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2020: The Year of Creative Risk

This is the year to dream big when it comes to unleashing game-changing ideas. But there are two critical factors to take into account to win over clients, explains Ralph Ardill. 


scott-webb-470169-unsplash-copyThe ‘future’ has finally arrived.

2020, the year that for decades has been that far-off destination for imagining and predicting the future, is now a reality.

And although we’re not quite there yet with flying cars, growing our own clothes or wearing mobile implants there’s certainly an increasing sense of expectation and urgency for the new innovation and creative possibilities this ‘Year of The Future’ will bring.

In business too, clients are starting to come to terms with the new normal ‘certainty’ of a post Brexit era and are re-calibrating their previous ‘long-term’ 2020 predictions with a more pragmatic but nonetheless resolute desire to define their purposes, transform their businesses and re-imagine their total brand experience, for customers and employees alike, for the next decade.

alexander-andrews-hzt5du-ufw8-unsplashWhich means it should be an exciting year for the creative industries. A year where the stars have aligned to give us a new permission to bring the kind of game-changing, goose-bump inducing ideas that we all live for, to the Boardroom table. The kind of ground-breaking ideas that will become the new corporate ‘folklore’ in our clients’ business and the blue touch-paper for inspiring the growth and transformation of our own creative businesses.

But, whilst 2020 has the potential to be the ‘Year of Big Ideas’, there is a really inconvenient truth that we need to appreciate: Ideas mean change. Change is hard. And most change fails. In fact, research shows that around 70% of change efforts fail.

If you were to look back at the total output of every single pitch, proposal, presentation and project your agency has ever produced, you might be surprised by the percentage that never got off the starting blocks or failed to deliver their potential. And you wouldn’t be alone.

Like most of us, I’ve hoarded everything I’ve ever worked on and a few years ago I reviewed over 30 years of creative endeavour working with tens of thousands of creative individuals, across hundreds of creative businesses, trying to convince the Boardrooms of countless prospects and clients to bravely back the ‘Big Idea’.

hussan-amir-likb8h-ifk-unsplashAnd guess what I found?

That’s right – about 70% of my life’s-work-to-date could be filed in Room 101 under ‘Lost Hopes’, ‘Didn’t Happen’, ‘Missed Chances’, ‘Client Didn’t Get It’ and the wide variety of other excuses we console ourselves with when we fail to win the day.

Despite the joy and pride in reflecting on the 30% of amazing, successful creative adventures I’ve had the privilege to work on, my trip down memory lane through three decades of back-catalogue, also led me to the almost unbearable realisation of how many years of late nights, lost weekends, shattered dreams and broken relationships it had left in its wake.

Of course, there’s the argument that failure helps inform success, but I wanted to understand more fully if there was anything I could learn, do differently and share with anyone else intent on beating the odds.

I started to dig deeper into the lost 70% which is where I discovered another inconvenient truth about persuading clients to buy the ‘Big Idea’.

Which is that IDEA is a two-sided coin.

And on the other side of the coin is another four-letter word – RISK.

And of course, the bigger the idea, the bigger the risk and the bigger the coin!

Despite how eloquent and passionate we can be when inspiring our clients with the potential of our ‘game-changing’, ‘market-defining’ and (more recently) ‘disruptive’ ideas, all too often we fail to acknowledge internally or to our clients the risks involved.

Maybe it’s because we’re programmed to please, to be positive and be the can-doers that make it happen?

Or perhaps it’s because we’re afraid to upset the creative applecart by acknowledging our ideas come with any risks at all, thinking that in doing so might give our clients even more reasons not to buy?

Or maybe we just assume it’s the client’s job to figure out the risks and deal with them?

The irony of this is that when we try to sell our Big Ideas in the Boardroom without addressing the flip side of the idea coin, we are taking the biggest risk of all and potentially dooming another great idea to Room 101.

Without having a plan in place to acknowledge and mitigate the associated risks with our clients – whether these be commercial, political, cultural, reputational, competitive, talent or executional risks – we will always struggle to gain a foothold in the C-Suite where accountability is the No1 expectation.

I’ve worked with dozens of creative businesses in recent years to help them grow and improve their influence in the Boardroom. What I’ve found is that when we unleash our creative ideas, we need to have the awareness and confidence to share and discuss the risks or consequences associated them. Because a Boardroom agenda is the never-ending pursuit of the most investible ideas that will deliver the most impactful returns, and the bottom-line is that it will always be expected that the associated risks with any business idea can be fully understood and mitigated.

30de1662-cee7-42c5-a488-84fd07aca557I believe 2020 has the potential to be a breakthrough year for Big Ideas. But to capitalise on the opportunity, we must learn to break the habit of a lifetime of over-designed, one-sided, rose-tinted ‘Killer Presentations’ of the wonderful world of our creative visions. Instead we need to design the ‘Winning Arguments’ for not only ‘why our ideas should be and what they are’, but crucially also to acknowledge and then show how we will help our clients mitigate the 70% of risk factors that will always conspire against them.

By addressing risk we can help our clients to invest in those bigger ideas, to benefit from the transformational impact they can deliver. We can help them relish taking greater creative risks and have the confidence to dig deeper in their pockets, to find the coins needed to make those game-changing ideas happen.

The design of accountable winning arguments can open up whole new opportunities in our clients’ Boardrooms for both parties. Let’s make 2020 ‘The Year of Creative Risk’ by no longer leaving the fate of our creative ideas to the toss of a coin.

About: Ralph Ardill

Ralph is an internationally recognised expert consultant on branding and experiential design. He is also a respected writer and speaker with over 20 years’ experience in both client and agency side in the creative industries.

Today Ralph’s passion is for harnessing everything he’s learned from what he calls his “20-year apprenticeship” to now work with small to medium sized privately-owned corporate and creative agencies in the UK. He works as an independent board-level instigator for change to help businesses deliver accelerated and coherent brand-led design-inspired transformation and growth across the total experience – inside and out.

Ralph works closely with each of his clients to bring the full value of his highly pragmatic and personal fusion of management consulting, brand strategy, experience design and change management to deliver rapid improvement to both the front-line and bottom-line of their businesses. 

Ralph is an accredited member of the DBA’s Experts Register.

Image credits:

Priscilla Du Preez | Unsplash

Scott Webb | Unsplash

Alexander Andrews | Unsplash

Hussan Amir | Unsplash

Kanan Khasmammadov |  Unsplash


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