I worked with Scott when I was at Mindshare as a media strategist, and he was marketing director at Diesel. He was always an inspirational character and was moving up rapidly at the company, so I was surprised when I got a text from him one day to tell me he was going out on his own. Scott has a true ‘masters of many’ background to his career, as marketer, photographer, DJ, stand up comedian and now creative business owner. He continues to drive his career forward in a multitude of directions, all of which bring creativity and passion to the fore (as evidenced by the title of this piece, one of Scott’s great workshop sessions). This is a longer interview than most I’ve done (and I had to cut elements out unfortunately), but stick with it, as I came away from this meeting inspired and enthused about why I chose a flexible, independent career, and I’m sure you’ll do the same.
Tell us about your journey to date and what you’re up to now…
I went to university, thinking I was going to be a lawyer, but I went to a law exhibition at Sheffield university and the lawyers there were so arrogant it made me realise I didn’t know what I wanted to do after all. As I went back to the careers office, there was a big poster there of a pregnant man (a now iconic Saatchi campaign), and it said ‘Saatchi & Saatchi are coming to your university, come and meet us’.
I went along and met two guys, Marcus Peffers and Tim Duffy, who I still know to this day. I watched the video they showed, and I knew immediately that I wanted to work there. I wrote a letter to them both saying ‘I’m going to come and work at your company, I came to your talk and I loved it’. I got a nice letter back from Tim Duffy wishing me luck, and giving me the dates for the graduate scheme. The second interview was a weekend away and I sat next to a woman at dinner called Marilyn Baxter, the chairman of Saatchi and Saatchi. I remember these 3 people walked into the dinner that hadn’t been there for the rest of the process because they’d been interviewing elsewhere. I remember saying to her “either you want to work here or you don’t. I gave up my place at 2 other interviews to come and sit at this table because I only want to work here. I’m not interviewing in other places – that’s a disgrace!” She said ‘you’re absolutely right’ and we became really close after that.
I found out the next day I had the job. I started at Saatchi’s and it was the best place I’ve worked. What made it brilliant and the reason I’m so passionate about what I do now is that they had this culture of ‘nothing is impossible’ and everyone in the organisation believed it. The culture was so strong it meant you could do anything. I talk about positive disruption in my seminars, and that’s exactly what we did at Saatchi’s – how do you take the norm of how people look at something and shake it to such a point that people look at it differently. I stayed there for 6 ½ years and had an amazing time.
I was then poached to come and work at Wieden & Kennedy to run the Nike account and shake up the way they did account handling. It was one of my biggest learning’s in cultural fit – it was a world away from Saatchi’s and I didn’t end up staying very long.
I wanted to do a stint client side, in particular brands that were big creative thinkers, and so I went to Levi’s. The team I had were brilliant and they really pushed Levi’s to do things creatively. We developed a scheme to get Levi’s back into music – and the activity outlasted me – it went on for 10 years, connecting with the grass roots of the music scene and weaving them into the brand.
I needed to gain more FMCG skills, and I really wanted to work at a growing business in entertainment and so my next opportunity was at Activision. I had 18 brands P&L’s and everything was planned meticulously. I launched Guitar Hero, World of Warfare working with film companies like Lucas Arts and how to work with huge retailers on a global scale, which I hadn’t done a lot of.
However, I still had this huge creative drive in me, and when my Dad died, he said I should take some time off – "because you look like you need it!’ – and he left me some money and I decided I’d go travelling around the world. I went to CentraI St Martins to do a photography course and then spent a year shooting environmental portraiture and travelling, using Australia as a base.
I came back thinking I’d be a photographer, but when I landed I had a phone call saying that Diesel were looking for someone and would I be interested. I ended up working there for 6 ½ years. As with Saatchi’s, we were really pushed to be as creative as possible. We won awards and did some amazing things like creating the first global fashion radio brand.
Then I decided to start my own business and I’ve been going for 2 years. The base of the business is that when businesses and people have been integrated for a long time we forget about the real power of being as viscerally creative as possible. You start to rely on data and it stops you making strong creative decisions. The best creative decisions are sometimes the gut instinct, animalistic things that we feel we have to do, but they’re often the things that are pushed aside in brainstorms as crazy thinking, or put on the back burner because they’re too complex to get our heads around. I help businesses find those great creative ideas from within their organisation and then put in place the action plan that helps them feel real so that they’re not these big frightening behemoths that no-one can control, but are actually great creative solutions to big problems. That’s ‘The Boom’.
And you’re also a stand-up comedian on the side? How did that start?
I love comedy and I often go to try out night’s as that’s where you really see the next generation of great comedians. At Saatchi’s, someone made me responsible for putting on an event in the Pregnant Man (which was also their pub) – and I decided to do a comedy night. I got 3 famous comedians and said I’d do a try out myself. I wrote some material and did my try out. It was terrifying but I really enjoyed it. Now I write stuff and I’ve done a couple of performances at friends events / try out nights.
It led me to realise that the techniques of stand up are just so brilliantly put together – and they’re really good at helping people get over their fear of presenting creativity and creative ideas. I met this wonderful comedian called David James – he’s 65 and is the oldest comedian to ever appear at the Hackney Empire and win the new starters award, 5 years ago when he was 60. He’s one of the funniest men I’ve ever met. He and I co-present a stand up comedy presentation course for businesses to get people out of their comfort zone and to understand the techniques of telling comedy and how they relate to presenting products and concepts.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
I have a simple philosophy in life – you either have to have balance or security. Ideally you want both, but you can compromise on one slightly but if you compromise both things go wrong. I was offered a promotion at Diesel, which sounds great on paper, but the promotion took away balance, and didn’t offer any more security. And when I asked them for more security there wasn’t any more available.
I’d always had a harbouring to do my own thing. I asked my family, my wife, and friends what they thought and they all said ‘go and do it’. I did a thing called ‘street wisdom’ – which I’m now a director of. We take people out on the streets and we ask them to think about a specific challenge or opportunity they have and we send them on a street quest for an hour. I did this for myself and my challenge was ‘can I actually start my own business’. I went out on the street, tuned in and did the exercise, and I met 3 completely different people – all of whom I hadn’t seen in 6 months which was really strange – and they all gave me details of someone they knew who would help me. Those people have all since helped me build my business.
How long did it take you to feel like you’d made progress in your new venture?
There are two definite moments. Firstly, getting your first client and saying ‘hi this is me, and this my business’. That’s a seminal moment.
The second thing is your first pivot. I’ve already pivoted my business (slightly). When I started out I had this idea that I’d work in businesses and help with leadership, sitting within the business. I quickly realised that wasn’t the area I wanted to be in. The stuff I was doing, whilst good and stimulating, didn’t represent enough of me.
I’d been mulling this over and while I was thinking about it somebody asked me to come and do a talk for them, and to give them a 150 word synopsis of my talk in the next half hour. That incredible time pressure distilled everything I’d been thinking about. I decided to go in full throttle, and do a talk called ‘how to unleash your creative motherf**ker’. I’d started playing with a part of my business called ‘boom sessions’ and the idea was that you come in and get people to think in a more creative way. I realised that was what I love doing. So I decided to call it The Boom and go for it. Everything started to fall into place from there. It’s a good positioning for me and it’s a great opener with people – I ask people what gets them really excited and as I watch their face I explain to them that that’s ‘the boom’ and that’s what I can unleash in them and their organisation. They get it straight away.
It’s scary when you realise you might have hit on something, and you stop looking for other things you can do. As Steve Jobs says ‘A great idea means getting rid of 1,000 other ideas’. The moment I delivered that new proposition it meant that I had to go to some clients and say I was going to stop working with them, as it meant I was diluting my core proposition.
How often did you feel like ‘it’ wasn’t going to work?
Everyday you live on your wits. You have a feeling, the ambition, the passion and you have products, clients and concepts – but until you start getting traction and feel like you’re making progress, everyday you question ‘Who’s going to buy this? Who’s my customer? How do I reach them?’ You’re always thinking to yourself ‘is this working?’ But then you get moments of validation. I just did some work with the marketing academy and 30 different brand leaders and got amazing individual feedback from them. When I got the email I sent it to my wife and said ‘this is why I’m doing this’. But you still wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning – either with a great idea that you want to make happen, or you wake up with the fear. I don’t think that ever goes.
What do you find difficult about your job / managing multiple jobs?
I always wanted to have a career that encompassed all the major skill groups to set your own business up. That’s why I moved from agency to client side so that I built this distinct set of skills. I didn’t ever want to be a lifer somewhere and stay for 25 years. I guess that approach helped me to do lots of different things at once – although not too many – it’s important to mark out what’s a distraction and what’s important.
Now my business operates over 3 parts. Master classes, which are bespoke to each client; public speaking and being involved in clients business, helping them to make the ideas happen.
It means you’re constantly juggling. I read a great article somewhere that basically says that the only way to manage your time is to write down everything that you need to do that day and apportion time to it. When you see it lay out it’s a visual thing that makes you quite disciplined and it allows you to feed into that time frame what you really need to get something done. It also means that you don’t check emails all the time.
There’s a close friend of mine who is a neuroscientist – and he taught me that the front of your brain, which controls what you get done, effectively has a battery, which gets used up all day and gets replenished when you sleep. But we have a tendency to do the wrong things at the wrong time – like checking emails first thing in the morning, meaning that by 3 o’clock you’re knackered and if you have to write a presentation it’s not a good time. I make sure that by 11 o’clock each day I have completed something really big that I need to do before my creative energy breaks down. Then I cover emails in the afternoon as they’re low maintenance. I teach people this in my master classes and that small change makes them 20-30% more effective.
What do you do to spur yourself on when you get the fear?
At the beginning of the year I wrote an action plan, but the first thing I did was write down 50 things I was grateful for or had achieved in the last year, and I look back at that when I need to. It makes you realise that you’ve learnt more in 2 years than you ever would have done being in a permanent role.
What or who do you find intimidating?
When I first started, you speak to new clients, and if they’re a lofty CEO you can find that an intimidating environment. One of the things I’ve stopped doing, and it’s kind of counter-intuitive to what a lot of people say, but I don’t overly research the people I’m about to meet. I find that the best thing for me is to connect with someone on a human level (for example my opening question of what gets you fired up) and I let them talk. By doing that you can think about where you can genuinely add value, or think about a challenge they might be facing. You can read everything but you’re not really finding out about the person. By having a human conversation you start the conversation from your vantage point and the fear doesn’t kick in in the same way.
How do you define success now? Success when you have a full-time job is often associated with title, or money, but how has this changed for you?
When I used to go to events and people ask what you do, it used to be clear, e.g. I’m the marketing director for Diesel. When I first started working for myself and people find out that you run your own company there’s a bit of a ‘oh’ moment - you have to learn to be really clear about what your business is and what you do. You soon get over it and realise it’s actually a bit soul destroying that people’s main association with you is the brand you work for.
Money becomes lower down on your priorities of success. If you set up your own business with the vision of making loads of money, it won’t work as you’re focusing on the wrong thing. I believe if you focus on the right stuff, success will come – it’s about what gets you out of bed in the morning.
How do you organise yourself? Any useful tools / tips?
I use Slack (https://slack.com) if I’m working on a project with a group of people. It’s a great way to post and keep conversations and work in the same place and it’s brilliant. I use citymapper (https://citymapper.com/london). At the start of the day I programme all of my meetings in and it pings me when I need to leave, having worked out how long all of my journeys take.
I use Feedly, Medium and Flipboard to group together feeds and information. Feedly (https://feedly.com/i/welcome) in particular is brilliant. I pick out articles I like and which are useful to share and I can programme them to automatically be tweeted over the next few days. I’ve grown my twitter followers by about 20% by doing that in the last month alone and it’s sparked lots of interesting conversations.
What’s the biggest thing that your new way of working has changed about your life?
You don’t get many opportunities in life to build your career around things that are important to you. I have two kids now, and I don’t think it hits some people until they’re older and they realise they watched their kids grow up at a distance because of work. When I was at Diesel I used to get home for bath-time about twice a month. Now it’s great to see them grow up. I can go to school plays, parent’s evenings and it’s incredibly important. It reinforces why I’m doing what I’m doing.
What are you going to tell your kids about working out what they want to do in life?
Take their time. I know that people want to do what’s right for their kids, but sometimes parents bring a whole world of baggage with them and it becomes all of the things that they didn’t do and pushing the child to do those things. We just let our kids try things and see what they like. I want them to take their time – there’s loads of stuff in life that puts a structure around you – they should just experiment with as many things as they possibly can.
If you could do any other job in the world, what would it be?
I’d love to be a pilot. I love the idea of flying over a wilderness and somehow mix it with photography. My friend does the photos over London by helicopter and I love that idea of being in the sky, looking down on the world and taking photos.
Single best piece of advice you’ve been given along your journey?
Give everyone 5 minutes. A friend of mine spent a few years working with Marvin Gaye when he was in Belgium, and Marvin Gaye gave him that advice. He said that only by giving someone 5 minutes can you build a human connection, and if after 5 minutes you don’t get on, you’ve had a nice interaction – but after 5 minutes that person could make a huge difference to your life, or you to theirs, so what do you have to lose? Everyone you have a meeting with someone or meet someone new – let them speak to you for 5 minutes, give them the space to open up and talk and be human and not just plough into them about all of the stuff you want to talk about. (Check out Scott’s excellent blog post about this that he was inspired to write after we met! https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/my-best-piece-advice-came-from-marvin-gaye-scott-morrison-frsa?trk=prof-post)