On creativity, agency culture and the Catholic Church! Ruminations from our company meeting in Toledo, Spain.
September 12, 2013
Because of a passport debacle, I was two days late to our company’s annual Academy and “Uno” Conference in the historic town of Toledo, Spain. Arriving mid-conference, with zero time for acclimating or rest, I was in goofy shape to say the least. There is a significant time difference between San Francisco and Toledo, two more hours of lag than had I still lived in Chicago. Thankfully, being overtired is not the same as jet lag; actually it’s more fun! And seeing as I don’t drink or do drugs anymore it’s the closest thing to stoned I’ll ever get.
Dinner was served to us on the terrace of a gorgeous villa overlooking the ancient, walled city. Like the setting, the weather was sublime. I felt blessed to be a part of this event, even if loopy. Still, I snuck off to bed sooner than most. For the next day was going to be a long one. In addition to working with Hyper Island, our agency has arranged two interesting presentations from wildly different personalities…
First, former adman, Kevin Allen speaks to us on themes from his book, The Hidden Agenda, regarding, among other things, ciphering what clients and consumers really and truly want beneath the surface of their requests. (This material would come off as tradeshow hooey if Kevin weren’t so damn sincere about it and, more importantly, right.)
The other speaker was a South African designer and creative alchemist named Porky Hefer (yes, that’s his real name). He showed us some of his work, which was odd, if I’m being honest, but I suppose that was half the point. Creativity is odd all the time and it should always have that license. Hefer also questioned the pervasive belief that only certain people are creative. As an exercise, he asked everyone to go off for 15 minutes and come up with a creative idea that was completely their own.
Whether you find this sort of activity cheesy or inspiring I will tell you this: it is far better to work for a company that has such outings as one that doesn’t. Investing such significant time and resources demonstrates a company that truly cares about its people and culture.
My agency, gyro (the “g” is small) is obsessed with it. Like any culture we have our own language in addition to just the right right-brain characters to teach it to us! Our CEO, Christophe Becker is also the agency’s Chief Creative Officer (an anomaly in Adland). That means we really do have a creative CEO and, therefore, a genuine creative mandate. Driven but also poetic, men like Christophe make it easy to drink the Kool-Aid.
While in Toledo, we were given a very special private tour of the outstanding Church of
Toledo, a medieval church regarded in the same league as Notre Dame and Le Domo. Among its countless jaw-dropping edifices, murals and iconography was a collection of fine art including many El-Greco’s and even a Caravaggio. I’ve never stood so close to such treasures.
Oil paintings aside, amid this gilded spectacle, I could not help but think of our modern bling-obsessed popular culture. Honestly, if what I was looking at weren’t well over a thousand years old it would have come off as gaudy and grossly self-serving, even vulgar.
I know these remarkable places (which often took hundreds of years to complete) do, in fact, inspire the faithful. But it’s hard to get around the central teachings of Jesus Christ, which placed humility and poverty above such pomp and circumstance. I’m no theologian but weren’t worshippers of gold idols considered pagans? Even so, it’s hard to think that the many artists and craftsman who toiled on these outstanding creations were anything but inspired by their divine subject matter. Food for thought and certainly compelling content for stimulating a company meeting!