Monday, April 30, 2007

Linear and parallel thinking

Over the last 20 years the divergence of two different modus operandi of getting work done has increased: the paradigm of linear versus parallel thinking and concept development. One could track the birth of parallel thinking to the emergence of the 64 bit processor at the end of the 80ies, co-developed between the company “Thinking Machines” and the MIT. This innovation enabled synergies and processes that the human brain has difficulty to replicate. The first super computers utilizing the power of parallel processing were early indicators of a new wave of information analysis that challenged the traditional human paradigm of linearity.

And this has significant implication for any marketer. Most marketers are still heavily entrenched into pure linear thinking and concepts, most have never intellectually digested the rise of the parallel thinking modus. This is well reflected in the dominant marketing phenomena of the sales funnel, a purely linear pseudo real representation of how consumers approach shopping decisions. Or in the concept of brand building that always needs to start with creating a huge amount of awareness and recall amongst target consumers. Both concepts are plain wrong or too simplistic in the postmodern universe of parallel value creation and behavior.

I am arguing for introducing the concept of parallel thinking into our marketing design and strategy universe. What could this mean for our marketing practice?
  • Replace the concept of linear marketing creation with an approach that is simultaneous and parallel value creation by all participating marketing functions. It’s not about improving the communication between different functional marketing silos but about destroying any functional boundaries for any key moment within the marketing value creation process
  • Hire people who are not used to linear thinking processes anymore. These are individuals who have grown up with the similarity of most of their activities, from computer games to simultaneous multi-media consumption and communication pattern
  • Don’t force a marketing team into a step driven process. Give the team a desired outcome and let the team create any process that they like. The only process relevant guidance is a clear description of the desired outcome. The team can create its own individual path.
  • Teach the benefits and limitations of linear and parallel thinking and value creation. It’s not about deciding between any of these paradigms; it’s about the smart usage of the right approach for a particular situation.

The traditional separation between linear and parallel thinking and approaches will be soon dissolved. It’s not that the parallel paradigm will make the linear one obsolete but digital innovations will require a productive coexistence of both. It should make of interesting times. But first we marketers need to integrate the paradigm of parallel thinking and creation into our daily practice.

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