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The Masters of success

19 Sep 2017 by Steven Giannoulis

I’ve been CEO of Insight Creative for nearly three years now. It’s more than a job I love. It’s an all-consuming passion that drives me to want to do more and to do it better. I give it everything and it gives me a whole lot back. There’s nothing I’d change about it. Well almost nothing. I’d really like to redefine success so that I don’t always feel like I’m failing.  

Running a creative agency is an interesting business challenge. If we were a corporate then life might be easier when it comes to expected outcomes. I’ve been there and I know how it works. The shareholders (often the parent company) have an expected return number in mind. Decision-making then becomes very single-minded, focused on delivering that number each year. You do and there are rewards. You don’t and there are consequences. If ROI was the only outcome I needed to achieve with Insight then I know exactly how I’d go about it. But this is just one expected outcome. And anyway, I don’t want to work for a company focused only on money – been there, done that, not again.

What really drives people to own and work in a design agency is creativity. We want to deliver clever ideas and creative concepts flawlessly executed. Stuff that makes us proud and makes people notice and admire us. Project plans, timesheets and processes, all aimed at managing the dollars, don’t exactly endear themselves to creative outcomes. So immediately you’ve got the challenge of balancing the needs of two masters.

At our place, we’ve got a third master. The fulfillment of our people. Insight is a family business, owned by the people who work here. We’re not workers, resources, human capital or any other such crude term, designed to remind us that we can easily be swapped out for another FTE. We are individuals, all with our own strengths, challenges and aspirations. We see work as an outlet for expression, growth and belonging. Our staff engagement score, of close to 90%, says we are doing this well but this comes at the cost of other outcomes.

Sign post with wrong way on all arrows

He with many masters serves none at all. It’s either a Chinese proverb or some shit, disguised as wisdom, I just made up. Regardless, it’s exactly how I feel. Constantly trying to deliver the money, the creativity and the people outcomes seems to be an exercise in endless compromise. At best, we make a couple of masters happy. At worst, we disappoint all three. I’m quickly learning that the trick is to lower everyone’s expectations (including my own) but that’s not how I’m naturally wired. I prefer big challenges, delivering great results even when you fall short of the stated goal.

Absurdly, I cope with the schizophrenia of three masters by focusing on a fourth, our clients. My thinking is that if we do what’s right by the client then everything else will look after itself. Happy clients will give us more and better work and that will take care of the money, creativity and the opportunities to grow as individuals.

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