How ‘wasted time’ improved our last brand strategy workshop

This week we brought back a lot of pre-pandemic memories when we hosted our most recent brand strategy workshop in our client’s office. Sessions like this one had all gone fully virtual for the past 16 months but it was a great time to experience what it used to feel like, and very importantly, identify one big advantage of it that we never paid attention to.

For a session we scheduled to start by 11 am and had everyone set in the boardroom by that time, we didn’t start the prepared questions and exercises or make any use of sticky notes till about two hours after. We spent, (or if you like, wasted) all that time getting to know each other better, and this was beyond formal introductions. Think rather of a mix of jokes, ‘unofficial’ busts of laughter while we munched on some lovely pancakes they had ordered for us; progressing to people talking about their backgrounds, and even opinions on culturally sensitive issues like atheism/faith, sexual orientation, while a number of people are getting match-made and put on the spot in hilarious manners… and you will have a better picture.

What is more interesting was how this was unplanned. We didn’t strategically set out to “spend two hours getting personal” with the client team, although we may keep it in mind for other sessions, looking at how much good it did. It really just happened.

But would do this happen on a virtual session? Maybe not, and perhaps that’s why it gave us a clearer view of the unique benefits of a physical session where you feel the energy of other people, laugh with them, and be human with them as much as possible within that time frame. Perhaps this makes an important reminder that while virtual technology makes a good alternative, and we should still do more of it, especially in a time like this, it does not, and should not fully replace physical sessions.

When you are isolated in your room, trying to hold a session with other isolated humans via a computer screen, you want to get straight to the point. Nobody wants to be on a virtual call for more than 90 mins or 120 at most. Now, the problem with getting straight to the point is you are unable to go beneath the surface. You miss out on both depth and width. Depth, because participants put in the most reasonable-sounding answers, and you can’t return that look of “no, don’t give me that, tell me what you really think”, like we did a lot this time. Width, because everyone is trying to keep the meeting short and go back to work or other meetings. So, “there is no time to waste”, and therein lies the problem.

There is a problem when “there is no time to waste” because like *Opeyemi Olugbemiro told me as we drove away from the client’s office, “the most important material we live with today is not the answers everyone shared to our answers, it’s everything else before and after the exercise”.

Efficiency is neat but magic is not always that linear. Image from Google search.

And yes, talking about “after”, by the time the session ended—over four hours since kickoff—we all related so well with each other, thanks to the time ‘wasted’ at the beginning, that we naturally flowed into another round of friendly conversations—about the business, our lives (as we all then related as friends), their next programs and many other things that really matter to our understanding as their brand consultants, but surely couldn’t have ‘extracted’ that well with a straightforward process.

As we adjust to a more virtual approach to meetings and sessions, physical sessions should not be abandoned (where it is geographically an option) because there is really only so much that can be automated when it comes to understanding and connecting with humans.

You can leave with this: technology is efficient but sometimes you need more than efficiency to create meaningful and great results—in this case, build great brands with and for people.

Partner, Strategy. He facilitates and develops Brand Strategy for our clients at FourthCanvas.

PS. I forgot to add that the CEO offered me a canned bottle of Heineken while she opened one for herself too. That’s one of my green flags for openness, and yes it was really chilled.

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Victor A. Fatanmi

‘Finding my writing’, under the blanket of the known image of a Designer and Agency Founder.