I read an extremely interesting piece the other day by Gabi Mostert, associate creative director at Iris Worldwide. Creatives in agencies are scared to share ideas. The stand-out line, for me was:
“The more minds come together from all different backgrounds, the better the chances of coming up with new and exciting work. It everybody agrees and there’s no debate, there’s a good chance the ideas are rubbish.”
It really grabbed me because the piece describes a highly surprising, strong example of Curiosity Cost – my current project – essentially, the pain that any individual might feel if they expressed their curiosity…meaning that they don’t act curious.
I say “highly surprising” because the primary claim of creative agencies is that they’re amazing at ideas. Now, let’s just put it straight out there:
There is no way anyone can be amazing at ideas if they are not able to be relentlessly curious.
At the heart of being able to be relentlessly curious is having an environment in which individuals can come up with ideas, share them and work on them constructively with other curious people. Exposing one’s ideas to the risk of criticism can feel uncomfortable – it is a classic Curiosity Cost – and that needs to be mitigated.
How? It is essential that anywhere claiming to be anything even remotely approaching “amazing” at ideas fosters a safe space to feel uncomfortable. At Reluctantly Brave we’ve given that the label “a safe unsafe space.” (Yes, we are aware of the identity politics association – see below and our inclusion agenda generally.)
Unfortunately, if Gabi’s experience is characteristic of the wider creative agency world, it seems that the industry is categorically failing precisely at the environment-maintenance task that is crucial to its very existence. Why? Creatives in “creative agencies” are scared to share ideas. So, as Gabi says,
There’s a good chance the ideas are rubbish.
Read all the factors she has seen that stand in the way of incubating ideas. From the position of working in a creative environment, and specifically on a project of helping companies work out how to remove exactly the very same kinds of barriers to curiosity themselves, this looks dangerous.
“Dangerous” because companies turn to creative agencies precisely based on the belief that they will be able to come up with amazing ideas – itself based on the belief that such agencies have the environment that fosters curiosity and idea development. It’s an assumption the industry is glad to promote, of course.
The big question is, for clients and for job-seeking creatives is: how to spot the danger and avoid it.
You need to work out whether an agency has the safe unsafe environment required. That’s not going to be immediately obvious. You can guess from Gabi’s piece that most agencies do not have it, but that doesn’t help find the ones that do.
At Reluctantly Brave we believe the best indicator is whether the team is obviously diverse and inclusive. Are the people clearly different from each other? Do they look the same? Do they sound the same?
Why do we say that? First, because we have a conviction, from long experience, that diverse and inclusive teams exercise the curiosity to boost each other’s imaginations and find the best solutions fast.
Secondly, and purely pragmatically, because if you can see a functioning team of people who are clearly really different from each other, you know that the environment must be one where they are comfortable with different worldviews, opinions and ideas. If not, the team would fall apart. Trust me, we’ve been building these teams since founding our company.
Gaby’s piece is the canary in the coalmine for the danger of a lack of inclusive working in the creative industries. In that context, is the current hand wringing over diversity any surprise? John Hegarty’s assertion that “diversity is one of advertising’s great weapons”? (More like just a scabbard, shout out Nils Leonard for calling it, at the moment, but that’s another story.)
The industry is trying. That’s great. But if you’re buying, why wait? Perhaps we all need diverse teams now, you know, to make sure the ideas won’t be rubbish.
Adam Papaphilippopoulos, Partner, Reluctantly Brave