“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
I am lying in the middle of the Noosa River an hour outside of Brisbane. After a pretty crazy year where we were working right up to Xmas I was suddenly on vacation. Holidays are strange, lovely things. They creep up on you with the best of intentions. It’s like a really weird neighbour who appears out of nowhere from behind a hedge only to give you some freshly baked Blueberry muffins.
Well, I find it hard to decompress anyway. You are working flat out and then suddenly you are supposed to do the opposite. It’s like you are going down the main straight of Monza at 300kms an hour and halfway down you are told to make a hard right turn. Tricky.
Anyway, there I was in the river trying to relax and appear like a normal human being who can actually blink and shit. The beautiful river had made me think about dealing with stress and relaxation in our business.
Creative agencies are a strange blend of these two opposite qualities. My old boss used to say you need equal parts tea-party and tantrums to make it all work. This is why great creative agencies are so hard to replicate.There is no blueprint or process. Just people. Many in the next couple of years who are looking for alternatives will find this out.
If an agency is too relaxed and always says yes and never pushes itself, you get a tea-party. Everybody is pretty happy and comfortable but the work invariably is shit. There is no drive and no desire. And an agency without desire, might be one of the saddest places to work in the world. For the simple reason that it is practically impossible to be creative without desire or passion. The creatives are doing colour by numbers because it makes everybody happy and their ideas which have real value sit in their bottom drawer
On the other hand, if an agency is too stressed you get tantrums. Too much tension strangely also kills good work because it creates the number one killer of creativity. Fear. And when creatives are afraid they stop trying and just do as they are told. There is no drive and no desire. And, a frightened agency might also be one of the saddest places to work in the world. For the simple reason that it is practically impossible to be creative when you are afraid of being wrong all the time. The creatives are doing colour by numbers because it makes everybody happy and their ideas which have real value sit in their bottom drawer.
So, if you only have one of these qualities in an agency you probably end up with a potential disaster.
Strangely, if you have both these qualities in the right amounts you might have something brilliant. Pretty weird. It is a strange equilibrium created by tense situations and huge amounts of laughter and fun because of those situations. If it proves anything it is that creating conditions for great ideas is far more an art than a science.
In my experience, the best agencies I have worked at were like a beautiful stone in my shoe. I was never completely comfortable but I seemed to happily walk a bit faster to get where I was going. The pain and pressure made me focus. And, it also quite often made me laugh my ass off at the absurdity of it all.
I looked at that last paragraph and wondered if it was different for other creatives. How had they handled stress, different agencies and this business called advertising.
So, I sent an email out on Boxing Day to some of my favourite creatives around the world to ask them how they see it. Fucking Boxing Day. Firstly, let me apologise for the email on Boxing Day. I think that proves I hadn’t really gotten the hang of the whole holiday thing.
Unbelievably, most answered and they will be part of a blog later in the year. However, I will leave you with two answers which I liked very much.
The first was from South African Chief Creative Officer, Chris Gotz.
“The advice I would give my younger self would be this: Good creative people move in straight lines, ignore the bullshit and chase the work. The only thing that changes the conversation is great work. And on any given day you can do that work. I’ve seen it happen to the people who chased it, who knew how to rise above the noise.”
The second answer was from Australian Creative Director, Louise Mahoney.
“The secret to surviving an advertising career is to keep falling in love. Everyone has crap ideas but if you keep searching for the one that excites you and you’re brave enough to share it, nurture it and defend it you can create something beautiful. Like all relationships, some ideas fail, some flourish but unless you put your whole self into them you’ll never be part of something memorable.”
In summary, try and lie in a river, find that beautiful stone in your shoe, move in a straight line, ignore the bullshit, rise above the noise, chase the work and keep falling in love.
Sounds about right.
Happy 2017 everybody.
3 thoughts on “The beautiful stone in your shoe.”
Strangely, that river doesn’t look peaceful. Looks like where a 50-foot primordial croc might live. Perfect chill spot for a creative!
Hey man, great blog (and nice little F1 analogy too!)
I have never really thought about the dynamic of a studio like that, but it all rings very true (especially the tea party thing.) When I was playing in bands I had a similar theory.
You might say that it’s a bit like an elastic band. You need a certain amount of tension. Not enough, and things get sloppy. But of course, if you go the other way, the whole thing breaks down. Something in the middle is probably about right. This is what I like to think of as a positive tension, and done right it certainly seems to draw the best out of people – almost as though they are trying to impress each other!
It is what I call happy pressure Steve.