Melbourne feelings

I’m on my second day of a six day trip to Melbourne.  It fills a variety of needs:

  • I’m conducting five interviews for the PhD, one completing my ‘festivals’ group and another four on the advertising sector,
  • I’m meeting with two people from Melbourne Universities, one of whom is the editor of the journal I submitted to in June (and am yet to hear anything back.)
  • I’m meant to be writing my paper for the December conference,which I need to have drafted in two weeks and submitted in four,
  • I’m getting my Melbourne groove back, knowing we’ll be living here again in three months.

I’m doing all of these things to varying degrees of success. All the advertising interviews are done, more on that below, and they were different to what was expected.  The University meetings are tomorrow and I am less concerned about these now I know that I don’t really care if I get an academic job, or teach next year.  They were important when I was considering changing university, but as I realise that was a bloody stupid idea, now they are just a nice chance to drink more Melbourne coffee. (Got to stop drinking so much Melbourne coffee as I think I might have heart palpitations.)

My paper….yeah that hasn’t happened.  All the hours, or the few hours, I’ve had between interviews have been spent a) seeing friends, b) getting my Melbourne groove back, c) drinking coffee, d) eating too much.  But tomorrow IT’S ON. (Aside from the three meetings/coffees I have in Brunetti’s cake shop in Carlton.)

I can hand on heart say I have achieved the last point. There’s been some collective worry, on my part and by others, about how we might go settling back in to Melbourne, but the moment I arrived yesterday it was like I exhaled for the first time in months.  As my best friend says: these are my people.  I cannot wait to be home again.

Back to my interviews.  I feel I owe the advertising sector an apology.  I had preconceived ideas about the how these participants would be, full of swagger and bravado, bluster and self-confidence.  But I think I underestimated them.

The primary participant was a crazily successful 27 year old, doing some amazing stuff and winning international awards, who still wont embrace the title leader. Those around him said he was in many ways unique in the sector, which is not ideal for me in the fact he isn’t necessarily representative, but that he has an extraordinary brain and creative capacity.

I had expected to find a very individualised culture, with little evidence of social learning.  In some cases that was true, but in some cases not.  What I found was that advertising tends to pair up copywriters and art directors, like a marriage (a descriptor everyone has used) and they work together, but it is not necessarily a community of practice approach.  Many still prefer to undertake creative work alone.

There was still the same level of ambiguity with regard to leadership, but in discussions there was an agreement that a ‘new definition of leadership’ is required. One participant even sent me an email that said:

I think we need a new word or phrase to encapsulate this role for the future.  ‘Leadership’ seems too top down and hierarchical to me, which goes against the notion  of collaboration. Don’t have an answer, but I think if it could be done, it would allow people to take ownership of the role.

Which is really my thinking as well.  I had expected advertising to be much more ‘corporate’ in it’s approach and thinking, when it is actually more aligned to the arts world.

One thing that is sticking in my mind, however, is the high level of outside interests discussed.  Every participant in this group mentioned their (often creative) practice outside of advertising – music, business/product development, art, not for profit work.  If you look at the labour market statistics in the creative industries there is a high proportion that work multiple jobs – mainly because of freelance work or economic necessity as being an artist doesn’t pay the bills.  But these advertising guys aren’t doing it for the money or the job. They all work full time and admit to being paid very well.  The said they do it for perspective and creative outlet (even though their day jobs are creative too.)

They also contemplated, in some cases, that these outside work creative endeavours are their places of leadership and learning.  They are their communities of practice. Despite spending 10 hours a day, 5 (often more) days a week with their creative agency colleagues they are not necessarily considering them as their creative learning peers.

One senior leader in an agency did talk about the difference between a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ agency.  A good one is open to collaboration and works collectively, a bad one is more competitive.  As there are many scholars that say communities of practice cannot be created in an organisational context, there may be some truth in this. And others argue organisation is the enemy of creativity, but by definition advertising agencies are ideas generating organisations.

I don’t have it all worked out, I’m over tired, a little frazzled from everything going on in my life right now, and have drunk WAY too much coffee.  But it’s more food for thought.

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