By Ben Applebaum Posted on May 25, 2016

That would imply an escape, a getaway, or the coveted leave-NYC-winter-for-warm-weather boondoggle. And from the promise of poolside drinks in the Scottsdale desert for three days, you could rightfully think that.

But just like me, you’d be wrong.

I attended the 2016 One Show Creative Leaders Retreat for the first time. I didn’t know what to expect but I knew I needed to attend. The chance to join the top creative minds in our industry for an intimate “un-conference” was just the break from work that I needed. Or at least that was my well-honed rationalization.

But I was wrong. It was not about getting away from work—it was about getting into work.

Deep into work.

And I don’t mean “the work.” There was not one conversation about awards or shoots or the next immersive VR thing. No, what I found was an experience that was all about getting into the very heart of how we connect with this work we’ve chosen. The side of what we do that doesn’t often get discussed—let alone in brutal honesty with complete strangers.

But that’s exactly what we got into.

It was about getting into the business of our business. Forget about how the sausage gets made; let’s talk about the financial model of the whole sausage industry. Mentors like Leslie Sims of Y&R spoke candidly about the need to understand the fundamentals of the business—from SOW’s to FTE’s. There were plenty of spirited debates about team structures and process—not with academic distance, but with passion and urgency.

It was about getting into the heart of agency cultures—often with the founders themselves. Glenn Cole explained how optimism is the fundamental OS for 72&Sunny, John Butler discussed the biggest lessons he learned in forming Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, and Iain Tate compared his experience at both W+K and Google. And that was just before lunch.

Finally it was about getting into yourself. Nancy Vonk hosted a session about how we connect with others—especially when having to deliver difficult feedback. The side of work that doing the work never prepares you for. There were also candid conversations outside the posted agenda. Honest discussions about the struggles and challenges everyone faces—no matter the level or pedigree of the agency.

For the record: Don’t let any of this take away from the value of putting down everything and recharging by stepping away from the work, the industry and the social-media echo chamber.

But sometimes the best perspective comes from not turning away but diving in. So yes, this is a great retreat, but of a different kind. And that’s what you should expect if you attend for yourself. That, and plenty of poolside drinks too.

For information about the Creative Leaders Retreat, please visit
Creative Leaders Retreat


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