Let me be clear. I'm not saying we shouldn't have a "creative" group, or a strategy group or a tech group etc. What I am saying is that the "department mentality" needs to go away—like permanently. If you watched the series "Mad Men" then you got a pretty insightful view into the creative process as defined by hierarchy, departments and politics. I always get a chuckle when an episode shows the "art department" slaving away on print ads in a remote part of the building. I guess it worked back then. For the creation of messages and ads, this may have been a pretty efficient system. And though not "science" as one of the main characters puts it—the output could be somewhat replicated even though an amazing advertising campaign is rare to come by. But having an "art dept", a "copy dept" and high ranking big cheeses who called the shots was the nature of the business back in the day.
Now by contrast, take the famous "IDEO shopping cart" video and compare. I've seen this video many times and it always inspires and gets me thinking. Sure there are senior people calling the shots, there is hierarchy—but there is something very different in how this creative process works. It starts with research, not an ad hock brainstorming session. Teams go out into the world to discover insights for themselves. Roles blur and ideas come from everywhere. Practical ones. Whacky ones. Debate happens, but at the end of the day teams begin quickly visualizing and building concepts based off insights + observation. Prototypes aren't talked about, they start coming together at light speed. The only thing that resembles a "department" in the video is the "shop" which actually built the finished prototype with real materials, wielding some heavy machinery. It was organized chaos and collaboration under a shared purpose. It's a classic example of innovation. The team set out to design a better shopping cart, but in the end took a decent stab at solving a much bigger problem:
Designing a better shopping experience.
Problem is that many of us are still hooked on the "department" model even though we really want to be more like the "shopping cart model". If you work in the digital design space, the shopping cart model is more relevant that the "department" model. We have the potential to create meaningful experiences which influence human behavior—how we shop, connect and do business. Need proof? Think E-bay, Craigslist, Amazon, Dell, Citi, Apple, Netvibes, Google, et al. But we have lots of work to do to incorporate this style of working in an industry that was built on departments, messages and making promises.
If agencies genuinely desire to innovate, then it's time to kill the "department mentality". If they just want to make money, then keeping the department mentality alive and well is OK. But at some point, the ability to innovate won't be optional—and that's when the department mentality will become a liability.