You’re not crazy.
The ideas business makes it easy to think so.
You’re repeatedly sent into the creative ether, sometimes with nothing more than a few words on a piece of paper and your instincts, tasked to find an illusive idea. And please, while you’re out there, don’t just find any old idea, but one that’ll turn the world on its head. Or at least one the clients won’t hate. Could it also be sort of blueish? The clients like blue. And can you be back by lunch, tomorrow? There’s a meeting.
No, you’re not crazy for getting paid to do this over and over for decades. No, you’re not crazy for being a creative manager charged with leading teams into that ether, either.
This is just one of the many insights I gleaned at the Creative Leaders Retreat this past February in Scottsdale.
It was my second year attending. And truth be told, I got the “I’m not crazy” insight last year. But it was confirmed one more time by rubbing shoulders with 100 fellow creative directors from all walks of the creative life.
The Retreat attracts us from agencies small and large, independent and publicly traded, from those focused on technology to those focused on design to those delivering every tactic under the sun. Some of us work in-house. Some of us even come from Canada. And there was that guy from London. I met creative directors who led small teams as well as directors who oversee hundreds of creatives.
See for yourself
. The list of attendees and mentors and the topics we discussed are all there. There are no cameras and no microphones at the Retreat. No one tweets. No stages and lights. This isn’t a festival. Don’t call it a conference—despite there being mentors and sessions. There isn’t a keynote. No overarching theme or agenda. Only fellow creative directors and chairs and great food, great topics and even greater conversations. And candor.
In his book Creativity, Inc., author Ed Catmull (President of Pixar), spends a great deal of time illuminating the role and necessity of candor among creatives. I’ve seen that brought to life at the Retreat, in spades. It’s hugely refreshing and reassuring.
I go to the Creative Leaders Retreat because I get to hear my uncertainties, questions and theories coming out of other people’s mouths. I’m not alone! And sometimes I realise—I’m wrong! And what a relief it is to come to that realisation among fellow travelers than in front of clients. I also attend for perspectives that are often illusive during the day-to-day hustle.
Partnership is everything. “It’s everyone’s job to create the right conditions for great work,” said Judy John, CEO/CCO, Leo Burnett Toronto—and by everyone, she means creatives, account leads and clients. “Get down in the hole together,” encouraged Jessica Monsey, Group Account Director, and Craig Allen, CD, from Wieden+Kennedy. “A business partner sits at the table with clients,” said Leslie Sims, CCO Y&R NY. “An artist sits at the kids' table across the room.”
But it’s more than the advice initially projected on screen. What makes the Retreat valuable for me are the casual, candid conversations, the honest asides made during a break or around the pool over three days. These aren’t the bromides made to the press. More than one attendee affirmed how much they treasured the “cone of silence” the Retreat affords and the fellowship it generates.
Taken all together, I emerge with stronger footing—more aware of how my creative director habits propel and ruffle my work. I emerge better able to visit the ether successfully once again.