Adam Morgan | Executive Creative Director, Adobe – How to inspire creativity in your team?

In this episode, we sat down with Adam Morgan who is the Executive Creative Director at Adobe.
With over 25 years of experience in marketing, with a focus on creativity, strategy and storytelling, Adam has produced several award-winning campaigns. He was also named the 40 under 40 up-and-coming professionals by Utah Business Magazine and in 2020 and AdWeek named him one of the top 100 creative minds in the world, influencing advertising, media, and culture.

If that wasn’t enough, he has also written a book called “Sorry Spock, Emotion Drives Business” and hosts his own podcast, “Real Creative Leadership” which talks about the issues, challenges and benefits of creative leadership.

Follow Adam here:


Andrew Dobbie: Hey guys, Andrew Dobbie here, and welcome to this episode of Just a Chat With. In our previous episode, we spoke to Alex Dickens, who’s the head of brand at Grenade. Alex has been working at Grenade for the last eight years, starting out as a junior graphic designer. We talked about how he got started at Grenade, how he gets the best out of his creative team, and what the Grenade brand stands for beyond the product. We had a brilliant time with Alex, so if you haven’t watched already, go and check that out. For now, we’ve had people on the podcast like Michael Wolf, Chris Do from The Futur, and Debbie Millman, host of Design Matters.

In today’s episode though, I spoke with Adam Morgan, who’s the executive creative director at Adobe. With over 25 years of experience in marketing with a focus on creativity, strategy, and storytelling, Adam has produced several award winning campaigns. He was also named as 40 Under 40 Up and Coming professionals by Utah Business Magazine, and in 2020 Ad Week named him as one of the top 100 creative minds in the world influencing advertising, media, and culture. If that wasn’t enough, he’s also written a book called, Sorry Spock, Emotions Drive Business and hosts his very own podcast, Real Creative Leadership, which talks about the issues, challenges, and benefits of creative leadership. We talked all about his book, how he wrote that, and how he leads the creative teams at Adobe. This is a very interesting episode and I hope you enjoy it.

Well, Adam, thanks so much for joining us today. I’m very, very excited about this episode. I’ve been really enjoying reading all about you. You’re one of the most interesting creatives I have come across. And obviously Adobe is a company I’ve admired for many years. Like you, having worked with these tools for years and years and years, it’s always nice to meet people from the Adobe family. It’s always seemed like a very nice brand and kind of culture as a business. I suppose just to kind of kick us off, your executive creative director at Adobe, can you maybe talk us through a little bit about your role, and then maybe even how you got to in that position that you’re in now?

Adam Morgan: All right, sure. So yes, as an executive creative director, I manage a lot… Let me back it up here. At Adobe, there are two different really groups of business. There’s all of the creative tools that you’re used to, Photoshop and Illustrator and InDesign. But we also have a lot of other products that are for enterprise and more B2B and they’re targeted towards marketers. And it’s everything from Adobe Analytics to Target and campaign managers and advertising, just a slew of just different marketing software. So what I work on, I work on the enterprise side of the house. So what we do as the creative group is we pretty much are the expression of the brand. And so that includes all the execution of creative. So if it’s the website, videos, emails, banner ads, TV spots, everything in between thought leadership articles, all of that good stuff. So my team manages all of the outward facing customer content.

Andrew Dobbie: So it’s a role with a lot of responsibility.

Adam Morgan: There’s a lot going on. There’s a lot going on.

Andrew Dobbie: Oh, great. And have you always been a creative person. Were you at school when you were growing up, were you kind part of a creative family? Was that encouraged when you were young?

Adam Morgan: I wouldn’t say that my family was creative necessarily. But I actually, funny thing enough, I went to university to become a chemical engineer and I was very into the sciences, very into more data and stuff. And the reason why I wanted to do that is because I wanted to invent something. I wanted to come up with the next big whatever and realized that that would maybe happen once in my lifetime and I hated being in the lab. So I started looking at other ways where I could just come up with ideas and that’s where I landed in advertising. And I’ve loved it, just the thrill of concepts and ideas. And I went through all the same questions of, what role should I do and should I be a designer or a writer or a strategist or whatever?

And over my career, I’ve done all of those things. But yeah, so I guess I found myself in the creative pursuits. As a kid I did lots of creative stuff, I don’t know, but it always seems like we can track it back to some youth exercise. But I really discovered myself in college. And then since then, it’s been 26 years being in the industry, which feels like a long time. And I’ve worked at a variety of different places from big agencies to little boutique agencies that focused on the outdoor recreation to big brands and small startups and everything between. So it’s been quite a ride of really building content and stories for so many different brands over those 26 years.

Andrew Dobbie: Yeah. And so if I’m right in saying you started off as a copywriter, is that where you kind of-

Adam Morgan: Yeah.

Andrew Dobbie: Yeah. How did you land your first role as a copywriter?

Adam Morgan: The way I broke into the industry was interesting. So when I was in college, I ended up creating a college advertising competition and then invited all the creative leaders from all the agencies in the state to come judge the work and just had a lot of great work in there. So one agency kept turning… You weren’t supposed to turn over and see who did it, you’re just supposed to judge it. They kept turning it over and seeing that my name was on it. And so afterwards I got a job offer and started working at agency before I graduated. So I just finished up my last year of school at night. So that’s how I broke into the agency scene is just kind of setting up an opportunity for myself by creating a competition.

Andrew Dobbie: No, I like it. I like it because we have a lot of young listeners, young creatives that are still trying to find their roles and I think it’s always interesting to hear how people break in. And it never seems to be the same journey. No two stories are the same I think. You mentioned as well this that you’ve kind of dotted around in terms of you’ve done all these different roles now. And do you think that’s advantageous to you as a creative person now having… I read somewhere on your website you feel you’ve got this nice balance of strategic mind and creative mind and was that middle brain you wrote about?

Adam Morgan: I did write about that. I’m a central brainer. But even though that’s not true-

Andrew Dobbie: Yeah, central brain.

Adam Morgan:
…a total lie. But what it does mean to me is, and I learned this early on, that the reality is this process in your brain of strategy, of really thinking through looking at problems in new ways and at different angles, is very, very similar to the creative process of trying to come up with a new idea and looking at it in different ways. So to me, a lot of it is the same muscle that I’ve been learning over the years. But I’d say early on in your career, has it been advantageous? Absolutely. It’s almost like when I’ve been looking at all of these career paths and helping people on my team and others grow, the first chunk of your career is really figuring out the craft. And whether that’s getting really, really good at writing, or really, really good at design, or really good at video videography, whatever that may be.
It’s really about all those hard skills and learning those. And I think once you get to the big leap over into being a creative leader or creative director or whatever it may be, you really need to understand all of those disciplines. And then it becomes all of the soft skills and the selling and the organization and all of that as a creative leader. But I think you almost have to dabble in all of those different disciplines in order to be a decent creative leader so you can guide all of those roles.

Andrew Dobbie: Interesting. Yeah, no, that’s such a good point. And obviously in your role now as executive creative director then, how much hands on are you? Obviously, you’ll be leading a very large team. How much do you still get down sort of on the tools if you like, or are just there to inspire and direct and kind help motivate?

Adam Morgan: I think the days of just being a creative director that isn’t a working creative leader is long gone. I think you have to balance both. But I think it’s also important to not micromanage. So the way I balance it all is, let’s say a good chunk of my day is leading and guiding the team and giving feedback and helping with HR issues or whatever it may be. And then there’s another chunk of my day that’s all about kind of vision and the future. So it’s working on the brand and where are we going and what are things?

So that area gives me an opportunity to still be kind of creative and working on things without crushing anyone else’s projects below me. So I want to give them enough space to drive their creative. And so sometimes another solution is sometimes they’ll just be, when there are a lot of projects, I’ll just take one on myself and just focus on that. And that’s a way that I can still keep your saw sharp, but not step on anyone else and take away their dreams of doing great creative. And at the same time still being in the arena and being able to drive stuff and also guide and direct without getting so out of the weeds that you forget how it’s done.

Andrew Dobbie: Yeah, because it is interesting, isn’t it? Because as you do sort elevating these roles into management and leadership, I found it myself, I was a graphic designer, I was a photographer. And I get a lot of the happiness in my heart when I’m playing with these tools and being creative. And now leading a business, my business employs about 70 people and obviously a lot of what I end up doing can be HR or can be these other elements. And I think I’ve kind of always sometimes just blocked off days and say, “Let me just be creative. I need some time just to not do those other things and to do some creativity.” And I think it’s important to find that blend, isn’t it, and still make sure you’re getting to do some of the stuff you love?

Adam Morgan: So this is a conundrum and I really see a lot of creatives struggle with this because the reason we got into this business is we love creativity. We love the act of designing or writing or whatever it may be. And then we get up to this leadership role and there’s less of it. But there are other elements that are important and part of it. But I think that we need to come to some maturity in our industry because I don’t know how to say it, the other acts of creative leadership are just as important. But we almost vilify them. We vilify organizing the operations or getting a good creative culture in place with a business and company or selling things through. And really, if we don’t have that, then good creative’s not going to happen. And so often we’re so focused on… I did a survey with creative leaders. It was like a year ago, it was like 300 plus creative leaders around the United States.

And it was just talking about creative career paths and where you should go. And a third of us feel like hitting creative director is the ultimate, that’s the end of your career. That’s the top. And now then there was a third that felt like after they got up high enough, they didn’t want to deal with all the red tape and all the monotony of operations, whatever it is. And so they go back to being just freelance creative directors or freelance whatever, just to get back into the craft. And then there is one third that was more focused on is there a path beyond just being a creative director? And certainly some of them went to startups and started their own companies as the CEO. Very few moved to CMO, but it is still possible. But anyhow, my point is a majority of us feel like it’s do the work or die.

And I think absolutely, like you said, you’ve got to find your creative outlet. I write books on the side or I work on other things on the side. You still have to find that creative outlet. But you also have to understand that we’re almost our worst enemy in growth for creative leaders because we get up to that point and then we just give up, want to go to freelance or just think, “Ah, this is it.” So the only good path is to stay in the work, whereas I feel like there’s so much more to a creative leader in getting up there and changing the industry and changing culture and changing how companies make decisions around creativity. And how do you give creativity a bigger seat at the table? That’s been my quest is, how do we mature as creative leaders and start really playing at the same level as a lot of other leaders out there in business who frankly are just really ruling the roost.

And if this is the era of experiences and the biggest differentiator for brands is to create great experiences, and we as creatives who have trained our brains to understand the emotions and all of the context of customers, it really is on us to up level our leadership skills and move beyond and really put value on those soft skills as creative leaders and not just the work. The work is super, super important. But we also have to get out of our creative cave and be like, “All right. How do I look at the bigger picture of creative maturity and help guide that in so many other different ways and value that so that other creatives behind us are going to come and say, ‘Yeah, you know what? I want to understand finance and understand operations and other things so that I can make be the world a better place through creativity,’” rather than just rolling your eyes back and saying, “All right. I’m going to go back to freelance and just get back to the work. And that’s the only value.” That was a little bit of a diatribe.

Andrew Dobbie: Yeah, no. No, no, absolutely. I completely agree. And it’s echoing a lot because early in my business journey, year two of our agency, I gave the studio to a creative director because I said, “That’s yours to own and I’m not going to touch the work that goes through the studio. I want you to have the autonomy on that.” And I’ve taken great pleasure in kind of, how do I grow the best creative culture? How to create a business that empowers the best creativity? And I think it’s like you say, once you level up from the work, there’s so many challenges that you can apply creativity to that can give you great purpose in the work that you do.

And I think it’s just trying to find those ways of doing it. And I also take great pleasure in growing the brand of my agency and it’s nothing to do with the work, but it gives me a play thing of, how can I do this and how can I do this differently than anyone else has done so before? Now, I’m so interested to talk about your book. So for those listening, your book, Sorry Spock, Emotions Drive Business, I just wondering if you can talk to our listeners, tell them a little bit about that, Adam, how that came to be and what the book covers.

Adam Morgan: Oh yeah. So it started back before I joined Adobe when I was in the agency world. I was talking with one of my old creative directors about how we’re working with certain clients and one came to me and said, “Hey, I believe in creativity, but my boss doesn’t. My boss is a salesperson and it’s just all about tell the information and tell it straight and move on.” And I was just struggling with that. How do I prove to this my client’s boss, that creativity actually is important and it is valuable. And so it started this two or three year research quest to try and find a good answer for that because I wanted to just find a nice book or nice something and just say, “Here it is, here’s how you prove the value of creativity.” And I found bits and pieces all over, but I couldn’t find the whole thing.

So I ended up just writing the book. And the point of it is, here’s the thing, whenever you talk about creativity, it’s so subjective. And some people can take this one campaign and turn it into a reason why strategy is important. Another person can spin that campaign into data or into the creative or whatever it may be. And so it was so hard to say, “How do I prove that creativity is good for business just through the creative?” So instead I turn to hard science, neuroscience, other studies. How do we understand the brain? How does that relate to creativity? How does that prove it out? And so by using something that’s non-subjective like science to say, let’s dig into this. And we’ve got so many good studies and so many good things now. Even beyond that book, I just have a list of all of these pieces of data as proof that we can use to show why creativity is actually good for business.
So that was the point of the book, prove that creativity does impact the bottom line. It does impact decision making, it does impact all of those things in a very substantial way so that those who are also struggling with whether it’s a client or internal stakeholders or a CFO who won’t give you the money to go out and do the campaign because he just thinks that it’s just a waste, how do you prove that creativity and marketing is an investment, not an expense? And that was really the whole idea of the book, is just to give that foundation for everyone so that we don’t have to have that argument over and over and over. And I feel like we’re moving into this new era of creativity where that is being accepted. And there are, like I said, so many more studies and ways.

At least in my career, the nineties was the heyday of creativity. We could just do everything crazy and then it hit the 2000 bubble and we were doing all sorts of creative stuff that wasn’t necessarily grounded in solid strategy. And then in the aughts, the whole thing swung the other way and it was like suddenly data driven was the whole answer. And everyone thought, “Oh, forget creativity. We’ve got data. We don’t need to be silly anymore. We can just be solid.” And now it’s swinging back to the middle where it’s these perfect balance of data and creativity, of both of them working together to make amazing experiences. So that’s why I feel like we’re getting there. But anyhow, if someone needs the ammo, that’s the book to help prove out why creativity matters.

Andrew Dobbie: Okay. And what are some of the takeaways then that you can give to people to use as ammunition then if they’re in that situation, they’re having to prove why creativity works.

Adam Morgan: Well, to tell you that in two sentences, I’ll try. But what I really did is dug into a lot of deep science. But here’s some basic truths. First of all, data alone won’t cut it or logic alone won’t cut it. It’s really this battle between logic and emotions in our brains and in everything. Should we just be straight up logical or should we try and be emotional in creative? And I go through a whole bunch of studies of why logic won’t cut it. And if you remove emotion out of it, study after study that show that that’s not the answer. And then when you really think about… It’s hard for me to tell you the whole thing, it’d take a half an hour to really dig into the science behind it. But the short of it is emotions play a huge part in decision making and in purchases. But it’s like the right time and place.

And usually a good rule of thumb is if it’s a complex decision like buying a car or a couch or a house or something where there are a lot of variables, absolutely emotion is going to be the biggest factor. And that’s because the reality is emotion is just concentrated form of logic from the past. All your past decisions are put into an emotion inside you. And so it’s not just this animal instinct that we have to get rid of, it’s really highly concentrated, packaged up a whole bunch of choices that we’ve had in the past. So that’s why emotion plays a big part. If it’s a few variables, they’ve done studies on vegetable peelers, if it’s just a color and a handle shape, logic is your answer, just go straight in with being very direct and logical. And the reason why, if you think about a house, a purchase is so emotional.

It’s like when you walk in, you walk into the house and all of a sudden you look around and you’re like, “Oh, this just feels right.” And you just have that feeling. But really what’s happening behind the scenes is your brain is going, “All right. I like open concepts. I like light a lot.” I don’t like kitchens that are this way because of this one experience in the past, or I don’t like this certain type of layout or this certain type of room.

There’s just all these thousands of logical choices that have happened in the past and your body just communicates that quickly through an emotion and you’re like, “Okay. This either feels right or it doesn’t feel right.” And so trusting your gut is actually really valuable. And for many years we’ve been talking about, “Oh, don’t trust your gut, trust the data.” But you really are a huge data machine. So anyhow, short answer is in a lot of those things, it’s really understanding what’s really happening in the decision and what’s really happening in that experience. And then knowing that the emotion is really a super valuable item and then it’s going to help make better decisions and better purchases.

Andrew Dobbie: And so going through that whole process of writing the book and doing all that research, did you come across anything that can help guide making better creative decisions or a better creative process?

Adam Morgan: Yeah. I would say so let’s break down the creative process. The creative process has traditionally always been go out there and get a bunch of stimulus or a bunch of fodder and fill the well. And then start making new connections. You’re going to be like, “Okay, I’m going to put A and B and B to C.” And first year, that’s like your research all about your client or the product and then start making all these creative things. And then just let it rest. And this eureka moment will happen when you’re subconscious is kind of mulling things over. And then you have your big creative idea. So if you really understand that process, and the reason why that’s happening is honestly there is a lot still happening under the hood in your subconscious brain rather than your conscious brain or your prefrontal cortex that is really trying to force fit things to happen.

The same can be said about making decisions about creative. So here there’s a big insight. A lot of times you’ll go through that whole process and finally make that leap. And then you go and present it to someone and they’re just looking at their checklist of all the 10 items they wanted to cover. And in the middle of the meeting they’re like, “Yes, no, no, no, done.” And just think that it’s good leadership to just quickly make that decision and call it a day. Whereas as I researched, there were a lot of great leaders who took the opposite of that creative process to make a decision, meaning they need to give that space to make the connections with their subconscious. So I’ve seen a lot of leaders or heard stories about leaders as well where it’s like, you come in a meeting and we’re not going to make any decision. But we’re just going to present the information. Then we’re going to let it sit the night and the next day we’ll make the decision better.

Or it doesn’t mean it has to take time too. There are people who are very intuitive thinkers who can make those leaps during the meeting just by seeing the value of new connections rather than going in with a preconceived notion inside of the meeting and then just making sure they find the one that hits their check mark or their checkbox. So there are ways of using the creative process in your decision making as a creative leader or as a business leader, and really just giving enough space to trust new ideas and to let them sit for a little while and then let your subconscious make the right connections and then go with the right one.

Andrew Dobbie: Yeah. And I suppose that’s kind of why we ended up with the phrase, “Let’s sleep on it.” So many people say, “Let’s sleep on it.” And I’m always a big believer of you’ve kind of got to go through the pain of this brainstorming and you feel very frustrated and you feel like nothing’s happening, but you’re exploring lots of different ideas. You’re kind of joining things together, but then you need to go away and do nothing. I was writing a post about it the other day. You’ve obviously thought about this a hell of a lot more than I have, but I really do believe that you need that time to do nothing, to go for a shower, to go for a walk, and then suddenly it comes, doesn’t it? And you feel like it comes from nowhere, but it’s actually coming from the subconscious brain doing all that work and churning all that data that you’ve consumed.

Adam Morgan: Totally.

Andrew Dobbie: Right? Yeah. I also like the point, I think I was listening to one of your podcasts and you talked about the sort of importance of knowing the difference between data and insight and why it’s essential to know the difference. And you had a really nice way of explaining it. You had a dove example and there was another example. I just wonder if you can recall those and talk our audience through those.

Adam Morgan: Oh, sure. So there is still a struggle with a lot of creatives and data right now where some feel like it’s a threat because it may lead you down a path that’s not the creative path that you want to go down or whatever it may be. And so I think for creatives to really understand the value of data, or even not just creatives, just anyone in general, what data is versus insight versus, where the role is for all of it. And like I said before, when that pendulum swung and everyone was like, “We’re data driven, we have the answers.” I remember there was this one post from someone on LinkedIn and they’re like, “We don’t need creativity. We’ve got this.” And he drops the bomb and says, “Mic drop.”

And all it was was just a link to this new analytics company that was like, okay, I work at Adobe, one of the largest analytics companies in the world. We understand analytics. Just because you can measure something doesn’t mean creativity is lost or not needed. So the value of it all is there is a lot of data out there, there’s so much data and you’ve heard this, sometimes we measure everything that doesn’t mean it’s worth value. And so knowing what the right things are to measure and what value, all you’re really trying to do is to understand people. If I look at it from my creative perspective, all the statistics in the world won’t do me any good unless I find those insights, unless I find the value. And really it comes down to human insights. And that’s strategy when you talked about strategy and creativity being similar. So with strategy, you just want to find out what they care about. It’s not just a matter of saying, in some of those dove examples, it was like, I think it wasn’t even our agency, it was someone else.

It was like, “All right. 45% of women when they’re mothers, they just feel like they’re lost and not themselves.” And so that may take you down a path of, “Okay. We need to help them feel good about themselves or feel like they’re powerful or whatever it may be.” And that’s data. And we could have a lot of statistics that if we used in the wrong way, we’ll just take it down the wrong path. But it’s really the insights. When they uncovered the right insight. The insight was mothers feel like they’re giving so much to other kids and others around them that they’ve lost themselves. And so really that insight is like, it’s really a matter of how do you care for yourself? And when you care for yourself and you take care of yourself and you give time for yourself, then you have the energy and strength to do everything else you need to in this world.

So it’s really about finding those human insights. So dig through the right data in order to find the insight. And even at Adobe, that’s what it is. It’s like all this behavioral data, all of this quantitative data, all this whatever, it’s only good if we really understand what I call triggers, what people truly care about. If your audience is really passionate about X or they really care about that other thing, then once you get that insight, then the creative can just go wrap an emotional experience around that story or around that insight. And that’s where you’re going to resonate with the audience. That’s where it’s going to come together of the data giving you the insight and then the insight influencing the creative.

So there’s a role for it all to play together and it fits together nice. But when we try and move things out of it, we go straight from data to execution and we skip the insight part or we say we get to the insight and then just serve that up directly and rationally as just the answer. Then we miss the whole emotional creative part. Then we’re just going to be missing out. So it’s really having all those ingredients together to make the perfect combination.

Andrew Dobbie: I love it, I love it, I love it. And I also read, you mentioned that you feel that everyone can learn to be better at creativity. I’m always a big believer that everyone’s creative. You get a lot of people who say, “I’m not creative,” but you can inspire it and you can change that thought and people. And I love it when you start to see them think of themselves as creative. And I’m interested to know, how can people learn to be based on at creative?

Adam Morgan: I think you nailed the first part, which is just recognizing it, right? I remember I was at some conference and I was sitting next to a developer and you probably get this all the time where they’re like, “You’re the creative, you come up with the idea or you do the thing, or I can’t do this because I’m not creative.” And it’s really sad, we all start out that way. I think I truly believe creativity is human ingenuity that we’re all born with and it’s all still there, but it’s just recognizing it. Even in business for example, the one half of our business that’s all towards marketers and business leaders, whenever we use the word creativity sometimes in some circumstances they all go, “Nah, whatever. That’s either the arts and crafts or the designers or the whatever. That’s the creative stuff, not me.”

But when we’ve really looked into, what does creativity really mean? When you think of a business leader who’s pivoting in the middle of a pandemic and changing the type of offering that they have as a business, that’s creativity. You think about this data scientist who’s found a new way to just change the algorithm slightly that makes a big improvement. That’s creativity. You think about, yeah, that developer when they’re programming and they find a new efficiency or they think about just delivering something in a different way, it’s all creativity. It’s just the first step is labeling it.
So I think a big part of what we need to do in this world is just let everyone know they’re all creative. Capital C, creativity is what drives all of us. That’s why we’re not robots. That’s the big difference is that we have the ability inside our own brains to value different things at different times rather than always the same input, A plus B equals C. We could change it up and totally try new things and look at it different ways and change that formula. So absolutely step one, get everyone to believe it. And we’re not there and it’s the long road ahead of us before they even start considering themselves creative and then doing better creative acts. I think it’s just a matter of really truly believing that everyone is creative deep inside.

Andrew Dobbie: Yeah. You’re totally speaking my language. My creative director or ECD in our agency, we have this idea that there’s creativity in everyone. And so at MadeBrave, we say to everyone, “We have ideas before egos.” So the best idea wins no matter where it comes from. And we try and encourage everyone, no matter what role they’re in, to understand that they’re creative. Because I look at some people that work in spreadsheets and I’m like, “Wow, how did your brain come up with that?” My brain does not work in spreadsheets, but I also admire the creativity of that, how people can do that and how they can think in those ways. And yeah, I absolutely love it. And I’m interested, how do you sort of instill that at Adobe?
Adobe’s ultimately probably the most creative business in the world or one of setting up alongside likes of Apple, et cetera. How do you nurture that in your teams? I’m interested to kind of understand what kind of values Adobe have and how you push creativity through all teams across the business so it’s not just the creative people, not just the guy sitting in Photoshop? Or how do you instill that across the whole of that company?

Adam Morgan: I’ll be honest, it’s hard. It’s really hard because everyone looks at the company from the outside and are like, “Oh, they stand for creativity? Therefore, everyone inside there is going to be a super creative.” No. It’s a huge company of 20, whatever, 3000 people. And there’s always a flow of people who came from Cisco or Salesforce or somewhere else where they were working. And the way they did it was there was not a creative culture. And so they come in and are just used to doing it their way. And it’s like, for us, the important thing is creativity is a core part of our brand. It’s a central part of our brand.
And so it’s just a matter of, for me, that’s part of my job is going from group to group to group to really convince them that this is why it’s important and that creativity is our distinct advantage as a brand. And that if you want to create stuff or do stuff, you have to be on brand and you can’t just throw some cats and a big yellow button or whatever it is that your tests in the past have done really well for web experiences. But you have to really stick to what we like our core values of creativity or believing.
It’s almost like storytelling and sharing a vision of what’s possible and what the possibilities are and then really inspiring people and then they get how the whole creativity is part of that. So I wouldn’t say it’s easy. Some people could say, “Oh, you got it easy because your brand is all creative.” But it’s like it’s still the same struggle. Same as it was at every agency I was at to try and tell clients, “You can be creative, you can be creative.” Just convincing them and trying and proving out that creativity matters and makes a difference. And once they feel it, I think they’re finally like, “Okay. I see the difference between just trying to be this very direct logical B2B machine and instead say, ‘Okay. How can I be a B2B, B2C, the most creative company or brand in the world?’” It finally sinks in. But it takes a lot of effort, constant effort.

Andrew Dobbie: And so when you’re trying to come up with ideas with your teams, and I’d imagine you’ll have hundreds and thousands of briefs going on at any time. Do you think that smaller teams work better together? Do you think pairs work better together? Do you think bigger teams with cross disciplinary thought process? Just throughout that experience you’ve worked in agencies, you’re working in Adobe. Do you think there’s a better combination of how to generate ideas? Because sometimes I know myself, sometimes I’m better on my own, sometimes I’m better with a strategist, me and him coming up with ideas or me and her coming up with ideas. And sometimes it can work better when there’s four or five different people. I just wonder, have you come across what the best combination is or [
inaudible 00: 4: 8]?

Adam Morgan: It’s different of how to move work forward versus to have creative concepting. I absolutely believe that big huge group brainstorming sessions are the worst plague on the world like. They never come up with anything good. And there is a process. Anyone who’s gone through the process knows it’s the same thing. Fill the well, come up with financial ideas, bounce things back and forth, go back on your own, think about it some more, think really deeply, come back, stress, pressure test some ideas. And that process of back and forth is critical whether your agency or in house. And so absolutely it works great when you have a partner. And like you said before, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a strategist and a designer or two writers or a videographer and a writer. It doesn’t matter. Having those partnerships are pretty important. And so we do a lot of those things.
We have the individual creative partnerships, we also have broader squads that bring in a strategist, a writer, a designer, whatever for different projects and things. But I think one of the things that I found that’s most important, that works the best in my opinion is not the pool model. When you just have a whole bunch of creative people here and they just kind of take assignments as they come in, that doesn’t work. I feel like you need ownership and accountability and so everyone just needs to own a piece of something. They can partner with others, but they need to own something and then have accountability towards that that they’re responsible for growing that or coming up with that or whatever it may be. And that’s the big unlock for me is just to make sure however you’re organized in different groupings and broader smaller sense, you need to make sure everyone has ownership on something and that they’re responsible for it and are accountable for it.

Andrew Dobbie: Yeah, absolutely. I echo the big brainstorm where no one’s accountable to anything can just be an absolute disaster, can’t it? And just sometimes those little tighter groups with clear accountability and who’s leading the way tends to work really well. I suppose as you’ve grown in your leadership journey. I always say to people, we can’t all be great at everything. And I always talk about we have a superpower, we have a kryptonite. And I think as I’ve grown as a creative leader, learned that I definitely have kryptonites things that I’m not great at. And it’s actually okay, the more I’ve grown as a leader, I’ve become more I suppose confident in seeing what I’m not good at. I’m interested. Where do you find your weaknesses, Adam? You’re someone that’s achieved so much and a lot of people listening will be thinking, “How could I ever be like Adam? He is writing books.” One of the most sought after possessions probably as a ECD and you’ve done all the agency stuff. Where do you feel that your weaknesses lie in amongst all these great strengths?

Adam Morgan: It’s so funny to hear that from the outside because even for me this morning, I think we’re all the same in that we have these, it seems like strong egos. But really deep down, we all have the imposter syndrome. We all wonder if we’re good enough. Even this last week, I’m just like, “Where am I going to go with my career? What am I going to do? What value do I bring to anything?” And I think everyone feels that same thing. So absolutely that’s a kryptonite of just kind of self doubt and not knowing if you’re good enough. And this creative roller coaster is hard. It’s hard ride this roller coaster because there’s so many ups and downs and you’re so emotionally attached to some of the work or to some of the ideas. And then it’s just things live and die constantly and you put your self worth into those ideas.

And so it’s hard. I would say certainly you can look at strengths. I guess one of my only strengths is just I have a lot of energy and so I’ll just keep going and trying and keep pushing on stuff and that’s maybe where I can keep it up. Whereas the biggest weakness is just like, yeah, self doubt and just not knowing if you’re good enough or trusting that you’re good enough. And so I have to give myself pep talks all the time and then my team pep talks all the time. And I’m sure that’s just a hard part of the reality.

So it’s not like I’m just like, “Oh, I suck at this certain medium, I’m terrible at radio.” That just seems silly. It’s really about pushing and trying and growing and then just in spite of yourself, not getting too depressed that you feel like you suck and you’re the worst person ever at doing this. And so anyhow, that’s what I struggle with. And I know just in working with so many creative people over the years, it’s a very common thing of just the highs and the lows are just terrible.

Andrew Dobbie: Yeah. Well, you’re definitely doing something right. Let’s put it that way. Now obviously the way creativity and the tools and the kind way we can earn a living via creativity, I’m really interested at the moment in kind of the sort of tick talk revolution and the sort of gig community and how it’s empowering lots of individual creators to be able to own their creative jobs in a way that they’ve never been able to before. I love it. I feel really inspired by it when I go on TikTok and I see all these people and they’ve managed to take different passions or niche topics that they’re interested in and they all seem to be able to learn the video skill sets, the photography skill sets. And Adobe’s a big empowerer of that. And actually I was on the Adobe TikTok earlier today, just having to look through it and just constantly sharing inspiration and kind of ways how you can do this.

But I’m just interested where you think the opportunities for the younger creatives lie in the future because in the past, you had to go and find your way into an agency if you want to be surrounded by creative people. And you’ve obviously woken up to the fact now that there’s jobs for creatives everywhere because brands are putting them in house and building teams. But I’m just interested in where you think the kind of future of creative jobs is going and the kind of opportunities. Maybe a nicer way to frame the question, I’m rambling a little bit, but there’s a lot of young creatives that listen to this and I know that they struggle because they’ve graduated during lockdown. They’ve not had the same opportunities. And I suppose maybe my question is, if you were young, if you were 18, 19, 20 years old and you’re trying to start out in the creative industry now, what would you be doing? Would you be going after that? Do you think the opportunity lies on these platforms and creating your own work or where do you think the opportunity lies for you?

Adam Morgan: No, it’s a tough balance I think because the most important thing that you as a young creative can do is really fine tune the craft. It’s just like they talk about the 10,000 hour rule. When are you going to become a pro? And it’s like so many times we want to just be super successful from the start just because you learned a couple programs or a little bit of tech and suddenly you’re like, “Now I need to be a TikTok star and need to be making millions.” And I think step one is just first understand you need to learn the craft and really well. Now if you’re a savant and you can sit there and churn it out and churn it out faster and faster and faster constantly and you’re not messing around like most of the people in the world, yeah. Maybe you’ll get there a lot faster, which is great.

So I’d say don’t grow too fast beyond really learning a craft. So if you can get that down, then great. Then I would say the next step would be scale. So often creatives go into a business and they want to just design stuff or write stuff and you have to be careful because, and you know this very well, as an agency we’re in a service business to some extent. And I think the problem is you can get really good at craft and then you can get some decent gigs or some jobs and just be making decent money. But it’s like you’ll plateau really fast because it’s a service industry and you’re only paid for as many hours as you’re doing the thing. So for me, those who unlock it, if I were a creative starting out, I’d be thinking, “First, how do I get really good at the craft? And number two, how do I scale it?”

The scale is the part that’s going to really make you successful. Some people can scale their writing on Medium to be able to write enough that they get a decent income from the platform. And maybe you’ll be lucky that you find the right platform, whether it’s TikTok or Medium or something else. But also those who have learned to scale the value of their work. You think like the fine artists who, they only paint a little bit or do a little bit and that it’s worth so much more. So how do you either increase the value of your work or increase the scale where you can be making… I’ll give you an example of scale. A guy who I know is a designer, designs stickers for board games that you just apply to board games for that industry. And now he’s got the scale because he just puts it on Etsy and he’s making six figures every year just from all the stickers he already designed. So how do you find the scale without having it to just be an industry [inaudible 00: 4: 4]?

Andrew Dobbie: And what are stickers for board games? What do you mean?

Adam Morgan: If you look at, there’s huge crazy board games right now, all these Euro games over the last decade. So there are just hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of new board games coming out and they’ll usually have little wooden pieces or parts that are just plain. So he designs stickers that you put on those parts to make it come to life a little bit better. And it’s more aesthetic.

Andrew Dobbie: Customizing.

Adam Morgan: And maybe he only had to design those once and then puts them on the store and sells dozens of those packs all the time. So it’s like he found a way to scale his design without being famous, without being a big artist, without being a whatever. It’s just finding that scale. So I’d say learn the craft, learn to scale, or at least learn to add value to your craft so that it’s worth more than just what you put into it because it’s the same amount of work to do $1,000 job as a $50,000 job. So finding the value in your work and how you can sell that value I think is equally important.

Andrew Dobbie: That’s a really good tip, a really, really good tip. [inaudible 00: 5: 4] in there. So Adam, what would the future for you then,
what does the future hold? Are there more books on the way or what’s…

Adam Morgan: There are some books. [inaudible 00: 5: 3] too much of it, but a book series that starts out as like, how do you improve your craft? Then how do you improve your team? How do you improve your company? How do you improve the industry? Four different books in a series on creativity that I’ve been working on. But that’s not the big thing. Those are little side for funsies stuff. Really I’m trying to do my best to Adobe and wherever that path takes me, I love my job and I love sure that type of a role. So I’ll keep at it from that point of view. But I don’t know. If you truly asked me what I want to do when I grow up, I want to be a landlord and get into real estate and this might be a good opportunity in the next couple years. So that’s what I’m thinking about on the side.

Andrew Dobbie: Yeah, nice, nice. Well, it sounds like a great place to end and I’m conscious of your time. So yeah, where can people find you if they want to find your books, if they want to follow you? Where do you want to point them?

Adam Morgan: Oh, yeah, great. So my website, The W because just Adam Morgan is too common of a name. So my publisher said, “That’s what you got to use.” So Adam W Morgan. There you can see some of my articles on Medium, you can find out about the book, buy it at Amazon. Any other online place. Or where I’m speaking, I do a lot of speaking. But otherwise real creative leadership is my video podcast that I’m putting a lot of effort into. We’re into season three, so Real Creative Leadership, or you can find it on YouTube or any of your podcasts, all those great things. But those are the two places, Adam W Morgan or

Andrew Dobbie: Perfect. And we remember important links down below when we post this as well. So thank you so much, Adam. You’ve been an absolute pleasure to listen to a very interesting and I’m off to order your book is the next task for me. I read all the snippets that you give away on the website and I’m now very eagerly waiting to have one all to myself.

Adam Morgan: Well, good. I would love to hear your feedback once you do read it. Let me know what you think. [inaudible 00: 7: 1]. Okay, all right. Thank you all.

Andrew Dobbie: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Adam Morgan: See you.

Andrew Dobbie: Thanks so much. Hey everyone, Andrew here and thanks so much listening. As we said at the start, we hope to inspire creativity and bravery in you. So if this podcast has helped you in any way or if it’s inspired you to do something brave, we want to hear about it. Drop us an email at And who knows, maybe we’ll feature you on a future episode. If you want to support the podcast, please rate, subscribe and write us a review and help us get the word out. Thanks and we’ll see you next time.

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