The other day, I caught a tweet linking to a blog post titled “WE’RE ALL TECHNOLOGISTS NOW: 6 STEPS TO RETRAINING AND REINVENTING YOUR CREATIVE TALENT” from Allison Kent-Smith (@swervshop). This post came on the heels of her appearance as a panelist at SXSW at a session titled, “The New Black? How Digital Ed Is Everything.”

The post delighted me largely because I’m a narcissist at heart and I love it when I find an expert articulation that totally agrees with a thought that I’ve been having myself. It was all I could do to not punch the air and yell, “YES” on the bus. Allison is one of the founders of Boulder Digital Works and currently Director of Digital Development at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. That’s Digital Development as in growing people and through them business. Her current job description reads:

Head of agency L&D, focused on digital and technical programming, curriculum, and content. Hired to launch custom “school within the agency” focused on both employees and clients. Lead design, development, and implementation. ED program includes instruction in Interaction Design, UX, Business Development, Programming, Strategy, Social Media, Mobile and other technical areas. Develop programming, design curriculum, manage (and build) ED department, recruit faculty, concept content, liaison with agency leaders, develop annual programs for clients, and direct digital experiences. Manage classes, workshops, programs, field trips, pop-ups, and other experimental forms of in-house and external education. Design organizational process, structure, approach, and support for L&D agency-wide. Recruit industry leaders “teachers” in respective fields, 70% external and 30% internal.

I recommend reading the post. Here’s the definition of the issue in her words:

Today, agency reinvention continues to be a priority. We adjust agency processes, capabilities, and partnerships, trade talent at record speeds, support a small group of technology leaders, change seating arrangements, and force interdepartmental collaboration. Yet rarely do we invest in large-scale talent reinvention; rarely do we commit to what is arguably our most valuable asset in today’s agency landscape: the digital knowledge of employees.

The world around us is rapidly growing ever more digital at an accelerating pace while the marketing and communications establishment seems to be largely content to plod along and pretend like everything is going to work out differently for us than it did for the music and publishing industries. I’m continually amazed that, upon hearing my title, people will speak out loud the words, “oh, digital, I’m technologically illiterate, I just don’t understand any of that stuff.” I’m also concerned when my traditional leaning colleagues will just assume that their own responsibilities will automagically fall to someone else if there is even the slightest whiff of technology.

At VSA, my team tries to do as much as we can squeeze in. We bring in third parties to present demos. We host the occasional brown bag to cover a new case study or a new technology. That’s really the least we can do and unfortunately our focus on getting work done often means it’s the most we can do. We’re just one team in one small agency, but if everyone else in Chicago is having the same trouble we’re having in finding the time and the will to really have a go at changing the general level of digital knowledge in our industry, what does that mean for our future? Someone is going to be eating our lunch, right?

I think those of us in digital leadership roles in Chicago need to figure out a way to foster more education and community. It has to be more than the LinkedIn or Facebook groups that just become hunting grounds for recruiters. And most importantly, it has to be more than digital people talking to digital people. We need to get our traditional counterparts over their fear or indifference or whatever it is and really start a dialogue around what we can do to move our industry forward.

I’ve said some of this before and admittedly it’s just been talking, but seeing that it’s not just an issue for Chicago and that other folks are working to figure it out makes me feel like I’m ready for some action. So, where to begin?