Good leadership comes from making mistakes
It’s no accident that Silicon Valley’s phenomenal success has been built on the maxim ‘Fail fast, fast cheap’. Every tech entrepreneur knows that successful businesses often rise out of the ashes of failure.
Equally, creative leaders know that the best work usually comes from false starts, and that creative people need permission to make mistakes.
Some of the most notable failures in history, which later led to greatness, are those made by:
• Thomas Edison, who tried thousands of times before finally succeeding in inventing the electric light bulb.
• Abraham Lincoln, who was defeated in six state and national elections before being elected President.
• Winston Churchill, who was placed in the lowest division of the lowest class when he was admitted to Harrow School for boys. He became Prime Minister at the age of 62.
• Albert Einstein, who didn’t speak until he was four years old, couldn’t read until he was seven, was expelled from school and refused admittance to Zurich Polytechnic School.
• Henry Ford, who went broke five times before succeeding.
• Louis Pasteur, who failed his degree examinations before passing with a poor grade in chemistry. He also failed the entrance exam for his graduate studies before being admitted two years later.
These examples demonstrate that success isn’t immediate, it isn’t always recognised by others and it is more to do with determination than talent. As the saying goes, genius is one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration.
Our creative leaders know that tenacity, conviction and belief are as essential ingredients for brilliant creativity as raw talent. Here are a few of their thoughts, comments and experiences on the subject of success and failure.
• "My personal successes are about people and timing."
David Pattison, co-founder of PHD Media
• "Longevity and tenacity are things that create a success story."
Jules Pancholi, MD of Nitro Digital
• "Success is [the culmination of] a series of failures"
Richard Teidemann, former CEO of London Creative
• "One of our early mistakes was holding onto clients that weren't profitable and weren't very nice."
Andrea Burrows, MD of Lick Creative
• "We’ve had various joint ventures, some of which were a distraction and we spread ourselves too thinly."
Paul Kilvington, MD of Kilvington design agency
• "Failure can be immensely positive."
Stuart Youngs, Executive Creative Director at Purpose
• "Loyalty and longevity [in relationships] can be underestimated."
Joe Petyan, Executive Partner at J. Walter Thompson
A leader who doesn’t accept or allow failure as a part of success is one that will be doomed to mediocrity. Failure is experimentation, a mark of resilience, bravery and learning. As Thomas Edison famously said when asked by a journalist how it felt to fail, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."
What are the biggest challenges that creative business leaders face?
In our last blog, we talked about how the British creative industries is full of opportunity now more than ever. But always with opportunities come challenges, and these challenges can be as many and varied as there are businesses.
Yet there are a few that crop up time and again. Some are true for all businesses, some are specific to creative businesses. Here then is our list of the biggest challenges we see facing leaders today:
1. Finding the right talent
The ‘best’ people are not necessarily the right people, and you always want the right people. The creative industries are relatively blessed with the number of people in the market with relevant skills, but finding those that have the right attitude, aptitude and that will fit in is much harder.
2. Building the right company culture
In the fiercely competitive marketplace, winning over the right talent depends as much on your company culture as anything else. But building and preserving a healthy culture as the company grows, takes on more people and adds new locations, can be as difficult as finding the right people in the first place.
3. Economic uncertainty
Despite austerity, the UK budget deficit is worsening and government proposals seem to be constantly changing. On top of that, official figures released in November reveal that GDP growth isn’t quite what we hoped it would be. Such an uncertain economic outlook is fundamentally challenging for business.
4. Capturing value
Traditional creative value chains have been fundamentally disrupted. Content producers have never before been able to reach audiences so quickly or understand them so thoroughly. While the capability is there, many content businesses are struggling to capture sufficient value in markets where customers and audiences are so fragmented and which are dominated by new entrants.
5. Capitalising on cross-platform production
Mobile connectivity, the proliferation of wi-fi and mobile devices, and the migration of content across different media presents significant opportunities. But while cross-platform production is becoming increasingly important to creative businesses, it’s still an emerging area and finding a sustainable model in the short term could be a challenge.
6. Making the most of metadata
Metadata is enabling new ways of discovering and consuming content, licensing content and opening doors to new business models. However, analytics and metrics give rise to issues around data ownership, value and validity, all of which present commercial and innovation challenges. McKinsey estimates that retail businesses are already improving operating margin by more than 60% by using metadata, but many creative businesses are yet to take advantage.
Despite these challenges, we shouldn’t forget that the creative industries in the UK is in a strong position compared to many sectors. It’s more a question of how well they’ll do rather than not doing well. Still, if you keep an eye on those things that are troubling, you’re more likely to come away with the keys to the kingdom at the end of the year.
What does the future hold for the creative industries?
As we approach the end of another profitable year for the British creative industries, we take a moment to consider what the coming year might hold.
In a speech at the University of Oxford Media Convention, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, Ed Vaisey, said, “The future’s not binary. It’s evolutionary. In a digital age, content is crucial.” Echoing Vaisey’s words, a report by PwC in June this year forecasts a four-year boom for digital media in the UK.
One of the biggest trends for the creative industries is the proliferation of mobile devices in the UK and growth in demand for digital content. The number of smartphones will increase 18% CAGR to 63 million from 2013 to 2016, with more than three quarters of the population using them. Similarly, the number of tablet devices being used will reach 34.6 million by 2017, driving the growth of eBook sales.
This will be accompanies by a 270% increase in mobile advertising to £3.71bn between 2013 and 2017. In its report on UK digital advertising, eMarketer found that £1bn was spent on mobile advertising in the UK during 2013, and this is expected to increase 18-fold by 2017.
In another report published last year, the CBI suggests that the UK creative industries, which contribute 6% of GDP and employ over 2 million people, could become the hub of the world's creative industries by 2025.
Such strong predictions are not surprising if you look at just a few of the most outstanding achievements of the British creative industries. In the last five years:
• Britain has produced the most successful independent movie of all time, The King’s Speech, which earned £46 million in the UK and £266 million worldwide.
• British TV programmes dominate schedules worldwide, accounting for two in every five programmes and producing television content exports worth more than £1.3 billion per year.
• The UK has one of the most innovative and successful advertising industries in the world, which PwC predicts will grow 4.8 per cent a year to £17.7 billion by 2017.
It seems the future is rosy for our creative industries, especially as the UK has the fastest growing digital economy of all the G20 nations, according to a government report. Our own creative leader, John Mathers of the Design Council, agrees that the “creative industries is growing faster than any other sector in the UK” and that “British design is held in hugely high regard around the world.”
It’s undoubtedly a great time to be part of our creative industries and 2016 looks to be another bright year.
What makes a business leader outstanding TODAY?
Every business leader looks to the qualities of their most outstanding peers in the hope of achieving greatness in their field. There are innumerable articles and lists espousing the most important of these qualities and there is a certain amount of consensus.
Forbes and Harvard Business School agree that the two most important qualities in a great business leader are ‘honesty’ and ‘communication’. But what is meant by these? Often definitions and descriptions are generalised and without context, which dilutes their meaning.
Add to this the matter of whether leadership qualities change over time. Were those qualities that made Caesar and Napoleon great leaders any different from those that made Steve Jobs or Richard Branson successful? You may be tempted to jump to conclusions, but do modern circumstances call for modern measures in leadership?
In the article Building the 21st Century Leader, Entrepreneur discusses some of the newer qualities for successful leadership in a rapidly changing world:
Change is the new normal and leaders need to be able to build adaptable organisations. This can be a complicated process, leading to difficult choices that overturn values, beliefs or ways of doing business that were previously essential to the company’s success.
Having a clear understanding of personal strengths and admitting to weaknesses comes before leadership. Those leaders that default to a leadership style without having first looked in the mirror to root out negative behaviour patterns will struggle in today’s fast-paced business environment.
Leaders can become overly invested in a company vision, which can leave a business hamstrung and inflexible. Having instead a clear sense of purpose is more compelling and can be shared by everyone in the organisation. Vision can be limiting, purpose is inspiring.
Quick, decisive action is what marks out today’s top business leaders. There’s no room for deliberation. Intuition is also important because there’s often not enough data to inform all business decisions. The best leaders know in their gut what the right thing to do is, and they get on and do it.
Outstanding leaders build work cultures that foster ideas exchange from all corners of the organisation. Departmental thinking today creates sluggish, reluctant companies. Leaders should bring everyone that touches the organisation together for a common purpose: employees, partners, suppliers and beyond.
Of course there are some qualities that will never change. The best leaders will always need to innovate, execute and lead by example. But what do our creative leaders think are the qualities that make today’s leaders outstanding? Here’s what they had to say:
• "As a leader, you're a broker of hope"
Richard Teidemann, former CEO of London Creative
• "[Great leaders] have the courage to say the uncomfortable things."
Andrew Knowles, Chairman of JKR
• "It's all about talent, integrity and resilience."
Andrea Burrows, MD of Lick Creative
• "[Leadership] is about giving people the space and opportunity to succeed."
Stuart Youngs, Executive Creative Director at Purpose
• "It’s about recognising people [and] making them feel valued."
Jo Varey, MD of Granby Marketing Services
• "Great leaders don't take the credit, they give the credit to their team."
John Mathers, CEO of Design Council
• "Intuition is important but judge situations on the facts."
David Mansfield, former CEO of Capital Radio
• "Strong companies have teams of leaders who have different qualities."
Sarah Wood, COO and Co-Founder of Unruly
To sum up, what sets today’s business leaders apart is that they’re able to combine the timeless qualities of leadership with those that characterise the new, fast paced, global environment that businesses now work within.
Which leadership style should you choose?
A Harvard Business Review study conducted over a three-year period with more than 3,000 middle-level managers revealed that leadership style is responsible for 30% of an organisation’s bottom-line profitability.
Underlying this finding were six identifiable leadership styles among the managers surveyed, which we can summarise as follows:
• The pacesetting leader expects and models excellence and self-direction.
• The authoritative leader mobilises the team toward a common vision and focuses on end goals.
• The affiliative leader works to create emotional bonds that bring a feeling of bonding and belonging to the organisation.
• The coaching leader develops people for the future.
• The coercive leader demands immediate compliance.
• The democratic leader builds consensus through participation.
If leadership style is the key to getting the results you want and resolving situations you face, it’s also something that takes work and can be one of the hardest things to get right. Our creative business leaders have had some very definitive things to say about leadership style that demonstrate how boundless and transmutable it can be.
- "[Leadership] is about giving people the space and opportunity to succeed."Stuart Youngs, Executive Creative Director at Purpose
- "It's all about talent, integrity and resilience."Andrea Burrows, MD of Lick Creative
- "I try to teach and educate rather than tell someone what to do."Jo Varey, MD of Granby Marketing Services
- "As a leader, you're a broker of hope"Richard Teidemann, former CEO of London Creative
- "Great leaders don't take the credit, they give the credit to their team."John Mathers, CEO of Design Council
- "Some leadership styles are very controlling."Jason Goodman, CEO of Albion
- "Strong companies have teams of leaders who have different qualities."Sarah Wood, COO and Co-Founder of Unruly
- "I describe my leadership style as a work in progress."Jules Pancholi, MD of Nitro Digital
Great leaders choose their leadership style to suit the situation at hand and with an eye on the end goal. These are the people that contribute to that 30% improvement in business profitability.