2-16: "The Confidence Builder" - Charles Day

Charles Day Headshot.jpg

"The Confidence Builder"

Since I started this podcast, some people have said they’d like to hear how I’d answer some of my own questions.  What have I learned through my own experiences as a leader.

So I asked Adam Bryant - the founder of the Corner Office Column in The NYT and now the Managing Director at Merryck & Co - If he’d come back on the show and interview me.

Adam is a good friend and he said he would. So today my guest is me.

And this week’s episode is called, “The Confidence Builder”.


"FEARLESS CREATIVE LEADERSHIP" PODCAST - TRANSCRIPT

Episode 2-16: "The Confidence Builder" - Charles Day

Hi. I’m Charles Day. And this is ‘Fearless’.

Since I started this podcast, some people have said they’d like to hear how I’d answer some of my own questions.  What have I learned through my own experiences as a leader.

So I asked Adam Bryant - the founder of the Corner Office Column in The NYT and now the Managing Director at Merryck & Co - If he’d come back on the show and interview me.

Adam is a good friend and he said he would. So today my guest is me.

And this week’s episode is called, “The Confidence Builder”.

“When you get people to lean into the things they do instinctively well and to realize this is valuable. This is not egotistical. It's not self indulgent. It's not, you know, it's not cowardly because you're not confronting the things you don't do well. This is actually the greatest thing you can use. When you get people to recognize that and they start to lean into it and they start to use it a whole bunch of things happen.”

You’re going to hear a lot of my voice today so I’m not going to spend too much time talking before I start talking.

Except to say this. I come across so many leaders who are spending so much of their time  worrying about what they don’t do well, that they lose sight of - or often have never understood - where their unique brilliance comes from. Or how to use it to maximize the benefit to their company or themselves.

One of the most rewarding moments in my work is when a leader suddenly sees what I have seen all along and in that moment starts to understand what they are capable of and the possibilities that are now open to them.

Those possibilities are doorways to the future. They are in front of us all the time. But often we need someone to shine a light on them and offer a helping hand as we walk through them.

That uncertainty is part of being human. So is the willingness to ask for help.

Don’t be afraid of either.   Here’s Adam Bryant’s conversation with me.

Charles:

Adam, welcome back to Fearless. Great to have you back again.

Adam Bryant:

Good to be back, Charles.

Charles:

Thank you so much for agreeing to do this. As I said in my intro, we're going to do a role reversal here and you're actually going to talk to me, interview me. This came out of a conversation I had with a couple different people actually a couple months ago when they said, "I'd be curious to know what you think about some of these things." I have no idea what you're going to ask me. We've done no prep, so we will see where this goes. Anyway, thanks again for doing this. I'm really grateful to you.

Adam Bryant:

Of course, of course. Let's jump right in, I'm going to start with your first question, which I like a lot, which is, what is your first memory of a creative experience?

Charles:

I've had time to think about this just in case you did ask me that, I think looking back it was playing with Lego actually and making stuff that didn't come in the kit. It wasn't part of the manual. There were no instructions. I was a huge Thunderbirds fan growing up, so I used to try and like making versions of Thunderbirds or inventing new Thunderbirds. It was the level of originality and innovation and what and the what if. I didn't spend a lot of time playing with these things after I've made them, I'd blow them up and destroy them and then, rebuild something else, but it was interesting actually because I was talking to John Boiler who's one of the founders of 72andSunny a few weeks ago. I think I dropped that episode a couple weeks ago and John talked about Lego as well through a very similar lens, but that was very much a part of my childhood. I spent hundreds of hours just lost in the possibility of, "What else could this do, and how else might we make this, and what parts would go into making that happen?"

Adam Bryant:

Why Thunderbirds?

Charles:

That is a great question. I think it was larger than life. You knew they were puppets because you could see the strings, but you completely forgot that they were. The heads were oversized and so, they can fill the screens in this heroic way. They did incredible things that were just unimaginable with craft, and equipment, and rockets, and plane-like things that you had never imagined anybody could do, but it was grounded enough in reality that you could convince yourself that this might be possible. It was very much a ... there was very much a heroic quality about Thunderbirds and there was also ... I had never thought about this before. There was a sense of purpose about them and they were doing good for the sake of doing good and so, all of that just seemed honorable in some large way.

Adam Bryant:

That's great. Tell me other things about your time as a kid. What were you doing outside of class?

Charles:

Playing a lot of football and cricket, and that was ... most of all, I was a really ... I loved playing sports as a kid.

I loved the whole team part of it and I love the whole testing yourself, and I loved the theater of sport. I watch a lot of cricket still and I still have these visceral memories of that moment ... this probably doesn't mean as much to the American audience, but there's a moment when you're walking out to bat.

There's a spotlight on you as the incoming batsman and you're walking to this environment that had been ... you could only see at a distance. Suddenly, you're in the middle of the field, in the middle of the performance, in the middle of the play. You've got all these people around you who want you to fail and there's an intimacy and an intensity about that. You've got one other partner you can rely on who's standing 22 yards away and there was a real drama about that.

I didn't like the fielding part very much, I wasn't very good at it. But, I loved batting and I would bat for as long as I could, and I became obsessive about that, and loved it, and played for my school, captain of the school. All of that was ... that was a much more important part of my growing up than any of the academic stuff. I used to routinely fail exams because I was much too busy playing cricket.

Adam Bryant:

Tell me about your parents.

Charles:

My father was a significant player in the advertising industry, became a real ad legend and was gone a lot. The times he was home, especially earlier in my childhood, I have vivid memories of sitting at the table, having dinner with the TV on in the background. When the commercials came on, there were only two comments, "This is one of ours," or, "That's rubbish." You develop this appreciation for advertising or at least the importance of it from a certain perspective anyway. I also grew up determined never to go into advertising and failed spectacularly at that for a whole bunch of reasons. My mother was a housewife. She wanted to be a child psychologist and did that for a bit, never quite got into it and spent probably too much time actually at home taking care of the kids.

Charles:

I had a sister who was probably in some ways more independent than me. She went off to boarding school younger than I did. I went off to boarding school and hated it, just pleaded with them to take me away, which was ironic because I was told as I left by the headmaster that I would never be able to leave home and that I would always struggle with this. Five years later, I was given the opportunity to go to college in America 24 hours notice and packed my bags and left without ever looking back. I think it was a good lesson to ... that you're not always ready for the opportunity at every moment. Some people take longer or they have a different path to get to that point.

Adam Bryant:

Right, right. Was there any favorite family expressions that got repeated around the family table?

Charles:

Other than, "That's one of ours," or, "That's terrible?" Well, it's a ... I don't think so, not that I can remember, that's a good questions. I have to think about that. If one pops up, I'll let you know.

Adam Bryant:

Sure. If you think about your leadership style, do you see influences of your parents?

Charles:

Wow. That's a good question, Adam. I'm very thoughtful, I'm definitely thoughtful. My father is a very intellectual person. He's much more emotionally distant than I am and so, I've watched him in various scenarios and thought, "I don't think I would do it that way," so perhaps by reverse, but he was always looking at the broader implication. He was always looking at, "What's the impact of this on the people?" He did it through mass communication and also his writing, he's a prolific writer as well. But, from a management standpoint, a leadership standpoint, I think that I saw things in the way he did things, I thought, "I'd probably do it in a more intimate way than that." My mother's always been very much about people and so, I suspect in some fashion I picked up on some of that stuff as well and wanting to know a bit of the backstory about what motivated somebody to understand how do you encourage somebody towards this goal, or this end, or this vision. I think a little bit, yes.

Adam Bryant:

What was your first management experience and were you good at it?

Charles:

I was good at it. My first management experience was I became the president in my fraternity at a time when our fraternity was completely divided, looked like modern America, just completely split. We probably had ... I think we had 25 or 26 guys in the fraternity, I think I was a sophomore. I had been in the States about 18 months, so I had just about figured out how to acclimatize to the culture and society. I was at college in a tiny, little ... in the middle ... in a liberal arts college in Beloit, Wisconsin. The fraternity had become an important reference point to me because it was a safe haven in a very big and pretty confusing world to somebody who'd come from London at that point. I ran for president and I ran against one other person. Again, the house was completely divided. A lot of people didn't want anybody to be president.

They didn't want to be in the fraternity. Out of 25 people, I won. I got five votes, so you can tell how fractured the thing was, right? After the announcement that I'd won, I vividly remember sitting with a couple of people, sitting there thinking, "What have I done? This is awful. I have no idea how to do this and what's going to be left of this thing." But, the reference point about success was over time, over the next two semesters, I ran again and won. But, I managed to unify that group pretty well and we were able to do some pretty important things for the community, for the future of that fraternity, and I think for a lot of the guys in the house as well. But, I had this ... at the pit of my stomach, having won was visceral and memorable.

Adam Bryant:

How did you do that, how did you unite everybody?

Charles:

I just kept talking to people about ... I think what ... I tried to lay out a vision of what I thought made sense. I tried to get a lot of people's input, I tried to involve different people. We created projects that utilized different people's skills, so we decided we wanted to build a bar, right? You're 19 in Wisconsin. Of course, you need a bar in your fraternity. What kind of crazy ... we didn't have one actually if you think about, so one of the people who was very much a part of the ... what I would describe that ... early on, at the other side of that group, the other faction, was a brilliant woodsman, woods crafter, a craftsman, a woodworker, carpenter. Sorry, I got there in the end. He and a couple other people helped him, built this magnificent bar, and I did ... the joint focus on that is a real piece of output, and just a deliverable, and a physical manifestation of what we could do when we work together was really, really important.

Charles:

It got him invested emotionally in the fraternity and it brought other people that were close to him into the fold as well.

Charles:

I think that that notion of creating a cohesive collective around shared interest and common values instinctively was the place that I naturally went to and also learnt relatively quickly that there's some people that no matter what you do, they were going to be oppositional by default, right? They wanted to just be ... they want to be opposed to whatever it was that everybody else wanted. I learned that painfully but relatively quickly and realized you can't get everybody on side. Some people, you just have to move on without. Out of 25, if we can get 21 or 22 ... obviously, the thing about a fraternity is you go through this recruiting period every six to nine months as a new school year starts. The whole process of that, we learned a lot. I learned a lot about how do you present an entity, what does it stand for, what are you selling and what are you not selling. We got other fraternities up and down. Beloit was a very small fraternity. We probably had six or probably 10% of the whole student body was in a fraternity, so we were not just selling against other fraternities but against the concept of not being in a fraternity. Learning about what did that process look like when it was at its best and how did you get the people in the house to actively engage in selling the house in ways that were sustainable, and scalable, and consistent with current values. I learned a lot about recruitment and retention. Thinking back now, I guess that was a real talent, acquisition mode, because you're trying to identify the right kind of people who would bring certain characteristics and perspectives. We became pretty international, we tended to attract the people who were from Finland, or Germany, or Red China.

Charles:

We had a very ... we created a pretty diverse culture actually and then, that became a real positive other selling point as well.

Adam Bryant:

What drove you to go after those leadership roles in the first place, sports, the fraternity?

Charles:

That's actually a great question. You should do this for a living, Adam. I think I felt like I had a really clear understanding about where the thing should go, whether it was the cricket team and how it could perform better, and the fraternity and how it could be run better and how it could be more beneficial to the people around it and how it could have more success. There have been periods in my life where I've had that clarity of vision and just naturally felt inclined to step in and say, "I think there's a way to do this and I think that there are things that we shouldn't do as well, and here's a point-of-view." I think at the end of the day I really like making a difference, I really like feeling like I've improved the condition, whether it's somebody that I'm coaching or advising, or whether it's a company that I've consulted for, or whether it's something I built. I want to feel like that entity is better as a result of my having being able to help.

Adam Bryant:

Step back question, if you look at the arc of your leadership journey, what do you see as the, say, two most important leadership lessons you learned? How did you learn them?

Charles:

Definitely having a vision. For all the reasons I just said, I think it's so critical that you be clear about what it is you're trying to create or build. I think the other part is having values that ... I think two things. One is having a set of values that guide you in whatever the organization is, how we want to behave, how we want to show up, how we want to be known, and being willing to confront behavior that doesn't match with that. I think attached to that is a willingness to act quickly, I think that out of instinct I've always felt like, "If this isn't working, let's change it. If this person isn't right, let's give them a chance. But, if it's not going to happen, let's move on." Because, if I'm trying to get a group of people to get to a place that they all want to get to and this other stuff is holding us back, then let's not let it hold us back.

I think the willingness to act quickly and decisively, there have been almost no instances I could remember where I thought, "God, you did that too quickly and you made a mistake." There've been a number of instances where I thought, "You should've done that sooner." We would've been better off if I'd done it sooner and so, I got much more confident and much more willing to take steps quickly.

Adam Bryant:

Gotcha. What have been the most painful leadership lessons you've learned and what were the stories, the experiences?

Charles:

Trying to do the right thing for the right reason and having people not respond on that basis. You learn over time that people are self-interested and frightened and so, there's a lot of behavior, mine included, that comes from that instinct and that place. Naively, I think for quite a long time, I've always felt like if I was doing the right thing for the right reason, people would just see that, and respond to that, and behave accordingly. They don't. Some of them do but not always and I think for reasons that came out of my past, which is where most of us are driven by that, I always felt let down by that, personally let down by that. It took me a long time to realize it's not me, that's them. By a long time, I mean probably until seven or eight years ago. We always have to realize, "Oh, yeah, that's just not about me at all."

Charles:

That's not just a thing I can say intellectually.

I can actually feel that stuff and probably as a result I can now be more empathetic to that, but that was a very hard lesson to learn that people wouldn't behave the way you want.

You hope they would based on the fact you were trying to do the right thing for the right reason. We built a film editing company with a very, very clear set of objectives and goals that we've been ... Chris and I, my wife and I ... we added a number of partners to that.

There were places where I thought we're doing this for a certain set of reasons, that I think ... I'm still thinking, looking back, I feel pretty confident we're about something more than us. This wasn't an ego play on our part. We weren't trying to put ourselves out front, we were trying to do what we thought was right for that reason, probably not in certain cases with enough depth and probably with a bit too much pushiness and assertiveness because we were in a hurry because we could see what we were trying to build, but some of the responses in some of those circumstances were startlingly self-interested, shockingly self-interested, and shockingly damaging to the business we were all trying to build.

I found that really hard to deal with and really hard to forgive, behavior that was just so, A, out of keeping with the kind of company that we had really wanted ... that we had set out to build and, B, behavior that I thought was completely letting down the people that are chosen to work there, because Chris and I both felt it's such a sense of responsibility to the people that work there. Again, we weren't perfect by industry's imagination, but I like to think that everything we did was designed to try and make that company better.

It was both shocking and beyond disappointing to have people respond in that way sometimes.

Adam Bryant:

Right, all of which probably sharpened your instincts over time during the hiring process. Because, if you get the right people in the door, you get fewer of those problems. Let's go deep on that, how do you hire? What questions do you ask in the job interview?

Charles:

Well, I think one of the problems with the hiring process, and I watch myself do this over, and over, and over again, and I watch clients do this to this day over and over again, is you just end up talking too much because you're so proud of the thing that you want them to come and join. Most of the time, you're excited about the prospect of this new talent walking in the door and adding something to it that you end up sitting there summing the thing or you do it out of a sense of pride or ego, validation. Because, now, you've got a new audience member who's captive and so, you sit and tell them all the great things you've done, how fantastic this company is.

Charles:

You find ways to work yourself into that conversation sometimes and none of that is actually very constructive towards hiring the right people. Over time, I got better and better about talking a lot less and finding out, A, why they were here ... the thing that I finally figured out to do was to ask of their journey all the way back like, "Where were you born?" Because I think you get so much and I do that a lot in my coaching business. I'm sure you did, too. But, unless you know where people come from and what their personal journey is, you have no idea about how to interpret what they're telling you. I think that really smart people are really good at interviews because they can figure out how to play the moment and so, maybe they'll figure out what you want to hear and tell you that. I think your job is to get them out of that rhythm and get them talking about stuff they're not used to talking about.

I think there's a technique, I think it's called behavioral interviewing, where you ask them, "Here's a situation, how would you respond to it? Here's a situation, have you come across something like that? How did you handle it?" I think you want that volunteered proactive information because it's the way that you can really start to discern, "They said this, but they responded this way." There's an inconsistency or there's a complete consistency in that, so I think all of those things become really important attributes. Then, you have to find a way to get to people's values, not just in terms of their technical, so we have to figure out what really matters to them, and is this a good fit, and are they actually going to show up the way they claim, and are they going to contribute and add to the culture, are they going to in some way damage it or diminish it.

Again, those are hard things to get into unless you're willing to let them talk a lot and unless you're really, really paying attention to the small stuff.

Adam Bryant:

Okay, I've been playing this running dinner party game with all the CEOs I've interviewed. If you could only ask somebody one question at a job interview and decide based on their answer whether to hire them or not, what would that one question be?

Charles:

There's probably a better answer that this, but the answer that strikes me straight away is, "If I ask the people around you what's the worst thing about you, what would they say?" Because I think you often give the answer, "Oh, that I care too much," or, "I try too hard," or whatever.

Adam Bryant:

The fake recognitions, right.

Charles:

Right, exactly. I always appreciated and trusted the people who told me something that was less than flattering about themselves because I thought, well, either the thing was so appalling you'd never hire them or you thought, "I could do something with that honesty." If I have that, I think trust is so fundamental. I never expected to hire perfect and I knew I was a long way from perfect and everybody else ... are such a long way from perfect, but I think if you're honest, you can do a lot with honesty. You can do a lot with honesty.

Adam Bryant:

So let's shift to creativity. Big topic, a lot of people struggle with it. I want my organization to be more creative. How do I do that? How do you do that, Charles?

Charles:

Well, we are very confident that we've actually identified the elements, the characteristics, the practices, the belief systems, the behaviors that systematically unlock creativity in companies.

Thematically, what is consistent about them is that they all have a clear and compelling vision. They all do, they have a way of talking about the change they want to make in the world. Sometimes, it goes as far as purpose, not always, but they have a vision in their heads about what that looks like and they've done somewhere between a pretty good and a very good job of articulating that throughout the company, not just at the senior levels but throughout.

They, then, either have organized themselves or are reorganizing themselves around that vision. As you know as well as I do, there are so many companies today who are still built in this very vertical, hierarchical way where the clients or customers sitting at the top and feeding in their needs. Then, this machine clunks its way down, adding people, dropping people, until this thing drops out at the end.

Adam Bryant:

Right.

Charles:

I think what I've seen is that the most creative businesses these days are built horizontally.

They're built collaboratively, they're build around much higher degrees of trust than typically we've seen. They're built to move much faster. The needs of an organizational structure, that places very different emphasis on the kinds of talent that you have to be able to bring in, and retain, and unlock. Those companies are also really skilled at developing practices that allow them to bring in the right kind of talent, to take advantage of them, to use them more effectively, to keep them around for longer, and then also to develop leaders that are skilled at continuing that process.

Then, the other thing they do is they evaluate the progress they're making. Because they have a clear vision, it's that old adage of, "When you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there." I think great companies do know where they're going and they are able therefore to measure, "Well, are the things that we're doing taking us closer to that? If not, why not? Do we still care about going to that place? Let's check in with that to make sure that that's still the right destination. If not, then let's redefine the destination."

I think this virtuous circle, as I would describe it, exists in the most creative businesses because all of that creates intention, which I think is fundamental to unlocking creativity. It creates a set of expectations and reliable behavior, which I also think is actually fundamental to creativity because you need to trust. You need to be able to invest yourself emotionally in what is fundamentally a process that is actually risky, right?

You can't predict it, you don't know where it's going, you don't know what your contribution is going to be to it. You don't know what you think until you start to think about it, so you need a place that you feel safe enough to be able to throw yourself into. That comes from this virtuous circle that is actually mutually reinforcing.

And I think the most creative companies have exactly the opposite view. They demand creativity show up and perform, they have enormous expectations, they put real rigor behind it. They put real structure and parameters around it because, then, creativity has something to push against. I was working at Ogilvy. Norman Berry, who was the Global CCO at the time, used to talk about sliding around on the slippery slope of creative irrelevance, having this brilliant idea that has no purpose, no problems to solve. I think creativity works best when you give it real difficult problems and then, support it empathetically with organization, with practices, with structure, with systems, with expectations that allow those people to lean in and then, divert their energy to, "Let's solve the problem." I think Dan Pink's book, "Drive", is really good about helping us to understand how the intrinsic motivation of, "I care about solving the problem," is in many ways the most important part of unlocking creativity.

Adam Bryant:

Right. At the beginning of your list, you talked about vision and that means different things to different companies. Some people sit down and say, "My vision is to change the world." What's the right level of specificity? If somebody's in the advertising industry, it's like, "We want to create boundary busting advertising."

Charles:

Yeah, and that's a great question. I think it's the hardest thing to do, I think it's hard for a lot of companies who existed for a while having ... Jim Stangle is largely responsible for re-initiating the purpose conversation and has become a real evangelist for it with real success. He's helped a lot of brands to achieve that and educated a lot of the rest of us about why purpose is so important. I think purpose is the ultimate ideal, but I don't think every company can define a purpose. I think if you've been around for a long time without one, it's a very difficult thing to walk back and post-rationalize and say, "Well, the real reason we've been doing this is this."

Adam Bryant:

Right.

Charles:

I think you have to adapt the expectation based on the circumstance, and the business, and the individuals who are running it. I think you walk in with a hope that maybe you can take a company towards a purpose, but I also think if the best you can do is help them to articulate the difference they want to make to their clients and that becomes pretty narrow and smaller and focused, even that is massively transformative and catalyzing because it allows people to have a clear understanding of why they get up in the morning about, "What problem are we trying to solve today and what would success look like?" I think you're absolutely right. There is going to be a continuum and you can't apply a standard expectation to every business and every situation, but I do think the more focused a company can be, even if it's something as simple as this, "A year from now, if this company was as successful as you could imagine, what would people be saying about it?"

Work back from there, that's a vision. At the very least, let's start there. Two years after that, what would you like people to be saying about you? What would you like the performance level to be? I think people don't tend to spend a lot of time particularly entrepreneurial. If you're building an entrepreneurial business, most of the time, in my experience, you are enamored with the idea, with the realization that this is possible, often, with the people that you've attracted to it, often in the form of partners. You're so busy putting all that together that the thing you're doing becomes the focal point and success is this amorphous, "Well, to be here in a year would be great, to be making money in a year would be great, to be doing work that people were paying attention to, to have made something that was useful in the world," all of that is where the limits of most entrepreneurs go.

I think you can do a better ... when we build our editing company, we created a list of what success is through 11 different lenses. We wrote them down just out of instinct. It included things like providing extraordinary employment opportunities for people. Over time, that list became more focused and we were able to get much more specific. Truthfully, my best articulation about what was the purpose of The Whitehouse, the film editing company that I built, came after I left, when I looked back and said, "Oh, well, we built a company that was focused on connecting talent with opportunity regardless of geography," which was absolutely revolutionary back then. We followed instincts. Sometimes, the ability to articulate it comes after, but we were very clear about how we wanted to change the rules of the game for the advertising industry, for the post-production industry.

But, even in the early days, we defined success a year later and then, a year later and then, a year later. I think that part of the process is ... you have to at least get to that part of the process.

Adam Bryant:

Right. But, for all the different ad agencies out there, how do you create differentiation between your vision? Because everybody wants to do groundbreaking advertising, and win new clients, and change the world. How do you get some specificity around it so people go, "Okay, I got it. That's going to drive a specific creative vision and process."

Charles:

Yeah, I think it's very hard for ... I think advertising agencies have become in many ways largely homogenized because they're following the same business model. They're selling the same stuff in the same way on the same hourly rate in most cases. I think that if you find companies like 72andSunny is a great example where they want to unlock the creative class as they talk about it. Their mission and their focus is at, "How do we unlock individual creative talent in the service of brands?" Their focus tends to be as much about attracting the right kind of people, developing them properly, and giving them the right kind of environment and support to unlock incredible stuff. They attract clients for whom the creative class as a concept is an important reference point, clients for whom they're not going to buy some arbitrary brand distinction between 72andSunny, and Wieden+Kennedy, and Anomaly but who basically have a shared set of beliefs.

I think Simon Sinek has really framed this really powerfully and he's continuing to push this further, and further, and further. He challenges companies and people individually, "What's your purpose? Why are you here?"

He says, "Whether this is true or not but there's no reason to believe it's not." He says that at every meeting he walks in and when it starts, he says, "The reason I'm here is ... " as a clarification of his purpose.

His point-of-view, which I fully agree with and my experience matches this, is that creating a shared set of beliefs is fundamental. I'm not certain that you have to say if I'm an ad agency, "We are here to do this in a completely different way." I think what you do have to do is say, "We believe these things to be true." Then, what happens is you attract like-minded people who say, "I believe that, too."

The endgame is sell more products, get more people to use this service, win more awards, have higher margins. There are only so many ways you can say that from an ad agency, but I think you can articulate, "We believe these things to be true, we believe that this is an important reference point, we believe this is the kind of world we want to live in. We believe these are the kinds of people we want to help develop." I think all of those are actually a form of a vision that becomes increasingly powerful.

Adam Bryant:

Right. At some point, to be provocative enough to get people's attention, there's also risk of being polarizing.

Charles:

I think you have to be, right? One of the smartest things I ever heard anybody in the advertising industry say to me was seven or eight years ago when the then CFO of one of the big holding companies said to me, "We're never going to get really great until we figure out what we can't do." I think that remains true, I think the holding company agencies still really struggle with that. I think big companies in general really struggle with that for lots of reasons, one of which is they have to report to shareholders all the time.

Adam Bryant:

Right.

Charles:

Constant growth is a ... "Well, if there's an opportunity to sell this thing, whatever it is to that person, then we need to because we need the numbers going upwards from left to right." I think companies that either in the different point in their growth cycle or have come from a more considered platform or foundation are much more willing to say, "We are about this, we believe these things, we either don't care about these things or we don't believe these things." I've certainly seen this on a much small level in my own practice where the things that I now will do are much narrower than the things I would've done seven or eight years ago.

I think some of those things, they're still valid. People would still want them, but I think there are other people who do them better, and with more passion, and more insight, and probably a high level of expertise. That allows me to get deeper, and more focused, and more skilled at the things that really matter to me. I think companies in general, ad agencies, brands, whatever they are, whatever you're making, when you really find your sweet spot and you really get clear about, "I want to be the world's best at this because I believe that if I get great at this, I can help this happen. This will happen as a consequence." I feel enormously privileged to be in a situation where I can help extraordinarily influential leaders of extraordinarily influential companies make themselves better leaders and therefore, the businesses better because the kinds of things that these companies do change culture, change the way society looks at itself, change the kinds of products that exist in the world, change the sensibility around that stuff.

I can draw a pretty straight line connection between my ability to help a single leader and making society a more generous, welcoming, inclusive, thoughtful place. That, to me, is an incredible opportunity, so my belief is creativity is fundamental to business success. If I can help unlock creativity, then these amazing things happen and I think in a small way that's why people want to work with me because they believe that, too. They believe in the power of creativity, they want the world to be more generous, and inclusive, and understanding, and compassionate. Creativity is a path to that.

Adam Bryant:

For managers and leaders who are running creative organizations, one of the big challenges is finding that sweet spot between chaos and structure.

Charles:

Yeah, it's really difficult. You're dealing with the epicenter of where art meets commerce and that's a really difficult balancing. I think the best ones accept that they will never be in balance, that everyday you will feel like one of these things is just pulling you harder. You spend your whole life trying to just pull it back so that there is an equilibrium.

Adam Bryant:

What does that look like when it works well? Make it real for me.

Charles:

It looks like you hire the person you're not sure about, it looks like you make the product that you're not certain is going to sell because there's something about it that is compelling. It looks like you take the idea that makes you afraid, makes you nervous because that's where the magic happens. It looks like you work against the research, it looks like you say no to somebody who carries enormous influence and weight because you just think it's wrong for one side or the other of that equation. It almost always means doing things that make you incredibly uncomfortable. When you're not doing things that make you incredibly uncomfortable, you're probably falling too hard on one side or the other of that equation.

Adam Bryant:

Right, and part of the letting the chaos go is frankly time. If you got a team working on something and they're behind a locked door and it's like, "No, no. We need more time." It's like, "Okay, I'll give you a little more time."

"Oh, no, we need ... " when do you say, "Hey, we need a thing."

Charles:

That's a good question. I think that you ... I asked somebody the other day, "In your moments of insecurity, when you have to make a decision, what gives you the confidence or the courage to make a decision?" They said, "When we run out of time." There is never enough, right? But, on the other hand, I think that being given the reality of, "I have to solve this problem by noon", catalyzes thinking, right? Who was it? Franklin who said, "Nothing focuses the mind like a hanging." I think it's that, right? The way that the world works, the way the business world works, there will never be enough time. You just have to accept the fact that we're going to have to do the best we can to solve the problem in whatever the time is that's given to us. At some point, there won't be anymore. It doesn't matter how hard we push against the supply chain people, or the account people, or the client themselves, or the customer, whatever it is, the broadcast schedule.

At some point, there is going to be a no and we just better make sure. We're going to have to wrap this up and come up with a better point, we can't do it.

There's a great piece, there was that great piece at Newsweek that ... sorry, there was that great piece that Lifeline did a few years ago, an idea ... do you remember [inaudible] they literally have buzzes and bells and say, "Okay, it's 20 minutes for this." Whatever it is, that's it. You're done, right? Move on, move on. I think that kind of process has become much more instinctively embedded into the most creative businesses. It's just a ... the time factor is less of a concern to them. They're hardwired now to move quickly and the people who work there want to move that fast and want to discover ... I think tied to that actually, Adam, is the fact that time is a barrier as a ... the risk of having time as a barrier is creating a succeed or fail line, "We didn't get it done, we did get it done," or, "It didn't work as well. If we'd had more time, it would be better." I think that creativity requires expiration, and it requires experimentation, and it's not about perfection.

Most companies glibly say, "We have to be prepared to fail," then do nothing, nothing, nothing, to emphasize the point, to make that a reality, right? It's not in the P&L. Worst failure in the P&L, doesn't exist. Worst failure in the balance sheet, doesn't exist. Worst failure in the presentation to the shareholders or the stockholders, doesn't exist. But, the great company that does ... it is built in in all of those ways and in others, performance evaluations, "What did you try, what did we learn from that?" They don't really care, they don't worry about time as much because whatever they've learnt at the end of that when that alarm bell goes off is great because they can do something with the learning and the education. They can push it to the next level and they can take the insights and head off in a different direction.

I think the great companies have made time much less relevant and have made failure a much more welcome and acceptable component of how they work.

Adam Bryant:

If you think of a creative team like a basketball team, let's say, a creative team has five people on it, what are the positions, the ideal positions, of the five people on a creative team? You need a person who plays this role, that role, this role.

Charles:

Yeah, I think it depends on the nature of the problem obviously. I think it's probably as much about characteristics as disciplines. Disciplines are obviously important, depending, again, on the output, but I think the characteristics are really important, right. You need some number of people, preferably more than one, who are willing to make a decision and push things forward. I've talked to companies in the past who are very much built around amorphous team construct. They'll assemble different teams for every different situation and they said the thing that they learned was that the casting of the team was as important through the lens of, "Who, here, is willing to make a decision? Who, here, is willing to bring this process to a conclusion, to deliver something to [inaudible 00:44:53]" if you put people together who just are interested endlessly in what somebody else has to say, which is important as well.

But, if that's the only characteristic that exists, you get nothing done, "Well, that's interesting, that could be ... oh, what about that?" There has to be some number of people who are willing to say, "We need to stop this, we need to move to the next thing." I think that's part of it and it has to be more than one. Otherwise, it doesn't become a team. It just becomes a directed unit, which is also not the point and not very collaborative. I think you need trust. You need people who are naturally trusting and also behave in consistent ways so that other people can trust them. I think you absolutely need at least one person who is willing to be completely disruptive in the way that they think. I think Howard Schultz is famous. He had a disruption group he put together every couple of weeks where the purpose of the group was just to come in and talk about for an hour every two weeks, I think it was, "What are all the things that might make everything we think true false, what's going on in the world that we're not paying attention to?"

You need one or two people who are willing to bring that mentality. I think you want a couple people who are craft-oriented, I think craftsmanship is so important in whatever the expression is, whatever it is that is the output of this particular group, whether it's the written word, or video, or something physical. You need somebody who really, really cares about the finesse and the importance of allowing of a discipline of the craft because I think that stuff shows up in the world these days, we all have such a heightened sensibility to things like design, and aesthetic, and function. I think you need that and then, I think you need people who are rule breakers and inherently risk takers, the people who don't see the world through the lens of black-and-white or right and wrong. They just throw all that out and say, "Yeah. But, what if we did it this way? Why does that have to be true, why can't this be true?"

I think if you put all of those characteristics together, you'd come up with some pretty remarkable stuff.

Adam Bryant:

Right, there's often a challenge in managing creative teams where there's somebody on your staff who 10% of the time is the most brilliant person in your company. But, the other 90%, they're just not a good person and they're not additive to culture. But, that magic is magic. What do you do with that person?

Charles:

It absolutely has magic and then, my answer today is it depends. It depends on the company you're building. I've asked a lot of people that over the last few months in the podcast actually and I've been fascinated by the diversity of answers. Some people say, "Hey, part of leading creativity is the willingness to put up with that person, the tortured genius." Other people say, "There's enough talent in the world that we don't need the tortured genius and it is so important that we create a safe, trusting environment that we don't have room for that. If they can't figure out a way to behave in accordance with our values, then, yeah, it's not going to work."

I think it really does depend absolutely on, " What are the values that you want this company to live by?"

I don't think there's a right or wrong answer. For a while, I thought if you're really truly "creative", you need the tortured genius because it's magic. I think in some environments that's true, I think in some environments that's very disruptive and you can get to magic in different ways.

I think it really, really fundamentally depends on the kind of business that you want, that you're trying to build.

Adam Bryant:

What do you think the hardest part of leadership is?

Charles:

I think one is being self-aware about what you really bring to the table is magically, I think most people have no idea. They're fixated on the things they don't do very well and they spend an inordinate amount of time either trying to get better at these things, from average to ... they're trying to get themselves to be good or adequate at these things when they are surrounded by people who would do those things better than they will. I think we all struggle with ... the things that come easiest to most of us are instinctive and our greatest skills just seem so simple to us.

You can do things that I can't do and you can't imagine that I can't because it's so simple for you. I think helping a leader to recognize that thing you do effortlessly is truly magical. There are very few people in the world who can do that, there might be nobody else in the world who can do that just like you. When you're spending all this time over here worrying about all these things that you don't do that well, you're taking away from the company, you're taking away from yourself the ability to take advantage of this extraordinary gift that you have. When you get people to lean into the things they do instinctively well and to realize this is valuable, this is not egotistical, it's not self-indulgent, it's not cowardly because you're not confronting the things you don't do well, this is actually the greatest thing you can use ... when you get people to recognize that, and they start to lean into it, and they start to use it, a whole bunch of things happen.

One is other people start doing the things that the leader used to do, which gives them confidence, and raises them up, and allows them to contribute more, and to take more risk in terms of the things they contribute. Two is the company starts to move faster and more confidently because the leader feels more confident and is thinking faster and acting faster because they're more certain. The entire company elevates as a result and you see, then, that confidence in the leader manifest in lots of other ways. They start doing things that they would never have thought about doing before, they start seeing the world more clearly and with greater opportunity, but it is just a human condition. It's so difficult to recognize those things in ourselves, but I think it is the mark of the best leaders that they understand, "That's what makes me great and I'm really good at that."

I read somewhere or I heard of somebody the other day who has developed a contract for the people that work around them. They say, "I'm really good at this, I'm really not good at this, I work best with people who show up like this. I struggle in these areas. If you expect this, great. If you expect this, you should be disappointed." I thought that was very powerful because we're all limited in so many ways, but we all have enormous strengths. If you can be that clear with yourself and with the people that work for you from day one, everybody's better off.

Adam Bryant:

Yeah. What are you trying to get better at yourself, what do you want to be better at two years from now than you are today?

Charles:

I want to be better still at listening to people, really getting to the heart of what's stopping them from doing something that clearly is in their best interest and clearly they're highly capable of doing, being better at being able to understand that, and being better able to help them see it more quickly and with more confidence. I think that's one of the great challenges of what you and I both do now is ... seeing what they're struggle with is one thing. Finding the right way to help them deal with that is the real challenge of this particular career path. Also, one of the great rewards is when you find that way to connect to them, when you find that way to help them see themselves as you and everybody else does, see what they're capable of, what is possible, there is such magic in that. The better I can get at helping different people to see that, I think the more rewarded I will feel.

Adam Bryant:

I think one of your favorite questions is, "What are you afraid of?"

Charles:

It is one of my favorite questions. I'm afraid of not being helpful, maybe more than that. I'm afraid of not being valuable, of not making a difference to people. I think that that has become such a fundamental part of how I wake up in the morning, I have for a long time been afraid of dying. I think I'm losing these days to a place where that becomes less important to me and doing things that are important to me before that happens, whether that is walking out of here in a few minutes or whether that is 25 years from now, trying to make sure that what I'm doing has much intention as possible. I talk to clients all the time about having intention and I think, as with a lot of advisory work, some of the advice you give tends to be something that you could easily reflect back, right? I think that I have finally heard myself say it often enough that I become afraid of not having enough intention. That's become very important to me.

Adam Bryant:

Yeah, so let's end on a fun note. One of my favorite job interview questions that I heard from a CEO and she asked all job candidates this question, "If there were no humans on the planet, only animals, what kind of animal would you be and why?"

Charles:

Well, I would be not just a dog, but I would be Fred. Fred is one of our dogs who died 10 days ago. I wrote a piece on him, I write eulogies about all my dogs because they are such distinctive characters and personalities. They play such a massive role in our life. We are the definition of crazy dog people. I say on this piece, if that is what people write in my obituary, that would be awesome, "He was a crazy dog person." That would be awesome. Fred loved being a dog and Fred just loved being alive, and he brought so much joy to amazing ... certain people, certain animals, but Fred touched so many people. When we've told people that he died, people who knew him 10, 11 years ago have been saddened to know that that presence is no longer in the planet. He just loved everybody, animal or human, and just made life better. He was a true healer, he always knew when we were struggling physically or emotionally.

He would just come and absorb it and I think that's ... he died at 12-and-a-half and I suspect he's pulling all of that energy from the world, right?

It just weakens you over time. I was struck by memories of the character in the Golden Mile actually when he died because it felt very similar to that, his ability to pull stuff, negativity, out and absorb it yourself. He just made the world better. If I could be Fred, that would be as high a standard as I could ever wish to reach.

Adam Bryant:

I shall call you Fred from now on instead of Charles.

Charles:

Thank you.

Adam Bryant:

This has been great, Charles.

Charles:

Adam, thank you so much again. I really appreciate you doing this. It has been fantastic. Thanks.