Back in November 2010 whilst I was in full-time employment, Apple had just launched iOS 4.2 and I was spending a bit of time reading about all the new features of the latest OS update on Mobilexweb.
I stumbled upon one in particular that really got me thinking – the ability for Safari to use the iPhone’s accelerometer (the tech in the phone that detects movement).
This seemed like the perfect opportunity to quickly release a proof of concept using the new feature, right in time for Christmas and get it out there before anyone else.
I reached out to the senior management of the agency where I was working at the time for the funds to hire a HTML5 developer for a couple of days. I suggested an accelerometer-based Christmas card that we could send to clients, thanking them for their custom over the past year (and showing them what cool stuff we do, maybe even get some press). Standard agency stuff.
My request was rejected.
It was decided that the money would be better spent on Google Adwords campaigns to generate new business leads for the agency. Anything innovative would have to wait until a client came along and wanted it.
Two things happened at that moment… 1) I decided that I needed to go back to freelancing (I handed in my notice after the new year) and 2) I would make something using the new iOS feature in my own time.
Sadly I’m not a developer so I did what I always do in these situations – ask my good pal Brendan (@oh_moore) if he fancied coding a ‘mobile snowglobe’ that animated everytime you started shaking the phone. Without any hesitation Brendan said yes and that evening he already had a hacked-up prototype of the snow.
I put together the design for the page and asked another friend Leigh (@leighpearce) to do the illustration for the snowglobe. We all worked on the idea a couple of hours here and there in the busy run up to the holidays.
We released the snowglobe into the world just before Christmas and I followed up with a blog post on boxing day.
It got around 25 retweets in total, a couple of nice comments here and there but nothing crazy. We had a fun experience and moved onto the next spare-time thing.
I think both Brendan and myself would agree that it wasn’t the most polished of sites, however as a proof-of-concept it was brilliant. It would have been great to spend a bit more time to iron out the kinks and design but hey, we had presents and turkey to attend to.
Fast forward to almost a year later and the highly regarded mobile design and UX expert Luke Wroblewski (@lukew) announced he was releasing a book called Mobile First.
There was a lot of buzz on Twitter and lots of positive reviews when the book launched- after a while I figured I should probably read it and got around to ordering a copy from the States.
When it arrived a few weeks later, I opened it up and skimmed through the pages…. there it was! Sitting on page 41 ….
I had no idea it was going to be in the book and I’ve never even spoke to Luke. The blog post and the snowglobe barely got any traffic (note to self – never launch anything on Christmas Eve or write blog posts on boxing day), so it just goes to show the importance of getting your ideas out there because you never know who could be looking.
Life at a agency can be tough if you want to explore this big new technological world we live in and create stuff. It’s often expected that ideas only form around clients or projects – the reality is that the best ideas often don’t and never will involve either of these things.
You simply can’t rely on clients to help you innovate – by the time they know what they want it’s already years old. Nobody needs or cares about another QR Code or Blippar campaign but clients seem to think it’s the dogs bollocks.
We are in the most exciting time ever in our industry. The speed of change is huge, every OS update, device or social network brings more and more opportunities to make amazing, fun and interesting stuff.
Things like apps have lowered the barrier to entrepreneurialism - Eeeeevveryone has a idea for a app, some of my mates don’t even know how to use a computer and they have app ideas. Everyone wants a slice of the pie, they know the time is now – everyone apart from agencies that is.
And this is the problem – the current culture of agencies is creating a workforce of idea hoarders. Creatives, planners, copywriters and developers keeping the best ideas for themselves because they would rather do that then give them over to their employers – even if that means those ideas may never see the light of day.
You only need to read the comments and the tweets around my post ‘Can agencies create the next Angry Birds? to see that even with all the resource and skill that an agency has, people see no personal or professional incentive to give away their best ideas.
This great comment from Alec hits the nail on the head (goes back the entrepreneurial mindset in place right now)
There’s no incentive/ownership structure within any of the agencies for which I have worked that addresses ownership of IP on an individual level. On the outside chance that my idea does turn into a million or billion dollar enterprise, I will not be happy with just a pat on the head or an advertising award.
I use to be of the opinion that getting my ideas made at work was the best strategy, I have so many that it was unrealistic to think that I would be able to make most of them even if I had all the spare time in the world. I’d rather have seen my stuff out there than sat on a notepad somewhere in my flat.
But now when the most simplest ideas get rejected internally, with no incentive to generate concepts unless there’s a P.O – it’s apparent the only way to do this stuff is collaborating with like-minded people in your own time.
If you’re working in a agency and you feel like your ideas aren’t being engaged, in my experience there’s a strong chance that others feel the same – team up with them. Get your ideas out there, whether it’s a sketch, prototype or just a simple blog post.
Who knows what might happen.