As I write this, the Havas offices overlooking New York’s Canal Street are festooned with all manner of window art created with sticky notes. We’ve managed to find ourselves in a "Post-it War" with a bunch of our neighbors, including Horizon Media, Harrison and Star, and Getty Images. I humbly submit to you that we are winning. (Some might disagree … )
There are two things that strike me about this "war": First, that it’s an incredibly energizing explosion of creativity and camaraderie. And second, that it’s unlikely such a thing would have erupted to this degree a couple of decades ago. Partly this is because we wouldn’t have been able to egg each other on via social media. And partly it’s because workplaces — even creative agencies — were less open to extended bouts of silliness. Businesses of all types engaged in the occasional prank, but I doubt you would have found senior management huddled in war rooms planning the next volley. And I’m quite certain the 20th-century 3M wouldn’t have stoked the fires by distributing secret agent-type briefcases filled with reinforcement sticky notes, pixel-art tips, and words of solidarity.
This isn’t the first window-art war the world has seen. Some stunning art was on display in The Great French Post-it War of 2011. That skirmish pitted software maker Ubisoft against BNP bank. The fact that bankers devoted working hours to crafting cartoon and video game characters for the amusement of their competitors across the street speaks volumes about how fundamentally the business world has changed. We can give some credit for this to the increasing casualness of each of the post-World War II generations. The Baby Boomers chafed against mindless conformity every bit as much as today’s Millennials push back against regimented schedules.
Even more important, the changed nature of our workplaces is driven by the fact that companies across industries now recognize how vital creativity is to their sustained success. We all know that the physical assets you own matter less now than how you use them — and how agilely you can reshape your business to thrive under each new set of conditions that appears. We also know that corporate agility is reliant not just on organizational flexibility, but also on the nimble and innovative thinking of the talent who power the enterprise. That sort of thinking doesn’t come naturally in a buttoned-up environment.
For the advertising industry, it’s never been more important to embrace fun as a cultural component. Every aspect of our business has become so intensive that we need to take advantage of release valves wherever and whenever we can. For many of us, that’s meant doubling down on workplace amenities and opportunities for social interactions. The current #canalnotes Post-It War has reminded me that whatever we do for fun within our own companies can be made even better when we engage with people in other businesses. Let’s keep it going.