So Buddha and an ad agency walk into a bar.

I have a theory that there is only one difference between great agencies and average agencies. Intention.

Many people will say talent or process or money. All those things play a role but are powerless if the ship is steering away from what is important. The work. The pressure on agencies is enormous and it is easy to lose focus. I have been inside so called B grade agencies and the only difference between them and great agencies is the work they have thought of are still scamps on a wall or in their bottom drawer. Great agencies make their greatest work, average agencies don’t.

Intention is important for an agency because making great work is hard. An agency needs to make that hardship as natural as possible. That comes from a culture of belief in ideas. And that comes from the leadership’s intention. For many that manifests in having high standards but that is not enough. Where it all has to start is with a shared objective and a burning passion to get there.

You might say that’s obvious. Well, look around the world then and tell me why so many agencies get it wrong. The simple reason is they have forgotten the business they are in. When that happens an agency becomes like a planet that has lost its gravity . It may take a month or a year but slowly the people, the ideas and the money drift off into space. Granted, you can have bad luck but that happens to every agency, even the great ones. What keeps them strong is their core belief. And I am not just talking about words or pithy phrases.

I have in my career often heard the powers that be talk about culture as a soft issue. And I have seen those same people grasping for it when the agency’s gravity stops. By then, it is too late.

This is the biggest lesson I have learnt running an agency. In the darkest days, when the hardest choices arrive and when everything makes no sense never forget the agency’s and your original intention.

It is your North Star.

I am pretty sure Tony Kaye doesn’t use the word innovation.


So, this is about how I think we are making creativity a dirty word and a meeting with Tony Kaye, the director of American History X. Lately, I have noticed this strange discomfort for some in our industry when it comes to using the word creativity.

Instead of using the word, creativity, people seem far more comfortable with the word innovation or my favourite, solution. Is it because these words create the illusion of certainty?

Unfortunately, that’s not how creativity works whatever you call it. Steve Jobs had the Apple Lisa, Macintosh TV and the Newton before the I-Pad. Even the great ones have so called mistakes.

Our industry is full of slogans about mistakes, risks and failing harder but very few of us actually live up to the words. When a business craves certainty that much, there is no room for experimentation or the unpredictability of creativity. When this happens people grasp for the first idea and mediocrity becomes your friend.

There is a real danger that as we constantly scrub away the madness of creativity we move towards the most middle of grounds. This is something I learnt from meeting Tony Kaye.

These thoughts had been bouncing around in my head when I went to judge the Axis Awards. I had heard about Tony Kaye, the mad director. We would spend the evening talking and he told me the craziest stories about Marlon Brando giving acting classes to him and Michael Jackson.Yet as entertaining as Tony’s stories were, something else struck me about him. He seemed like a very passionate and honest man. He seemed incapable of not being true to what he believes in. Win, lose or draw. I found it refreshing.

After all the trials and tribulations he had been through, he had an unwavering belief in creativity. Not innovation, or solutions but mad, bad and dangerous to know creativity. He believes in imperfection, mistakes and magic. It was a valuable lesson for me at a time when our industry is in such a state of flux and bullshit. And the lesson is a simple one. Interesting, beats perfect every time.