Damon Stapleton: Mavericks in the echo chamber

images.jpgA regular blog by Damon Stapleton, chief creative officer of DDB New Zealand

"We are defining the boundaries of normality by tearing apart the people outside it."

"We see ourselves as nonconformist, but I think all of this is creating a more conformist, conservative age." - Jon Ronson, So You've Been Publicly Shamed.

The last couple of weeks I have struggled to write anything. I have even contemplated stopping this blog. I had this feeling of dread that all I was doing was contributing to the pollution. Yet one more fucking opinion. I have found myself with glazed eyes scrolling through the echo chamber that is LinkedIn. Hundreds of posts where everybody has some new definition or answer. Jargon and 5 point plans that claim to be radical but are in fact the exact opposite. More than that though, there seems to be this overwhelming feeling of trying to get to some sort of collective consensus. A sea of sameness. We should conform. Nobody really steps out of the square. A hall of mirrors desperately trying to create a single, politically correct, inoffensive reflection.
Advertising seems to be trying to have one generally accepted opinion, rather than many. I have seen people online get smashed because they have a different opinion to the mob. This is dangerous for a business that needs to take calculated risks. Dangerous for a business that is built on having an opinion. Dangerous for a business that needs emotion, difference and that tricky thing called humour

I am pretty sure Communism had very few stand-up comedians that didn't end up in Siberia.

While I was thinking about this I started reading a book by Jon Ronson. It's called 'So You've Been Publicly Shamed.'

It's about how social media has destroyed people's lives. It shows their mistakes and how in some cases their lives were destroyed by giving their dumb opinion or making a stupid comment. Something none of us have ever done right? It is a very interesting read that humanises these people and makes you realise how the punishment often doesn't fit the crime.

I thought about how this applied to advertising. I started to think about how this fits with advertising blogs. What kind of environment have we created to make creatives feel like they can take risks? I can tell you from personal experience, if you stick your neck out with an opinion or work that is perhaps controversial you can experience an advertising version of public shaming that can be pretty brutal. I know of some instances where people have left the industry or had breakdowns and, if you do a little research online, far worse.

As creatives, we should support each other far more than we do. Far more. And, by not doing it, are we slowly creating a virus that will create an industry where the work inch by inch gets worse? We always speak about having fun. We talk about playfulness and the importance of being able to make mistakes. But do we really believe that? Does our behaviour to each other show that?

Perhaps it's just me but this all feels incongruous with the bravery and courage creativity needs. Now, I know critics and criticism have always been a part of any creative endeavour. However, as creatives we should be all for pushing the envelope and supporting those that try and fail. There are enough people to pull us back. We shouldn't do it ourselves. We are often guilty of being the critics that create a kingdom of fear that we have to live in. Less time, less mistakes, less free thinking and more critics creates an environment where the opposite of creativity is created. Fear.

In my career, the people that have pushed me forward were mavericks. I am not sure there are many left. And I am not sure they are that wanted. The ones I learnt from were brave and had the courage of their convictions. They were people that had your back and you would follow into battle. They didn't care what everybody thought. They cared about what they believed or could feel. If they believed or felt something they were passionate and persuasive about that point of view. They knew if they felt it, they could make others feel it too.

I have been in a room where one of the world's most legendary creative directors listened to an entire room of senior people for an hour. All of them totally disagreed with him. He didn't care, he stuck to what he believed and in the end he was right. He didn't care if he was popular. He cared about the idea. And of course, that is the real secret.

It's strange how out of date that paragraph sounds. It shouldn't but it does. Today, many would call that Creative Director difficult and not a team player.

To quote G.K Chesterton. "I've searched all the parks in all the cities and found no statue of committees."

Consensus and agreement are what happens at the end with many. Vision and belief happen at the beginning with very few.

Great work takes courage and bravery. It doesn't just happen. If you think you just need lots of ideas you are in for a big surprise. Great work happens because somebody believes in it. The more we as a creative industry take away the conditions for belief by destroying each other, the more we end up with something vanilla and unremarkable. Our industry cannot afford to do this to itself right now.

If ever there was ever a time to celebrate and support the mavericks and real diversity of thought, it is now.

Strong, singular opinions won't always give you the answer you're looking for. But, they will often give you the answer you can't find. And that, is often the answer you need the most.

If that isn't valuable, I don't know what is.



Rich said:

Well said.
We would be stuffed without you lot.
Keep going for all our sakes.

D said:

You're right. There are very, very few mavericks in this business any more. In today's climate they are simply painted as troublesome. That is the true problem. The people that once made this business so wonderful now have no place in it. Today's mavericks are finding that they're much more welcome and appreciated in other industries.

It almost seems wrong to agree now, but... said:

I've been watching political correctness suck the joy out of meetings, people, businesses and entire marketing categories for decades now.
Consensus rules. 'Cos it plays by them.
Creativity works by breaking the rules and reassembling them in a different shape.
But there's price we pay for doing that.
I've seen people shattered by social media and an unfiltered trade press, simply for doing or saying what they believed in.
I'm 50+ now. Whatever.
I've got wisdom that I simply didn't possess when I was younger.
I know that negativity doesn't just eat away at the soul. It destroys the most basic creative skill - the ability to see something that doesn't exist yet.
I've learned to beat my own drum with all the energy I can PURELY to drown out the beige chameleons who try to run (or ruin) my day.
I'm way more careful with my time, and my attention than I used to be.
I believe (for most of us) our parallel digital existence is a source of clutter, not clarity.
Damon, you've been an antidote to that.
I've loved reading your blogs. Your insights and observations have reminded me to live a better life.
I just wanted to say thanks.
Keep yelling into the wilderness.
There are plenty of ears out here listening.

What he said. said:

I too am knocking on the door of 50 and have been in this game since I left school, in one capacity or another, and I can wholeheartedly say that it's the naysayers and vanilla decision makers that have finally beaten the life out of me.
I used to love this game and never thought I'd get tired of it, but it's beaten me.
I love reading your blogs and do take some comfort out of them, but it's sad that these days I'm actually getting my joy from reading about the demise of the game and not the growth of great ideas.

Bon Snott said:

If there's one person who shouldn't stop blogging it you.

You're absolutely right about the sea of concensus out there and it only gets worse because everyone these days is told to "PR their personal brand" not to mention the company they work for.
So we all get to read pointless LinkedIn and other marketing blog articles from people who mostly have never directly contributed an idea which sells stuff for clients.

But at least you're a voice on the other side trying to simplify and clarify and cut through that sea of bullshit.

Bon Snott said:

And for anyone else in need of a truth pill go here


Oz Dean said:

* Stands and claps *

Damon - keep blogging. Your contribution matters.

Well Said said:

There definitely is an echo chamber of shite out there, but all the more reason for you to keep writing.

Your posts are always hugely appreciated, and often shared around our agency. So thanks from me too.

pseudonym said:

I wept at the beauty of this post.

garyd said:

Keep it up. I too often share your posts around the agency, so thank you too.

Leezy said:

Write on, Mr Stapleton.

In an industry where drones deem passion to be insubordination, points of view to be recalcitrance and self-belief to be downright defiance, your regular blog settles the ship somewhat.

I was struck by your point about 'Committees'.

Interesting, how all the like letters huddle together, eh?

Jet said:

Just on the principle of not conforming to the consensus, I'd like to disagree.

But I can't because it's so true. Great read.

Tim said:

Mavericks yes they are important to rock the boat and move things along. However whilst committees do not have statutes I go with Brian Eno's view of the Scenius. We ALL have a part to play there with the Mavericks et al.

Recently introduced to a 20th century tome which expresses a useful framing of business dynamics and hopefully of interest to creatives of all sorts. Check out:
Artists, Craftsmen and Technocrats: The Dreams, Relaties and Illusions of Leadership by Patricia Pitcher
Worth £5 I can assure you!

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