I work in the business. My husband works in the business. Many of my friends work in the business. Even my stepson wants in the business. Every day I’m exposed to a lot of conversations about advertising … positive and negative. I’ve noticed in the last year or so (maybe a coincidence but in tandem with the recession) a lot of people talking about the dismal state of creativity in Canada. Dismal? That seems a bit harsh … but I was riding the subway the other day, and I was shocked at how many “infomercial-type” of print ads were running in the overhead backlit areas of the subway cars. And equally shocked at how many empty ad spaces there were. I read blogs, visit ad websites, crack open some Awards Annuals and yes … there are lots of creative ideas waiting to be found is you care to seek them, outside of paid media, but how come I don’t see more of this fine work when I am passive, when I treat myself like a consumer? It’s not like I’m living in a cave. I don’t see it on TV. I don’t see it on the GO train. In the newspapers … once in a while in a magazine … nothing online. Well, I saw a cool domination once but it was based out of Australia. I work in the business – and at a network for pete’s sake – we sell ad space and run other people’s creative as well as our own. But where is the really great stuff – the breakthrough, never before seen work that’s in those Advertising Annuals and ad websites?
Maybe it’s out there. But maybe it’s only reflective of 1% of the total ad content produced in this country. Considering how many people work in the industry, how come it’s only a handful who are producing good work? The different, the never-before-seen, can only happen if creative people can break out of the sameness mold that the risk-adverse try to keep us in. Do we blame it on a lack of imagination, or fear? Are we risk adverse or are our clients? Are we working in an industry completely devoid of brand and consumer insights? With all the research available to us, how come we know so little about the people buying/watching/using our brands? Are we taking risks, but failing to close the sale? Is more great work pinned to our walls and not being produced for our books?
I think much of it comes down to fear of failure – on many levels. Our culture treats failure as something to be ashamed of. Instead, failure should be celebrated. Learning is based on trial and failure. Without those two we do not learn. I remember spending two full days learning how to windsurf and being tipped into the water more times than you would believe. And with each failure, I became even more determined to master the board and sail. On my third morning I experienced a breakthrough … and my body, timing, balance and board and sail all suddenly started to work together. It was exhilarating. Creativity works the same way. But for some reason, many creative teams think if they haven’t nailed the idea by lunch, the idea isn’t coming. And they settle. Or, they work hard, come up with lots of good ideas, but stop short of that elusive great idea.
I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.
Who said that? Michael Jordan. And he was someone who had a lot to lose. He could have played it safe but he didn’t. He know that without risk – failure, there would be no reward, no success. We need to embrace failure and celebrate it as we celebrate success. Until we do, we remain too afraid to pass into that magical zone where the really great work lives.