Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Two Cultures

There’s a famous old essay in academic life about the division between the cultures of the science sand the humanities by C.P. Snow called “Two Cultures.” (here's the Wikipedia entry) It’s been used countless times as a metaphor for other divisions between two branches of a field or a profession that have a hard time communicating because their assumptions and values are so different.

The one I have in mind at the moment is the division between so-called creative shops and full-service agencies. For all the talk about integrated agencies, I’ve recently seen signs (talking to planners in various positions) that it’s still amazing how different the two agencies still are. There are agencies and strategy shops that work from hard data: original research, segmentation, retail data, identifying insights in a relatively systematic and rigorous way. And then it seems that there are many enormously successful creative shops that still work on instinct. Not pure instinct. They do cultural research. Talk to the target. Check out some stuff on the internet. Got to a trade show. And they make great ads. Sometimes they make even great marketing programs.

Agencies that work from data-driven insight wouldn't think of making a strategy based on a some interviews. Agencies that work from creative impulse wouldn't dream of asking someone in data-analytics for an insight into target behavior.

I suppose it's a good thing; different agencies fit different client cultures. Except--as I've mentioned before--we tend get pigeon-holed by clients and even restrict our own options, thinking there is only one way to get to a great idea.

It's easy to say that we all want whatever helps us come up with a great idea, but the truth is, some methods are just alien to our way of thinking, so even when they bring us good ideas, we can't recognize them as such. The analytical agency can't trust the idea not backed up by real research/data, and the creative agency thinks data-driven ideas are bound to be pedestrian.

1 comment:

Beecham said...

Like Snow you've identified the two cultures, but also like Snow, you say little both about what the real drawbacks are of this chasm (in fact it seems to make market sense to you) and little about how the divide might be bridged.

C.P. Snow argued that the effect of the gulf between the two cultures was the loss of "creative clashes." That's perhaps one step further than each side in mutual incomprehension not recognizing the value in the other (the "good ideas" of the other) and in consequence seeing the other with disdain: he suggests that a bilingualism of sorts could lead to something greater. He doesn't expand on the nature or possibilities of these creative clashes. (Is there a similar possibility in the two cultures you describe?) And, though Snow called his piece a "call to action," he formulates the problem but doesn't give us a solution. Snow just assumes the divide is a problem and doesn't tell us why an engineer should read Dickens, or a writer should understand acceleration. Am curious: like Snow, we tend to just assume that divisions are bad--that all the "two cultures" phenomenon are problematic (and kumbayah moments good?). Is it the same here? How is divide you're describing a problem? Is it a problem at all? For a moment, I thought you were going to turn Snow on his head . . .