This week saw the 4A’s CreateTech conference in New York City for a rousing exchange of ideas from creative technologists and leaders in advertising. Focused on technology’s power to provide new forms of storytelling and engagement, this year’s event was focused on the new “Innovation Imperative,” a sink-or-swim feeling faced by organizations who find themselves anxious about identifying the next big thing—or struggling to catch up to the last one.
The conference had a sense of urgency about it, but not without excitement, too. Its prevailing theme was to look past preconceived notions of what’s possible and to view challenges as new opportunities. A shortlist of concerns: What if artificial intelligence threatens my job security? How can my organization reach audiences on cutting-edge channels? How do we anticipate the fabled Next Big Thing?
We must all become creative technologists.
Attendees didn’t have to wait very long for a solution to these questions. In her opening remarks, 4A’s President and CEO Marla Kaplowitz presented an edict in response to technology’s encroachment into the creative process: “We must all become creative technologists, at every level of the organization.” Easier said than done, perhaps, though with so many bright minds in a room together, plans of action were sure to emerge.
Eschew Fear for Fun
Our very own Sam Snider-Held, VR/AR Creative Technologist at MediaMonks NY, uses the term “techno-wizard” to describe the work that he does: “It’s like being a wizard, but instead of using magical stones and spell books, my tools are VR, AR, programming and machine learning.” In his playful talk “Becoming a Techno-Wizard,” Snider-Held expressed how a personal, creative goal can propel anyone “through learning all the hard, technical stuff” in their way. In essence, creative technologists should have fun.
For Snider-Held, that goal is “technologically-driven lucid dreaming,” or translating environments from imagination to virtual space with as little friction as possible using machine learning. This nod to imagination and play highlights how ingenuity shouldn’t be lost in working with tech. In fact, at a later CreateTech panel on artificial intelligence, event emcee Charlie Oliver and CEO of Tech2025 mused how “Something that’s missing in AI is ‘charm.’” Basically, she says, technology’s status as a black box sometimes leads to a sense of unease for creatives and marketers who don’t yet understand it.
But this anxiety about the changing tech landscape is exactly why Snider-Held suggests everyone empower themselves to leverage for their own goals. “AI isn’t going to take my job,” he says. “Instead, it’s allowing me to spend more time to make cool things rather than do detail-oriented, repetitive work.”
Become a Techno-Wizard
Snider-Held may be right that the closest thing we have to magic is technology, but how does a techno-muggle become a techno-wizard? The answer lies in committing to a constant willingness to learn and expand your (or your team’s) skillset bit-by-bit through an iterative process.
AI allows me to spend more time on making cool things.
The industry tends to think of innovation and “the next big thing” as a monolith—a disrupting force that must be unlocked. But this view obscures all the little things that made it possible to arrive at the big thing. In his opening keynote at CreateTech, Dr. Kumar Mehta offered a tongue-twisting shift of perspective: “The thing behind the next big thing might be ‘the thing.’” He gave the example of how the invention of the wheel is seen as remarkable, “but what gave it value was the axle, which attached it to a movable platform.” Innovation, then, is an iterative process where one thing leads to another—the big thing is an aggregate of little things. Those who really want to lead in “innovation” must first and foremost treat it as a learning process where experimentation can eventually lead to value.
This way of thinking provides a more approachable framework for adapting to trends: start somewhere small and work up from there. Snider-Held walked the audience through his iterative process of creating a simple tool that performs complex world-building tasks in virtual reality. With just a few gestures, the tool lets you place AI-designed, animated three-dimensional assets within the space.
Make your boss happy by making yourself happy first.
Just a small experiment born out of curiosity—“What if I could use machine learning to place assets in a virtual environment?”—snowballed into something bigger, resulting in a tool that could help Snider-Held and colleagues design much faster. But the experiment isn’t the only thing that transformed: so did Snider-Held. “I started off being the AR and VR guy on the team,” he told the audience, “but now I’m the AR, VR and machine learning guy.” He also mentioned how such experiments can result in ready-made prototypes that can serve as tangible solutions to new problems, showing how the techno-wizard mindset is as useful to entire organizations as it is for inspired individuals.
In summary, “Don’t wait for opportunities,” says Snider-Held, which really speaks to the over-arching theme of the event. Organizations shouldn’t wait for a big change but continually seek out new ways of doing things. Through this, both organizations and individuals can enjoy a new sense of confidence and enthusiasm to tackling the latest trend challenges.
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