A recent article in The Journal of Applied Psychology unearthed a seemingly obvious, but startling revelation from a seven decade-long study: "ambition predicts success"
That is, an increase in individual ambition is a positive predictor of career growth, income, success in education, prestige and a bunch of other things important to most human beings.
The only thing ambition doesn't have an effect on is our mortality, which is a bit of a shame really.
So, if ambition predicts success on a personal level, what might it do in the mad/bad business of marketing and advertising (aside from explain quite a lot about Gen Y)?
Luckily, a lot of my work has been done there as well. Martin Weigel, Head of Planning at W+K Amsterdam and genius blogger, has summarised several years of research, into the link between creativity and effectiveness.
I won't go into detail here (and you should definitely look up the blog and the individual studies) but the key ingredient for effective advertising and communications can be boiled down to one thing; over-commitment.
Over-commitment via Effective Share of Voice wins market share. Over-commitment to creativity (and creative awards), along with over-commitment to 'generating fame' are both the biggest drivers of advertising effectiveness.
So it's pretty simple. Being ambitious predicts success in life. Over-Committing drives effectiveness in advertising.
So why is it then, that so often we'll chug along, taking average briefs with average targets in them? Delivering average strategies that lead to average creative work, and accepting the average growth that goes along with it?
I don't know about you, but I prefer the ambition/over-commitment approach – and so we try and stick to a couple of simple principles:
First, Stop aiming for average. It will almost certainly drive you to do the same things you did last year. And (at best) will deliver the average results you have prepared yourself for again this year
Second, bring on the ambition. Share the dreams, vision, and possibilities that nobody in the business thinks are anywhere near possible. Be open to the ideas required to get you there.
Third, over-commit. If you can't outspend your competitors, then you need to over-commit to creativity, in the quest to make your brand famous.
Will these three principles guarantee world beating, effective work every time? Probably not.
Will they help us live longer? Definitely not. (Again, shame)
But – Are they likely to create more exciting strategies, unearth more creative ideas, and provide a more dynamic way of working for all involved? Will they help us take a big step above the quest for average? For all of our sakes, I'd certainly like to think so.