In the middle ages, this is how major societal decisions went down.
- An issue was brought forth to the King by his magistrate.
- The King, being the King, then made a decision.
- If you challenged the decision, you were beheaded. Likely in public, in front of your closest relatives (if they weren’t beheaded too).
Miraculously, this process still exists today in advertising agencies across the globe. It’s called the “internal creative process.”
- Teams of creative serfs, each comprised of an art director and a writer, assemble outside the King’s chamber (aka the Creative Director’s office), then file in one at a time.
- Each team lays its puny offerings, mounted on white alabaster tablets (ideas mounted on foam core) at the feet of the King. The King is seated high upon his throne surrounded by glittering Cannes Lions, Clios and One Show pencils he had nothing to do with, wearing a big shimmering crown (a sequined ironic trucker cap or hair gelled up in a monumental faux-hawk). The serfs feebly attempt to explain the merit of each offering, hesitant to establish eye contact with the King, who if they did, would be staring out into the distance out of sheer boredom.
- The King takes his scepter (a Mont Blanc pen from judging the 1992 Obies) and points to the ideas he deems worthy of living. If there are none, he suggests some of his own with grand flourishes of “heavenly inspiration.” The remaining ideas are sent to their death with a flick of the wrist. The actual merit of the offerings matters little. What only matters are the whims of the King, which are totally unpredictable and unexplainable (and never on-strategy).
The serfs dare not speak. The last one who did was not beheaded, but exiled to another kingdom (the direct-mail affiliate in Manitoba), where his impoverished existence reminds others to keep their mouths shut.
- Once all of the serfs have passed through the King’s chambers, the tiny pile of offerings that remain are left outside his chamber to be picked up by royal jesters who live purely for the amusement of the King (aka account people). They then deliver the offerings to the client. The jesters, like the serfs, dare not challenge the King. For the punishment for the jesters is far worse: public ridicule followed by beheading. You see, the jesters are deemed unworthy to set foot inside the Royal Chamber, and therefore banished from even witnessing the royal creative process.
Yet the King, for all his jewels, rules a nation in decay — full of dissent, desertion, political intrigue and backstabbing, seeding traitors in every corner of his castle.
Welcome to the “Tyranny of Crappy Ideas.”
With the wave of a magical wand, let’s journey to the “Democracy of Good Ideas.” A fantastically fictitious kingdom, born from the dreams of the serf and the jester, born from the dreams of all those who seek a voice, who seek to contribute to the greater cause of creativity.
A place where there is no king, in the sense that there is no single decision maker. In fact, all forms of commoner (an assistant account executive, media gal/guy, traffic person, controller, receptionist, client, assistant to the client, even a totally unqualified spouse of the client) can actually take part in the creative process.
A democracy, not a monarchy, governs the kingdom.
In this fantastical world, the kingdom flourishes, swimming in new thinking, energized by its entire population. All believing that:
ANYONE CAN HAVE A GOOD IDEA. ANYONE.
Anything is possible when no one cares about who gets the credit.
The most incredible thing about this fantasy is that it can be a reality. A monarchy can become a democracy. But it has to start with the King, who must remove his crown, along with his ego. He must invite others into the process, out of mutual respect and understanding, knowing that if he does so, everyone benefits. Everyone.