We Must Create

By Neil Robinson, AKQA Posted on Oct 23, 2013

Ideas shouldn’t have a .PPTX extension. PowerPoint and Keynote are where ideas go to die. Those of us in creative leadership know this acutely—the loudest cry from our departments is the need to produce more work. Just as significantly, the students who are the future of our industry realize this, too. At a recent portfolio review I attended, 10 of 15 graduates planned to develop their own ideas in a startup environment instead of joining an agency.
While the agency/client relationship needs to be reevaluated in light of this frustration, as agencies I think we need to fundamentally rethink the way we harness the entrepreneurial spirit of our talent and the environment we create to develop ideas.
Hire for the future.
If we don’t invest in a new type of talent, I fear we will stop driving the agenda of doing more meaningful work for our clients. A year ago we started a full-time “apprentice program” at AKQA with one objective: to find and nurture the talent that will reshape the industry. We are now much less inclined to hire young creatives who set out to “get into advertising”—but unfortunately there are too many undergraduate programs that just help students concoct books of ad creative and not enough that inspire them to conceive, own and make compelling ideas. As creative leads we owe more support to the schools that get it right, and commit to hiring the talent that will challenge the status quo.
Ideas that sell themselves.
How many times do we develop ideas our clients would put their own paycheck on the table to produce?  Two weeks ago I had drinks with a Kickstarter entrepreneur who at half my age had generated over $2 million in funding in the last year. He uses his resourcefulness to create ideas that compellingly connect with real customers to the extent that they get their wallets out to invest in them. In the case of another Kickstarter entrepreneur, Matt Stevens, his passion actually inspired Nike to support his MAX100 project. We need to reward and inspire entrepreneurship even if that means brutally changing how we do business and the way we sell ideas.
Rogue agents.
Agencies can’t complain about not selling enough ideas if we don’t overhaul how we develop them in the first place, and the mindset we have to growing creative talent. For example, Werner Herzog’s “Rogue Film School” has a belief that learning “lock picking, document forging and foreign languages” is more likely to produce more inventive, bolder directors. Within the agency environment we need to set a similar agenda for hiring more diversely and creating more hybrid, nimble thinkers who refuse to be halted by the obstacles that have confounded us.
A laboratory for ideas.
The “deckifacation” of ideas only creates a believability gap in the eyes of our clients between a vision and the tangible reality of solutions. It’s encouraging to see more and more agencies take a lab-like approach to developing creative ideas, elevating importance of prototyping, hacking and testing (and I don’t just mean using 3D printers and safety goggles). It’s also important that “the lab” isn’t just a room; it’s a way of thinking that pervades the agency. I sit beside a part time wine maker, a guy who’s just founded his own fashion brand—experimenting and risk-taking is how these guys exist inside and outside the office.
Seventy years ago Raymond Loewy, the industrial designer, issued an injunction that as a creative “you must create.” Making this a reality for our creative teams is a major imperative and addressing it inventively has the chance to reshape the quality, volume and nature of our work. Together “we must create.”
Neil Robinson is Executive Creative Director at AKQA San Francisco. He joined AKQA as a founding member of the creative team in 1997 and for the past 16 years has been creating digital work for clients like Nike, Google, Jordan, Levi’s and Target.

Raymond Loewy, “The Father of Industrial Design.”  

Werner Herzog’s famous film school stresses the creative value of going rogue.

AKQA ECD Neil Robinson in the agency’s San Francisco office.

Pursue your passion inside and outside of the workplace, whether it’s making “wines that make people smile”…

…or launching a fashion brand that brings people together. 


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