Confessions of an Idea Junkie

  • Ideas are important but people are more important.
  • A creative leader’s job should be to create environments where all people are free to share their own ideas and collaborate.
  • Success looks like clients coming up with ideas while the consultant facilitates.

I’m reading Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull, the president of Pixar. It’s one of those books that is really cutting me open and showing me some ugly truths about myself.

Yeah, I know, not what you’d expect.

The big one has to do with ideas. I used to work for an agency that called itself The Ideas Company. In fact, the last thing I remember the CEO saying to me was, “Don’t forget about the idea,” which meant don’t lose sight of the power of an idea. You know, like that Victor Hugo quote about not being able to resist an idea whose time had come.

I grew up professionally believing that ideas were the most important thing and that my job was to conceive of great ideas and then to keep people from getting their grubby mitts on them and messing them up. That’s what it meant to be a Creative Director. Ideas rule.

But this book is challenging that notion. Actually, it is telling me that I was dead wrong for one simple fact: People have ideas. This makes people more important. Period.

How can we make people feel more important than ideas? Here are two ways to do it:

  1. Create an environment of freedom
  • People need to feel it is okay to fail when trying new ideas out.
  • The workspace needs to be free from fear.

The job of a creative leader or any leader is to get the best people working on the project or problem and to create an atmosphere where it is okay to fail trying and one that is free from fear. Sounds easy. It isn’t. And this book is Ed’s story of learning how to do this better than most every other company on the planet.

  1. Empower the client to ideate
  • Stop being the consultant that people hire with all the answers
  • Start being the person who can create an environment that is conducive to valuable new ideas being born

I’ve also been shifting the way that I work from being the consultant that people hire with all the answers to being the person who can create an environment that is conducive to valuable new ideas being born. It’s a great challenge and great fun. It’s awesome when I hear a client say, we came up with the ideas, he just facilitated. It means we did something right.

I am so thankful for a good book that turns on the light in the darkness. And once my eyes get adjusted, it’s easier to see all of the things that need to be corrected.


  1. As creative directors, we should be creating more environments where we can create valuable new ideas…together.
  2. Giving people freedom does wonders for productivity and effectiveness.

Sean writes weekly about the intersection of Retail, Media & Brands. To get his weekly SMACK Talk newsletter, sign-up here. And if you want to read what Sean’s been reading this week, then let him know (via LinkedIn) and he’ll add you to his Weekend Read featuring the top articles from around the web this week with a bit (or a lot) of his commentary. Finally, if you are a brand selling to Walmart (or another retailer) and are interested to see how advertising with SMACK Media can grow your business, then please contact Sean at