Collateral like this happens when there is no creative vision coming down from senior leaders. When leaders delegate the vision downward, middle managers end up having to make the final call, but in almost all cases they don’t have the power to do so alone. So, they go about securing buy-off from multiple teams, and the result was leadership by committee. Not exactly the Apple way.
Sean makes a ton of great points in his post, but this part near the bottom struck a particularly resonant chord with me. Not just in relation to my feelings about these Apple ads, but also in relation to my experiences working at an enormous, multi-billion dollar, global company.
I am familiar with the environment Sean describes. Amazon is intentionally structured so that individual team leaders—which would be semi-analogous to what Sean refers to as "middle managers"—are handed the reins of creative vision.
Senior leaders mostly delegate objectives and goals, not vision or approach. It's up to the middle managers to supply the vision and inspiration.
In many ways, this has worked out pretty great for Amazon, as it has allowed the company to innovate, and iterate, extremely quickly and nimbly for such a massive company.
But this sword has two edges. I don't think anyone would hold Amazon to a particularly high esteem when it comes to creative or marketing prowess, for instance. In a lot of ways, this is due to the lack of company-wide, top-down creative vision.
But that doesn't mean inspired creative at Amazon, or a place structured like Amazon, is impossible. Quite the contrary: the way senior leadership has ceded so much autonomy to the company's individual teams means that the possibilities are quite literally endless.
In fact, they're that way by design.
Of course, I've met the decision-makers who, instead of giving valuable feedback, refer you and your work to a laundry-list of other decision-makers.
These are extremely smart people who are talented at what they do—but they are often unqualified to make the kind of creative decisions that have landed on their desks. Understandably, they are apprehensive, and it's hard to fault them.
How quick and confident would you be to make a decision about something you don't understand or have no experience with? Were you to find yourself in that situation, you'd probably be pretty desperate for the security of a consensus before risking your credibility on a decision you're unqualified to make.
Complicating things is the fact that creative inspiration doesn't come with a consensus or guarantee baked in. In fact, true inspiration is usually new and thus by default risky.
The challenge, then, is laid at the feet of individual contributors like myself, the people who report up to these managers. It's up to us to not only make the great and inspired work, but also to sell it upward. To make the managers above us believe in it and understand why it's the right thing to do, or why it's the right risk to take.
To make them feel confident that they don't the consensus of a million other peer managers.
Yes, this kind of environment, with these kinds of beaurocratic hurdles, can be frustrating. It's easy to shake your firsts at corporate politics, or to whine that your work doesn't receive the support it deserves.
But that kind of attitude hardly ever changes things for the better. So instead of seeing your corporate landscape (or clients, or technology, or whatever else) as an insurmountable obstacle preventing you from doing great work, it's more productive to look at it as just another design challenge, not all that different from all the other design challenges we all struggle with day in and day out.