By Warren Brown, Partner at Gutthink & Partners.
When I was much younger I remember someone quoting famous UK adman David Abbott, “You know, you don’t get bad, you just get tired.”
I knew he wasn’t talking about the sort of tired that makes it hard to get up in the morning or chase a bus, but it made me think about the more senior members of the creative department.
Being tired, or as I like to think of it, ‘I’ve seen it all before’ syndrome, is a curse for those that have closed their minds to being curious, prefer to avoid taking a risk because it may involve too much effort and think that all the knowledge that they’ve accrued throughout their career gives them a sense of superiority over those with less experience.
Funny thing is, not all experience is good, mostly it teaches you what not to do, rather than being the shining light on the path to greatness. I’ve seen young creative people fall into the trap of becoming ‘old fogeys’ by sticking to what they know and senior creatives who understand that to upset the status quo, you need to question and challenge everything you know when pursuing the ‘new’, no matter how long you’ve been in the game. One thing I’ve certainly learnt is, the path to mediocrity is paved with sound decisions.
Creativity is a fire that burns within and keeping that flame alive is the only way anyone can inspire and challenge those around them.
It’s got nothing to do with age and everything to do with how ‘tired’ you allow yourself to become. The fire within can become a flicker if you don’t keep topping up your creative fuel tanks. Doing what you know over and over is a sure way of draining those tanks.
Experience is earned from mistakes, just ask anyone who has made a shit load of mistakes in their career, which is pretty much everyone who has been doing it for a while, me included. I remember Sir John Hegarty saying, “I’m better than most because I’ve made a lot more mistakes.” I think he was trying to say mistakes aren’t something to be frightened of. How many times have you heard, “We thought you were making a big mistake but much to our surprise, it’s turned out to be an outrageous success.” I can hand on heart say that everything that I’ve done in my career that was any good, was almost killed at some stage either by the agency, the client, or some other random unseen force. Using the skills that you develop from experience, is the only way you can give an idea life support, and will hopefully one day, see your idea make a full recovery.
We create stories to teach, making the experiences of the past memorable and giving us something that we can build on, so we hopefully avoid making the same mistakes of those in the past. Unfortunately, now in our business, there are fewer people to pass on those stories.
Trying to help those with youth on their side from repeating the mistakes of the past and avoiding the usually painful consequences, can go horribly wrong if neither side is prepared to listen. Most people under the age of 30 think anyone who’s older than them belongs on the scrap heap, and to be honest, it was no different when I started back in 1978.
What’s important to recognise though is that making mistakes does cost time and money, and as we all know, these are currently in short supply. These days we rarely give ideas any time to see how sticky they are, or what their true value may be, before allowing ourselves to be seduced by some ‘new’ innovation brought about by a study or an advancement in some form of technology.
Sometimes I think everything has changed but then again, I don’t think it has changed as much as we all think. Fundamentally if you don’t start with a good idea, you’re pretty much sunk, and that’s been the case for a long, long time.
If we allowed ourselves to stand back for a minute and listen to the voice of experience, assuming that voice is coming from someone engaged in what’s going on in the world, you could fast track an idea, a process, or prevent a monumental cock- up. If this is the case, why wouldn’t you want that voice of experience in the mix?
I’ve seen decisions made by a client that repeated the mistakes of the past, a strategy that failed years ago and cost the company millions, was used again by a new ambitious client to deliver the same result. Completely nuts when you think about it. A refusal to acknowledge what happened in the past, cost the agency the account and the client their job. All because the client thought they knew all the answers.
A high price to pay, but it’s not unusual for younger people to want to forge their own path and let’s face it, not all experienced people can genuinely guide or improve an idea but there are those that can.
Without experience, the creative journey can be tougher than it needs to be, there’s a reason it’s called the creative struggle. The more unique and different an idea is, the more you’ll need to buckle up for a bumpy ride. Having an experienced pilot to help you get your idea off the ground and make it fly seems to make sense to me.
If you hope to produce the sort of ideas that touch the many and inspire others, you need to mix the curiosity and daring of youth, with the guiding hand of experience. You also need to add equal measures of skill and passion. Only then, you may, with a little luck, end up with something that you can be truly proud of.
Read more at www.gutthink.com