This was written by Tom Monahan and first published in Communication Arts magazine. Although directed to an advertising audience, much can be learned about creative dynamics in organizations by people in any industry.
What makes some ad agencies better than others, creatively? (Not too big an issue, right?) Are the agencies that are perennially represented in the advertising annuals different from other agencies? If so, how? When an agency regularly does great work, what accounts for that? When an agency consistently comes up short, why is that?
Is it as simple as this: The agencies with the most creative talent achieve the most? I’d like to think that’s all there is to it, but I don’t think it’s that simple. The proof is in the performance of many of those people before and after their stints with said agency.
Is it as simple as the fact that some advertisers allow their agencies to do better work? Well, yes and no. There are some clients who do allow, encourage, or even demand it. But, that’s rare. And it’s rarely within their control. Too often after account switches we see the work get dramatically better or dramatically worse. So it’s usually not the client.
Is it that some agencies simply have a better handle on what it takes to do great work and get it through the system? Well, you know, I think it is that simple. And that complex. Because, although that might be the closest thing to a true common denominator, it just ain’t that easy to pull off.
Think about the modern era of great creative agencies. Heck, throw in the agencies that aren’t Hall-of-Fame great, but consistently do admirable work. And the key word here is consistently. Flashes in the pan usually fall into the “exceptional individual,” “great client” or “awards for pretend clients” categories, and are hardly an indication of overall agency strength.
We all have our own list of favorite agencies. A handful show up on most lists.
Now think about what made these fine institutions of creative achievement so good. The people usually came and went. The clients definitely came and went.
So, what stayed?
(I can feel creative directors across the industry causing a low pressure area like the prelude to a late-season hurricane, as they hold their collective breaths.)
I’ll tell you what stayed. The culture.
“Yeah, great.” I can hear a chorus of CDs bellow, in a sound pretty close to hurricane volume. “That’s a lot of help, culture. Could you make it a bit more vague, Monahan?”
Actually, I’ll make it a lot less vague. Or better yet, I’ll let you clarify it for yourself.
You see, as I’ve made the study of creativity a serious vocation over the years, I’ve begun to see more clearly what accounts for creative potency in the best organizations. Believe it or not, there are some common characteristics to high-achieving companies that, if better understood, could be a blueprint for those who are looking to strengthen their games in this area.
Oh, it’s not a science. Never will be. But there’s more order to this chaotic universe than most realize. So I have created a little device to help those in positions of responsibility figure out what works in their culture to promote greater creativity, as well as what’s broke or missing.
I call it a Creativity Force Field Analysis. Fancy term, huh? Actually, I adapted it from a tool used by organizational development people, the plain old-fashioned Force Field Analysis.
This little analytic device is very simple. Just identify what forces propel an organization toward its goals. And identify what forces work against the accomplishment of those goals. The theory being if you clearly recognize the “forces of good” and “forces of evil” you’re in a better position to plus the pluses, minus the minuses, and help the good forces of the Empire overpower the Darth Vader forces, to make your organization better.
In my version of this analytic tool, the goal is simply greater creativity.