The ultimate idea killer

Ideas can come from anywhere. They are not limited by age, race, status or education. A good idea can come from the mind of a 5 year or in the ramblings of a 90 year old. These are facts that are universally accepted, and yet in an industry built on ideas many people allow their ego and sense of entitlement to hinder this process.

The ultimate enemy of ideas is the ego.

More accurately, it is ego which leads to poor leadership that in turn impacts the creative process.

Confidence and self-assurance can be great qualities in a creative thinker, they allow them to be vocal and forward with their thinking, free from the self doubt that can kill an idea before it begins. However these same traits that can make a great thinker can make a person a lousy people manager. Their ego and the feeling that they have earned their way to their current position of power and authority can make them hypercritical and short with those below them. There is an immediate dismissal that anybody with less experience and a lower paycheck could ever possibly come up with an idea that they could not top.

While the immediate impact of this will simply be dis-engaged and unmotivated staff, the long term ramifications for the agency are massive. Firstly, key talent are likely to go elsewhere if they feel they are being unrecognized and under acknowledged. This in turn will lead to a lack of up and coming talent from within the agency leading to the highly expensive need to recruit top talent from outside the business when your mid-top level employees move on. Secondly, the employees who do stay will likely be unhappy and unmotivated, this leads to increased sick days, lower levels of productivity, a generally lower level of moral in the workplace and higher turnover.

These problems are not limited to creative careers such as Advertising and Design, they are however more baffling in these industries as they impact not only the overall mood and moral but they inhibit the very thing that businesses pay for.

I have been fortunate enough to have been nurtured greatly and as such I have been lucky to have had incredible opportunities arise numerous times in my short career. This is perhaps the reason for my passion to help those that are new to the industry flourish and grow their passion. However many I know have not been so lucky, a lot of people will only last 6-12 months in their first role before leaving the industry all together, still more will go sales or client side out of frustration with the way they are treated and a lack of visibility into their future.

There needs to be a resolute and sound focus over the next few years within the media, advertising and marketing industry to check our egos (amazing though they be) at the door and really concentrate on building our people and talent management skills in order to ensure that creativity and free thinking thrive and that agencies are able to retain talent.


7 thoughts on “The ultimate idea killer

  1. Joel, great post and I completely agree with your assertions.

    In my experience this idea-killer issue of hierarchy and egos is across many industries and many areas. It’s a shame that we, as people, are naturally programmed to stamp over people, cut them off at the knees and perhaps even throw them to the goats just to get ahead.

    In your post, I was left wondering what this means for the clients as well? If we’re dismissing the validity of juniors ideas, then doesn’t that mean we’re always going to have the same, stale ideas of the ‘elders’ whereby innovation and evolution aren’t embraced?

  2. Interesting post mate!

    There are certainly some examples where creativity flourishes despite leaders with planet sized egos e.g. Apple. But they may well be anomalies.

    There’s no doubt that anyone can come up with a great idea if they have the right motivation, headspace and enough time. The hard part (particularly with junior teams) is getting the idea developed to a point where we can actually take it to a client. Of course their leaders and managers should help them develop these skills, but sometimes in a fast-paced agency environment we have to triage and a good idea doesn’t make it to the table. It’s not because the senior people are arrogant but because they are ridiculously busy.

    I’m more inclined to think that – as Alex Bogusky says – “Fear is the mortal enemy of creativity”. If I had to choose between removing fear or ego from a creative agency, I would choose to remove fear. The best ideas are always courageous in one way or another. They are disruptive. They challenge how we think or feel about things. This is why we do our best work for clients that are most trusting and accepting of our ideas – it takes away the fear in both ideation and presentation.

    Having said that Bogusky and his crew don’t seem to have much ego either, so maybe we need to get rid of both if I we aspire to their dizzying heights.

  3. Jeremy at BMF had a really good analogy I can’t remember exactly but it was about great ideas, loosely held … or something like that … ie, not to let ego get in the way of constructive feedback and to allow ideas to build within a group dynamic.

    The difficult thing to manage for those who have to is – the experience and wisdom of more senior people and the enthusiasm and rawness of younger staff. Both can be as bad as the other in being dismissive of the others role and what they bring to the table.

  4. Alex, I completely agree, there is always improvements that can be made to any idea and experience plays a major role in sharpening and polishing the idea into a client ready piece of work. My point was more around an overly dismissive view of juniors in the work place.

    Counter to this my preferred method typically involves members from all levels in brainstorming sessions, so regardless of the level of work there is a representative from all areas; office juniors, account managers, above the line buyers, digital team members and some senior staff to run the session. From there, once some ideas are down the person managing the campaign/pitch/whatever will run with that idea and do the job of building it into a final product.

    I have witnessed (though luckily never really experienced it myself) and the experience of some close friends there is not even this level of experience offered to younger members of staff, they are essentially given their daily tasks and if they have a thought that falls outside of these duties they are brushed aside.

    This is probably not a concious decision by the senior members of staff and more likely the result of busy schedules and a lack of training in people management (as opposed to account/client management).

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