How I stopped be­ing a jerk and be­came more cre­ative

Inc. (USA) - - LAUNCH -

like what I was be­com­ing. God, to have some­body you love tell you that—it turns you in­side out. But she was right. It was 16 years ago, I was 35, and I’d been run­ning the Am­s­ter­dam of­fice of Wieden + Kennedy, the ad agency. That night we were drink­ing wine—prob­a­bly a lot—and dis­cussing my next ca­reer move.

I had adopted this fixed mind­set that I was re­ally awe­some and I didn’t need to learn—like, I’m not in­ter­ested in your in­put, Mr. Client, I’m here to pro­tect my idea be­cause you’re go­ing to screw it up. I was do­ing bet­ter and bet­ter, but that cyn­i­cism had be­gun to creep into every part of my life.

It took me a while to ex­am­ine what needed to change. I de­cided ev­ery­thing did. We moved to Los An­ge­les, where I’d try to be­come a com­mer­cial di­rec­tor with Glenn Cole, my cre­ative part­ner from the ad agency. We had a friend who ran a pro­duc­tion com­pany and he started putting us for­ward for small jobs—lit­tle art projects, surf videos, and some com­mer­cial work.

I was a shitty di­rec­tor. Our pro­ducer friend said to me one time, “You know, peo­ple who do well in this busi­ness have re­turn cus­tomers. The way you get re­turn cus­tomers is by not telling them their ideas are lame.” It’s funny, when you own your own com­pany, it’s like you’re run­ning around naked every day. You can’t main­tain the front of be­ing a cre­ative ge­nius when your sur­vival is in the bal­ance. All of a sud­den, clients’ ideas seem much smarter be­cause you de­pend on them. Most im­por­tant, it changes your out­look from one of hav­ing em­ploy­ees to one of hav­ing part­ners. If any­one was good enough to work with us for the lit­tle pay we could of­fer, I felt com­mit­ted to mak­ing them happy. Be­cause there were so few of us, we had to em­brace ev­ery­one’s cre­ativ­ity.

That was the first big les­son for me. Once you start treat­ing em­ploy­ees as more than a job de­scrip­tion, sud­denly they go, “Oh, wow! Maybe I should bring my whole self to work to­day!” Our sec­re­tary would be mak­ing com­ments on all the work. That sec­re­tary, Evin Shutt, is now part­ner and chief oper­at­ing of­fi­cer. Ev­ery­one got much more en­gaged. And it got way more fun. If you don’t wel­come in­put from all your peo­ple, you nar­row your cre­ative prod­uct. Eyes dim. When you get peo­ple with di­verse back­grounds and ex­pe­ri­ences to­gether, you get sur­prises. That’s when re­ally good things hap­pen.

In a past life, John Boiler was a revered cre­ative di­rec­tor at Wieden + Kennedy, the West Coast ad­ver­tis­ing agency that helped put Nike on the map with iconic cam­paigns such as “Just Do It.” He was also a cyn­i­cal ego­tist. So he hit the re­set but­ton. Years later, he’s the co-founder and cre­ative cochair, with Glenn Cole, of 72andSunny, an ad agency “built on op­ti­mism” that works for the likes of Google and Adi­das. –As told to Burt Helm

Anti.

GOT YOUR AT­TEN­TION?

Clock­wise from top left: For Axe, 72andSunny has re­placed testos­terone-driven cam­paigns with more prod­uct-fo­cused yet hu­mor­ous themes. The agency’s work for pre­vi­ous clients such as Benetton continues to make it a hot shop. Other cam­paigns have pro­moted Ciroc Vodka and Sam­sung’s mul­ti­me­dia, in­ter­ac­tive ap­proach to in­tro­duc­ing Ri­hanna’s most re­cent al­bum,

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