We are going to need artists

In a lecture room in Johannesburg recently I finished my class with a slide with only a strange square image that looked like a haphazardly coloured-in chessboard. The title on the slide was “Your class assignment.”

For the past 6 days I had been running a workshop with 38 of the future leaders of the creative industry. A class of copywriters, art directors and designers. The topic was digital marketing.

On the first day I asked the obvious opening question. “Who of you have blogs?” Not a single hand was raised. On the second last day of the workshop the students aimed their cellphone cameras at the square QR “barcode” on the screen, which led them to a website landing page with their instructions. Within a day a video response shot on those same phones to the viral “Die Antword” had been uploaded onto a video-sharing site and then embedded in a blog post on their individual blog sites and shared with the world. They had joined the revolution.

It has always bothered me that the education system focuses on teaching compliance. For 12 years at school and 3 years at university students are taught to listen, are rewarded for obedience and punished for daring to stray. It’s no wonder then that in a class of communications professionals none had a blog – they had not been told to have a blog.

I often feel that those who understand the tumultuous changes that have been brought about by the internet are living in a parallel universe. It’s a world in which people are connected, and because of the connections, the way they find stuff out, the way they buy, the way they communicate and the way they get things done has changed completely. In this world everything is possible and things happen at the speed of light.

Living right alongside us are people who don’t understand the extent to which South Africans are connected, whether they live in Diepsloot or Dainfern. People who don’t understand that the development of the mobile internet is happening eight times faster than the equivalent stage in the development of the PC internet. There are those that don’t even know about the millions and millions of messages a minute travelling along mobile-based IM channels in South Africa or the imminent availability of fast and cheap internet connections and how much influence that will have.

Many of these people are in influential positions spending advertising and marketing budgets. When the penny drops, we will find that as brand marketers we don’t have the ability to connect with our customers who are finding their own voice, that our marketing communications agencies, who have been following the same formulae for producing campaigns, are now seriously lost.

Pablo Picasso said “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up”

We are going to need artists in this new world. Where are we going to find them? Certainly not out of an education system that rewards compliance.



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