David Ogilvy didn’t seem to be very enamoured of the idea that great work could come from teams. He was fond of the aphorism, “Search all your parks in all your cities; you’ll find no statues of committees.” In fact he placed great emphasis on the idea of the creative genius, running recruitment ads not for mere creative leaders but for ‘Trumpeter Swans’ – heroes who could bring fame and fortune into the agency by their own efforts. Therefore, in an agency that still places great faith in the wisdom of its founder, we might wonder what he would think of the idea that great work can come from new forms of collaboration.
One of the things about David though, is that, like many great thinkers, you can find something in him to back up any argument. For example, David also said “A well-run restaurant is like a winning baseball team. It makes the most of every crew member’s talent and takes advantage of every split-second opportunity to speed up service.” Apart from giving away David’s true belief that speed is the best attribute of a good restaurant, not the quality of the food, it also gives us an insight into how he saw the dynamic of teams and team leadership.
The truth is that what makes David’s memory live on, so well-respected and cited in his eponymous agency, was not the ads he wrote, or the accounts he won, but the culture he created. That culture which can be found all over the world has certain characteristics, which I believe, stimulate great creativity.
First of all, it’s a culture that prizes civility and respect. Without these, teams can turn into cliques, or rubber-stampers of poor ideas coming from one or two aggressive personalities. Secondly, it is a culture that prizes the centrality of the idea – remember “unless your advertising contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night”? Great ideas inspire teams; people gravitate towards them, wanting to see how the idea can take life within their own media, discipline or channel. Thirdly it’s a culture that has been amazingly open to developing new areas of expertise and competency, and showering respect on the people who can bring that added value. This helps us attract new, innovative and lateral thinkers, without which any team will become stale and blinkered.
So, I think we can be sure of two things; one is that David would have been fascinated by the possibilities and challenges of the new media world; the other is that he would have totally abhorred the awful jargon and waffle that fogs clear thinking and expression these days!