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Coming off of an inspiring week plus at conferences, listening to content creators, fellow researchers and strategists opine about the present and the future of kids, kids media and the youth and family marketplace, I found myself thinking about the kinds of risks that those of us who make our home in this space are often leery to take. In my own thinking about and work with youth, I’ve often found that deciding to live on the edge of what’s typical or acceptable sometimes yields unexpected insight and breakthrough ideas. On the surface, some of these risks might seem quite tame! But more than seeing them as safe, I see the common theme as a more optimistic view of the possibilities and potential of trying something new.

  1. Be nice. So often, in the youth space, being nice or good or kind feels like a young or soft positioning for a brand or property. Still, countless speakers echoed a sentiment that we’ve spoken about in our new work on Millennial Moms – “sensitive kids are the new successful kids.” Said another way, don’t worry about flexing your edge – consider standing for sweet over sarcasm, for good behavior over bad. Seek out heroes you can champion, not just foils who are sometimes humorous but hurtful.
  2. Dream big. At the iKids Conference, we spoke about the need to evaluate the app landscape, along with the online ecosystem in which youth engage, with realistic eyes. It’s more difficult than it might seem to create an app that rivals Angry Birds, or to take down Temple Run with a great game of your own. But what we also believe is that the visionaries who think big are the ones who are most likely to last. We advocate for developing a brand or a property, not just an application. Think about your proposition realistically, but holistically. Don’t get mired in mechanics to the point that you lose sight of the moxie that makes your content truly unique in the world. And then execute.
  3. Experiment. Across the course of the week, we were reminded that sometimes the old rules of conducting research, of gaining eyes on your brand, of engaging in the innovation and creative process itself could use some shaking up. As researchers, it’s easy to rely on “time-tested” approaches or models. But we believe that it’s as important to question and challenge these models as it is to understand them. Some of the most astute risks we saw taken came from folks who simply questioned why something was always done the way it has traditionally been. Granted, we wouldn’t suggest trying “new” just for the sake of “new,” but we would advise reflecting on your sacred cows and steadfast rules to ensure that they’re in the service of stimulation, not stagnation.
  4. Break the frame. More than any conference we’ve been to in a while, we liked that KidScreen and iKids bucked some conventions. Rather than just speakers at the podium (which we were honored to be!) or panels of authorities, we saw PechaKucha (look it up!) put in place to format the remarks of a set of experts, a “pass the baton” style look at viral videos that matter (with the creators of one of the favorites not only invited to talk about their work but also to share their own inspirations), to varied riffs on speed-dating. We like the spirit of these sessions – they sought to teach in ways that felt more visceral, more disruptive and still sound. Discussions about process are often overshadowed by discussions about outcomes, but the truth is, process matters. And innovation should apply as much to the way you work as it does to what you work on.
  5. Share. Time and time again, we see that the best brands – especially in the youth space – don’t hog the spotlight – they share the marquis. The same seems to go for the best and brightest creators and developers. They’re happy to share what they know, to exchange ideas and to collaborate. In a media landscape which seems to move increasingly swiftly, with expertise required in a myriad of methods, approaches and markets, it seems prudent, not polyanna-ish, to give in order to get.