Act Like a Creative Director
Think Like a Construction Worker
by Ernie Schenck
I suspect Harry Potter never gave a second thought to becoming a creative director. There is a reason for this. The truly great creative directors aren't sorcerers. They have no magic wands. No time turners. No invisibility cloaks. Nor are they geniuses. Or hard-ass taskmasters who think nothing of dressing down account people, planners, CMOs, CEOs or anyone else who dares to interfere with their manic and single-minded quest to generate awesome work.
All of this is a myth. It is as much a myth as the sorcerer coach who comes up with the brilliant last-second play that no one ever sees coming. The mystic visionary who senses a sudden shift of the wind, a momentary lapse in concentration, the unanticipated opportunity. This is the Hollywood version. Coaches aren’t sorcerers. And neither are creative directors.
Regardless of what you might think of him, Bill Belichick is one of the most successful coaches of all time. He has steered the New England Patriots to five Super Bowl appearances in eleven years. If there were, in fact, such a thing as a sorcerer coach, it very well might be this man. Look a little closer though and what you see is less the visionary strategic mastermind and more Bob the Builder.
“Belichick’s Breakdowns” is a series of weekly videos in which Belichick puts a handful of plays from the previous week’s game under the microscope, takes them apart and discusses why they were such key factors in the team winning or losing.
As Daniel Coyle writes in The Talent Code, “The coach doesn’t focus on the big moments we notice. He skips over all the amazing athletic moves, the key turnovers, and pretty much anything that you might remember from the game. Instead, he focuses exclusively and obsessively on little things—the perfectly executed block that turned a three-yard run into a five-yard run. The way a defensive player sealed off an end that led to an incompletion. He focuses, time after time, on small moments.”
The small moments. The small things. A brick here. A brick there.
The great creative directors think the same way. Sure, we all love the Hail Mary; the big, explosive campaign that comes out of nowhere, wins every award on the planet and maybe even forever changes the culture itself. And really, who wouldn’t love to see that happen every time a creative mind goes into high gear? But it doesn’t. Great creative directors, like any great coach, know that at the end of the day, it’s the short yardage here, the little over the middle pass there, that ultimately make the difference. Football. Advertising. You don’t long bomb your way to success. You build it.
Here’s how the construction worker thinks:
Can I replicate it? Am I expecting the impossible out of my creative teams? Am I subtly or otherwise pressuring them to turn lead into gold every time they sit down at their laptops? Again, as Coyle puts it, “If Bill Belichick were a guitar teacher, he would care less about the kick-ass solo. Instead, he’d obsess about thumb position and finger angle, the stuff that matters on every single chord you play.” Consistency is what ultimately keeps a football team driving down the field and creative teams are no different.
Can I control it? If you pay attention to Belichick, you’ll see that he’s really good at making heroes out of players who pay attention. The ones who listen, who don’t just say they heard you, but show it in their actions. It’s the same with creatives. Who’s anticipating? Who’s getting in the right spots at the right time creatively? Keep an eye on them. They’re the ones who will do the most with the opportunities they’re given.
Can I connect it? When you coach like a construction worker, you know it’s not the architect’s rendering that matters. It’s the blueprint. The nuts and bolts. The unglamorous stuff that you never see on NFL highlights of the week. The perfect block. The quick hands stripping the ball away, far from the cameras. But without that, the big high-profile moves don’t happen. Keep an eye on the creatives that push for the big idea but that never lose sight of the fundamentals. Does the idea communicate? Is it emotionally engaging? Does it provoke thought? Is it likeable? Does it connect something to someone?
There are all kinds of creative directors. Some wear flannel shirts and jeans. Some like black head to toe. But as far as I’m concerned, as long as their collars are blue, they’re going to accomplish big things and so are you. CA