February 16, 2014
People talk. More than ever. We have reached an era in which people redistribute other people’s thinking and build their reputation on it. Flow-heaters are called influencers now. They are running around saying super smart things like “Make is the new think” – and make nothing. It’s like talk is the new make.
Not that there is a way to underestimate the value of inspiration. But I keep wondering how much of that inspiration is actually turned into action. So when I decided to write something like a call for action, the title of a Frank Zappa album came to mind. “Shut Up And Play Your Guitar”. Zappa was always very creative when it came to album titles, and you can almost see where this one came from – auditions with guitar players who would just talk about their approach to the instrument rather than showing what they can do with it.
In advertising – and I am sure this will apply to almost any other industry – we are even worse. We sometimes don’t even bring our guitar. We just sit there, all agitated and willing, and throw around a whole lot of “we should”. Like in “we should invite inspiring people to come to our agency and learn from them.” Or in “we should think about structure, reduce rigidity, form teams based solely on project requirements.”
Sure – change is a lot harder than people think. Simply deciding to change something and expecting different results automatically is a great way to make sure that no one will ever attempt to change anything after that. Resistance to change, and the tendency of even the good-willed people to fall back into old patterns are forces that are extremely hard to overcome.
Whiteboards and foosball
As well the inability to apply. We tear off all those posters from a big wall in the agency, put up a board, and tell everyone that they will fill it with great ideas, projects, inventions. What happens? Nothing. A few juniors will put up print ad ideas, and a few seniors will look at them with scepticism. The board turns into a new place to play the same old game.
We create playgrounds, put up playstations, x-boxes, foosball tables, funky sofas and other loungy furniture. And then we’re waiting for the miraculous burst of creativity that is going to result from all of this. In the end, some of the work time is turned into game time, and as a consequence some of the free time is turned into work time. No. Increased amounts of time spent ego-shooting your way through Siberia do not pave the way to Cannes.
So even if we bring the guitar, we don’t get far beyond strumming along the old “Smoke On The Water” riff and maybe pumping a fist or two. And we don’t see that while we are calling ourselves creative agencies, we’re often just profit generating machines with a creative zoo attached.
Obviously, there are ways to do it better. Simply by understanding creativity, by respecting it, and by making sure that it has a chance to do its magic. One thing is painfully visible every day: If we don’t let creativity be the heart of our organization, its products will also not be creative.
So what does it take?
Creativity comes from loving something, and love is fragile. Creativity needs the right ecosystem. It needs commitment, trust, openness. And if you really take a look at your own organization and be truly honest about it – you probably don’t find much of that. Yes, we do have these great PowerPoint presentations that proclaim that creativity is at the heart of the organization – but that’s usually where the story ends already.
Actually, most of the time we are unable to truly work on it – especially in multinational organizations. Regional management just about has the right to proclaim and voice demand – but normally not the power to act upon it. Try to tell a local CEO how to hire and fire – he won’t be happy, and usually doesn’t follow suit. And as long as he comes up with the bottom line he is supposed to deliver, he’s pretty safe too.
We keep looking at the amazing story of Apple, we marvel at their creativity, their superior design, their incredible ability to come up with products that the consumers didn’t know they wanted badly. What’s the magic? We’ve read it a thousand times. It’s commitment to creativity, and putting all resources together to work as one team. And we have also read it: At Apple, there is just one bottom line, just one P&L.
Does anyone apply? Not really. Especially not in advertising. Most of our global networks have separate corporate entities for advertising, digital, media, PR, event, etc. We behave like Sony did when they had the huge opportunity to come up with an iTunes kind of product before Apple did. They failed. The reason: Separate divisions with separate P&Ls and separate interests. Does that ring a bell?
And no, we don’t really trust creativity. We trust the numbers. We deliver money, not greatness. And how many people have said it: Let’s come up with great ideas, the money will follow. The only ones that have proclaimed this and are still in business are the ones that never meant it.
Space and joy
Creativity needs the right environment, it needs space. I don’t know how many office buildings I have visited that simply don’t offer any space for people that want to sit together and dig for greatness. It’s mindblowing. And even if there are spaces, they are connected to endless bureaucracy. Come back later, your ideas have to wait.
Without joy, without happiness, without playing around, there is no creativity. If you don’t have space, you can’t play. If you have to fear the consequences of saying something stupid, you can’t talk about ideas. If you don’t have the freedom to explore, to be stupid, to be outrageous, to think the unthinkable, you will always be stuck with the ordinary.
Do they really know?
Another thing we think and claim to have learned from Apple is that it doesn’t help to ask the consumers what they want. It doesn’t help to walk around and do tons of market research, trying to minimize the risk of doing something. It leads directly to mediocrity. And no, it’s not really Steve Jobs that taught us this. Henry Ford was just as smart plenty of decades earlier when he said that if he had asked the people what they wanted, they would have said “faster horses.”
It’s not new. But again, we don’t apply. We don’t trust our instincts, we suppress gut feeling, we kill intuition. We have unlearned to use everything we know, everything we have learned, and connect it with what we feel is right – and then make a decision. We still think that if we do that we are taking a monstrous risk, and instead ask the only people that are guaranteed to NOT have the right answer – and then put our money on that.
Risk aversion is risky
That’s why our organizations are full of people who don’t do anything great, but also don’t really fuck up on anything. Risk averse, defensive, bottom line improving tight people. Creative people can’t manage, they say, they are unreasonable, don’t know anything about business. And then they go back to their computers and add “creative thinking” to their impressive list of abilities on LinkedIn, and boldly twitter stuff like “fail harder”.
And as much as this may sound like something illogical – creativity needs process, and structure. But usually not the kind of structure that is implemented. If we look at the most creative organizations on this planet, we can clearly see that their way of working, their process, their structure, their approach to project responsibility and accountability has nothing to do with the way other organizations are set up, including advertising agencies.
And what can be done?
Obviously, you can’t turn an organization around to incorporate all of these aspects just like that. After all – you also need the right people to do this. It takes years to build a creative organization, or to transform one to be creative.
Actually, it’s really easy to come up with a lot of “But” on every single aspect. There are always reasons why things are difficult, why people think they can’t be done. There are endless numbers of people who will happily block every change initiative that moves an organization towards a more creative culture.
Still, no organization will be able to think, decide, and implement on any of these points without difficulties. The answer to facing these difficulties is simple: Be creative. Finding ways to change things in your company is clearly the very first test of the creative abilities of that organization.
Step by step
Don’t tackle them all at once. Define change projects, read your John P. Kotter, and get going. You can’t turn your six P&Ls into one? Well, that’s just the way it is. The question is – what can you do to minimize the adverse effects this has on the creative powers in your company. Can you find a way to work around them? Look at process, structure, reporting lines, personnel. There is a solution. For sure.
You would love to create more space for your people, but you can’t, because your headquarter would kill you for exceeding the square meters per employee limit? Again – there will be an alternative to renting additional space.
One thing you won’t be able to simply improve with a change project is your corporate culture. You can’t build trust, accountability, passion, and loyalty with change management. But you don’t have to. If you work your way towards an organization that supports creativity, you will alter your corporate culture as a consequence of it. Much of that transformation is a direct result of simply deciding to take that direction.
After years of cutting cost and personnel, and endless projects that increased efficiency, creativity is one of the few areas that will give an organization a chance to compete successfully, and leave the competition behind.
There is no alternative to being a lot more creative in the future – on all levels of your organization. And don’t tell anyone you can’t. Because you can. For sure. So shut up and play your guitar. Play it well.Folker WrageFounder, OwnerWrage/AntwortZurich, Switzerland.follow me on twitter: @FolkerWrage
February 1, 2014
I’m involved in a research study in conjunction with the IPA and the UK and the Berlin School of Creative Leadership exploring the role and importance of personality in the careers of those working in the creative industries.
If you work in a creative agency of some sort, it’d be brilliant if you could take 10 minutes to complete the attached survey, and even more brilliant if you could circulate the link to any agency pals and colleagues, so we can build up as robust a sample possible.
January 7, 2014
What Do Successful People Have In Common? They all have 24 hours a day.
They know how to get the best or the most out of the 24 hours they have each day. They simply learn how to focus and set priorities and are fast enough to envisage a world, which is unrecognized by many others even though it is right in front of them. Others tend not to see the forest from the trees and believe it is easier to think that the glass is rather half empty than half full anyway.
It is interesting how we study almost lifelong but we hardly study how to effectively study. We are being taught about almost anything and everything but hardly ever taken any lectures about how to learn, yet effectiveness plays an important indicator in our later years for getting successful.
It’s common to evaluate success in many different ways and question the measurement of success, but for some reason, we never question the ability to ever becoming successful. It is like success was an ultimate source of fulfillment we are coded to reach. Yet, so many times when believed to be successful, the fulfillment lacked big time. I could not help but wonder about the overall roadmap to success. Do I really need one? Do I really need to care? Or shall I just focus on fulfillment, which will then be followed by success? What if we could change the overall perception and change the definition of success , which currently is: “the achievement of something desired, aimed or attempted. The accomplishment of a purpose”? Many successful role models often share their real success stories to shed some light on their experiences and inspire others. We often learn that their real goal or desire, in the first place, never had anything to do with being ultimately successful. Their aim or desire was not even pre-defined. Success was a by-product of what they passionately did, anyway. This is where I have a so-called Aha moment. So if I don’t focus on success at all and just let my intrinsic motivation, my drive for fulfillment, and my quest to achieve my real goal in life lead the way, then success will certainly follow. This is simply because the measurement of success will be my choice and not the choice of others.
If I go back to my original topic of having 24 hours a day, then how am I supposed to know if I am doing enough that day when success will follow at a later stage? However, was not success supposed to be a lifelong journey anyway or is it another urban myth to calm not so successful people down so they feel happier about themselves not really reaching their ultimate goal. If success is important, how come we do not really find it as a curriculum yet we are being measured by it? Can I have access to success, or can I have access to a checklist of success, or at least a timetable to evaluate whether it is worth spending all the energy on becoming successful or is it to bias? These are rhetorical questions anyway. The point is, I strongly believe, to think about it in many ways which helps to clarify and understand at least the essence of success if not the concept of it. Surely, there are many others contemplating about it and I needed to articulate it out loud, which I successfully just did. So what is your version of success? According to Malcolm Gladwell: “Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard for twenty-two minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after thirty seconds.”
Just think about it!
December 10, 2013
We often hear this phrase in real life business and companies in particular ask this question when social entrepreneurs, artists and activists approach them to get involved financially in different kind of projects, therefore I want to shed some light on what companies mean by this question.
I decided to write this piece after I attended The Social Media Camp organized by BIZ, one of the leading business magazines in Romania. One topic caught my attention and made me think a little more about it: there are a lot of cool online and offline projects but most of them don’t get financed because the companies don’t want to get involved. The complaint was that there is always this stupid question raised by the companies’ representatives: what’s in it for me? The complainers were truly baffled: why don’t companies want to get involved in cool projects?
First, let me clarify that the ‘stupid’ question is not rhetorical: companies can’t throw away money, their purpose is to create value for their shareholders, to build a good reputation, to build their brand awareness, to return part of the profit for the development of the communities they are a part of. So they have to ask this question.
If you have a cool project in which you believe, just put yourself in the company’s shoes and think: why would you get involved? Just because it’s cool? Well duh, cool is not enough! You need to have more solid arguments than that.
Is the project in line with the company’s values, can it be aligned with one of the projects they are already involved in, does it bring value to a larger community, can it change lives, is it relevant to the company’s stakeholders (clients, employees, opinion leaders)? These are, but a few of the questions that a marketing representative or even the CEO of the company condenses into the shorter version: what’s in it for me?
If you have a cool idea that can change the world for the better and you have concrete answers to the questions above, then you stand a good chance to get the money. If you don’t, it doesn’t mean that your idea is less cool or that the world would be better off without it, it just means that you need to look for money elsewhere.
Just think about it!
Anca Nuta is Marketing & Communication Director of UniCredit Tiriac Bank, one of the leading banks in Romania in terms of profitability and she is working in this field for the past 12 years. She is currently an MBA student at Berlin School of Creative Leadership and she is very passionate about marketing, design and contemporary art.