Creative Superpowers: A Lazy Book Club conversation with Mr. President’s Laura Jordan-Bambach

At our latest Lazy Book Club, we spoke with Laura Jordan-Bambach, co-author and editor of Creative Superpowers: Equip Yourself for the Age of Creativity, among other things. She’s also the Chief Creative Officer of creative agency Mr. President, the co-founder of SheSays, a global network to empower women in the creative industries, and an ex-president of D&AD.

You get the gist – we were fanboying/fangirling pretty hard. Over an hour and a half we talked about all sorts of things, from creativity, to client relationships, to the importance of trust and leadership. Here’s a summary of what we discussed, organised in 3 handy themes.

1. Creativity as the ultimate competitive advantage and how to employ a ‘maker mindset’

As we increasingly hear about the threat of Artificial Intelligence taking over jobs (*yawn* – but also kinda terrifying), we know our biggest advantage over the machines will be our creativity.

This is particularly true for strategists, where more and more it will be the creativity in our strategic thinking that helps us to create real value (vs the parts of our jobs related to pattern recognition and more logical stuff). So while a lot of our jobs as strategists consists of analytical thinking, it stands that many of us could benefit from what Laura terms a maker’s mindset.

“The idea of a maker mindset is to do something, make something, see where it takes you, and build on it or diverge from it until you get to a more interesting place.” – Laura Jordan-Bambach

It’s a ‘thinking out of doing’ approach. It might seem a bit back to front, but that’s why it’s the kind of approach a machine will never be able to replicate. Of course, it doesn’t mean we should all start learning to design or code stuff, but it does mean that we need to get better at trying things, seeing what comes out, learning from that, and building on it with more experimentation.

Some practical thoughts from the session: Draw your strategy or write the manifesto before you’ve developed the proposition. See what interesting new strategic ideas it opens up. Do any of them work?

2. Trust is the winning factor when it comes to creating AND selling great ideas

We also spoke with Laura at length about the role of trust in the creative process. One of the key ideas in the book is that great ideas often come from when we cultivate an environment where it’s ok to ‘invade each other’s turf’. This is especially important when you’re a smaller agency, because, as Laura says, “in a smaller place everyone’s on each other’s turf, so there is no turf”.

A crucial factor here: turf invasions need to go both ways. In practice, this means creatives should be able to discuss strategy (sacrilege!), strategists should be able to come up with ideas (say what!) and sometimes it’s useful to get clients earlier in the creative process, to get their input on a campaign before the big reveal (GET OUT!).

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When it comes to trust and support, clients often also need agency help to sell ideas internally. One thing agency strategists often forget is that a client needs to be convinced by what we have to say, in order to go say it to someone else, usually their boss.

Golden tip: Our very own Rachel O’Donovan shared her experience in helping clients understand their own appetite for ‘great work’ (something every client says they want, but which they’re not all really ready to buy). By showing her clients different kinds of ads with different levels of creativity/risk (e.g. Gold Lions vs an average campaign), Rachel gets them to honestly articulate what they want and what they think they can sell-in with her support (before the agency produces any ideas).  

3. What the hell is ‘leadership material’ anyway?

The idea of ‘creative superpowers’ would make you think that individual efforts are enough to get things going, but we also discussed the role of your environment to get great creative work done. In fact, Laura argued it’s important to feel safe before you can feel creative, as it gives you permission to fail as you try new things. That’s where the role of leaders comes in.

“The more senior you go, the more your role becomes to create safety for your people.” – Laura Jordan-Bambach

While creating emotional safety for your team is an important task for a leader, it’s not always easy to pinpoint exactly how to get it done. And given her role as an advocate for women’s rights in the industry, Laura had a strong point of view on what should be expected of female leaders. Specifically, she remembered past episodes where women she’d work with weren’t considered ‘leadership material’, despite the fact that ‘leadership material’ so often means aligning with a culture of bravado and survival-of-whoever-speaks-the-loudest.

But what happens before women in the marketing industry get to a leadership position? This is where mutual support plays a key role. Creativity is a team effort that requires safe spaces, but there’s also a broader need to make sure whoever doesn’t feel supported – especially if they’re a woman – has space to speak up. A key barrier, however, is that it’s not always easy to speak up for yourself.

Laura’s advice? “Make sure you have an ally in your organisation who can speak up for and with you”. This was another important argument that nods to the importance of our industry needing more open conversations, not just about how to do great strategy, but also to ensure we have the right conditions for fair and equal treatment, no matter who you are. If that means more tag teaming to get our agencies and employers to do the right thing, we’re 200% up for that.

Want to be a part of the next Lazy Book Club? All you have to do is become a member by signing up below. See ya soon!