Thought Leadership

Lessons from 2022: Your best work is still ahead of you

The most read long-reads of 2022 underline the importance of creative leadership and creating a future of work which works for everyone.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director

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If you had to define 2022 in one word what would it be? Challenging, chaotic, courageous, creative. In the wake of a pandemic in which volatility became the norm, it’s fair to say that for many 2022 was a lot.

Yet while there was clearly a lot to juggle; from the cost of living crisis to navigating a year in which a lettuce out lasted a Prime Minister and the second Elizabethan Age came to an abrupt end, it was certainly never predictable. As employees navigated the return to the office and marketers struggled to hit the right tone in the midst of global geo-political uncertainty and the mass casualties of war in Ukraine.  

2022 brought no return to normal. In many ways, the simple act of getting work out into the world is itself to be applauded. Looking back on the most read long reads of the year it is clear that this endeavour and the desire to do things differently topped the industry agenda. For it was not just the people making the work, but the people making a genuine and positive difference to the industry which topped the agenda. 

With this in mind, here are the top 5 long reads of the year. Articles which in many ways can be taken as reasons to remain positive about the year ahead. Shared with gratitude and with best wishes for a restful and rejuvenating festive season. 

1. ‘My best work is still ahead of me’

Jo Wallace, Global Executive Creative Director at Media Monks and Founder of Good Girls Eat Dinner, underlined the positive ripple effects of progressive leaders with her stand-out talk at Creative Equals’ RISE conference. At the end of a year in which Deloitte’s [email protected] report 46% of women feel burned out and 53% of women say their stress levels are higher than they were a year ago Wallace’s words feel particularly poignant. 

Her message to women on the brink of leaving the industry was heartfelt and simple. “Don’t go,” she said, adding “We need your perspective, your experience, your minds. She explained: “Remember that you are unique in your thinking. And if you do find that you are in the minority, then this is exactly why your opinion is so important. So voice it.”

2. When work isn’t working for you

The future of work dominated the industry agenda in 2022 as employees, individuals and organisations alike set out their visions for new ways of working. In the midst of a media narrative dominated by office occupancy rates and vested interests, the creativity of Grace Francis, Global Chief Creative and Design Officer at WONGDOODY was a breath of fresh air. They wrote movingly on why now is the time for a great reset in hybrid working and inclusive design. 

They explained: “If you’re disabled, neurodivergent, a parent, LGBTQIA+, Black or a Person of Colour, you have likely found yourself feeling less stressed and more valued and supported when working from home.”

3. Should’ve played the long game

“There is no other agenda apart from the work” explained Liz Baines, Head of Planning at Specsavers. In a wide ranging and open-hearted interview Baines shared the key ingredients of creating that ever-elusive culture of creativity that so many in the industry talk about, yet so few achieve.

Spoiler alert: back to back Teams meetings aren’t the answer. As Baines explained: “If you are interrupted it takes you 20 minutes to get back into the flow. The greatest killer of creativity is interruptions.” Freeing yourself from the conveyer belt of micro meetings should be on the top of everyone’s 2023 to do list. 

4. ‘As an employer we have to go beyond just giving people a job’

Employee expectations were top of the business agenda in 2022 as companies grappled with the fact that the ‘Great Resignation’ was more than just a great headline. Michelle Whelan, UK CEO of VMLY&R Commerce, shared a nuanced approach to the future of work. As she explained: “As an employer we have to go beyond just giving people a job, we have to be inclusive and ensure people are mentally well.”

Singling out autonomy and trust as vital for success. She continued: “Trust has such a key role and we often talk to clients about the importance of embracing uncertainty - the ‘test and learn' mindset. In uncertain times the biggest debilitating factor is not doing anything.”

5. ‘We’ve never done this before.’

Looking back over the past 12 months it is difficult to ignore that perhaps the three most under-utilised words in leadership are: ‘I don’t know’. A truth which made James Morris, CEO EMEA and UK at Dentsu Creative’s honest take on the power of radical optimism and inclusive leadership a refreshing read.

“We’ve never done this before,” says Morris honestly, pointing to the fact that the past two years have been the most ‘aggressive’ of learning curves. He continues: “Covid grounded us all, it stopped all travel and lots of people reframed their whole lifestyle; we were all deprived of friends and family.”  In the midst of this great pause employees are seeking more from their work, making building a culture where people can both belong and create the best work of their lives a positive and pressing business imperative.

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