Human creativity and imagination is our point of difference, but our current work model does not fit with evolving technology – let’s make work better, says Amy Daroukakis, a freelance Cultural Strategist.

This opinion piece is part of WARC’s Future of Strategy 2023 report.

Since the beginning of the year, I have been observing the cultural zeitgeist of AI for one of the world’s biggest tech brands. It’s been eye-opening; I now have a new appreciation for how AI can redefine how we work/spend our time. With the plethora of advancements happening at a frightening and exhilarating speed, work [if we’re willing] can look different from what it does today.

We currently use AI as an aid for basic tasks like editing grammar, research, etc., but as AI evolves, it will eliminate the need for low-level decision-making and distractive “productivity,” thus enabling us to rebalance how we look at work and how we spend our time, opening up breathing space to pursue our human sweet spot – inspiring ideas and finding strategic solutions. 

It is ironic that the key ingredients we sell to clients and promise, the ability to deliver insights, inspiration and cultural understanding, paired with a knack at spotting new opportunities and new ways of looking at the world, is not a key part of our workday. Business busyness remains our biggest barrier; we need time to weave in human touch, thoughts and heart. 

Many agencies have created workplaces that are becoming ecosystems of exhaustion, which means our creativity is paying the price. From Berlin to New York and London, it’s not uncommon to hear, “I’m burnt out”, “I’m just waiting for the right moment to quit”, “What’s freelancing like?”, “If you hear of any new roles, I’m looking to leave,” “I can’t expand my team; they just put on a hiring freeze.” We are at a very real risk of losing incredible talent, not attracting new creative/strategic minds, or continuing to diversify who we hire, retain and promote. 

But there is hope; we can adapt. As we near the end of 2023, moving forward to 2024, we’re entering a new creative era, and the strategic skills we all possess as strategists, our ability and experience to come at a challenge from a new perspective every time, are needed now more than ever. Our very jobs depend on amplifying the very best qualities of human creativity in order to remain relevant both as a creative industry and as a strategist. 

The following are ways to dial up your “inner human” in order to refuel your creativity and imagination. 

  1. Use AI as a co-pilot, not a crutch: A very 2023 quote, “Artificial intelligence will not replace you, a person using it will,” is apt. But it’s important to note it takes human direction to know when and where to use this technology; it will remain essential to understand what developments are happening and how AI can benefit or hinder your work, but remember, for all the tools out there, creativity will still set you apart in the AI era
  2. Don’t be dictated (or distracted) solely by the data: Historic behaviours and buying habits will only tell you so much. Data has a place; it’s important to know how to read and interpret data. Sometimes, the best insights live beyond notable data.
  3. Get outside (that’s where your audience is): If I had a pound or a dollar for every time I heard a pitch team ask, “Can you just ask your friends?” We need to be willing to invest in getting to know and keep on top of the audiences we are trying to reach. This investment can be both big [qual/quant work] and small [empowering your teams with time and money to “get outside” and explore past their own interests and backyards] 
  4. Let it simmer (speed is not always the answer): What tech does well is speed; we can’t compete against answers in seconds. Instead, invest in exploring to find more context – “the answer” is not always what dazzles; it’s the story, it's the considered choice, the nuances and the learnings that matter. 
  5. Upskill on Emotional Intelligence: The ability to read a room [and client] is a uniquely human quality, and observing the needs of others is vital. But like any skill, it’s worth investing time and effort to improve our empathy to connect more deeply with our audiences. 
  6. Don’t control where work happens: Not everyone is a Monday meeting person; some of the best ideas I’ve ever come up with are on buses, and there are plenty of other minds that are sharper after 7 p.m. Loosen the restraints of when and how work happens. We are slowly eroding the meaning of “hybrid” [4 days at a desk does not count]; many of us love the ability to work from anywhere, not just from the office. 
  7. Value difference and diversity: We can do better. We have a legacy of not reflecting the outside world within agency walls. The variance of voices is what will set us apart from each other and AI (generally a singular viewpoint that can be incredibly biased). It’s up to all of us to lead change. 
  8. Earmark a Thinking Thursday [or your favourite day): Pick one day a week for pure thinking time and guard it with your life against meetings. Start or end the day with something that inspires you, and get outside for both a walk and lunch – the more new (foods, flavours, new spots), the better. 
  9. Support beyond your office walls: The World will only get more complex in the coming years, and our ability to problem-solve is a gift our community needs, not just clients. Whatever your passion is, there is someone who needs what you offer. I promise you’ll get more out of it than you give.
  10. Protect your greatest asset (your creativity) and leave (if you have to): There are many skills you can learn, but your creativity is your own magic ingredient; it’s your own uniqueness and an important part of your identity. 

If you continue to work in an environment that slowly diminishes your spirit, your spark and joy. Leave. Because your imagination and creativity are your key commodities and worth protecting. 

We can work differently, but it will require some bravery on our part. Are you willing to adapt?