Where The Real Challenge Is Self-Challenge

An image of Ben (MullenLowe Chief Strategy Officer), who has short dark hair and a trimmed beard and is wearing small black ear gauges and a white shirt. He has a neutral expression and is looking directly at the camera.

Apparently, everyone can do the job of a strategist.

With AI, it may not be a ‘one’ who is doing it.

That’s challenging to write.

Let’s challenge that.

That’s the real role of a strategist isn't it?

Challenging the status quo.

Challenging the question.

Challenging the creative team.

Challenging the research.

What if all that went in-house, or in-CPU?

That’s challenging.

The future of strategy is, surely, meeting challenge with challenge.

But you know, not in the wanky-who’s-the-pontificating-knob-with-the-rimmed-glasses challenging for the sake-of-it kind of way. The kind of challenge that involves the beautiful ability of holding two competing thoughts in your head at the same time.

The real challenge is that we should challenge ourselves.

Challenge ourselves to really question if we’re adding value

Challenge ourselves if we’re really empathising or just nodding whilst saying ‘gosh, yeh 100%’

Challenge ourselves to admit we don’t really understand the business as well as our clients.

Challenge yourself to see the world through clients' internal-politics shoes and walk a mile in their Teams-glazed eyes.

Challenge ourselves to not do what everyone else is doing.

Challenge ourselves to ignore Cannes.

Challenge ourselves to acknowledge that every idea can be post-rationalised into a strategy.

Challenge ourselves that insights aren’t the holy grail.

Challenge ourselves to not write a deck.

Challenge ourselves to stop and think for a minute what the actual customer decision journey is like when you’re a single parent looking after three kids and the benefits cap is £423.46 for rent, bills, childcare and food and you want them to “trade up” to buying a better brand of ketchup.

Challenge ourselves to ask, "Is this helping?"


Do we need some help with what’s the purpose of all of this? The purpose of this brief for an email that is going to ask people who have lost their mothers if they want a Mother's Day email this Mother's Day?

Is this good? Are we doing good?

Is this sustainable in any way?

Challenge yourself.

Challenge the creative director.

Challenge your boss.

Challenge your clients.

Challenge the brief.

Challenge the result.

Challenge the answer.

Challenge now.

Because if you’re not fucking challenging today, then what exactly is it you need to start? More AI headlines? More columns defending advertising? More CSO thought-leader keynotes to make you feel better?

Why is this all so challenging?

Because everything, every day, everywhere, is already so challenging. All at once.

And because we keep having to rejustify why we’re here - or what the future of strategy is!

And, because it can be hard to know where to start.

But when there’s so many challenges in so many places that feels like a good place to be a strategist.

That feels like the future.

Ben Shaw is chief strategy officer at MullenLowe UK.

Originally published in Creative Salon.

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