What we mean by radical
At Wolff Olins, we aim to do ‘radical work’, and we say we help clients create ‘radically better businesses’, but what do we mean by ‘radical’?
It’s all about roots. The word comes from the Latin word for root, radix. So radical work goes to the root of the thing – it deals with the fundamental and not superficial. We treat the causes of a problem, not the symptoms. And we find answers that work from the roots upwards, spreading through the whole tree of the client’s organisation. We’re interested in a bold, large-scale effect, not in tinkering with a few branches or leaves. For example, in working with the global energy business Enel, we found an idea – ‘open energy’ – that goes to the root of that company’s opportunity: to change its business, and its whole sector, from the closed, self-protecting model of the utility company, to a new kind of borderless, curious, collaborative organisation.
In my experience, the more complicated the organisation is, the simpler the answer must be. And it’s going to the roots that enables us to be simple. Indeed, there’s no other way to achieve simplicity: as Apple’s Jonathan Ive says, ‘to be truly simple, you have to go really deep’. All our best work is simple in both idea and look. When it’s simple, it’s easy for people to understand it, share it, and live up to it. And when that happens, it spreads through complex organisations and markets, becoming part of wider culture. Our work for Tate, for example, and for (RED) is simple in concept and in form.
But there’s more. Like all radicals, we want to shake things up. Radical also means ‘very different from the usual or traditional’. Our attitude is to be optimistic, to believe that the future will be better than the past – and that the present isn’t good enough. What the world doesn’t need is more of the same. At its best, what we make is noticeably, even shockingly, different from the past, and from the competition. This is not for the sake of being different, but in order to offer something new and exciting – to make a difference. Our work for the London 2012 Olympics deliberately broke the conventions of Olympics branding, because the games would offer something new, less elite, more for everyone.
Finally, for us, radical means being human. Though it’s corporations who pay us, we’re on the side of ordinary people – their employees and their customers. Writing about Wally Olins, the Economist said ‘his voice is that of a humanist, not a corporate functionary’. We help our clients to be human rather than corporate – something that’s more urgent than ever in a world dominated by the faceless forces of globalisation and technology. Most importantly, we want to make things that are good for people – because, in the long term, what’s good for people is good for business. We’re doing this right now for Genesis, Burgess, Modern Fertility and more. And we’re proud that our work for Unilever helped it become what it is today: of all global corporations, the one that most deeply believes in doing well by doing good.