Ben Cooper

Director of Digital. The Monkeys. Proud father. Loving husband. From London. In Sydney

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Learn to learn, reflections on Hyper Island

September 20, 2010

As I sit here upon a flight to Singapore I finally have a moment to reflect. Hyper Island, the international digital media school based out of an old Stockholm Karlskrona prison, kindly gave up an evening to talk to Creative Social in Sydney.

So Hyper Island isn’t really a school. It’s teacher-less and they don’t have exams (yippee!), but on graduation 91% of students end up in employment, and you’ll mostly find them in the top agencies of the world. Setup fifteen years ago they prepare the workforce of tomorrow for our rapidly changing world. Today they have bases in the US and UK and the three-day master classes are happening around the globe.

Creative Social had a record turnout; some thirty plus digital leaders descended on Three Drunk Monkeys for a taste of the way Hyper Island works. Åsa Silfverberg lead the introductions and prompted us to share our creative and management challenges. Mikael Ahlstrom led us down memory lane and showed a presentation he had received in the mid-nineties from the founder of Icon Medialab, Johan Staël von Holstein. The presentation showed the trajectory of digital media from 1995 – 2000. If Staël von Holstein was right, which he was, then he knew he had to build staff and services to fulfill it. So from seventeen people in Sweden in 1996 they grew to some 3,000 strong with offices in eleven countries by the year 2000. Of course 2001 was a different story. But suffice to say he had the vision to prepare for changing times.

So what’s going to happen in the next five years? Ahlstrom started us in 2009, we then planned to 2013 scribbling on post-it notes and planting them under each year. It didn’t take long. The world of apps and social that is so very much now. Broadband plans with unlimited downloads (something Europe and the US have enjoyed for years). Early next year, Internet TV gets real via Google, Apple and Boxee. To Australia finally embracing ecommerce. The idea ‘touch’ will be the prevalent interface and hardware will be affordable to all. To 24/7 real-time marketing and gadget body implants. We already have evidence of most of these services and ideas; it’s simply a matter if time before they become the norm. Reviewing thirty peoples predictions you quickly see the trends and what’s apparent is most agencies aren’t geared to handle this future and nor are most grads.

Current creative ‘models’ and ‘processes’ can’t begin to tackle always-on users. There’s no doubt that an art-director and copywriter team works when cracking an idea. But the same skills struggle if your audience wants to interact and go on a journey. We all know bolting on digital doesn’t work, its painful for all concerned. On the other hand digital centric agencies often seem to have a more inclusive creative process. Producers, technologists, strategists and creatives investigate the problem. This works to a point, but technology often gets in the way, in particular during the communication of ideas.

The Hyper Island way advocates groups of four to five people. Hearing about the longer courses you can see that the productivity is mind-blowing: the first week is to get to know each other, understand the group dynamic and how to get the best out of yourself and your fellow students. Industry facilitators then nurture these groups and guide their learning. Within a month groups would have generated some fifty ideas; the ones that make the grade are taken to venture capitalists for presentation and potential funding. They’re definitely doing something right. By working in diverse teams, respecting people who know something they don’t, and remembering to never stop learning. They grow creative individuals who develop ideas and the models to make them happen.

In closing. I sadly didn’t get to make the Hyper Island course. But I hope those that went were as inspired and can readily apply what they learnt. The next five years are pretty clear. We’re going to have to change the way we work.

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