I’m a total maths nerd. I revel in the wonder of patterns, Pi is my favourite number, and I’m always trying to convince people of the real beauty you can find in science.
So I was thrilled to see Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan, founder of Drawbridge and ex-NASA scientist, billed to speak under ‘Creative Mathematics: The Paradox that Builds Industries’ on the Cannes Innovation Lions stage.
Sivaramakrishnan has been Lead Scientist at Admob, which was bought by Google, working on machine learning; she has a PhD in Information Theory and Algorithms from Stanford; she’s been featured by Business Insider as powerful leader three times. Needless to say, she’s pretty impressive. Anyone in any industry could learn a lot from this entrepreneur, scientist and thought leader.
What a shame though, that her speech today felt so shoehorned into the marketing world. She started off by telling the story of the Pluto missions she worked on – but left me wanting to know so much more. The main body of the talk focused on the huge amounts of data that we have in our world in need of analysis by marketing companies, which frustratingly is by no means new information. She ended – for a short 5 minutes – on what could have easily made an entire Cannes slot, talking about how scientists and engineers, with their huge ideas and innovative thinking, are a resource which is not tapped into nearly enough by industry.
This isn’t a criticism of Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan or her many accomplishments; I just couldn’t help but feel that her session was something of a missed opportunity, when she has so much unique, genuine insight to offer.
And it wasn’t only her talk which felt shoehorned. Sir Ken Robinson, the speaker on TED’s most popular talk ‘Do schools kill creativity?’, has inspired real change in the way companies are recruiting, curriculums are being written, and people are thinking about education. Today he spoke on a panel with Unilever and Edelman about the importance of purpose to brands, but hardly got a word in edgeways except when he was talking about Omo.
Cannes Lions attracts some of the world’s best thinkers – both in the form of speakers and attendees. It is inherently a marketing festival, but by always putting the theme of brands and marketing at the centre of the conversation, we are missing out on some of the most inspiring and thought-provoking content.
It is not the job of the people we have invited along to inspire us to spell out the relevance of their work to advertising – it is our job. We should be coming to Cannes to be pushed to think laterally about our own work, and go back to our agencies, clients and customers with fresh perspectives informed by outside influence.
Chris Anderson, founder of TED, says that the role of the speaker is to ‘plant a seed’ in the minds of the audience members – using the building blocks in the attendees’ minds to communicate an idea, but allowing them to let said idea flourish in the way that makes sense in their world.
Cannes Lions needs to encourage their venerable speakers to feel free to speak without feeling the need to bring the relevance back to marketing. We all know the first rule of advertising is ‘respect your audience’. By challenging us to find our own relevance and pearls of wisdom in amongst such brilliant people, Cannes Lions would go one step further and truly enhance the experience of their audience.