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Technologist - A new role in your organisation - Part 1: Creative Technologist

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If you work in an office, it's likely that your job title will include one of the following words: Administrator, Agent, Analyst, Architect, Assistant, Associate, Coordinator, Consultant, Designer, Developer, Director, Engineer, Executive, Facilitator, Leader, Liaison, Manager, Officer, Planner, President, Producer, Representative, Specialist, Strategist, Supervisor, Support or Technician.

However, it's less likely many of you will have 'technologist' in your job title. This is about to change. Over the last couple of years we've seen an increasing number of new job types and roles, all fuelled by the rise of technology in the enterprise.

Over the next couple of posts, I will review two emerging technologist jobs starting with the Creative Technologist in this post and then looking at the Marketing Technologist in a future post.

But first, what is a Technologist? What's the difference with technician, developer or engineer? Interestingly, when you search for technologist on the web it returns over 23 million results, yet there's no official definition of the word. Wikipedia just returns a list of technologist roles and Cambridge Dictionary defines it simply as: "someone who works with a particular technology".

I like to think that the etymology of the word technologist effectively comes from the merging of technology and strategist, where technology strategists apply their technical knowledge in a strategic or creative context.

If there was such thing as a technological skill-set spectrum with 'think' on one end and 'do' on the other, I'd say that technologists live in the 'think' area, technicians perform in the 'do' area with engineers spanning both areas.

Let's take a first example: Creative Technologists. Who are they? What characterises them? What do they do and how do they fit in the creative agency environment?

Creative Technologists are a new type of agency breed. Also known as Creative Geek (or 'Creek' for short), it has a very unique and mixed profile. It's a profile where the left side of the brain meets the right side. Creeks are logical, rational, analytical and objective, which are all qualities coming from their technical background and left side of the brain, while equally they are random, intuitive, synthesising and subjective which are all qualities coming from the right side and creative side of the brain. They have this unique blend that looks at the parts as well as the whole.

Daniel H. Pink said once "Logical and precise, left-brain thinking gave us the Information Age. Now comes the Conceptual Age - ruled by artistry, empathy, and emotion," and while I like his views I find that in reality it is the merging of the logical and conceptual that produces the best experiences, therefore giving us instead the "Experiential Age". The best illustration of this is smartphones. Take the iPhone or the latest Nokia Lumia for instance. They are works of art where incredible engineering mastery is equally met by amazing finesse and artistry which as a whole produce this unique 'emotional' bond that owners feel with it (just observe how people react when they drop their smartphone on the floor).

In an agency you will find Creeks in various teams, whether in Creative, Technical, Planning or Account teams. Creeks have also various levels of seniority. It's actually an interesting dilemma: how do you judge the level of seniority of a Creek. Is this someone who's more creative than technical? Is it the opposite? Is it the one who's been doing the role the longest? The most awarded? Also where does the Creek really fit in an agency. I quite like the idea of being the third member of the creative team (Art Director, Copywriter and the Creek). But practically does it work? One thing for sure is that to be a good Creek you've got to keep up with the latest innovation (well, the best Creeks not only keep up with innovation, they innovate themselves) so this means working very closely with the technical developers.

The reality is that there's no strong rule on where the Creative Technologist should sit. If they sit in a creative team they have to work very closely with the developers and if they sit in a technical team they have to work very closely with the creative team. It's also critical for the team leads to leave the ego at the door. CTOs and ECDs must pair and form the most senior creative team in the agency and lead by example. The best agencies have understood this a long time ago. The most successful ones have not only located those teams physically near each other, they also have processes that take technical input earlier in the project lifecycle and, more importantly, they create a culture where technology is as much celebrated as creative thinking.

David Harris, Executive Creative Director at Wunderman and my partner in crime, put it brilliantly: "When an ECD and CTO get together they create a window through which each of them can see into each other's worlds. The one sees ideas and visions in a world of possibility, the other sees unleashed potential in a world of probability. When they start connecting, their thinking becomes an osmosis of 'createchnology' and the worlds fuse into one. And the world they create becomes populated by people who learn to think in an unfettered way".

David also adds: "The notion of the creative technologist isn't new - it's just one that has been stifled by an education system that likes to partition learning. Leonardo da Vinci. Arguably one of the greatest artists ever. And the world's most famous inventor. And a military strategist, an engineer, an anatomist, botanist and writer. Many of the greatest scientific discoveries have been made through observing completely unrelated things and making connections between them. That's how our brains work - by making different connections".

Obviously the best work doesn't always co-depend on technology. A great tagline is still a very effective advertising technique. Having said that, one can argue that it is in fact completely co-dependent as the alphabet is one of the best technologies the human race has ever created.