I was in Santa Monica last week and popped into one of my very favorite bookstores. In the design section was a book entitled “Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite” by Paul Arden, a legend of British advertising. This, and his first book, “It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be,” are standard fare in all decent art sections. The lessons are inspirational, memorable and wise. But this one in particular struck me:


“It is fashionable for so-called thinking people to try to lose their ego. Well, they should think a bit harder. Presumably we were given egos for a reason. Great people have great egos. Maybe that’s what makes them great. So let’s put it to good use rather than try to deny it.”

A couple of weeks ago, a creative director from another agency sent me an e-mail compiling lessons from John Jay, Wieden + Kennedy’s super cool guru/executive creative director. The first lesson:

“The most powerful asset you have is your individuality, what makes you unique. It’s time to stop listening to others on what you should do.”

On the surface, both seem like great pieces of advice for creatives. In most every creative department on the planet, this is what we’re taught by our elders. But I believe these lessons are hugely flawed, because:

They promote the ego.

They want to let the ego out of its cage and run wild.

They urge creatives to listen only to themselves and shun colleagues.
Furthermore, these lessons fuel the misguided beliefs that creatives:

Are better than everyone else in the agency.

Have a lock on creative brilliance.
Get paid and promoted based on the sized of their ego.

Believe no one has the license to judge their precious ideas No account person. No client.

It’s okay for them to behave like undisciplined pre-schoolers because they’re “creative.”

In fact, the more of an a**hole they are, the better they must be.

Promoting the ego and celebrating it is complete bull****. Sure, all creatives have an ego. It’s part of our DNA. But I believe there’s little room to put an ego “to good use.”

The lesson shouldn’t be about letting our ego out of its cage to maul innocent agency bystanders.

The lesson should be about taming it.

Taming it to focus writers and designers on solving the assignment at hand. Not about creating wild, unusable ideas that are off strategy and/or off brand. Not about allowing their egos to turn them into little monsters (a common occurrence) that scratch, bite, or bristle at anyone who comes close to their work.

Taming it to the point where it takes a backseat to teamwork, collaboration and everyday civility.

If Arden and Jay really wanted to say something revolutionary, they would have told creatives to leave their ego in the parking lot before they entered the office. But the message from both, though pure in its intent, is the “pro-ego” fuel that turns agency creative departments into a**hole factories.