Raising a Creative Community

By Carolyn Hadlock / Young and Laramore Posted on Mar 23, 2015

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since we were last in Tucson for the inaugural Creative Leaders Retreat. We had an amazing lineup of mentors (again) and a formidable group of Creative Directors who traveled from as far away as Oslo and Sao Paolo to put down their work and egos for a few days.

I think I speak for all of us when I say that we learned more in casual conversations over beers than we can even know at this moment. Like last year, we saw a lot of familiar themes (client indecision, culture barriers, internal politics). I think resoundingly, what we’ve found is that the issues are universal— just different scales with a different cast of characters.

And, perhaps the most universal issue of them all is that Doing Good Work is Hard. Even for One Show or Cannes Titanium judges. There is no silver bullet. No procedure, process, superstitious ritual or methodology that guarantees what you put out will be good. It’s a struggle.

So, with lessons like that it would be easy to walk away from the weekend feeling disheartened, that is if you didn’t see the bigger—or should I say, smaller—picture.

What I understand now is the truth of it: we are all works in progress. Even the mentors. It’s not about “making it.” Or faking it.

It’s about {or it should be about) “the becoming.”

Because, “the becoming” calls us to lean into the discomfort of not knowing. Linus Karlsson talked about the importance of the letter x. It is the most mysterious character, because it can mean anything: a kiss, a secret, an endless black hole. The point is, we will never know. And we should strive to never want to know. Creativity lies in preserving the mystery. It’s what we should be fighting for.

And luckily, a lot of us already are:

Chris Wall talked about the importance of judgment vs. measurement.

Iain Tait talked about embracing our weaknesses and acknowledging that we’re all frauds.

John Butler talked about knowing less today than he did when he founded Butler Shine.

Initially this kind of thinking freaked me out. As an ECD, I’m supposed to have all the answers. That’s what I get paid for. So it’s a bit esoteric to think about steering away from seeking the known (the good) and venturing into the unknown.

In fact, it’s downright radical.

In this business, we perceive we get the title of Creative Director because we are confident in our work and our decisions. But, look a little deeper at what it really means and you’ll find that, to think the title is given to someone for doing the work vs. managing the work is simplistic and flawed. What earns the title of Creative Director is having passion and faith in yourself. It says, “you were scared, but you went all in.”

So this begs the question, how do we reconcile this kind of thinking with industry and agency expectations of creative leaders?

As one mentor said, what we do is an inside job. As Creative Directors, we need to peel away the polish and get back to the raw material of who we are. And we need to have faith in our intuition and ourselves. To put it simply, we need to be ok with not knowing exactly what we’re doing.

Kevin Swanepoel, the president of One Club, said the mission of the One Club is “raising a creative community.” I love that because it’s ongoing, and two-way. It’s not about developing the next generation. It’s about helping each other to consistently raise our individual bars. I watched mentors mentor mentors (let that sink in) this past weekend. And I watched mentees mentor mentees. It was the best kind of transparency.

The best thing we can do to help the work and our industry get better is to give ourselves permission to focus on “the becoming” rather than keeping our eyes glued on the outcome.



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