Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Miles Davis never caught a train at 8am, rode into the city and up an elevator to the 7th floor.
Miles Davis then never walked under strip lighting, past rows of manned, partitioned workstations to a white laminated desk and a phone list.
Miles Davis then didn't answer emails for twenty minutes, attend a work-in-progress meeting, attend a second meeting about a blowout in the stationary budget before tidying his section of the office in preparation for important visitors later in the day.
Miles Davis didn't do this, because he was in the business of creating sublime, original and wonderful music. And commuting routines, nondescript office spaces and work-in-progress meetings are precisely the wrong environment for creating anything.
Yet this is the daily routine for most advertising creatives in the world. Particularly those in the larger multinationals that churn out the majority of messages on our screens, magazines and newspapers.
Agencies spend fortunes on brilliant creative directors, who in turn spend slightly smaller fortunes on talented art directors, writers and producers. Having harnessed this prodigious talent, they then crush the living daylights out of it by imposing regular office hours, hollow working environments and the filling-in of timesheets.
In my last multinational job, as a creative director, my whole day was filled with administration and meetings. The only time we got any creative thinking done was after 5.30, when the rest of the office (and my clients) had gone home.
In the two or three years since then, this seems to have become more prevalent, not less. Tighter margins mean fewer people are doing more work. Client-side procurement folk want more evidence of labour. And agency management, keen to meet new business targets, seek new ways to provide it.
The upshot of all this is that creative people in agencies are spending less time being creative.
Not only are the hours spent in WIP meetings hours not spent creating, they turn the creative process into a grind. We find ourselves having to create on command, during small 20-minute windows between internal reviews.
This is an horribly inefficient use of resources.
The worst place to have a good idea is in an office. The worst time to have one is when someone else is telling you to have one.
The best time and place to have ideas are the moments and spaces when you're not looking for them. The time between turning off the light and going to sleep. Soaping your armpits in the shower. Driving the kids to school. Jogging. Between the third and fourth beer at the pub. Talking to your mum.
These are things that every creative person knows. So why do we go to an office every day, as if we were doing data entry, kidding ourselves that hours spent equals more genuine progress?
Because of head-hours. This is, traditionally, how agencies charge their clients, and thus how they reward their employees. The more chargeable head hours per employee, the more profitable each one becomes.
The trouble is, this doesn't necessarily lead to better ideas, and often results in worse ones.
The solution? Maybe creative people shouldn't have jobs.
Rather than expecting copywriters and art directors to be at their desks at nine every morning, simply give them the brief, the right information and a time when you need the answer back.
Rather than being paid a salary, pay them to produce ideas. Those that produced the most and best ideas would be paid more, those that produced fewer and weaker, less.
Where and how these ideas are produced becomes immaterial. If sitting in an art gallery works for you, go for your life. If watching polar bears mate at the zoo gets your juices going, ditto.
The only thing that matters is the quantity of quality ideas you come back with.
Good creatives could consult to multiple agencies. There would be more scope to develop high specialties, such as car, beer, pensioner insurance or itty-bitty computer chips.
Agencies could offfer clients a broader range of creative thinking than simply that of the folks they can afford to have on staff.
With less time lost on non-creative activities, creatives have more time to develop their skills. Producing better ideas, building better value into their own careers and delivering better value for clients' money.
What do you think?