05 Creativity – ‘The Sir John Hegarty guide to being the best’

By Client Services Director Vicky Stoakes

Working in a world of creativity, I’m a firm believer in how creativity can transform businesses. So, having the opportunity to join a small audience and talk about its power with one of the world’s masters, Sir John Hegarty, the ‘H’ of global ad agency BBH, was a real buzz last week. The event organised by the Guardian Small Business Network and Soho Works, was a chance to get up close and personal with Hegarty, and hear his personal insights gathered through six decades of working on some of the most powerful and transformative ad campaigns for brands like Levi’s, Johnnie Walker and Audi.

All of my clients’ work is driven by creativity. But what is creativity? Hegarty offered a pithy explanation that creativity is an expression of self, of you. And that there are two types of creativity and creative people. The first is pure creativity, the artist or the poet or the ad man coming up with an idea. The second is applied creativity. That’s the person applying the creative idea, making the ad or printing the painting.

He put a question to the audience. Who has ever had a great idea in a brainstorm? We agreed that you could get to good, but not to great. The creative world is driven by ideas. It’s the heart of creativity. So, what’s the idea? Hegarty argued that creativity without an idea is just decoration. Yet just one great idea can change the world. And the best creative people want to change things. My heart beat a little faster. Don’t we all love a brilliant idea? When I hear my client’s brilliant ideas I always get a little rush of adrenalin.

Yet a creative career is one of the hardest to pursue. If you’re Mick Jagger, that one creative idea of coming up with Jumping Jack Flash can last a life time. You keep playing it to more people and you keep earning money and adoration. Yet, for fashion designers, movie makers, advertising creatives, designers…every day they need a new idea. They need to sustain, develop and stay fresh. It’s a tough job. So how does a creative person remain creative?

  1. Take off your headphones. Look up. The greatest inspiration will come from around you. Be open to it.
  2. Surround yourself with great creatives. Be the best and inspire the best.
  3. Ego is a good thing if it’s about ‘I’, as in ‘I believe in this idea,’ because creativity is fundamentally about who you are and what you believe in and it’s good to be passionate your idea if you believe in it. But don’t let ego become ‘me’.
  4. Be an optimist. The best creatives are optimisitic, but become cynical and your career is over.
  5. Avoid the McCartney Syndrome. Don’t create distance and don’t believe the hype. Surely John would have told Paul that the Frog Song was probably not his best idea?
  6. Simplicity. Your creative idea needs to occupy the space between someone’s ears. The power of simplicity is the quickest way to get it in there and make it stick. Be shorter, be more profound.

So, having outlined his last piece of advice, I’ll leave it there. As French philosopher Pascal wrote: ‘If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter’.


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