sarai_09_2

An excerpt from my essay, “Taking Flight: Perspectives from the Depths of an Ideas Factory,” published as part of the Sarai 09: Projections reader.


I spend most of my time exploring… usually the minds, lives and communities beyond the big city office towers. I return to the .ppt slide only to imbue some understanding of the world outside our ‘coffee shop-to-boardroom’ seeming existence. Sitting in people’s houses, rummaging through cupboards, closets and fridges to understand their daily habits; then exploring how they process, relate and react to the current issues affecting their lives. My role is to connect human insight and creativity in a way that fuels new ideas for our (usually multinational) clients.

In an ad agency, ppt. is my canvas, more by necessity than choice. It is seen as a sharing mechanism, a collaboration tool, a disseminator of ideation and a platform through which to draw consensus. Yet, for me it was really just masquerading as all of these things. Corresponding to the pattern of ‘a movement’ in both cyberspace and physical space, an idea becomes a nomadic narrative whose path skips across .ppt slides and the tongues of boardroom participants, in the process of becoming fully realized.

Initially, it boils down to a creative brief – narrowing to a handful of words, chosen specifically to inspire and fuel creativity. Over time, you begin to recognize when an idea takes flight. No longer is the creative brief relegated to the boardroom table or the depths of someone’s hard drive. Instead, they grow wings, flying off .ppt slides, instantly capturing imaginations around the table. They occupy peoples’ minds as they walk down office corridors, permeate water-cooler conversation and begin to grace the screens of tablets and mobile phones across the organization. Individuals take increasing ownership of an idea as the other options reveal themselves to be lacking in comparison. It becomes their own idea regardless of where it originated. Prompting or persuading is rarely required.

The creative environment of an ad agency has always struck me as unusual — an ecosystem, which carefully conspires, to meld curiosity, creativity and aesthetics. For me, it was a means of exploring the changes unfolding around us, through a prism of mainstream consciousness. At the heart of this illusory world is a contract. Not the one written in ink with our clients, but an unwritten emotional contract with the public. The work requires a conspiracy of emotion between the material we create and the audience we create it for. It hinges on engaging the audience’s imagination in absolute truth, latent or otherwise, in exchange for action. Unlike an independent writer, whose work pervades an audience’s consciousness over a period of time, an advertising agency’s task requires immediacy — the emotional compulsion to act… usually the compulsion to buy.

Many would say I make it sound far too easy. Within a cross-functional (and often cross-cultural) team, each individual brings different thinking. Differing priorities, disciplines and approaches add layers to the task. Comprehension can be a struggle. Agreement is sometimes elusive. Any artist will tell you it takes focus to nurture your own voice. Crafting a voice on behalf of a client is no different. In an ad agency, the work flows through a network of people, where the ideas are discussed, analyzed and modified; reviewed again, and with client approval, advanced to a creative product, and then disseminated to the public. Material produced in the form of briefs, documents and creative product are, themselves, evidence of social relations congealed in material form. At the heart of this process is a comfortable tension – resulting in an environment for ideas to be challenged and made stronger … read more.