Want to inspire an industry? Here are 5 steps to take

Liz Penton
By Liz Penton | 28 March 2023
Liz Penton.

In crafting her Inspiration X talk for MFA EX 2022, EssenceMediacom’s Liz Penton was driven by the value of curiosity, connection and community. Along the way, she learned a few valuable lessons in how to create a breakthrough thought piece.

Connection is everywhere and connection is everything.

It’s a basic human need, it’s what powers us, it’s what makes us run, it’s what brings us joy and drives breakthrough creativity in our beautiful industry.

If they say grow through what you go through, the last few years have really proven the value in connection and community. Lockdowns, relocations, redundancies, natural disasters, war and a cost of living crisis have challenged us in ways we often struggle to retell.

It wasn’t until the pandemic, when connection was completely taken away, that I realised how important it really was. And missing it, it became my subject matter.

My curiosity to understand human connection was a key driver to my Inspiration X concept piece “Humans, We Have A Problem” at last year’s MFA EX conference, my rallying cry for the industry to reconsider how we incorporate human outcomes. Human outcomes is the breakthrough that unlocks and strengthens connection by focusing on the person behind it, most commonly through problem solving. Check out my talk here.

Since presenting at MFA EX, industry friends have asked how one creates a breakthrough thought piece. As cringeworthy as it sounds, ideas can come from anywhere and the journey to the destination is different for everyone. There really isn’t a set-in-stone process.

However, I’m all about building communities that share knowledge, and here are five steps I took in developing “Humans, We Have a Problem”.

Step 1: Research The Rabbit Hole

During the pandemic, I fell into a research rabbit hole. Each week there would be a new Booktopia order on my doorstep. From industry theory, effectiveness papers, and industry leader books. What I found in the majority of these papers (besides the fact most are written by white men) is that they drill in on ROI and brand outcomes. This is useful and needed, however, they fail to address human outcomes and connection in the way we talk about it as an industry. I found myself asking where is the meaningfulness? The genuineness? Where is the human? It was like they had forgotten the human behind the connection.

Step 2: Step Outside

A little frustrated, my curiosity pushed me to look outside of our industry to the likes of  Brene Brown (Vulnerability Researcher), Roy Baumiser (Belonginister Theory) and Amy Webb (Futurist). I also dabbled in naturalistic observation, the art of simply sitting outside and observing people (sounds creepy, I know). But it was the moment when I got outside of our industry, I had my best ideas and got really inspired.

I began seeing bigger picture problems. I noted everything down, simply capturing questions, thoughts, ideas. I started by writing one sentence, that turned into two sentences, that turned into a paragraph. Then over time, turned into an essay.

Step 3: Finding A Safe Space To Unmute

Having ideas is one thing, but really finding the voice to share it was another. Traditionally our industry hasn’t been the best at providing safe spaces for people to share opinions without paying the criticism tax. Which over time has resulted in premature death of ideas and a lot of people thinking on mute.

For me, I’m lucky to be working at agencies that create the right conditions for colleagues to share breakthrough ideas and curate safe spaces for everyone to be provocative. Which was crucial to the development of my idea and personal growth too.

Step 4: Better Homes and Gardens

With so much content, it was challenging to decide how to house so many ideas. I questioned what ideas needed cutting and what needed prioritising. Ideas that didn’t make the final cut didn’t necessarily get left behind either, but instead rehomed to better homes, for future upcoming thought pieces.

And there was a lot of gardening. This is the idea of pulling out the weeds and editing. Gardening is the process of auditing every sentence ensuring every word is adding value. Words are important and need to be concrete. With my MFA EX talk being capped at four minutes, it is safe to say there was a lot of digging in the garden.

Step 5: Packaging

The hardest part was coming up with a name for my talk that neatly packaged it all up.

On a mission to find a title, I decided to focus on the underlying principle for producing human outcomes. By far the number one principle was problem solving, which inspired the best title ever – “Humans, We Have A Problem”.

So that’s it! That’s my story on how I developed “Humans, We Have A Problem”.

Exploring curiosity, connection and community is invaluable and really allowed me to grow through the last few years (that we all experienced). The road is different for everyone, however I would encourage anyone to put time aside to explore your passions beyond your day-to-day.

Your voice matters and it’s likely the person sitting next to you is asking the same questions. The more we share our ideas, the better inventions and diverse breakthroughs we can achieve as an industry.

To submit your own Inspiration X idea for MFA EX 2023, download the content brief and get cracking before the 4 April deadline: 

For anyone growing through what they are going through and feeling impacted from the recent years, below are two helpful resources:

  • Anxious As Anything – Friendly mental health buddy/global resource for overthinkers
  • The Redundants – An empowering global resource with tools to help find confidence and your next adventure.

Liz Penton is Entertainment & Culture Strategy Director at EssenceMediacom.

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