Our industry — the industry of the design studio, the creative agency, the digital agency and at best, the advertising agency is cannibalising itself.
We are eating ourselves from the inside out and in the majority, we lust after the taste so much we are oblivious to the opportunities that are within our reach.
Opportunities to lead.
Opportunities to influence.
Opportunities to scale.
Opportunities to work together and defeat the imbalance of power that exists in the client/agency relationship — a landscape where the client (our customer) has almost infinite choice.
Because at some point in the past — I'm not sure when — we forgot that our expertise was to create competitive advantage for our clients through design, creativity and innovative use of technology, and we failed to apply that expertise to our own businesses.
We forgot that our expertise as Creative Leaders was to lead, and instead we began selling different versions of the same thing.
We all started to sound the same.
We all used catchphrases like 'culture' and 'creativity' in the same sentences thinking we had something unique and Different with a capitalised D.
Words like 'brands' and 'innovation' started to appear in our vocabulary because it made us seem smarter, more experienced.
And when we all looked inside our shops, at the products on our shelves, we would all be blind to the fact that all of our products were exactly the same.
They tasted the same. The smelt the same. And to our clients, a commodity that could be bargained down to the lowest price, and in some cases, demanded for free.
Yet, we all chased the same White Rabbit down the same dark rabbit hole. We adopted anything that made us seem smarter, more 'business' and more 'serious'.
The saddest thing is that we all began to believe our own bullshit.
We drew borders.
We drew battle lines and we stopped sharing and collaborating.
We stopped learning.
We copied one another and bragged about the shitty, meaningless awards we would win, crying from the rooftops at how 'collaborative, passionate and creative' we all were.
Yet only a few could truly own the word 'collaborative'.
Only a few could truly claim a lack of transparency and elitism.
Only a few could claim true competitive advantage and clear differentiation in this saturated 'red ocean'. Only a few created their own, bright blue oceans.
In the last few months, I've had so many truly meaningful conversations with people in our creative industry.
I swapped ideas with another studio owner in Sydney about mentorship, business and some way of doing something, anything, together at some point.
We spoke openly about what it would be like to actually work together instead of in competition with one another.
In a conversation with a creative leader in Helsinki we spoke about fatherhood, parenting and the stresses of prioritising things in our lives as men.
Yes, men. We spoke about men.
Whilst sitting in the sun, I met an old friend (another studio owner) and we spoke about our changing businesses, our shared passion to do good work and how we might work together at some point.
How odd it is that there are so many small businesses in our industry harbouring undifferentiated brands — and how powerful it would be, to band together. To work together. To build our own brands, our own products.
We spoke about how we curl our arms around our work and our businesses like children sitting a maths test in fear of someone seeing their answers.
We need more conversations like these.
We need more openness and sharing with one another. Transparency and learning.
Those that have been in their careers for some time, more than others must teach what they know, not harbour it only to be buried with it like an ancient Chinese Emperor and his minions.
Those that have been in their careers for all of five minutes must realise that they need to knock on doors, have that coffee and say hello. Break down walls.
Those that don't, must.
Those that do, must do more.
And once the conversations are had — we need to act and we need to act together to shift the power dynamic, increase the opportunities for ourselves, our families and our businesses and create cultures within our businesses that win awards as much as our work does.
So it falls to us, the creatives, the dreamers, the doers, the makers, to dream up ways where we can make a significant difference to our industry, our businesses and ourselves.
No one else really gives a shit.