How the marketing industry can turn millennials into innovation leaders

December 09, 2013  |  Suzanne Filiatrault  |  Comments

Innovation is what drives our industry. The future of our business lies in attracting young people who are hardwired to solve business problems in innovative and creative ways.

So what motivates millennials who’ve been raised on digital social interactivity with an abundance of resources? It’s the need to use knowledge they’ve gained and implement it in meaningful ways.

Millennials are more intrinsically motivated by meaningful work and access to training than they are by extrinsic motivators such as compensation. As a cohort they have a hunger for information and access it more freely, more transparently and faster than any generation before them. In traditional organizational structures that require young staff to pay their dues in a “sink or swim” performance mentality, it’s easy to stifle their motivation.

The advertising and communication industries have long worshipped at the altar of creativity, though when we look for innovation we must understand there’s a fundamental difference between creativity and innovation. Creative people are passionate, sensitive, curious and open to new experiences, but perhaps better at identifying problems than solving them. An innovator is a person who can turn a brilliant idea into a successful service, product, message or experience.

Given the proper tools, creatively inclined people can become strong innovators and confidently apply their creativity to solve business problems. This includes millennials. However, skills development is often seen as a complex and expensive proposition for agencies to invest in on their own. Compounding the issue is an uncertain connection between investing in employee training and seeing a return on that investment.

Fairfax Cone, founder of Foote, Cone and Belding, observed many years ago that an agency’s greatest asset was its employees. That axiom is even more true today. The companies that nurture innovation win. The issue is recommitting to the belief that the success of our industry is built on the shoulders of highly engaged, problem-solving people.

The solution is to harness millennials’ ability to learn faster and provide them with greater opportunities to engage, while also supporting their need to build skills in framing business problems, thinking creatively and executing effectively. Millennials want to learn faster and contribute sooner, and innovative thinking skills can be built with learning, practice and mentorship.

One example of the kind of training available is the Hyper Island Master Class series, which took place in Vancouver last week. Another I’d put in a plug for (full disclosure: I work for the ICA) is the ICA’s CAAP professional accreditation program.

We are committed to finding ways to expand access to this program by unbundling all the skills offered within the CAAP program while providing direct access at an individual course level. Our goal is to bridge the gap between what people need to excel and what employers need to see as a tangible return on an investment in training.

The need for R&D in today’s business capital landscape is well documented. Only recently did the critical nature of human capital development start to be addressed. Development of the capabilities of our people is at least equal in importance to the business capital development of systems and processes. The time to shift the paradigm of what investment in “development” really means for our industry and for our people is now. The industry as a whole will be the better for it.

Suzanne Filiatrault is director, talent development at the Institute of Communication Agencies (ICA).

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