Think + Do » an exploration of mission-driven marketing and design

Demolition Day

Photo of a wrecking ball crashing through a brick wall

About ten years ago, we remodeled the kitchen in our home. The upgrade created a better floor plan, more storage, more natural light, and another space to eat or do homework. In order to keep costs under control, we agreed to take on some of the work ourselves.

The first order of business was to demolish the old kitchen. Cue the sledgehammers! It was kind of fun for a day or two, but I wouldn’t want to do demo work all the time. We were most definitely the “unskilled labor” in that equation.

Every act of creation is first an act of destruction. – Pablo Picasso

Sometimes we need to let go of the past to move forward. Sometimes maintaining the status quo is an untenable position. And sometimes we are dragged kicking and screaming against our will to a new reality.

Because demolition is a necessary but blunt instrument, transitions can be painful as they push us beyond our comfort zones. Uncertainty replaces the familiar. One thing I’ve come to appreciate more over the last few years is that we are always in a state of transition. It’s just that sometimes we are more acutely aware of the sands shifting around us.

Ready. Fire. Aim.

There is a certain swashbuckling ethos that defines the titans of Silicon Valley, neatly summarized in Mark Zuckerberg’s directive to his Facebook developers: “Move fast and break things.”

This guiding principle – the need to experiment and make mistakes as the fastest way to learn and move forward – is widely accepted as a creative necessity.

But it can also blind companies (and individuals) to the unintended consequences of their destruction if no one is asking: “Is what we are creating good for customers? Is it good for society? Or is it only good for us?”

Who owns your personal data?

Over the past few weeks, Facebook has been very publicly at odds with Apple over its new privacy tool, which lets you choose which apps can see and share your data.

Facebook contends that Apple’s new policy will change the internet for the worse, reducing the availability of “high-quality free content.” If adopted widely, it also dramatically alters Facebook’s ability to make money off its users’ data.

As most savvy consumers should know by now – if the product is free, then you are the product. And most people seem to be fine with that … most of the time.

In a recent speech marking International Data Privacy Day, Apple CEO Tim Cook said:

“Technology does not need vast troves of personal data stitched together across dozens of websites and apps in order to succeed. Advertising existed and thrived for decades without it, and we’re here today because the path of least resistance is rarely the path of wisdom.”

“If a business is built on misleading users on data exploitation, on choices that are no choices at all, then it does not deserve our praise. It deserves reform.”

While large companies debate business models, the rest of us are left with a broken system.

An opportunity to fix things

As the global pandemic unfolds in America, it has revealed a number of dysfunctional systems in stark relief. From emergency preparedness, to health care access, fragmented and biased media, to racial inequality – we are a long way from a more equitable and perfect union.

We can no longer pretend that the “move fast and break things” model comes without a cost.

While it’s easier to tear things down than to build them up, this moment represents an opportunity to regroup and start building a better future.

Imagining a post-pandemic world

So what does all this have to do with design and marketing for mission-driven organizations? I can see at least three potential ways that this could (or should) affect your point of view and plans going forward:

  • What will digital marketing look like in a few years? If a majority of people choose to control their personal data, then the ability to target and reach customers online becomes much more difficult – and more expensive. How might you earn your customers’ trust – and permission to engage them – in a way that’s mutually beneficial?
  • The practice of human-centered design should continue to grow. Human-centered design is a creative approach to solving complex problems. It involves investigation, conversations, prototypes, and an iterative process to develop empathy with the people you are designing for – to create better long-term solutions.
  • Related to the previous point, but deserving its own focus, we need to include and work with more people who don’t look like us, people who come from different backgrounds and life experiences. Whether it’s been intentional or not, subtle or overt, too many people have been excluded from creating a more just and equitable world.

It’s unlikely that the pace of change will slow. Things are going to get broken. You can’t make a cake without breaking a few eggs, as they say. But what can change is our willingness and diligence to consider the consequences – to acknowledge and mitigate the destruction as we create new systems that serve all of us.