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Keeping creativity flowing whilst fighting overwhelm

In turbulent socio-economic times, Michael Dowell, ECD at MSL UK encourages creativity that has the power to make change

Michael Dowell, MSL UK

ECD

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Our agency doors are firmly open again, we’re back together, the socials are in full swing, and everyone is climatising to the new norm. Joy all round right? So why is there growing evidence of high-level agency anxiety?

It’s because we remain in the discovery phase of the new normal. We rapidly adapted to the pandemic, but that adaptation isn’t going away anytime soon and nor should it. Discovery brings with it the unknown, the unanswered, the unsettled. And the sheer scale of change has made us hypersensitive. Not wanting to go back to the old, means re-learning the good bits and losing the bad bits. The pandemic forced a seismic shift in the way we work but it’s clear that endless days in the makeshift home office aren’t sustainable for our super social selves.

Creativity and society are intertwined, disconnect the two and the work becomes irrelevant

Michael Dowell, ECD, MSL UK

And that’s just the pandemic. Let’s not get started on the numerous other societal issues; cost of living, climate crisis, the war in Ukraine... It’s exhausting. Our industry connects to the current mood of audiences, we tap into this to fuel our work. Creativity and society are intertwined, disconnect the two and the work becomes irrelevant. Creativity is a superpower, that’s not new news, purpose creative has been winning for years now but talking about the huge pressure that comes with it isn’t openly talked about. That’s a lot of responsibility. So… here are a few ways to keep your creativity flowing whilst fighting the overwhelm.

Lean into constant change. Focus on the changes you want to make not those of others. I admit struggling with so much change all in one go. My advice; try flipping it. Focus on your changes and keep at arm’s length those that aren’t in your control.

Flip the narrative. I’ve seriously missed all the banter! We’re in a fun industry and we’re enjoying being around each other again. When we’re together we can build off the energy, we can connect over terrible music and terrible puns.

Double down on your agency positioning. Mid pandemic we launched our new positioning ‘We Build Belief’. It differentiates us but it also drives us. It united us and it’s safe to say it’s something we collectively Believe in. Externally it’s brilliant, our brands are excited by it, but it been equally important for us internally. It’s continuing to unite us; it fuels our creativity and strengthens our cultural values.

Celebrate your successes. It’s always been important to celebrate your work but even more so now. Making sure we share experiences, processes and work is a great way to share interests, passions, and skills. Try and make a regular slot for sharing new work and ideas with the agency and recognising everyone involved. It’s a great way of building a sense of pride.

Celebrate your mistakes. We’ve grown a much stronger culture by embracing mistakes. We can experiment more and push ourselves more. It’s great to feel like you have the freedom to try something left field.

It’s new for everyone. Simply accept we’re in new territory and chat openly about it with colleagues and clients. Accepting we don’t all have the answers and we’re all learning is a great way of finding out what works for us collectively and individually.

Heads together or heads down. I’m writing this at my kitchen table. It’s quiet, just me and my cat, I have space to think. It’s where I need to be. Most days, I’m working with teams on ideas, I much prefer doing that together, in person. Pick the days where you’re working solo and work at home. When you’re collaborating head into the agency and avoid the internet lag.

Lead by example you hypercritic. Over working is something I’m seeing more of across the industry. “I’m not sure I want your role, it’s a lot, it’s full on!” – A mentee of mine said that to me recently. I needed to hear that. It made me realise being a workaholic shouldn’t be a badge of honour. So, I reset. I’ve got to lead by example. I can’t tell the agency to get a work/life balance without doing it myself.

Sometimes the most generous thing you can do is to say no. This is something I heard recently that’s helping me prioritise the important stuff. It’s easy to say yes to everything and then not achieve anything. By saying no more often, you’re able to focus on what’s important and do a better job of it.

Creativity has the power to change the world we live in, to help people, to make us smile, to escape, to do whatever we want it to, but you can only achieve it if you look after yourself first. Cheers from me, my cat, and my kitchen table. 

Image created using MidJourney Ai (credit Joseph Sereni – MSL Creative)

Guest Author

Michael Dowell, MSL UK

ECD

About

I’m a Creative Director and Creative Strategists with over 15 years in marketing, PR and graphic communication. I pair strong creative strategy and innovative ideas with great craft. I connect audiences to brands by building belief through authentic, emotive, and entertaining ideas. Brands I’ve worked with include PUMA, Nintendo, Netflix, Heathrow, Disney+, Corona, Technics, Unilever, and Warner Media.