Sadly, I was never a company man. Company men are safe. Mild-mannered. Conservative. They have good hair.
But not everyone can be a company man. That said, our value is no less than those guys. (Nor any greater.)
I’m a writer. A copywriter by trade. Alongside artists, designers, directors, illustrators, photographers, videographers, and others, writers are considered part of the “creative class.” Most of us aren’t company men. We’re sharpshooters company men hire.
A writer’s role is to solve problems. Sure, they’re communications problems (we’re not performing open heart surgery, after all), but it’s still problem solving. Creative problem solving at this level is complicated. Too often, I believe, people tend to think of creative people as folks who go stare at the sky and pluck ideas as they float by. Which is total bullshit. I mean, that might work for an abstract painter, but in the commercial world that’s called grasping at straws. Which is to say there’s a process to solving problems. And this process has many steps, but one important step that is often overlooked, or else looked down upon, is confronting and challenging ideas.
No idea becomes a solution without it passing through a gauntlet of challenges. Does it solve the problem? Does it move the audience? If so, in which direction? Is it part of a larger narrative? Is it relevant? Topical? Does it align with the brand’s voice? These are but a few of the many challenges an ideas must overcome to become a solution.
When I was starting out as a copywriter at Citibank, the senior copywriter told me, “Don’t marry your ideas.”
It was some of the best advice I’ve ever received.
The reason you don’t marry your ideas is because when you’re struck with an epiphany, it *might* be a solution, or it might just be a stepping stone to get to the solution. Or, it might simply be infatuation. The only way to know for sure is to beat the hell out of it.
And then be ok when others beat the hell out of it. It’s not personal.
I never worked at a big ad agency, but experienced first-hand the “politics of ideas” at smaller shops. Namely, that most people DO marry their ideas–and often defend them to the death.
That’s no good. It’s no good for solving the actual problem, and it’s no good for cultivating a culture of problem solving. To present ideas and concepts that are aimed at solving a problem, you’ve got to strap on your boots and prepare for your concept to be violently shaken. That’s the only way to ensure that it works.
At my first agency, I was known as something like a hothead. It was totally unwarranted. I merely challenged ideas (it was more a PR shop than an ad agency.) Sure, I definitely lacked the tact that I have now (tact is huge in this process), but never under any circumstances was I mean or malicious or anything like that. However, people who were not willing to have their ideas punctured to see whether they held water, often took offense.
Don’t be that guy. Be willing to let people beat up your ideas. Doing so will make you a better problem solver as you’ll begin to filter faster and ask the tough questions yourself. Before others have a shot at it.