It’s somehow been ten years since a fresh-faced Stephen (Steve) Finnegan swaggered into Woods HQ in the winter of 2011. As the team’s chief wordsmith and strategist, Steve has set the creative tone for many of our most successful campaigns of the last decade.
To mark his ten-year anniversary, our office kaumatua has laid down his top ten lessons learned from his decade at Woods. Be prepared for wisdom.
Before WOODS, I was a high school English teacher – lured away from my advertising degree by the prospect of non-stop holidays. When I first approached Reuben, I had little relevant experience on my CV, but promised to save the company millions by stopping typos going to print. 10 years later… Reuben’s on the Forbes Hot 50 and I’m still fixing his typos.
We’re all a Frankenstein’s monster of the people who have influenced us throughout our lives. I wouldn’t be the same without the colleagues and mentors I’ve learnt from – including the brandmaster himself, Marty Neumeier, during a 3 day workshop in Santa Barbara. When we surround ourselves with the best, we can become our best.
I’ve always approached every project like my life depended on it. Even after 10 years at WOODS, I still feel personally invested in everything I touch. Part of it is about doing right by our clients – but it is also knowing that if I don’t truly care about what I’m writing, neither will the audience.
If my brief teaching career taught me anything, it’s that understanding a topic and communicating that topic well are two very different things. As Einstein once said, “Genius is making complex ideas simple, not making simple ideas complex”. Plain English isn’t boring, it’s a gamechanger.
Happy, sad, or proud, when genuinely moved, we cry. I remember tears pricking my eyes at a brand launch, as our video played on the big screen in a big room of big people. At that moment, seeing it through their eyes, I knew the work was good. It ended up being one of our most awarded projects – largely because we had connected at a deeper emotional level. Now I measure work on whether it makes me cry.
I nearly drowned when our raft capsized going over a waterfall at a WOODS Christmas party. Just as my lungs were about to burst, a light shaft opened up and I emerged, euphoric (and more than a little relieved). I had the same sensation on every difficult project – suffocating and ready to give up, right before I made a major breakthrough. Now I understand the creative process, I welcome that drowning feeling.
Over the last decade, my hair thinned to the point where a friend told me I needed to “concede to the recede”. With great trepidation, I reluctantly shaved my head. It was scary at first – but I soon started to embrace a newfound freedom. I learned that change is good and that everything is scary until it isn’t.
We’re all tuned to seek answers, but not many of us are comfortable asking questions. Great work challenges everything including the brief. It asks questions and doesn’t stop until new insights are uncovered. If we aren’t thinking critically, we may as well be robots.