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creativity column

Collaboration is the key to unlocking a big idea.

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As someone who has spent a significant portion of his professional career in pursuit of big ideas, it can often feel quixotic. The more time I spent working on idea generation, the more I learned that for a good idea to become a great idea, you need to be willing to collaborate. I experienced this first hand when I worked with Dan Ross, the owner of R.M. Squared, an advertising agency that Dan started in 1992. 

“I’ve always been a big believer in collaboration. It takes humility to show your idea to someone who may ultimately end up seeing something in it that you had not considered,” Ross said. 

One of the lessons Dan taught me was to not fall in love with an idea to fast. Sometimes, you have to let it marinate overnight and look at it fresh in the morning. The house rule inside the agency at the time was that it was okay to have a crappy day, but it was not okay to try and hide away and pretend that everything was alright. Dan would remind everyone that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. 

Dan set the conditions at the agency for ideas to flow freely. He made sure that people felt supported to share their thoughts and opinions openly. That left an impact on me. The fact he was willing to entertain different viewpoints, even if they differed from his own. Many business leaders are not ready to set up an environment that fosters that type of open, collaborative thought. 

“In my years working in radio on WVUD in Dayton, Ohio, as an on-air talent, writing advertising copy as well as production, leadership at the station set a very high standard of what went out over the air, and everyone adhered to it,” said Ross. 

Time and time again, Dan encouraged the staff to ‘never settle,’ and that ‘good enough is not enough.’ He permitted us to push our ideas out past our comfort zones. Which is a place Dan encouraged everyone to spend a lot of time visiting. That’s because it’s the place where he has discovered some of his most compelling, transformative thoughts. 

“I also made sure never to judge a new idea too quickly. You’d be surprised how often you can uncover a good idea on the way back from a terrible one,” added Ross. 

I remember one time struggling to write some radio ads for a college in Reading. Dan saw that I had grown frustrated attempting to write these commercials, so he offered this tip. “Why don’t write a letter to yourself about how you would feel if you were about to make the leap from high school to college, and what that would feel like, and what your concerns would be.” It worked. That insightful tip provided the spark I needed to complete the job. 

Dan was the type of leader who took pride in helping his employees grow and learn. In fact, Dan often would lead by example when it came time to explore new client concepts. He often would demonstrate through his writing that no idea is too crazy. Albert Einstein understood this concept well. “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” Don't be afraid to push your ideas into uncomfortable places. You just might be surprised what you find there.

Working at R.M. Squared showed me that if a leader is willing to set the stage for creativity to receive its proper respect, the ideas will show up. I was proud of the work that we produced. It was an experience whose lessons I have carried with to this day because I got to participate in the thrill of taking ordinary ideas and turning them into extraordinary ones. 

William ChildsComment