dbaileyblogpic1I’ve been to many Churchill Club events over the years. The May 19th conversation between LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and Joichi Ito, director of MIT’s media lab, was mind-blowing. I can’t remember ever hearing about so many big ideas or radical technologies in such a short amount of time.

Just scan through some of the tweets from last night’s attendees, and you’ll get a flavor for the “unique, anti-disciplinary culture” and “unconventional matching of seemingly disparate research areas” that the lab embodies. You’ll also see examples of radical innovation happening in different places around the world, together with how a couple of incredibly bright people challenge conventional thinking at every turn.     dbaileyblogpic2  

Just a smattering of a wide-ranging conversation on technologies and innovations that are, or likely will, shake up how we “live, learn, express ourselves, work and play,” to paraphrase the lab.

But if there was a common theme, I’d posit that it was this idea Joichi articulated: at the lab, they “force people out of their disciplines.” I think we communicators like to talk that talk—i.e., we’re all thinking about integrated marketing, digital and social. How do we learn and adapt so that we aren’t one-trick ponies seen as “just PR people,” or “just advertising” and the like? Walking out of the Churchill Club last night, it occurred to me that thinking is really pretty limited.

That reminded me of a former employee of mine, the inimitable Kelli Wheeler (@KelliP), who was chatting with me during her review about development areas she wanted to pursue for herself. “What do you want to do?” I asked, expecting to hear some version of answers I’d heard many times before from other employees—e.g., I want to learn more about investor relations; I’d like to do more corporate work; I’m interested in content marketing and advertising.

But Kelli P always looks at things differently. “I want to learn to code,” she said.

That was pretty radical thinking. And yet so obvious when she explained it to the effect of, “We work with all of these technologists, and coding is so much a part of what tech and innovation are all about. I want to learn how to do it so I can understand the tech better and relate to them better.”

Perhaps radical change starts when we force ourselves to do things in radically different ways and learn radically new things. I think that applies every bit as much to we comms professionals as it does to the geniuses of the MIT media lab and the phone designers on the factory floors of Shenzen.

What are some other ideas for radical things a marketing communications pro might do to be “anti-disciplinary?”

  • Take an introductory course in engineering (Or is quantum physics more like it?)
  • Learn carpentry (crafting something with physical materials, rather than words or images)
  • Shadow a salesperson for a day (to see what it’s like to really sell the stuff you’ve been marketing)

Would love to hear from you about your ideas.