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Ditch the Experts: Advice from a New Creative Director

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Ditch the Experts: Advice from a New Creative Director

The Damn Point in 10 words max: Know less, daydream more, and start a band.

Experts know what they’re talking about… right?

Not always. 

Clutch those pearls, people. 

Longtime professionals and SMEs who have years, sometimes decades, of experience are often surprisingly narrow-minded. Been there, done that, they think. Thanks to their hard-earned competence, they already understand what works. Researchers call this tendency the Earned Dogmatism Hypothesis, which describes how social norms entitle experts to be more close-minded than novices. 

Because, like, they already know and you don’t, thanks. 

Even the cleverest minds get stuck in ruts. Having hit upon an intelligent solution, they apply it over and over again, until everything looks like a nail to their favored hammer. Earned Dogmatism is the reason why, after inventing the world’s first PC, Xerox opted to churn out copier machines (remember those?) instead, while newcomer Steve Jobs moved in. 

It’s also why the most respected art critics of the day viciously attacked Manet’s unconventional painting, Olympia, and why no less a literary expert than Virginia Woolf couldn’t appreciate Joyce’s groundbreaking novel, Ulysses. A recent NASA robotics experiment showed that industry experts opt for familiar, tried-and-tested ideas over disruptive innovations—the greater their expertise, the more narrow their thinking. 

Despite the limitations of certitude, the digital landscape is filled with experts. You see these self-anointed gurus posting their brilliant insights all over your social media feed, weighing in on political events, and dominating meetings. Of course, many are open to novel concepts. But most aren’t. Intellectual rigidity rarely leads to breakthroughs and in a creative industry, ruts spell doom.  

To invite novelty, kick out the experts and tune into the clarion call of your newest recruits. If you’ve been grinding on a complex project or stubborn problem with no solution in sight, maybe what your team needs isn’t more expertise, but a transfusion. Put fresh blood and unjaded eyes on the case, order them some pizza, and see what gorgeous madness begins to track. 

In that rebellious spirit, here are 4 smashing ideas from a brand-new Creative Director. I’ve successfully written and presented copy that’s gotten clients to the moon and back, but I’m still new to helping lead teams, managing writers, and looking serious during meetings. So, why should you listen to me? Because I’ve got good ideas that will inspire your team to be more imaginative, connected, and just plain fun. I mean, just look: 

1. Don’t Always Know

Experts suck at not knowing, but innovators begin with questions, not conclusions. 

Try this: when your creative team hits a snag, resist the temptation to untangle it in the old, familiar way. Processes are useful shortcuts, but that’s precisely what makes them myopic. When you execute pre-established routines, you’re missing out on the dynamism of generating solutions on the fly. It’s tense not to know, but you know what happens when you let go of protocol? You begin to think. 

Gilles Deleuze, a rockstar philosopher, once asked, “What is a thought that harms no one?” By “harm,” Deleuze meant concepts that shake up, revamp, or re-imagine the status quo. Thinking which reiterates the same old, same old isn’t really thinking—it’s a robot stuck on autopilot. New thoughts harm the existing order in a good way, opening up space for something original.

As a CD, I’m asked for guidance and advice. Sometimes, I say honestly: I don’t know. There’s no guidebook to leaf through and say, “Aha, page 8 tells me exactly what to do in this situation.” Instead, something much more marvelous happens: we figure it out together. Not knowing is scary. It’s challenging. It’s alive. And it brings out the best in each of us. 

2. Fight For Your Right To Stare Out of the Window–Alone

Productivity is fantastic. But not at the expense of creativity. Whether you’re designing graphics for a mobile app, developing a brand voice, or writing thought-provoking blog content, there comes a moment in every creative’s workday when you just have to… stare out of the window for a while. 

When working on a headline, for example, I’ll often lean back and free my mind to drift for a few moments. Where does it go? Oh, wherever. First, it settles on the coffee cup by my laptop. Then it wanders over to the window, sniffs the air, and leaps. And then—aha! The headline arrives, blazing, glorious, perfect. My mind dives back in and I’m sitting up, typing frantically. 

Obviously, it’s not always that quick, but research indicates that unfocusing from your tasks and letting your mind wander at will—ideally, somewhere fantastical, like a field full of centaurs, not the finance reports—is key to creativity. So, listen up, managers of creatives: unstructured, “unproductive” moments turn out to be the most productive of all. 

And when you’re staring out of the window, make sure you’re alone. When we’re obligated to attend to others, it’s hard to let our minds take off. So, find time for daydreaming and solitude. Silence your Slack notifications, shut your calendar, and let it go. Yes, like the song. 

3. Have a Stupid Refuge

One of my favorite ad campaigns was launched years ago by Diesel Jeans, in which the brand challenged its audience to “Be Stupid.” Intentionally or not, Diesel argued against the weight of expertise and solemnity with provocative taglines like, “Smart may have the brains, but stupid has the balls” and “Smart critiques. Stupid creates.”  

To help ignite a spirit of playful stupidity, we created a Slack channel at Em Dash called “Band Names.” The channel is dedicated exclusively to posting words or phrases that unintentionally come up during meetings or chats which could easily be (and maybe already are!) rock band names. Whenever somebody drops a good one, one of us immediately takes a second to add it to the channel. 

Here are a few of my faves:

  • Liminal Forte
  • Thursday Things
  • Wild Squirrel
  • Legit Hobo
  • Rockstart
  • At Least She’s Got Wit

Are these stupid? Probably. Does maintaining this channel contribute measurably to our bottom line? I have no idea. Here’s what I do know: in carving out judgment-free spaces for play, we not only bond as a team, but we also invigorate one another to reach beyond the ordinary, say the unexpected, and, who knows, maybe start a band or something. 

4. Accept That Everyone Hates Unnecessary Meetings

It’s true. 

And now for the pitch: team up with Em Dash. We’re creative and we won’t make you come to unnecessary meetings because we hate them as much as you do.