No navel-gazing here

News And Views

News & Views

  • 2 May 2019
  • Stuart Yeardsley


There is a line of thought that you can split every business into one of two camps of business culture: one that nurtures questions and one that rewards answers. But why is this, and why does it matter for communications professionals?

In our industry, as we’re increasingly asked to be brave and to solve more commercial challenges than ever before, our ability to influence uncompromising colleagues and those on the C-Suite lies in the art of asking the right questions.

There’s no such thing as a stupid question, as the saying goes. But in reality, we’re rarely encouraged to pipe up in a boardroom or on a conference call with an unrelated musing or painfully honest question about the business. And yet, sometimes, these awkward questions can lead to ideas so compelling that they can’t be avoided. Some of the world’s biggest and most successful companies flourish because the capacity to debate awkward provocations is baked into their culture. But as an industry are we nurturing this ability?

Conversational competence

We now operate in a space where all the world’s data is at our fingertips and businesses increasingly expect us to have all the answers.

Immediately. It’s a fast-paced world where business communications is often done via technology and screens, and because of this, we believe there’s a danger of jobs beings defined by executing habitual transactions rather than nurturing relationships.

For us, this is another reason why we value asking questions. It gives us the time to listen and develop understanding. It is the first act of curiosity, learning and knowledge creation. Questions also enable great conversations and build relationships.

Conversational competence nurtures the ability to hone ideas, thoughts and beliefs together. Through trusted partnerships, we can help to steer brands so that people actually care. To do this we need to be creatively brave and break long-standing paradigms and well-worn category norms which accept the status quo. Indifference is a lonely place, after all.

Only then will we unlock brilliant ideas that move from audience to audience under their own power, enabling businesses and brands to become part of the cultural conversation. Ideas that create a lasting impression with business impact and not just impressions.

But being creatively brave isn’t easy. It takes courage. Doing brave creative work can mean that we have to push for a decision that’s ‘a hard right over an easy wrong’. We have to be prepared to stick our neck out and keep asking why.

At the heart of creative bravery, it’s about asking the right questions - the hard questions. But if you’re not talking the same language when it comes to the work, how can you enable and develop behaviour changing conversations?

Most clients don’t have a common language. The word creativity is banded around carelessly. It means different things to different people. It’s instinctive. The result? Frustration. Mediocre briefs. Mediocre responses and mediocre creative work.

We need a common language around excellence when it comes to earned creative storytelling, let alone to evaluate the merits of creatively brave work, objectively. That’s why at 3 Monkeys Zeno, we created the Human Impact Creative Scale.

It’s a framework created by us and our clients, to embed best creative behaviour across the agency, by ensuring everyone adopts the same language and uses similar criteria to define what great ‘brave’ and ‘unexpected’ creativity is.

The backbone is an internal tool based on questions and questioning to trigger and assess creative work to ensure we are always fearlessly deviating from the norm, taking the road less travelled with unexpected solutions to client’s business problems.

To hear more about our thinking on this, please join us at the PR360 Conference in Brighton on 9th &10th May. Stuart Yeardsley and Sarah Ogden from 3 Monkeys Zeno will be hosting a roundtable discussion on whether there is a higher power to delivering campaign creativity and C-suite consultancy through asking before solving, and should our industry place more value on this in 2019. We hope to see you there.