Pat Doody (the Doody of WONGDOODY) and I recently received the American Advertising Federation Silver Medal, a lifetime achievement award established in 1959 to “recognize men and women who have made outstanding contributions to advertising and who have been active in furthering the industry’s standards, creative excellence and responsibility in areas of social concern.”

(Although, the term “lifetime achievement” always infers one foot in the grave to me. Hopefully, in this instance, it does not.)

What’s important here was not the honor, but what Pat and I said to the packed house of half-drunk Seattle advertising professionals.

Armed with a beer and the attention span of a housefly, this audience could be characterized as “difficult to reach.” But I wanted to leave an impression — like that of a big fat splattered bug on a windshield. Something they’d take back to work the next day, besides a stinging hangover.

The bulk of my speech was about the “Birthplace of Creative Democracy” where I recruited all members of our small agency, two of them account people (Mr. Doody, Rene Huey, and Craig Hoit) in developing an ad campaign for K2 Skis where we literally threw scraps of paper with ideas on them into a little pile on the floor. It was our first real creative internal.

This seemingly small incident, led to two big “ah-hah’s!” that I relayed to the audience:

1) The lesson for you creatives? Everyone in the creative process is your ‘partner.’ Account people, planners, producers, and clients (people smarter than you that tuck in their shirts). Please leave your elephant-ass-sized ego at the door. Realize that your two greatest creative weapons are collaborating and listening. And that treating your ‘partners’ with trust and respect will result in better work. Always.

2) The lesson for you bosses? Just because you are a chairman, president, ECD or CD, it doesn’t make you better or smarter. You need to treat everyone (no matter what their position) like a client – with complete respect and compassion. You need your employees (co-workers) to succeed if you are to succeed. Without them, you’re screwed.

The reaction I got back, that night and the days following, was mostly shock. Shock that this honor was not about creative brilliance or genius. But it was about building and nurturing a culture around collaboration, humility, openness and respect – a unique path to great work.

Somehow, humility, openness and respect for others – the characteristics our parents hopefully engrained into us – passed as radical thinking to the advertising agency community.

Pat and I wholeheartedly agree this illustrious award belongs to everyone who’s ever worked at WONGDOODY. He and I did not do this alone. No one can. Understanding and embracing this thinking each and everyday for almost 18 years has its rewards. This particular reward happens to be shiny, silver, and topped with a lovely red ribbon.