Reaching the top is relatively easy: it's staying there that's difficult. This was the message from the England football manager, Roy Hodgson, last week to a group of leaders from the advertising and media world.
Of course, Hodgson was speaking from nearly 40 years’ experience as a football coach, and not about the England team itself, which has abjectly failed to reach the top for nearly 50 years.
Hodgson – a bright, cultured and honest man, who has worked with some of the best – was making a more general observation about creative talent and success.
In the sporting world, those who have stayed at the pinnacle of their sport for many years range from individuals such as Roger Federer to enterprises such as Manchester United or the Australian cricket team.
We should invest bravely in the best young talent but not let the cult of youth distract us from the pursuit of character
And the same can be said of advertising. This is why we should respect creative agencies such as Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and Wieden & Kennedy. They are institutions that refused to peak and fade. They have remained market leaders for decades.
Naturally, individual talent underpins such businesses. They tend to be run by – and, crucially, retain – consistently accomplished professionals such as Sir John Hegarty, Sir Nigel Bogle, David Abbott, Peter Mead and Dan Wieden.
And this is because it’s not about personalities: it’s about character – both individual and collective.
Whether in football or advertising, it’s relatively easy to find raw, young talent. Like a young Paul Gascoigne, or today’s Ross Barkley, these individuals will be quick, creative and perform without fear. But this could also be short-lived.
One ad boss told me this week that he has promoted many individuals to executive creative director or chief strategy officer, only to see their careers stall henceforth. They failed the test of character.
So the answer for any ambitious organisation must be to recruit and invest bravely in the best young talent; to unleash this creativity and energy. On the other hand, we should not let the cult of youth distract us from the pursuit of character, from the value of judgment.
Bright young things must play off more experienced counterparts. This should develop true character in the younger prodigies. Moreover, it should help foster a sustainable collective character for the wider enterprise.
As I write, it’s just 66 days until the World Cup kicks off with Hodgson at our helm. Could this be a good omen? Will England pull off what they did in 1966? Probably not, but at least the operation is run by a gentleman with faith in youth and character. And with this insight, there will always be hope.
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