Can’t repeat the past?…Why of course you can!
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Ray Davies, the weathered, lead singer of the seminal 60’s band The Kinks is on television. He is playing his music and telling stories the way he has done a thousand times. And then he takes questions from the audience. A twenty something girl asks him which band during the 60’s was his greatest competition.
I watched his face. He was genuinely puzzled. You could see he had never thought of that time like that. He was silent for a while. Eventually, he said it wasn’t like that. All the bands supported each other. It was more co-operation than competition. He kept saying this phrase, we were all in it together. You could just see it was this perfect time for him. It was a weird kind of effortlessness. They were all at the right place at the right time doing the right things.
You could see the power of those few special years had fuelled his life.
As he said it, I had this strong flashback without the aid of any acid. Rockey Street.
Rockey Street, was a street in Johannesburg lined with clubs that always smelt of last nights beer. It was as if all the weirdo’s, junkies and people that only came out at night had been captured and parachuted into a single street. It was in the middle of a tumbling suburb called Yeoville. It was the centre for every ageing misfit driving their girlfriends car without a license. You would find wannabe garage bands with a single groupie. And many con men who practiced their stories every night.
We were all hustling each other but in a strange way we were all helping each other. It was a street you could feel more than see. It was a place where you belonged, whoever you were. No matter how strange your dreams were, you belonged.
For me, the best creative departments I have worked in are a lot like Rockey Street. They are like streets full of dirty potential. They are full of misfits hustling and helping each other. They are glorious places and times we are always trying to get back to.
It reminds me of the The Great Gatsby. That green light at the end of the dock that Jay Gatsby can never quite reach.
Every creative, has those memories of perfection. These moments where you feel you are working on great stuff, in a great place, with great people. It is easy and exhilarating. Ideas just seem to happen. This is when an agency moves to another level.Those moments sustain creatives for years. If you don’t believe me, talk to any creative. When they tell you about their career they will start telling you stories. And those stories will always be about that one special agency that was like their home. And when you listen, you can feel how much they miss it.
There is only one problem with all this though. You only realise they were perfect moments when they are over. Kierkegaard said life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. In essence, creatives are always trying to get back home.
The truth is creatives are always searching for those moments. It is a rhythm that you try to feel. When you feel it, you don’t care how old your mac is, or if your office has a door. The creative department suddenly turns into a time and place. It is something that the bean counters think is not important. If they understood this, really understood this, they would look at creative departments very differently. But they don’t and this is why so many agencies are average.
If they did, they would try and keep creatives together far more. And the strange thing is the most successful creative departments are built like this and nobody notices. Great creative departments are built over time by those that understand that rhythm and searching. They do not see creatives as little interchangeable, disposable building blocks. They see them as a wave that builds over time.
A wave that can take them all the way across the bay to that green light at the end of the dock.