Creative magic happens when you stop fearing the fear
A view from Rachel Barnes

Creative magic happens when you stop fearing the fear

The best creative people are "walking repositories of doubt".

Are you afraid? You should be. But you shouldn’t be afraid of the fear. The best creative people are "walking repositories of doubt", to steal a phrase from Helen Edwards’ column.

With Cannes upon us once more, we are embracing fearless creativity in this issue of Campaign, celebrating those individuals who embody this quality and the work that demonstrates it in all its glory.

The fear of ridicule is probably one that rides high with many creative people. Combine that with the fear that threads its way through the whole creative process, from originating an idea too small or too grandiose, to unleashing it for the first time to clients, then to the public… then to jurors. Argh, terrifying.

These fears appear never-ending, and you could assume they’d be stifling and all-consuming – strangling the joy and magic out of creative ideas that started off with such potential. But it is this fear, the self-doubt, the challenging, the obsessing, the loving and careful crafting and cajoling of an idea that delivers the best from this industry. 

Even writing this column comes with fear – putting your name against something personal comes with risk, at least a perceived risk as to how it might be received.

But fear can also be a fuel. There is a careful distinction to make: we’re clearly not advocating being motivated by, or developing a culture of, fear. As HSBC marketer Leanne Cutts – one of our Fearless Five "dream team" – explains, the motivation for the brand and its agencies has to be hope, not fear. 

Certainly the picture painted by Ogilvy’s Tham Khai Meng as to the fearless future ahead for our industry echoes that optimism. He says he can see that new generations of creative talent are already slowly but surely evolving this industry into one that is less combative, less hierarchical and more collaborative – in short, a kinder place to work.

According to another of our Fearless Five, Carl Johnson, his agency Anomaly is defined by its lack of fear. It’s a powerful force, he says, as most agencies are "fucked up by fear and ego and greed". 

While that may sound contradictory to embracing fear as fuel, it is actually one and the same; it’s about mastering fear and making it a force for positive action.

Before I risk this column turning into a self-help chapter, hold up. This magazine isn’t one big, fearless love-in. Offering an alternative view, chair of the IPA Sarah Golding challenges us to learn from the darker, scarier world out there – the deplorable hidden persuaders of our age, aka terrorists, shady analytics firms and "useful idiots".

Perhaps being fearless means taking a look at the darker side of the persuasive arts – if a terror organisation can radicalise a person within three months, why can’t we even get people to switch bank accounts, Golding asks.

There’s a unifying thread that runs throughout this magazine: fearlessness leads to great work. I read a similar sentiment on a blog by MediaCom’s Josh Krichefski recently, about how bravery leads to brilliance. He was reflecting on advice he’d given during a talk at a school. One interesting point was how we mistakenly pigeonhole ourselves and others by playing too much to our obvious strengths.

Instead, he suggests, we should take more opportunities to test ourselves and develop skills away from what we know.

It’s the old classic of creativity flourishing in the face of adversity. When we remove fear, that is where the magic happens

Rachel Barnes is the UK editor of Campaign.