Sunday, January 26, 2014

Is Comfort Overrated?

I was once having a discussion with a head of planning. I was arguing that we shouldn't put Creatives in brainstorms (or 'workshops', as they're now called), because Creatives hate them. We just find the whole experience supremely uncomfortable.

"Comfort," he replied, "is overrated."

And at the time, I couldn't see how to refute this.

After all, the main purpose of our job is to come up with great ideas, not to have fun. Often we'll have fun, for sure, but you couldn't say that fun is the primary goal.

And thinking about the times I've done good work, I realised that it wasn't always in a comfortable environment.

Sometimes, it's been under pressure. (I've worked at agencies where it felt like you were under pressure the whole time). I've worked at agencies where people were aggressive. I've worked at agencies with crazy deadlines or crazy colleagues; in atmospheres that were intense, political, or fearful. But where great work still happened.

But recently, I thought back to the time when I felt I was doing my very best work. At that time, and in that place, none of the above applied.

That's not to say that we Creatives spent the whole day sitting in the bath, eating popcorn. We were working hard. But there was no aggression. No crazy deadlines. No crazy colleagues. No politics, and no fear. (And no brainstorms). There was only the expectation that you would do great work.

And that's the kind of pressure I want.

Mark Manson, in this insightful post, argues that the most interesting question in life is "What pain do you want?"

He argues that anything worthwhile in life, costs pain. If an athlete wants to win, she is going to have to train hard. If you want a great relationship, you may have to go through the pain of tough communication. If you want to write a novel, you are going to have to suffer the discipline of regular writing.

The trick is, to choose the type of pain that - to you - feels challenging rather than soul-sapping, that feels rewarding, even nourishing. This is what will give you the greatest chance of success.

So - a long time later - I have the answer for that head of planning. By all means let's put Creatives under pressure.

But let's make it the kind of pressure that they thrive under.


Anonymous said...

to a dedicated creative the pressure of deadline is all he/she needs.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the title of Creative is valid any more either.

We're simply problem solvers. (That work a lot of hours.)

We occasionally get to do something that people would class as "creative", but it's super rare these days and doesn't even feel encouraged.

JB said...

Personally I can't function well in a collective brainstorm, workshop or tissue session. My main issue is too many people saying stuff. And while that's happening I'm listening. And when I'm listening, I'm not having my own thoughts.

I agree too about the right type of pressure. From my experience it makes a big difference.

richard said...

Comfort isn't overrated, brainstorms are overrated. But if the creatives are going to have a note from their mum to get out of them can the planners too? - ghastly pointless things

Anonymous said...

Don't mind a brainstorm. As long as there are no suits or planners in there.

Anonymous said...

Good article. True though, creatives hate 'brainstorms.' Whoever came up with that idea was prob the same twat who came up with open plan offices.

Markham said...

I remember contributing to a brainstorm many years ago.

I must have been young and naive because I was firing on all cylinders.

I only realised how stupid I'd been when all my own ideas we're put on a brief and handed back to me as the account team's "thought starters" for my next two weeks work.

Lesson: always make sure it isn't your brain that gets stormed.

On a different note, I'm in Sydney in a few weeks, Simon. I'll look you up.

Author Jazz said...

Account people and planners can move onwards and upwards to better jobs and more money without ever having produced anything great.

Not so for creatives, and one good campaign can change a career.

In a 'workshop' no one owns the ideas and no one remembers who came up with the good ones. "We're all on the same team remember". So credit is never given.

Fuck that.

Tom Morton said...

Planner here.

Brainstorms deserve a bad rap because ten randoms free-associating and filling up on agency catering is a pointless exercise and a parody of the hard work of creative development. No wonder creatives hate them.

But I have seen workshops work well in strategy development. They tend to work when:
Their purpose is to come up with hypotheses rather than finished ideas;
Everyone in the room brings a degree of expertise;
There's plenty of information to hand, so people can spot what's important and make connections; and
Everyone is comfortable enough with everyone else to challenge the ideas in the room. Leaving a bad idea on the table out of politeness just leads to more bad ideas.

Creatives shouldn't work like brainstormers. Instead, teams of strategists should work more like creative teams.