One of the first messages you see when you walk in to the SCS offices is in the form of a giant mural stating, “Instigators Welcome.”  This is a welcome message to ourselves as much as it is to our visitors and clients.

“Instigator” is one of those descriptions that makes people uncomfortable. It sounds like trouble. It sounds like a 14 year old John Zegowitz, building a wall of snow across the street so that cars have to stop so my friends and I can riddle it with snowballs. What a bunch of little jerks. That’s not what we’re talking about.

We work in an industry where everyone talks about being disruptive. But that’s not something you can just build into a brief and make it happen. It takes the heart of an instigator. The mischief of the guy that runs out on the field naked, leading security on a goose chase on national TV or the kind of vision that turns Gary Gilmore’s last words into the most famous tagline in history. It takes the audacity to hang a giant poster of yourself eating McDonald’s, inside a McDonald’s, and having it stay there for months while tweet selfies in front of it, get a truckload of recognition, and then McDonald’s pays you for it because it was a really freaking cool idea, and it had purpose behind it.

If you’re doing it right – instigation pays.

Instigation isn’t about being provocative for the sake of provocation. There are a few rules to consider for good instigation.

  1. Instigators are everywhere, not just in the planning or creative departments. Their account people, interns, producers, Uber drivers, your kids, the guy behind you yelling at the ref during a hockey game. Instigators are all around you… if you open your mind to them. Some of the best instigators I’ve known have been clients I have partnered with. They know their customer, they know their business. They know their landscape. They know what can be done and they want to do it. At an old agency I worked at, our first rule to new business was to look for the brands who are trying to do great work, but somehow not getting there. It’s a good rule. That’s where the instigators lay.
  2. Instigators aren’t jerks. There’s no need. To pull off truly audacious work, they know they need partners, support, confederates and collaborators. They need to build a coalition of malcontents. They have to trust each other. Disrupt together. Succeed or fail together. And get famous together. They know that if they try to go it alone and force their instigation, it’s harder for them to overcome the roadblocks and build momentum.
  3. Great instigators make it count. If they want to provoke reaction… they make it a worthwhile reaction. They make sure that people respond the way they want them to. Laugh. Cry. Share. Click the big red button. Pull out their wallet. Join the revolution. Get pissed off. Write letters. Give their heart. Good instigators can craft a reaction that delivers bang on to the brief. And more importantly – get noticed. Great instigation is newsworthy. It fits the public lexicon, and cultural discourse. It’s relatable to your universe, memorable and sharable, and has the potential to take on a life of its own. All a long-winded way of saying—It’s freaking cool.
  4. Instigators don’t have trouble with briefs or tests. These aren’t “boxes” to an instigator. They find the answers in the brief and the testing. A well written brief supplies the answer because they turn it around and look at it from 80 different angles. Head on is the path everyone else is taking, but instigator break the code in the brief, and hear the messages in those awkward conversations or throw away lines between questions in the focus group. Some of our best work has come from one little comment that someone makes when the moderator leaves the room and they somehow forget that there are people behind the glass.
  5. Instigators fail. And that’s okay. Even good. Instigators are trying to shift dynamics and break rules. It’s easy to get rebuked for doing this. It’s easy for people to say “no.” But that just builds learning. That builds mental calluses and experiences that help them plan and execute their next act of instigation. They don’t let failure kill their spirit, instigators use it as fuel.

If you’re going to be disruptive, you’re not going to do it by playing it safe, following the rules and doing everything the way it’s been done before. That, in a nutshell is why we have the mural in our office. To give ourselves permission every day to break the rules, embrace the extremes, and to own it with pride and with the confidence that instigators have the full support of the agency behind them. If you’re an instigator, we welcome you, too. As long as you are not 14 year old John Zegowitz with a snowball in his hand.


Also published on Medium.