In this opinion piece, head of strategy, McDonald’s at OMD, Russ Mitchinson writes about what media agencies can learn about creativity from the master of originality, designer Alexander McQueen.
We work in an ideas driven industry, where more often than not it’s adapt or die. Ideas are how we get satisfaction from our role, what our clients pay us for, and how we make ourselves famous. Ideas are behind everything that we do, from innovative media campaigns, to novel sponsorships, to smarter search strategies.
In order to nurture a culture of creativity, we need to learn from the best – and who better than the bad boy of the British fashion world, the late, great Alexander McQueen. Known for his constant innovation, challenging ideas and visual spectacle, he was one of the foremost creative talents globally.
So how can this master of creativity change the way we work day-to-day in agency land? I’ve taken the liberty of writing nine Maxims of Creativity, inspired by the life and work of McQueen (he’d probably have thought they’re a “pile of wank”).
1 Know your shit.
Be technically brilliant. Apply yourself to your craft and don’t be afraid to get ‘on the tools’. Invest your time in constantly learning. To quote McQueen, “I spent a long time learning how to construct clothes, which is important before you can deconstruct them.” Don’t try to run before you can walk.
2 Don’t waste time with the mediocre.
Surround yourself with the best; the best thinkers, the broadest range of skills, both from inside the agency and beyond. McQueen worked with the best of British craftsmen and artists, from Damien Hirst and Philip Tracey to Jake and Dinos Chapman. Find your subject matter experts. These are the people you’ll collaborate with, create with and learn from. Ideas need a supportive environment to thrive in, and none of us is as good as all of us.
3 Rip-up the rules.
Know what to keep…and what to discard. As McQueen said, “You’ve got to know the rules to break them. That’s what I’m here for, to demolish the rules but to keep the tradition.” Always ask ‘Why?’ and question ‘Why not?’ Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo – it’s the only way change can happen.
4 Inspiration from anywhere.
Be a magpie. Collect ideas from everywhere, the more varied the better. To quote McQueen, “Clothes don’t come from a notepad…it’s eclectic. It comes from Degas and Monet, and my sister-in-law in Dagenham.” Don’t just search for it on Google, get out into the world and throw yourself into the random. Immerse yourself in life.
5 Don’t fear failure…embrace it.
Enjoy the freedom to fail, however, fail fast and learn from it. McQueen’s first show for Givenchy was “Crap”…his words. But there in Paris, McQueen learnt the art of couture, and took this with him back to London, when founding his eponymous House. Try, fail and grow; only then will you know your boundaries and where your edge lies, and always work your edge.
6 Harness technology.
…but not in the absence of an idea. Technology opens-up new possibilities, enabling ideas to happen in interesting and innovative ways. McQueen’s Atlantis show was the first to be streamed live on the internet. However, technology itself isn’t the idea. Too often we think it is. Tech is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
7 Theatre of the Sell.
We need to learn from designers, architects and creative agencies. Bringing the idea to life in an engaging, rich and evocative fashion is what they do every day; be it a computerised ‘fly-through’ of a building, inspiring pitch theatre or the run-way show. From McQueen, “The show is meant to provoke an emotional response. It’s my thirty minutes to do whatever I want.” It’s the emotion, passion and spectacle of the sell which get ideas sold.
8 Dare to be unpopular.
Be provocative, say the ‘wrong’ thing, don’t be afraid to upset and question the norm. McQueen said, “Beauty can come from the strangest of places, even the most disgusting of places.” Too often we self-censor and worry what others are thinking. This isn’t a popularity contest, it’s about getting to the best ideas, fastest.
9 Stand for something.
Have a point-of-view and always something focused to say. As McQueen declared, “I’m a designer with a cause. I like to challenge history.” The whole world stands aside for a man who knows where he is going. If you don’t have enemies, you’ve never stood for something.