YOU ARE NOT CREATIVE: Part, the last


…Continued from Part, the second.

Now that you’ve informed your buzzword CEO what Collaboration is actually about, you better catch them before they start tooting the horn of Empowerment.

This concept is spewed forth across the agency, with chunks sticking in the hair of juniors in all departments, like Jackson Pollock ate one of his own paintings right after a bad kebab.

When your CEO gets tired of making decisions all the time, putting out the infernal supply of fires, and dealing with employees’ problems – despite much of that being their actual job – ‘empowerment’ becomes their motto, their catch-cry, and their shield that allows them to run away into a ‘very important meeting’ where they usually end up discussing shoes for half an hour.

Like it’s mutant twin sibling Collaboration, also drooling from the lips of the poorly informed, Empowerment is often perceived as meaning “we can all make big decisions without needing approval, even though most of us are terribly inexperienced and on junior salaries! Yippee.”


It becomes a license for Account Executives to set up committee meetings to review the first round of concepts before the Chief Creative Officer has even seen them. It emboldens mid-level Planners to immediately stand up at that meeting and say “These are the two concepts we’re going to present to client” without even asking the CCO what his inestimable experience might recommend. It drives the Account Manager to sneak off alone to the client and present only the concept they like while disregarding the recommendations of everyone else, including those more senior.**


Empowerment should not be a dismantling of the agency hierarchy

Your agency’s org chart is laid out like a pyramid, with the most experienced individuals in their fields at the pointy top for a reason: they are responsible for the decisions which lead to the success, or failure, of the agency.  Empowerment is not the authority for everyone to behave like those at the top of the pyramid – the CEO, the CCO, the Chief Strategist or the Chief Client Officer – and make primary decisions without a career of experience to de-risk the result.

Empowerment is the endorsement to be part of the process. To not ask permission to be involved. To not wait to be invited into a collaborative moment. To feel free to express one’s own opinions. But all the while respecting the authority of senior staff and management, remembering that it is not a democracy and knowing where the buck stops.

It is also the charge for everyone to be stronger and more confident in their voice, to claim the right to the skill for which they were hired in the first place. Which reciprocally means also respecting the rights of others who were hired for their skills. Different skills. A healthy mix of voices in which NOT everyone is creative.

Everyone can have thoughts.
Everyone can have ideas.
Everyone can have creative ideas.

But not everyone IS creative.

Not everyone has the capacity to think laterally every minute of every hour of every day, solving complex briefs that connect the seemingly disparate elements of product, audience, time and place. Not everyone sees beyond the sheets of paper to the potentially beautiful and disruptively unique solution to the client’s business problem. Not everyone can do that constantly and consistently enough to be paid (well) for it.


Not everyone can be expected to produce an endless consciousness of imaginative and original ideas that are continually artistic, inspired, visionary or clever. Not everyone can endure the pressure and rigour of such an expectation.

Which is why those same people who flippantly remark “…but everyone is creative” are the first to fall back on “I don’t know, you’re the creative” when they encounter a particularly tricky brief, or their own idea falls flatter than Mr Pickles on the A40.

You can’t have it both ways.

Creatives would never dream of being an Account Director. They aren’t (usually) the kind of people to build and maintain complex business relationships on which a million-dollar retainer relies. That is a unique skill for a different type of person.

Creatives would never claim “everyone is strategic”, because they know their brains aren’t wired the same way as someone who can marry the psychology of consumer behaviour with the data of purchase mechanics. That is a unique skill.

Not everyone is capable of managing the finances of an account – or an entire business – with the mathematical precision to balance forecasts with actuals, while not over-promising and incurring the wrath of the holding company. Unique.

Not everyone is adept with rapidly eroding timelines against an ever-broadening production schedule. Skill.

Not everyone is able to see the code before it has flowed from their fingertips.

Not everyone is suited to navigating the ocean of legalities.

Not everyone is a career-managing, people person.

Not everyone is creative.

“Creativity” is the most valuable asset of professional Creatives. It is their brand. Its exclusivity is what sets Creatives apart. If our industry gets to the stage where Creatives no longer have that, the brand of Creativity is finished.

Imagine where your agency would be without specialist creativity. Or specialist planning, production, account management, finance, or development.

Accept your place within the engine of an advertising agency.

Your place is important and just as valid as everyone else’s, otherwise the agency wouldn’t have you in the first place. You are unique for what you bring to the table. That is your power.


Don’t trample on the unique skill-set of others. Praise it. Respect it. Draw upon it and use it, like Mars used Hershey’s chocolate (see Part, the second), to make yourself famous in your field.

In the beginning of this three-part treatise, I hypothesised this is why so many agencies struggle to breakthrough. They have been led to believe (usually by a CEO who once attended a conference in Barcelona) that their agency culture will be improved if everything thinks everyone is creative, everyone piles into a room together to collaboshite™, and everyone starts pretending they have the jack-of-all-trades skills from every specialist sphere to make decisions like a boss.

They end up diluting their agency’s skills, frustrating their specialists, disenfranchising their most senior staff, and dismantling the engine that relies upon many different parts doing their own specific thing – in unison. Ironically, and fatefully, they end up disempowering so many amazing people that the psychological walls rise in a turf war that kills any hope of teamwork.

Feel empowered to claim the right to your own specialist skill, to speak with authority on your area of expertise, and collaborate with others who have different specialist skills and areas of expertise. You have a lot to give to your agency: insights and information, viewpoints and opinions that others don’t have. You have a virtuosity of your own.

Because you are NOT creative.

And that is a good thing.



** All three of these things honestly occurred in an agency at which I once worked, as a result of mislaid ’empowerment’ and a belief that ‘everyone is creative’.

5 thoughts on “YOU ARE NOT CREATIVE: Part, the last

  1. Pingback: YOU ARE NOT CREATIVE: Part, the second | ADLAND IS JUST A LAND

  2. Great article Matt. I concur. The best work i have ever been involved with has been a collaboration between the BLT (not the sandwich, the business leadership team). Creative, strategic and suit leads who have had enough experience to contribute to eachothers disciplines but respect their individual expertise. And when egos are left at the door and its a great partnership, thats when the magic happens.

    • Hi Eithne. That’s true collaboration and empowerment in action right there. And no one is saying “everyone is creative” in order to achieve great results.

  3. Hey Matt, I totally agree with your POV. I’d like to add to it, if you deem it relevant. While everyone is not creative, we should be creative in our respective roles and tasks. For example, the finance people should be creative in how we make money, bill, etc. Just as the account servicing and planning should be creative in how to tackle a brief. In the same way, as creatives are constantly tasked to find many different solutions to solve A Problem, I believe the rest should be addressing briefs, insights or numbers in many different ways and solutions too. I personally feel that’s what makes a creative agency. We’re creative in everything we do and not just in our ideas.

    • Hi Ezra, I understand your sentiment but I disagree.

      Firstly, to apply the phrasology “be creative with the finances” is NOT a good thing. This is universally accepted as being illegal financial practices.

      Secondly, this is a misappropriation of the word “creative” in the context of a creative industry.

      I get what you mean. All disciplines should find new and better ways to improve their area of expertise and the results it brings the business. But please don’t use the word “creative”. It’s not actually creative, and certainly not in the sense of an agency which has a divison actually called ‘Creative.’ What you’re asking those other disciplines to do is be better at their job. To understand their skill – define it by a word other than ‘creative’ – and leverage that for improvement. The finance department should NOT be creative with the numbers. They should be efficient and smart with the numbers. The planning department should NOT be creative with the brief. They should be strategic with the brief. Account Service should NOT be creative with the clients. They should be managerial and empathetic with the clients.

      Your viewpoint, I’m sorry, is exactly the kind of issue I am trying to correct. Let each department, each skill, understand their skill and what it brings to the agency when mixed with all the other skills. Do not try to homogenise in the misguided believe that simply labeling a unified methodology as ‘creative’ will magically make the agency more creative. It won’t. The creatives should be more creative. The planners more strategic. The comptrollers more frugal. The account managers more managerial.

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