A boon to creativity: the case for encouraging hobbies, outside interests and personal passions

Being open to new things can inspire talent to think more laterally and create more culturally relevant work.

Oisín James Deady

Co-founder & Managing Partner TwelveA.M.


“Damn, I wish I’d thought of that!” is one of the best compliments you can receive from a peer in our industry. We’ve all had that conversation in one form or another; asking where the spark of inspiration behind a particular campaign came from. 

Truth is, there’s no codified process for creativity (sorry, AI). It can’t be bottled or turned on at the flick of a switch. However, there are certain ways to boost creativity in an organisation. One of the best is to open yourself up to new things and challenging environments that inspire you to think laterally.   

Holistic thinking and problem-solving is an incredibly valuable skill in our industry. But many fail to acknowledge how we train our minds to think this way. One of the best, but least talked about ways is how exposure to hobbies, outside interests and personal passion projects help us remain culturally relevant and aware. 

They widen our collective field of vision so that we are better able to develop useful insights for a wide range of brands or bring a fresh perspective when a team can’t see the wood for the trees.

Working culture needs to flex in a range of different ways and passion projects are an integral piece of the jigsaw.

Oisín James Deady, Managing Partner at TwelveA.M.

Hobbies and passion projects – encouraging your team

That’s why in my leadership career I’ve learnt to value and actively encourage people with outside interests; people whose activities and personal projects go beyond the nine-to-five. These might be clearly symbiotic with clients or much more outlandish. In most cases, they can potentially add value when it comes to developing innovative new thinking for client work.

When communicating your teams’ varied interests to clients, it’s important to consider the difference between a side hustle for monetary gain and a passion project - it can be a fine line to tread. Once you’ve convinced yourself of the relevance of those outside interests for the work in question, bravely champion them to clients, showing them how they drive the quality of thinking your agency will deliver.  

Perhaps one of your team is studying psychology. Another might run the UK’s biggest queer clubbing night. A third could be a fervent board gamer. The benefits of embracing diversity of thought, experiences, and interests are well documented. A team with exposure to a broad range of interests is undoubtedly a more creative team.

That hobby or interest might start by only taking up their evenings or weekends, but they can grow. There’s something to be said for enabling people to work fewer days and putting in place flexible working arrangements to help them develop that passion into something even bigger.

My own journey 

This is not just lip service – I personally live it too. That’s why as both an agency leader and someone who came up through the creative director route, I put my focus on building a culture that prioritises and supports everyone’s passion projects. 

And it’s not just the creative team. Everyone in the agency can be creative. I’ve worked in too many places where ‘flexibility’ has a narrow definition – where it’s just about being able to work from home, or come in or leave half an hour earlier or later. Working culture needs to flex in a range of different ways and passion projects are an integral piece of the jigsaw.

For example, myself and a colleague used our personal time to shoot a documentary for a non-profit that was very close to our hearts. We found that several of those involved weren’t very comfortable on camera and preferred to communicate by voice notes.

That led to the idea of using those soundbites for voiceovers – and we promptly realised we could use this with our paying clients too. People being uncomfortable on camera is something we find with brands all the time. Our passion project gave us a workaround to this issue that we probably wouldn’t have come up with otherwise. 

Finding the balance 

Flexibility applies across the board. In the same way, as people can be trusted to leave at a reasonable hour if they have children, those with interests outside work should be trusted to find the right balance between the passion they put into their work and the passion they put into their playtime.

In most cases, people are smart with their time and understand that an escape from what can be a gruelling industry is a worthwhile endeavour. The important thing is that their employer realises it too.

Because if agencies can harness the power of a hobby or studying programme or outside interest, they can expect to uncover unexpected insights from unexpected sources. And that, after all, is the essence of creativity.

Guest Author

Oisín James Deady

Co-founder & Managing Partner TwelveA.M.


OJ Deady is Co-Founder & Managing Partner of premium creative content agency TwelveA.M. Based in London and having recently moved from his role as Creative Director OJ has and continues to oversee creative direction for brands including billion-dollar celebrity cult-beauty brand Augustinus Badder, global retailer Reserved, and Tiffany&Co. The agency is focussed on telling real people's stories and fully committed to understanding their subjects and telling their stories in an unguarded and authentic way, with great respect for what goes into narrative-driven and honest imagery. OJ's current focus is on growing the team and expanding their portfolio in the luxury space.

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