2-19: "The ‘I Don’t Know’ Leader" - Rick Brim

RichardBrim.jpg

"The ‘I Don’t Know’ Leader"

Rick Brim is the Chief Creative Officer of Adam&Eve/DDB - one of the world’s most creative companies.  

Rick is down to earth, self reflective, supportive and passionate. He cares a lot.

Adam&Eve/DDB are perhaps most famous for the annual John Lewis Christmas campaign that produces one of the standout commercials of the year. For this and for many other reasons, they generate high praise and enormous attention. 

Which brings with it the other side of success. Expectation.

That’s when the pressure of leadership really shows up.  

This episode is called “The ‘I Don’t Know’ Leader”.


Three Takeaways

  • Give everyone the opportunity to make a difference.

  • Focus on the group dynamic.

  • Ultimately take responsibility.


"FEARLESS CREATIVE LEADERSHIP" PODCAST - TRANSCRIPT

Episode 2-19: "The ‘I Don’t Know’ Leader" - Rick Brim

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

Before we start this week’s show, I have news.

If you’ve listened to this podcast before, you know my views on the importance of unlocking creativity in the business world. 

I don’t think creativity is valuable to modern businesses. I think it is essential. It is the power that drives all of the world’s most extraordinary companies. 

Th good news is that creativity exists inside every company. But why is it that some are much better at unlocking its power than others?

What makes these companies more innovative, and more agile than their competitors?

What makes them more valuable? Why do they attract talent magnetically? Why do their clients and customers see them as essential? How do they change expectations?

As I got to know many of the world’s most creative companies from the inside, I started to recognize that the very best of them were all using the same practices and principles. Some by design. Some through instinct. 

In every case, these practices and principles were customized and had become part of the company’s culture. But when you stripped away the customization, it became clear that these companies were built and operating on the same sets of practices and principles. They were doing the same things.

This realization was game-changing for me. Now, I could articulate why some companies were more creative and more valuable than others. And more importantly, I could see that it wasn’t simply because they had better talent. It was because they did the right things and did them better. 

Most companies still believe that the answer to the question, ‘How do we become more creative?’ is ... find better creative talent. 

Talent is critical. Of course. But today, the most creative companies in the world don't separate the ‘creatives’ from the rest then cross their fingers and hope that something magical comes from that side of the building.  Instead, they unlock creativity from every corner of the organization. 

And that attracts even better talent, which makes the company more creative. And so, the virtuous circle begins.

And as I started to capture all this, I came to three conclusions.  

First, that every business has vast reservoirs of creativity sitting within it, and the best companies are able to unlock it better than everyone else.

Second, that these companies use consistent principles and practices to do this, and that creates sustained success, which allows them to attract better talent than their competitors.

And third, and most importantly, that these practices and principles - the things that determine whether a company is able to maximize its own creativity potential -  could be identified and measured.

And once you can measure a company’s potential for creativity, and identify where that potential is being blocked or wasted, then you can unlock it.

And so, for the last two years we’ve been working with a team of organizational psychologists and data visualization experts to develop a way to measure and unlock a company’s creativity.

And I’m proud to announce that it’s now officially launched.

It’s called UCx - for unlock creativity exponentially. 

UCx is a unique, scientifically designed diagnostic that will measure any company’s creativity and provide actionable recommendations for quickly unlocking a great deal more.

We’ve attracted some serious partners - Lori Bradley who is now the global head of talent for United Airlines; Tellart, one of the world’s leading data visualization companies who have brought the presentation of UCx to life in a way that allows UCx to tell the story that’s revealed by the data in a highly visual and actionable way, and Van Dusen Consulting who have helped to develop over two thousand diagnostic tools and who have taught us a lot about the science behind extracting valid data from within organizations. 

We’ve taken the UCx tool through a rigorous beta program. We’ve been told by one renowned industry leader that it’s the most valuable external process their company has ever undertaken.

If you’re interested in finding out more, go to unlockcreativity.com  or email curious@unlockcreativity.com.  Or you can email me directly and I’ll connect you with the right people. And if you’re one of the first ten to email, we’ll set up a personalized demonstration for you.

This is a big moment for us. UCx is the aggregation of a lot of practical experiences, a great many conversations and a lot of thinking. I hope you’ll take a moment and visit the website.

Thanks. 

And now on with this week’s show.


Rick Brim is the Chief Creative Officer of Adam&Eve/DDB - one of the world’s most creative companies.  

Rick is down to earth, self reflective, supportive and passionate. He cares a lot.

Adam&Eve/DDB are perhaps most famous for the annual John Lewis Christmas campaign that produces one of the standout commercials of the year. For this and for many other reasons, they generate high praise and enormous attention. 

Which brings with it the other side of success. Expectation.

That’s when the pressure of leadership really shows up.  

This episode is called “The ‘I Don’t Know’ Leader”.

“It’s, I've worked for people in the past that didn't know the answer. I was very aware that they didn't know the answer, and they came out of it so fighting and, and well, you should be telling me the answer. And that's most definitely not the way to do it. I think it's okay not to know that answer and be gracious with it and be nice with it.”

There’s an old saying that it’s harder to stay at the top than to get there. Instinctively, that makes sense. 

It’s easier to get people moving towards a destination than to keep them there. Particularly people who think and act creatively, and who get bored and frustrated by the status quo. 

It’s easier to set standards than maintain them. It’s easier to motivate yourself to prove it the first time. Less motivating each time thereafter.

Its easier when you don’t know how hard it’s going to be than when you know how hard it was.

And it’s easier to claim you know the answer before there’s any proof that you don’t. 

Leaders traditionally hate not knowing the answer. Instinctively they see it as a sign of weakness. As a failure of leadership.  

But it’s not. 

Leadership is about unlocking the potential of others. And it’s about unlocking your own potential along the way.

To be a leader in the first place, you have to unlock some of your own potential before you can help others to do the same.

But sooner or later, you’re going to get to the point when you need other people’s help in order for you to take the next step on your own journey.

Exceptional leaders say, “I don’t know - can you help?” sooner and more often. It encourages others to do the same across the organization. Pretty soon you look around and discover that what you’ve got is a highly collaborative team all trying to solve the same problems.

Want to unlock the power of creativity? “I don’t know,” is a pretty good place to start.

Here’s Rick Brim.

Charles:

Rick, welcome to Fearless. Thanks for joining me today.

Richard Brim:

Thanks for having me.

Charles:

What's your first memory of creativity showing up in your life?

Richard Brim:

Lego.

Charles:

Me too. Isn't that funny?

Richard Brim:

Lego. Definitely, definitely Lego. There's quite a gap between me and my sister and it was definitely Lego. Spending lots of time on my own with this big, we still have it in our house now, this massive chest of Lego. It was inherited and begged, borrowed and stolen from friends. I remember every Friday night my sister would build these houses and I was in awe of this. They were quite pedestrian sort of houses that looked like houses from around the neighborhood that I grew up in, and I was in awe of that. Absolutely awe it, and that you could do anything with it and make anything from it, and yeah.

Charles:

Do your kids play with Lego?

Richard Brim:

Yeah, they do. I think the age of the set has possibly ruined it ...

Charles:

Yeah.

Richard Brim:

Because-

Charles:

It's too conforming, isn't it?

Richard Brim:

It's too conforming, and even I found myself like, well, once we've built it, don't smash it up. We've got to keep it in a box, and it's not ... No, no. The purest form of it is smash it up and just whack it all together. And you got a bit of Castle Lego together with a bit of ... I don't know, Jargo Lego and Harry Potter Lego, yeah.

Charles:

It's funny that you say that 'cause I asked my wife to buy me the Millennium Falcon about three years ago.

Richard Brim:

The, yeah. About $700.

Charles:

But the midsize one. It's pretty expensive. It's like $300.

Richard Brim:

Yeah. It’s very expensive.

Charles:

But I spent three days doing it, and had this moment of joy, and then also, to your point, this kind of realization of, well, I've made it now.

Now I don't know what else to make out of it, 'cause it's supposed ... all these parts are for that. So I took it apart and then gave it to the son of a friend. I'm like, there's nothing else for me to do with it now.

Richard Brim:

Apart from building it again, but then you know how to build it.

Charles:

Yeah, it's not the same.

Richard Brim:

It's not the same.

Charles:

And you’re not inventing anything, are you, which was, I think, part of it when we were growing up.

Richard Brim:

You had the blocks.

And what you made out of that was what you made out of that. Yeah, I remember I had the most traumatizing thing I think, well one of the most traumatizing, as a child, was my first cousin was the teacher in the school I went to, and she was incredibly scary. Like very, very scary. And, but she wasn't scary to me because she was my first cousin, but she kind of was ... and I had spent three weeks doing this project of studying the Norman's or the two that is made.

Like every birthday or castle Lego, I loved it. And I made this whole fortress and it was time, it had been on display in class, so I had to take it home, and she was giving me a lift home and I got into the car and she says, just get into the back and I'll pass it to you. And I was so scared to say, you've left it on the roof. And as she drove out of school, I just heard this, and I turn around and literally, a good half of that box was all over.

Charles:

Oh man.

Richard Brim:

On the [inaudible] road in Manchester ... and every single time I drive past that spot, I think of it, and what happened to it. And I told her years later that happened. She had no idea I was too scared to tell her at the time, that she left my Lego on her roof. But, to answer your question, I think the first thing is Lego.

Charles:

How's your relationship with creativity changed? How do you see it today?

Richard Brim:

It's interesting, it does change throughout. At it's best, it's where it feeds me and if I hear something or see something, both in work and off, I get really excited and half to tell everybody about it. And at its worst, it cripples me, and there's nothing worse than not having, not being there, and not being where the level you know it should be or the area you think things should be in, or ... so I have a very dysfunctional relationship with it.

There is nothing … hearing something, at work, if somebody comes in, oh, I just thought about this, and you're like, oh that's amazing. You feel it from the ... you feel it coming through you and yes, it's quite visceral, my relationship with creativity. And it dictates a lot of things.

Charles:

When you say cripples you, talk to me about that. How does that feel?

Richard Brim:

It feels crippling. It stops me, and there’s a very definite ... And I've learned ways to sort of go, right now, it's like a big wall in front of you, and I've learned ways to sort of climb that and get over that, and ... I mean, I joke with people in the office, that I send emails at 5:00 in the morning about something that's kept me up at 3: 00 in the morning. And you just have to find ways to get over it. We do a big spot here in the UK for John Lewis and that's front page news every year. It's a Christmas spot and it's front page news and people will have an opinion on it and if you let that get to you too much, I mean, it's crippling. But you have to find ways of, no, right, come on, we need to ...

But yeah, that's my ... so, it's very much defined my life. And where I've got over the relationships I've had and how I bring up my family and how I rent an apartment and the sort of person I am. It's very much a part of me.

Charles:

When you get ...

Richard Brim:

In a good way or bad way.

Charles:

Yeah. No, absolutely, I understand that completely. When you get to that point where you're feeling blocked or trapped. Putting words in your mouth, does getting past that, is that something that you feel, I have to do this myself ...

Richard Brim:

No.

Charles:

Or do you show it to other people and start eliciting their support, help, engagement, energy, in moving past that?

Richard Brim:

I did do. I did feel, I've been through times where I thought everything rested on me trying to break down this wall. And now, that can drive you insane.

Charles:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Richard Brim:

It's a very lonely place. It's a very, sort of ... but now, no, no, no, now, there's people that I trust and I joke with ... I got these emails, there's a certain few people I send emails to and they'll tell me to calm down or they'll tell me I'm being completely right or ... And now I think it is very much about a team of people around you that are also working to the same thing. And those have the same sort of relationship with creativity.

Charles:

'Cause it can be very lonely, right?

Richard Brim:

Yeah, it can be really lonely. And I think it's interesting whether my career and what's happened to me professionally ... there's moments where you go, yeah we're all mates, or no we’re not all mates and everybody in the room is looking at me for the answer. It's not exactly ... it's one of those films where everything just falls away. Everything just goes into a sort of a tunnel and when I first was running the agency, running an account, I felt that very heavily. And then I soon realized, I was surrounded by like minded people, it didn't matter that I didn't know the answer. But we would all know the answer eventually, if we ... it's okay not to know the answer, and I think it's a very big lesson.

I've worked for people in the past that didn't know the answer. I was very aware that they didn't know the answer, and they came out of it sort of fighting and, and well, you should be telling me the answer. And that's most definitely not the way to do it. I think it's okay not to know that answer and be gracious with it and be nice with it.

Charles:

You said something, just picking up on that point, you said something I read, when you said the need to please gets in the way of creativity.

Richard Brim:

Yeah. I think it does, I think there's a ... I want everybody to be happy all the time. And I want everybody … I want people to walk through those every morning like, with Zip-A-Dee-Do-Da playing on their ... just feeling like, this is great, and I can do everything. I want my family to be the same. I want everything to be great the  whole time. And sometimes you have to ... well, most of the time, things have to not to be great, to therefore, make them better. And that is something I think, as throughout my life, I've just wanted people to be happy.

And I wanted to be, like at school I was the class clown, I wanted to entertain people, I wanted to make people smile. If people come around to my house, my wife jokes that I'm the most irritating host ever. Is like, are you okay? Are you enjoying ... and it's okay that people are … nobody has to be having the best time or be the best at everything. And I think the need to please, like something you find, I find myself in meetings with clients going, yeah, yeah, yeah, of course we can do that. And then, you have this sort of thing of like, I don't know how to really see the idea, and actually people respect it when you go, no.

As long as you don't just go, no. As long as you always come back with a way of answering it, I've found that you get the same result. Especially, a better result, way better result. That’s why I find the need to always please is not necessarily the way to please.

Charles:

Was that a lesson you learned when you became a leader? Or have you always been conscious about it?

Richard Brim:

No, it's really interesting, because yes, I think it's when I became a leader on my own. Because I think, when you, the advertising construct, that I've pretty much went through the traditional, you always have two people. And this good cop, bad cop thing is a real thing.

Charles:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Richard Brim:

And my operating partner who's also my best friend and, but he was bad cop and he would come in and go, okay, yeah, yeah, we could do. I was the energy, I was like, we could do boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. And he was very much like, when people would say, well, can you do that? They'd always look to me, and he'd go, no we can't, because.

And actually, when we went our separate ways, that's the bit I had to learn, and that was the real lesson of fifteen years, that I had another side of my brain. So one side was overly exercised and one side was not, because that's the role he took and the role I took was the sort of ... there, in meetings, riffing off stuff that people said and I had to very definitely learn that side and very definitely learn to say no.

And also, I think when you become a leader, it took me a while to know that I could do it. And I could do it and people would listen to me. And not in a, I'm going to say this and see how many of you ... but in a, I think this is the wrong way to be going, and then all of the sudden people did stuff around you that affected that. And that's really liberating, where you want to, you feel that you can affect stuff.

And what happens is, the more you affect, the more things seem to be going well and I just get stronger.

And some of what, we've made some pretty big decisions on big, big stuff and it's been okay because you have the people with you, and you're not being this sort of dictatorial, I've got no idea where he's going to go, what he's going to say. Again, I think I learned that from years. You'd see old bosses, and they were always one way, and that could have been like, everything was no or it was quite an angsty environment, and not much got done. Because people didn't react well to them, so it's finding that sort of way of bringing the people with you, which is the most important thing. Most important thing, number one, because I think you are, whoever you are, you're only so good. You are, and I truly, truly believe that you are only so good if you need people there wanting to come through those doors every morning to want to work with you and want to work with the thing that you want to create. And that's very important to me, very important to me.

Charles:

Did you always want to lead?

Richard Brim:

No. I never thought, it was one of those things that ... I don't want to say that, because I don't want to sound ungrateful, because I'm incredibly grateful, but it wasn't … people go into things and want to get to a certain ... and I see it, I see it in people, and my biggest thing is just slow down. Like, you want it to come, you want it to come meaningfully. You don't just want to get there and turn around and realize it means nothing.

Charles:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Richard Brim:

So, I think, my one thing, we're talking to teams and producers and the overly ambitious ones. I think it’s brilliant to be overly ambitious, but be ambitious in the right way. It's not about titles, it's not about being the leader, it's not about being seemed to be the one. Because, as we spoke, as we touched on before, that comes with a lot of negatives ...

Charles:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Richard Brim:

Of ... it's quite an isolating existence. And also, if you're improving at it, you just have to have an amazing amount of self belief, because if people are constantly looking to you and you've not got the answer, self belief can get you over that. But if you've not got that, then it's a pretty dark place.

Charles:

And did you have that when you got the opportunity to lead?

Richard Brim:

Oh no. Self belief?

Charles:

Yeah.

Richard Brim:

No.

Charles:

Do you have it today?

Richard Brim:

It's funny, because you go, I don't want to sound arrogant, I have a belief that things I've done have worked, and that I know I can bring value in some way. But I know there's something always better there. And I always, I'm healthily, well, maybe not healthily, I'm healthily paranoid of, paranoid. Self belief is a really hard one, because I think you can see people and then it's purely about self belief. And great things happen and for rightly so. No, I'm not ... my whole way, my journey into this, my journey through school and all that, it's always, you're always looking over your shoulder. And you're always, you just try to do the best you can do.

I went to college here in London and you're surrounded by amazing people. Your teachers are, people like Paul Smith, and it was an incredible sort of people, people you were in college with, incredible. And you always, you didn't feel like, I'm the man here. And I've never really felt like, I'm the man, and I don't think I really want to. Because I think, I don't know how a person could honestly deal with that. I don't know why I just turned to the biggest dick there is, I just don't ... I don't know, I don't ever want to ... I always like the fact that there's something there that I worry about things. And I worry about not being as good as maybe, did I ...

There's a paranoia that I fear, fear is, I think fear is a good thing.

Charles:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Richard Brim:

And I think fear can be a terrible thing and the crippling thing we talked about before. A healthy fear is a really good thing, creatively I think. I think you have to be a little bit scared, because it takes you to places that, I mean it's obvious it takes you to places that you wouldn't, you don't feel comfortable in.

Charles:

I think that's fair. What is it, when I started this podcast, I ...

Richard Brim:

Called, fearless!

Charles:

Yeah, and naively, I think, now as I look back, I had a pretty one dimensional view of it, which was fear was this thing that great people overcame. And in talking to extraordinary people, I've realized that it's much, much more complex than that.

There really is a spectrum in fact, of people's relationship with fear. It goes from, some people are definitely conquering things.

Some people, to your point, are using fear as a catalyst to move them away from today. Because if the fear of the status quo is actually greater than whatever else might be out there in the future. And so, I think, some people have a multidimensional view of fear and a relationship with fear.

Richard Brim:

It seems to be, you touched on that, the future. The future terrifies me. And I talked to friends and they're all about, oh the traditional model is dead, we're all going to die. And my view on this is when … in my head, I see is sort of a ... when I've got both feet in the future, it's terrifying. Because nobody knows what's going to happen, but keeping a foot in today and a foot in tomorrow, is my only way of dealing with that, is my only way of getting over it. And my response is, as long as what I'm doing is relevant today or tomorrow, not the day after tomorrow, that's all I can look at, because projecting so far forward, nobody knows what's going to happen. Nobody knows. There's trends and there's where is this going? But, as long as you're relevant now, so that fear of the future helps my fear of the now, as well. I constantly want the things we're doing to have an effect now.

Because it almost feels like I'm buying small time, do you know what I mean? And I think if you behave like that, you're constantly buying time. You bought time. So, yeah, I use it the fear of the future to fuel the fear of the now a bit as well.

Charles:

I think leadership in fact is a bifurcated process in some respect. In which you have to have one eye, one foot in the future. One eye, one foot in the present, right?

Richard Brim:

Yes.

Charles:

It's a bit like split vision where you're looking down at the paper right in front of you-

Richard Brim:

You have to.

Charles:

And down the street to figure out where you're going.

Richard Brim:

Yeah.

Charles:

Do you work towards ... I think I read somewhere, you talked about, it’s trying to establish something like kind of a North Star for the agency. Are you increasing conscience of trying to do that, is that something that you think about a lot?

Richard Brim:

Yeah. It's really interesting because I've been at many different agencies around London, and I think too much of an unattainable North Star gets in the way. And when I came to Adam and Eve it was a young that had been bought by DDB. They worked on a yearly basis. And I think maybe because John Lewis was the pinnacle of the era then. January it was all the slate was wiped clean and so I found that being the best we can be that year as the North Star.

And what it does do, and it's literally from January the first to December, what it does do is around March, April I get paranoid. Because it's around the time that the Christmas things are sort of written and I start planning that way and I ... That yearly cycle, it will probably be my North Star. And on a greater level it's being an agency that's doing what is relevant.

So they both feed each other but no real ... I mean we sat down recently with DDB as a global [inaudible] trying to write our equivalent of Lovemarks at Saatchi's or ... And we sort of decided not to and just, we got to a set of words which just mean what Burnback was about which was looking at things differently. And I mean, it's not rocket science but ... I actually listen to ... The closest thing I do have to the North Star, and I don't want to steal it, is, I heard it on one of your shows, which was Jason Bagley talking about branded everything-

Charles:

Oh right.

Richard Brim:

And at the time I was like, "Oh, that's sort of stupid. That was so obvious.” And then about three seconds later you're like - Yeah.

So if there's a North Star, I'm going to steal that one. Because that's just how I feel. It's theirs, I won't steal it, but that's ... If I have a style, that's my style. And my North Star is probably yearly. Of just making sure that we're constantly running through this year cycle and that January the first everything is wiped clean and we have to do it [inaudible] to do again.

Charles:

The kind of-

Richard Brim:

Does that make sense?

Charles:

Yeah, it totally makes sense. And I'm curious within that context, are you looking for a certain kind of person to come in and-

Richard Brim:

Yeah, very much so.

Charles:

Who's willing to play within that kind of-

Richard Brim:

Yeah. Very, very, very much so.

Charles:

What do they look like? Or how do they behave, probably better put?

Richard Brim:

I've stopped looking at books and portfolios and ... because everybody is ... No, people aren't the same, there's pieces where they stand up. The two things I will look for is consistency. So if somebody's name keeps on popping up, that immediately I go, "Hello." And then just when I meet you, how are you, and how are you.

And it's that classic thing of ... I saw this quite early on. You've got to be the person that somebody wants to be in a pitch with at three o'clock in the morning. And there's a team where we got in two years ago, three years ago, and their book was atrocious. I mean you would just never meet. And they have done some of the best work there because their attitude, the way they are, the way they view stuff is just right … And there's no cynicism, there's no ... Well there is, there's a healthy cynicism. They're just [inaudible] people.

Because I think the one thing I love ... And it's interesting, you go around all these different agencies and this is the closest I've ever felt to anything being the place. I have my home and then I have my ... But this is the closest ... I don't want to say it's my home because it's a bit too close to the bone. But it's my place with my people and when I first got there it was definitely not my place and my people. And I think over time through working with people and certain people ... It's just sort of evolving, it very much feels ... and they just fit into that. And I think people fit into that. And I think ...

Charles:

How did you see them for who they could be as opposed to who they were at that point?

Richard Brim:

It's interesting. I don't know actually. And I've thought about this because it's probably the ... There was an energy, there was an energy and there was a smartness that wasn't overly smart and overly irritating. There was just an energy and a ... Just an energy. I actually didn't agree with a lot of the things they were talking about and ... there was just an energy. And maybe, maybe actually, it was the thing that ... a challenge because I didn't actually agree with most of the things they were talking about.

But it challenged me. I don't know. But it's more and more that's the sort of people we're going for and with junior teams as well. Because junior team ... I know that I've seen people looked over because they've not had that one thing. And they've gone on and ruled the world. So-

Charles:

I think It's such an important-

Richard Brim:

... you got to go on souls and people.

Charles:

Yeah, I think it's such an important point because I read somewhere a couple of months ago that Amazon, at least in some regards, in some positions, are hiring for attributes.

Richard Brim:

Yes, they are.

Charles:

They are not hiring for positions, right.

They're just saying, "We like the way you show up." Very much what you're describing. And I think more, what I would describe as the creative industries, need to do that because it just seems too restrictive to say, "You have to fit within this."

"We want you to be creative, now fit into this box from day one otherwise you don't fit here."

Richard Brim:

Yeah, And also, with this one foot in tomorrow, you've got to assume, and it's the wisest thing, you come here to do the best work of your life. You got to assume they've not done that yet. And so, if you’re free ... and it's just a belly thing, it's just a gut thing. I think if you want to sit down and carry on this conversation and, "Do I want to go for another breakfast with ..." I think it's that, it's ...

And sometimes I meet people that have done amazing pieces of work and, I don't want to spend longer than half an hour with them. It doesn't make them bad people, I just ... And also, I think it comes with the more you do it, the more people you meet, you get a sense of exactly who you feel is right. And it's not what ... By that I mean, I don't want people who are all sort of the same.

Charles:

Yeah.

Richard Brim:

That's very different. It's just people ... We have some people who turned around to me the other day and said, "Listen, we're feeling this, we're feeling there's ..." And soon people come in and resign or say, like, and you're like, "I think, you know what, I think it probably is the best thing to do and I think ..." And that's not because it's bad or they're bad. It's just time.

Charles:

Chemistry changes.

Richard Brim:

Yeah. And this was one of the long time ... Whoa, no, not as your boss or ... You are so far away from that, you are fizzing, you are just about to ... Don't cut things off too early just because of little things. Things can always be gotten over.

And that's the one thing that I do encourage a lot, and this is also where I find a problem is, I encourage people to talk to me because ... “There's nothing that you can't talk about and if there is something stopping you being the best version of you and I can help you," then it crosses into mates. And that is a big thing. Because I'm very aware that you can't be too matey because it just doesn't work like that. And the best way is, don't with that, but you have to be there for them. That's the bit I struggle with the most.

Charles:

It's, I think-

Richard Brim:

Some of us are mates though.

Charles:

It's a very ... it's a really tough challenge I think for people who move into leadership positions. Because you know, there's so many people that I've known who have said to me at some point, "Well, we're a family." And as soon as I hear that my reaction is. "You're not. And if you think you are, you're kidding yourself and you're kidding them." And it's massively unfair for the people that work for you because you need to be able to fire some people-

Richard Brim:

Yeah.

Charles:

... right, to protect the rest of them. And if you are family-

Richard Brim:

That's a really interesting point.

Charles:

- mates, you can't do that. And I'm struck by your reference point to the junior team you were talking about. The fact that they disagreed with you and said things you didn't agree with made them actually compelling and interesting. Because I think a lot of leaders shy away from that. They're looking for people who are kind of like-minded. Because it's easier. But that's not true for you. You're looking for multiple points of view. You're looking for inputs-

Richard Brim:

And it's diversity in its truest sense.

Charles:

Yeah, exactly.

Richard Brim:

Diversity in its truest sense. So that is exactly ... You do see places where there ... And I have been at places where it's carbon copy of, "I like this sort of person, therefore I'm going to hire loads of them." And that's when house style start happening. And house styles are good. We were just doing the John Lewis thing this year and I feel like going on about it, but it's kind of our ... It's what defines us but also it's the what I ... gives me something to fight against.

Charles:

Yeah.

Richard Brim:

Because I feel we're more than just big television ads at Christmas and ... I looked around the department and realized that half of them can't even go anywhere near writing anything like that. And-

Charles:

Because?

Richard Brim:

Because it's just not them. It's just not what they think, it's just not how they think, it's just not ...And so the first thing I do is I give them the brief. Because ... you never know. Because people that write that sort of stuff write that sort of stuff. And therefore you don't ... We've always had a no celebrity rule, we've always had a this rule, we've always had that rule, we tell our own stories. Through ... the rules had never been written down but they're just through years and years and years and last year we told the story of Elton John. Which really goes against ...

And you've got teams that kind of go, "I thought we weren't allowed celebrities, I though we weren't allowed this, I thought- ," I'm like, "Agh, you know he came in, it was ... I'm sorry."

Charles:

I’m not really that sorry.

Richard Brim:

Yeah. Sorry, not sorry. But yeah ... I really like ... We had another team who came in and they were just, "Oh, we don't ... We only do these sort of like big, 360 experiential TV," straight-off. Brilliant TV, absolutely brilliant. Oh yes, did they do the big 360 thing? Yes they did, but they did it with brilliant TV and ... So, I do like ...

I don't like people being comfortable in where they are. We have a team that, their comfort zone is very much in the fashion space. Give them a car. And what comes back is wonderful. And you think about that in a completely different way, they think about it from a feeling and aesthetic as opposed to shifting metal. The teams, yeah ... I do love that about sort of messing around and you can tell the first reveal will be awful and then it, poof. And really interesting stuff starts to happen, so.

Charles:

This feels to me like a leadership philosophy, for want of a better description. Have you ever articulated one to yourself?

Richard Brim:

No. I borrow bits and bobs from other people. I do borrow bits and bobs. Being fair, I mean it sounds all so cliché ... I definitely want to lead by example. So, if there's a pitch or there's a decent other piece of work, I am there in the middle of it, worrying the most. I don't want to be the ... No. The closest is ... There's a Piece of Meat, that was a title of a book which was, if you don't know the answer be nice to people sort of. Something like that, yeah.

I've learned very much from my old bosses. And I've got good and bad things from every single one of them. And ... No, I wish there was. I wish I could, I wish I was one of those people going, "Yeah, it's about … " I just ... No. I know the sort of person ...

The one thing, all these ... in this role, you do these sort of away days. And I was talking to a lady the other day who told me that one of the most important things when talking to anybody, is three stages of that conversation. How will they feel immediately when they walk away? How will what you want them to do manifest itself? And how will they feel that night? And that immediately goes to my, one thing I'm [inaudible], like, phoof. But I think it's a really interesting ... And she goes, "Good or bad."

So, if something's gone terribly wrong, how do you want them to feel there? And that's probably supported, but knowing that they've ... And, when you put things through that sort of lens, it really helps plan your conversation. Because my instinct is to go, "Whoa ...," and then I can't and I go apologize. But I don't because you go through this thing of like, "Okay nothing's ever that bad." The worst thing that ... I mean, yeah.

When I say this, it's only advertising and I know advertising to people is a big thing and if you're a multinational company, advertising is everything in pushing ... But I think if you have the view that it's only advertising, it puts a really healthy perspective on everything.

Charles:

I would think you would have to have that perspective to be able to maintain the kind of standard ... If you start to say, "We are doing some form of the equivalent of curing brain cancer," every John Lewis ad is, "Right, this is important to solve-"

Richard Brim:

You'll go crazy.

Charles:

You would go nuts. And you would collapse under the pressure.

Richard Brim:

And I mean, I hate the word advertising just because I don't ... I think we do more than that.

Charles:

Yeah.

Richard Brim:

But it helps. When you talk about John Lewis it's like, "Agh, you know what, in two day’s time it will be ... Let's hope sales are going through the roof." But there will be another thing. And it's funny when you talk to teams, I was talking to junior team about it, about three years ago. So I was like, "What's happened, is it will drop and it'll be the best thing that anybody has ever seen, ever."

And then there will be [inaudible], and then there will be haters, and then something average will come along. Go home John Lewis, this one's here. And then this will happen, and then this will happen. And then Sainsbury's will come at the end of the week and no matter what they do, it will be the best thing, "Oh, John Lewis has lost it." And you'll go through this week of rollercoaster. And it's true, and you just put a pen through that going, "It's only advertising. No one's going to die."

And it's interesting, it came from a... Actually that didn't come from this. But I remember when I was a child, when I was about 19, I had a job in the ... My father was an anesthetist, an anesthesiologist, and he got me this job in the summer in theater with him. And I don't know why he thought that was a good idea, but he got me this job.

And there was one Friday afternoon, and there was so many stories that I won’t bore you with, hysterical stories about my two months there. But one of them was, this guy was on the table and my father was ... It was very routine. And he had an assistant there and he left because he had another meeting.

And five minutes after he left, the guy's blood pressure started to ... And the assistant just started to panic. “Go get Dr. Brim!” So I'm running down the corridor, "Doctor Brim, Dad. Doctor Brim." Come back and he sort of just went, "Oh yeah, ..." And then he washed and he's, "Well, I'm late now so I'll take you home." So I'm like, "Okay, well." And I sat in the car on the way home, and I'm at art school, looking at this is his day job. Looking at him going-

Charles:

Wow.

Richard Brim:

"Wow." Like.

Charles:

God-like power.

Richard Brim:

And I mean he's so humble and so sort of like ... yeah. And it really put ... Whenever anything ever gets that bad, I think that story does pop up in my head, sort of going, "Phew." It's not that will ever happen, so it's not that. And he handled it with such calm and such grace and it was like just run of the mill, this is just what happens. So a piece of work not being all that, will never ever be that. So, having a really healthy perspective on everything is key, because there are moments when obviously it sounds like they're living this utopia of zen. It's not the case at all. There's moments where you have to really struggle at doing that, because there's things that personally really get you, or you're in a personally bad place of too many flights and not slept enough and too ... but you just have to keep on remembering that.

So to answer your question, [inaudible] maybe I do. Through working here, through working through this, it's like honestly, I don't know. Maybe I do. Maybe I do.

Charles:

It sounds like you do. It feels like you do.

Richard Brim:

Yeah. Going back to this thing we spoke at the beginning, I just want ... My biggest thing is I want everybody to finish the year off with something they're insanely proud of. I know that I've spoken about this before, and it may sound a bit wet. But I do. I do. I remember ... I remember going home at Christmas and everybody goes back to where they live, or the ... How's work? Or what ... and everybody ... I mean, you don't have [inaudible] the minute you said it, what do you do? I want people to feel insanely proud of going not just oh, I work at the agency that does the ... oh, I did this thing and people going ... because as validation, that's really people that you care about going oh, and that's surely what we do.

So that's a big thing. We have this thing where we watch out for that. If people are flagging a little bit ... and it comes back to the yearly cycle. If people are getting to August and they've not got anything in the pipeline, you sort of feed and curate so they do. Because the energy that it takes to come back in the New Year, you can't buy that. You can't put salary on that. You want people skipping to come through those doors. Then again, it sounds like not many people skip through those doors. But in my head, I would like that to happen. So in my head, I try to make that as achievable as possible.

Charles:

You mentioned that through your career, you've taken bits from people you've worked for, and you've worked to avoid bits. What are the worst bits? What would be the worst thing somebody would ever say about you? What were the thing you absolutely do never ... you do not want to be, seen to be, from a leadership standpoint?

Richard Brim:

Nasty. Egotistical. Just trying to think of what I've called people in the past.

Talentless? The ... no.

I don't ... nasty. Bullying.

Charles:

And how do you hold the standard? How do you make sure you're holding the standard without being, without crossing into a line that you wouldn't be comfortable with? Crossing a line you wouldn't be comfortable with?

Richard Brim:

I think it's the thing of the boy who cried wolf. If you're constantly ... I think when I need things done, it's more powerful if it comes from a ... if you're constantly like that, then it's just oh, he's moaning again, or he doesn't know the answer and is there shouting. I know how to play myself in different situations, so learning to know what actually is important and when you have to ramp it up a little bit. And ramping up is never a ... I don't care who's to blame. I just care about how we're going to sort it. So my question would be never who made this happen or whose fault is this? It would always be why did it happen? And how can we get to a place of it not being ...? And that is probably the biggest thing, because I never understand who did it? Well, why does it matter. It doesn't matter. With my children, I don't care who did it. It was done, therefore how do we move on from here?

Charles:

Do you teach in those moments or thereafter? Do you ever go back and look back and say there's a way to avoid being in this situation next time?

Richard Brim:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ll wait a bit because I think you just need to get things sorted. It's interesting how people ... I don't want to be one of those crazy directors that people are scared of because I think that's really ... it just stifles creativity if everybody's scared of ... I don't know. I think if you look at ... I'm an absolute ... I fly quite a bit, and my one thing is documentaries like biography documentaries.

On British Airways, they've brilliant range of them from Janice Joplin to ... I was watching the Alexander McQueen one, and it was very interesting to watch how his rise and ... He's a genius, absolute. What we do is marketing communications, and what that is is pure genius. It was very interesting to watch when he was at his height and when he was at his most productive, how he was. It was this sort of ,we are in this together. And then when it all started ... it never went wrong. He maintained the standard, but just is when it ... he didn't bring the people with him. He started barking and shouting and he just didn't bring the people with him. People were just like ...

Charles:

Fear is ... I think that's an expression of fear, isn't it, to the point we were making earlier. It is such a powerful force, and misapplied or misunderstood, misused, it becomes completely destructive.

Richard Brim:

But instinct ... well, maybe not instinct, but you immediately fear that because that's how you were educated. That's how I was educated. I was so scared of not doing this or not doing that, and I think it's wrong. Especially in the workplace, I think it's really wrong.

Charles:

That's a hard mentality to hold onto when you've got the kind of pressure that you're facing to deliver all the time. Essentially what you're describing is taking the heat from above and then providing a relatively safe environment for people to flourish in. Do you see yourself playing that kind of role? Is that-

Richard Brim:

Very, very much so, to the point ... yeah, very much so. It goes back to what I was talking before. I want to protect. I want to ...

Charles:

Do you ever feel resentful playing that role?

Richard Brim:

Very … Sometimes when ... yeah, you have moments of that. I think when you're trying to be this Superman to everybody and then you realize you're actually failing everybody because you're not really giving ... and then that's when delegation comes in and that's when you have to ... Delegation is hard. Anybody that says oh, no ... Delegation is hard because you have a very ... it's just hard. But you have to do it. It sounds like I've literally swallowed a business manual and spitting it out, but it is. It is. You can't be ... you need a group. The one thing I do like is having a gang of people that you can ... that take that with you. So if I come in and I'm red hot, they just sort of take it off me.

Charles:

Diffuse it?

Richard Brim:

Diffuse it. And it doesn't go away, the reason's still there, but it doesn't boil over. You look at successful, creative companies, or companies at their most successful times, and there was a gang. There was a gang of people. Sort of going back to the McQueen documentary, when he was at his height, there was a gang of trusted people around him. When those trusted people started to feel resentful or ... and ...

Charles:

Apple is the same way, right?

Richard Brim:

Yeah, Apple's exactly the same way. And I think what comes from that is ... yeah, I think that's the thing I'm most fearful of, is ... and people can come in and out of the gang. But what breaks that gang up ... who knows. Ego. Somebody feeling that they're above it, somebody feeling that I create this gang. That's what scares me. Maybe I overcompensate one the other way, but I don't like thing ... It feels ironic I'm here talking to you about my style, but I'm not. I don't want this to be the Rick Brim agency or the Rick Brim creative department in this moment in time, because it's more than that. It's everybody that ... everybody pulls their weight there and everybody has a role and everybody ... it has to be about that.

I'm uncomfortable with this sort of figurehead. And I realize you need a leader and you need to have a figurehead, but I actually feel that success is not about the ... Successful creative companies, it's not necessarily about that, because then you're working for an ego and you're fueling that ego, and that's when things start to unravel. I think you have to be quite ... I think Wiedens do phenomenally well because it's never been ... you get the sense there's a gang of people that ... and yes, Colleen is the figurehead, but you get this sense of the trust she has in everybody. And I think that's ... especially how to run a modern creative company, I think you have to have that because it empowers people. It empowers people. Yes, it's all right to have a figurehead, but I think once that figurehead becomes the thing, Well, for me, it just doesn't sit comfortably. But I know for certain people, that's what they want. They want that sort of, I am the shining star and this is my show.

Charles:

How much self reflection do you do? How often do you look back at a moment, a situation, and say I was happy with the way I showed up from a leadership standpoint? Or I wish I'd done that differently? Or next time I might do it differently?

Richard Brim:

A lot. A lot. A lot. Probably if you spoke to my wife, a bit too much. I spend a lot of time on planes not watching the films, not sleeping. I think I've made a lot of mistakes by indecision and overthinking things and messing things around. But I do have a lot ... and what I've learned in the last couple of years is that self reflection isn't just about the bad things. Like, as you say, knowing that you turned up somewhere and knowing that you affected somewhere and knowing that even though the last thing that you wanted to do was this, you did it and then people reacted like that, it's a real ... I do it a lot. I think you have to. I think you have to.

Charles:

Yeah, yeah.

Richard Brim:

If you don't, then you'll never progress. That's when you become the ego.

Charles:

I think it's such an important point that there be a moment, or several moments, I think, where you do look back and say look, for everything else [inaudible] we've made progress. It's very hard, I think, to see progress in real time because we tend to wait for big events to point it out. It's much more important I think to just to say, look where we were a year ago. That's been remarkable.

Richard Brim:

Yeah.

Charles:

What are you afraid of now?

Richard Brim:

Next year. I think at least ... I'm true to form. I'm not [inaudible]. Afraid of ... I'm in a very fortunate situation, I work at a place where there's a lot of opportunities. One of my biggest things that keeps me up at night is not letting those live, of not catching them, for stupid reasons, them just going out okay and ... I do feel like by not allowing things to be the best they can be, you're a little bit ungrateful. Because I grew up in agency where the ... agencies where there were two opportunities a year, three opportunities a year, and you made sure you got them and you made sure you smashed them out of the park.

Here, it feels like there's loads. My fear is dropping them because I want ... yeah. That's what keeps me up, of not fulfilling the potential of everything that we have. Yeah.

Charles:

Last question for you. How do you lead?

Richard Brim:

In what way?

Charles:

Day to day, week to week, year to year.

Richard Brim:

Showing up. Being there. Being central. I think when I was traveling a lot, I felt it definitely and I think people felt it, lead by ... I feel like I've just swallowed ... by example. By example, because ... I'm referencing people I work with in the past. You can't underestimate what it means to people, being there and talking to them and knowing about what they're doing and having an opinion about what they're doing, to make people feel part of something. If people feel part of something, however big, however small, you are unstoppable. If you have the right people there and they feel part of something, from experience, most things can ... it can be a lot of fun.

I don't want to be that locked up in a tower sort of leader. I want to be not in the middle of it, but obviously at the healthy distance. But yeah, in it, and leading by example. I don't want to be the ... so if people are coming at the weekend, I'm there an hour before them and I leave an hour after them because I remember how that felt. I think ... yeah. So leading by example, I think, is the hard thing. But that would be my thing.

Charles:

I wrap every episode with three themes that I've heard.

Richard Brim:

Okay. [inaudible]

Charles:

First thing that strikes me is that you want to give everybody a chance. Wherever you encounter them, you seem open and committed to at least giving them the opportunity to contribute and make a difference before you decide whether they can. The second reference point is that I think you're really focused on the group dynamic. You've talked a lot about different group dynamics in different situations, but the group as this kind of entity and force seems to me to be pretty powerful in the way that you look at your role. I think the third theme that I see is that you ultimately take responsibility. Having given people a chance and having committed to the group, at the end of the day, you recognize that you're the leader and at some point, you're going to have to make a decision to move those things along.

Richard Brim:

That's fair.

Charles:

Do those resonate?

Richard Brim:

Yeah. The responsibility thing is interesting. I think that is the case. I think you have to. You have to protect, and ... yeah. Then people will learn. Yeah.

Charles:

Rick, thanks for being here today.

Richard Brim:

No, thank you. Thank you. That was fascinating for me. Wow.

Charles:

Thanks again. Appreciate it.

Richard Brim:

No, thank you.