Over the past few years, I've designed and delivered a fair number (one hundred-ish) of what I now, slightly grandiosely, call Digital Strategy Sessions. These are for clients who want to get to grips with some aspect of digital and networked media and how they, their company, brand or organisation are affected. The background to these sessions is, as you’d imagine, varied ranging from: a need to react to a competitor’s online advantage; an unforeseen event; input for planning; context for a tricky issue; cultural change; thirst for new ideas; chairman’s missive; personal missions or just to kick around some new plans. However, one constant is that the people who attend the sessions range from the wildly enthusiastic to the deeply sceptical - and occasionally cynical. I recently ran a session where the feedback was simply – ‘more please,’ and, clearly, I work hard to encourage such sensible and insightful reactions! However, I have learnt to pay a lot of attention to the less glowing commentary too, much of which comes in the moment, rather than on feedback forms that may be read later by management. For example, last year, I was five minutes into a full-day session when one of the participants, told me, in no uncertain terms, that I was ‘wrong’ and...
...should, ‘not carry on’. The individual’s intervention developed into an impressive and heartfelt, ten-minute diatribe about everything that was wrong with the web and its procession of shiny baubles. However, far from derailing matters the passionate outburst served to draw from others their genuine concerns, fears and frustrations.
Another notable moment came when, in front of an audience of about one hundred, a Grand Fromage commented, ‘this is all very well, but how will it help us sell more toilet bleach?’. The GF’s bristling disquiet was palpable, and was followed by a drain-blocking rant that left the room in silence. In the subsequent coffee break, one of the other attendees sidled over to me and whispered, ‘sorry about that, at least you've seen what we’re dealing with’. However, the intervention created a great point of focus for the rest of the day, as people unpicked the GF's forthright opinions.
On another occasion in a session for a Government department, the atmosphere remained icy-cold, until one individual explained that she had recently divorced her husband after finding his social networking page was, er, very social indeed. The room then immediately warmed up as others piled in with anecdotes about how digital bits, bobs and bytes had affected their lives personally and professionally.
Then there was the time that a senior member of a creative team announced to the room that, in his opinion, the web was like a dog who had learned to walk – 'interesting but ultimately pointless'. The individual's colleagues then piled in and the tone was set for a feisty and provocative day.
The best sessions tend to have a good bit of such grit in them. I suspect this is because digital and networked media has proliferated to such a degree that it affects almost every aspect of people’s lives. As a result, understanding its complexities requires an overview of the opportunities but also of the frustrations and anxieties it creates. Of course, I may well be wrong on that but I’m sure someone will put me right soon!