Monday, May 4, 2009

The Social Worktable, Pt.3 (Creative Pathology)

I've been working with a couple of independent agencies on various integrated initiatives and it's been an absolute blast. One of the things that has made it so pleasurable is the openness and objectivity of the creative teams themselves, who have a real willingness to listen and learn and not just constantly fight to be heard. 

There have been some interesting articles written lately on agency size as a contributor to disconnects in the ideation or development process. The assertion is that once an agency reaches a certain number of employees, it loses the passion and capacity to perform at its best. Taxi - a very progressive agency based in NYC - is one shop that has has taken this theory to heart and has successfully spun out second and third versions of itself (Taxi 2, Taxi 3). This may be an effective tactic, but I also think there is another solution, which is to build an internal team that loops in key people from each group and acts as a strong liaison between them.

This is far from a new idea; we've seen a lot of shops big and small try to employ this concept. However, what seems to have happened in each and every situation that failed is the fact that people bought into the theory, but were far from willing to actually invest in the practice

This is where the notion of a "creative pathology" enters the picture. As important as it is for creatives and other team members to understand their history and successes as they relate to the contributions they can make now, is the establishment of a historical process - the good, the bad, the negligible. So what might this entail?

 - Powerful and relatable sayings. Sure, every shop has quotes on the wall, but some are far more effective than others (think of Ogilvy's famous line: "We're not selling mattresses, we're selling a good night's sleep!"). It's also important to think in terms of actionable results.

- Multi-disciplinary inspiration. Art, philosophy, politics,'s all had a hand in what ultimately gets conjured up in our collective big brains. More time should be devoted to discussing these game-changing events in history, without having them relate back to what needs to be pitched tomorrow. Keep this free-flowing and open-ended.

- Personal histories. Again, why are you here? What is it that you seek in being an agency creative or a developer? What are your big-picture aspirations? It all matters, and it all shows up in the work, whether you choose to see it or not.

- Social responsibility. This is a theme commonly discussed on this blog; we must all assume a shared risk and ownership in the things we bring to the table, and those things we know (marketing assets) that may make it out to society at large. It's both internal and external, and it really matters. Really.

- Post-mortems. It's annoying and time-consuming, but we need to be able to learn from our mistakes, not just in terms of results, but in terms of what lead up to the results. The more we look inwardly at this, the more effective we are the next time around. The key is to not point fingers, but to be accountable.

There are probably dozens more things to entertain, feel free to add to the list. It's especially important right now, because the agency model may be struggling, but the creative process is still a wonderful haven for those who want to touch the lives of people in different places and in different ways, no matter how subtle the effort is.

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