Creatives, Check Your Ego at the Door

High-Profile, Big-Brand Projects Will Define You Right Into a Rut

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Have you ever cruised the competition's website just to ogle their client roster? Sure you have. Not that you're interested in poaching; it's just natural curiosity. Are they working with big brands, or the next happening product?

I crave those juicy, high-profile projects as much as the next guy. But I can't let them define me any more than the bite-sized nuggets of work that land on my desk. In fact, there are a slew of advantages to being open to all kinds of opportunities, not just the ego feeders.

One-offs and quick-turns can move through your office rapidly and show clients just how high your level of service can be. You can react quickly to problems and have more time for research, brainstorming and planning -- adding to your cache and detracting from any repetitiveness that could weigh you down. You can meet with clients more often and work through several revisions. As a result, it's pretty easy to demonstrate your worth. And there's a rush of satisfaction that comes with getting good work done fast.

When I check my ego, I can bring in a greater variety of projects -- a great way to stave off burnout.

Boredom -- the soul-sucking kind that begs the question: "What's the point?" -- is to the brain what repetitive stress syndrome is to your joints and ligaments. Research supports the importance of variety -- the ultimate antidote to boredom -- in every aspect of life: diet, exercise, socializing, learning and work.

Taking on a variety of projects regardless of what your ego is screaming in the background -- big or small paycheck, national brand or not -- means more variety and less boredom, like a vitamin-B shot to your agency's collective brain trust.

Just don't mistake mundane for boring. Being bored because the task at hand feels like a wheel-spinning suck hole is not the same as performing necessary repetitive tasks, which have considerable value in the right doses. Not every hour of the work week can equate to go-go-go creative brilliance, or you'd burn out faster than a firecracker. More passive, "boring" activities such as reading or attending meetings have been shown to provide opportunity for daydreaming that results in increased creativity.

So don't be above the work. Design a web banner or a full-blown campaign with the same level of energy. If you're a brand manager, you realistically have a few projects a year that are big-budget, brag-sheet material. The rest of the time it's the lower-profile but equally important stuff that is just as important to your success as the client's. It's not just filler. If your ego is in check, it's keeping you sharp and engaged, and keeping your clients happy. They can tell when you're just running them through the mill.

Speaking of the mill mentality, we've all made the mistake of blabbing too much in the name of not being boring. We want to prove our worth and be validated as cool collaborators. But Catherine Blythe's "The Art of Conversation" tells us that listening is more important than talking. Make your conversations about the client, let them talk their faces off, glean lessons and provide feedback, and the remarkable thing is, you will be seen as interesting.

A final word on the boringness of ego: The thing that can stir any of us creatives into a tizzy is seeing our work watered down or completely reinterpreted by the client. Just remember that the work itself is still creative, even if the end product might not match your vision. You'll have some home runs that make your chest swell and some compromises that may shrink it. And maybe you need these lessons. Think about it: Whose vision matters anyway? Yours or the client's? You can try to steer them as wisely as you know how, but ultimately it's their product and their market. You're helping them solve their problems to make them look good, not you.

Until you score a benefactor with bottomless pockets and no opinions, you might as well embrace the goodness that is serving others. Because long-term success comes down to limited ego, with the not-too-shabby bonuses of more variety, more fun, and being able to fit your un-swollen head through the average doorway. It will keep you diversely skilled, uniquely attuned and maybe even a step ahead.

Dan Walsh is managing director and partner at Roundhouse.

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