whimsy is to be rigorous in your approach to research design, but to ask ‘silly’ and seemingly unrelated questions about a respondent’s desired superpower or likelihood of kissing a stranger in public to uncover the unsaid. It's to see value in being well connected within your own industry, but also see the power in foregoing traditional conferences and events in favor of experiencing the events that are driving and changing culture. It's to be tirelessly dedicated to your clients’ asks, but also pursue your own passions.

Science and whimsy are essential tools in a strategist’s pursuit to uncover the unsaid, inspire the non-existent, and impact culture. Just remember, it takes both to make a thing go right.

Ben Cheney is a Strategist at Sylvain Labs