AI and the Coming of the Imagination Workers

By GroupM Archives
Cover image for  article: AI and the Coming of the Imagination Workers

For a generation, people in marketing services industries have been referred to as information workers. It's been clear though that the volume of data and speed of processing has meant man has lost to the machine.

In truth, of course, we have actually been intelligence workers at all but the lowest or entry levels of our business for some time. We take information and interpret it to provide direction and action.

As artificial intelligence becomes a commercial reality the human input becomes increasingly superficial or even an impediment to its deployment. There is a long history of human denial in the adoption of technology, driven largely by fear of our own redundancy.

If we choose to accept and embrace AI and its potential, we also choose to find a new way to position ourselves. In the alliterative tradition, we should redefine ourselves as imagination workers.

Imagination workers identify high order challenges presented by societal and behavioral change. They work through solutions using information processing and AI capabilities to both identify a problem and test hypothetical solutions using tools like agent based modeling for validation.

For simplicity let's think about Echo and Alexa, it's alter ego. Fearful people in marketing recoil at the threat to their place in a world in which the consumer simply asks Alexa to replenish a brand. The information worker is lost, the intelligence worker is lost also as the Amazon ecosystem learns how to predict the next time the same request will occur.

The imagination worker on the other hand might ask themselves how the consumer knows which brand to ask for and, more importantly, how to maintain or disrupt the inertia of that request -- or how to be a ghost in the machine. They might also be encouraged by the idea that in Alexa's world the consumer has no opportunity to experience the in-store moment of truth, and that this has forced a large-scale reallocation of marketing investment to store promotion.

The imagination worker realizes that to ask for something is to know of its existence and to create preference that leads to trial and so on. They apply their imagination to different solutions to this problem from advertising to experience, from broad reach to surgical analysis of pockets of demand. They apply it to single channels and to channels in combination. They imagine functional and emotional triggers and design test matrices that leverage computing power to sort the cute ideas from business transforming solutions.

Creating imagination workers is as simple as building a diverse coalition of the curious. People who think about how, why and what if. The responsibility of management is the encouragement of the curious, the provision of the tools of analysis and ensuring grounding in the business challenges and potential solutions.

There's nothing artificial about curiosity; without which there is little imagination. Without that we leave everything to the algorithm and a grey future of echo chambers and inertia.

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