The power of a network is learning | ICOM

One of the things I seemed to underestimate most before my time at Switch is the power of being in an international network. I’d always seen these as a way to network socially with people who are in a similar position as you are. While this might be fun, there is no real business value to this other than the potential of growing your business. However, if you’re networking with your peers – growing your business is always going to be hard internally.
Over the past few years, however, I’ve really seen that the value of being in an international network of peers is a fantastic way to learn as much as you can about your industry and about business in general. Before I delve deeper, I’ll give some context.

First of all – what am I talking about?

Switch is the only Maltese agency that forms part of ICOM ( – the world’s largest network of independent agencies. This network covers most of the world’s markets and includes some of the largest independent agencies from the territories represented.
The network offers incredible benefits, we get to ask people for help when we’re stuck creatively, we get to use resources from other agencies when we’re out of our element with a particular subject and we also have the opportunity to pitch for cross-border business together, and send employees on exchanges.
One of the most powerful parts of the network, however, is the meetings element of it. Twice a year we’re invited to meetings – one’s global and one’s regional. At these meetings, we have three days during which everyone pitches in as much as they can about a particular subject to help everyone else improve in that area.

Let’s go back to October

Last October we were invited to the European regional meeting in Budapest, and I headed over together with a colleague of mine for three days that would probably help us improve our business (and that of our clients) immeasurably. The theme of the meeting was creativity, and, while this might seem obvious for a meeting of (mostly) creative agencies, the approach to it was fantastic.

We learnt a lot about how creativity can help agencies like ours, however there are some lessons that we learnt that can be applied to most businesses – and today I’d like to share them with you. Even if you might think that creativity might not apply to your particular area of work, I’m sure you can glean a lesson or two from what we learnt.

Applying creative processes to innovation

One of the most powerful workshops of the meeting was set up by Ravid Kuperberg, one of the partners and trainers at Mindscapes, who are creativity trainers based in Israel. Ravid and his team believe that you can crack creativity by making it process-driven. They help brands all over the world increase their products and revenue through the application of creativity.
From a very practical perspective, however, he gave us three ways of looking at problems differently, no matter what their nature is:

  • Ideas are modular:

His theory is that when we look at a problem in its entirety it might seem far too complex. If we learn how to break down problems into smaller parts, some parts might solve themselves, and others will seem far simpler to solve than others. Once you’re done, putting all the solutions together will give you a much better solution than if you tried to solve the problem as a whole.

  • Think inside the box:

When you try to think outside the box you’re actually making life much harder for yourself and your team. Instead, try being creative with the box itself. Study the parameters that are set by the problem in front of you and use these in ways that are unexpected.

  • Break objects into sub-parts:

When looking for new ways of coming up with new ideas (new business, HR issues etc) be sure to break down anything you can into to the smallest units possible. Don’t look at a car as a car – look at every bit of it that you can study and try to figure out ways with everything. Down to a tyre thread. Everything matters. Someone once said that if you improve 1% day you’ve improved by 100% in under 70 days (assuming that you can keep the improvements in place). So look at small incremental improvements, not big ticket ones that can be disheartening.

Applying creativity to grow your business

The other part that really stuck with me is how we tend to look at our business in a very linear way. However, if we look at all the components in our business we can find that we have the skills, the resources and the capacity to run businesses that might not be as related to our core business.
This allows for a scope of growing exponentially because it removes the traditional limitations of business development. Artificial Group, the host agency of the meeting in Budapest, experimented with this and found that they had all the resources in-house to successfully launch a new brand of beer. True, they did not have a brewer in-house, they had to outsource that part of it, but most brands outsource manufacturing anyway nowadays, so that didn’t make much of a difference.

And in the end…

The bottom line is that there are many lessons to be learnt here. First of all network for all you’re worth. The more people you meet and discuss with, the more you can learn and the more you gain. Apply creativity and creative processes in every aspect of your life – it’s not just something that a design studio should be concerned with. Creative thinking can help us solve problems that seem to have no logical solutions.

One year on.

October is just a few weeks away, which means that we’re gearing up for the next regional meeting. This one means a lot more to us than usual – Switch is hosting, and everyone’s coming to our favourite island for our next dose of inspiration. We’ll be sharing lots more about this year’s event in the coming weeks, so keep your eyes peeled.

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