The Disadvantaged Creative Brain

Sean Thompson is the Co-Founder of ad agency Who Wot Why. He and Matt Follows, an author and sustainable high-performance coach at training companyLeading Left, have been delivering helpful advice on the good, the bad, and the ugliness of the creative brain.

They now collaborate with Leigh Wolmarans, a headteacher who has worked in areas of social deprivation across the world to show the creative advantages of the disadvantaged creative brain. Thompson explains…

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Preorder my new book: The Dopamine Switch


Crushing it as a creative leader has never been more crushing. The pressure to generate genius-on-demand continues to rise as the resources to do so continue to dwindle: less time, less money, less brains to put on the job. You know the drill.

It's enough to make your want to jack-it-all-in and take a job in the post office. Only don't...

This is the survival guide to the creative battlefield you've been waiting for. The no-holds-barred, woo-woo-free leadership manual that will pressure-proof your brain, and reignite your passion for work, by giving you the tools, techniques and unflappable mindset you need to create a creative life you never want to escape from – no matter how much shit hits the fan.

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The most valuable resource in business today is not time, money or Maconomy.

It’s flow.

That heightened state of focused awareness where time bends, performance skyrockets and the critical voice of self-consciousness falls silent.

When you’re in flow, negative emotions such as stress, fear and anxiety become a distant memory. And the radical shift in neurobiology pulls the plug on second-guessing, self-doubt and a crippling fear of failure.

Once free from negative head-chatter and chronic worry your mind expands and creativity becomes unbound. You get an upsurge in energy and excitement and before you know it you’re riding the wave of a legal high — leapfrogging plateaus, tearing down boundaries, and mainlining the greatest performance enhancing, steroid-for-the-soul known to man.

But the best thing about flow isn’t what it feels like, it’s what it does.

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Here’s my chat with Matt Follows, an award-winning creative turned mental health professional and coach.

After 20 years as a writer/creative director at places like W+K, M&C Saatchi, Clemenger and Naked, he left the industry to retrain as a performance psychologist, psychotherapist and clinical hypnotherapist at King’s College, London.

He’s now been working in this field for nearly 10 years, and for the past 6 years he’s been specialising in coaching creative leaders from advertising, film, TV, design and tech in all parts of the globe. If you’re into some of that, his site is here.

He also coaches the leadership team at Fox and runs ‘sustainable high performance’ trainings for numerous ad, marketing and PR agencies, production companies etc, and has spoken at D&AD and most recently in Cannes, giving a talk called “Help! My Creative Brain Hurts.”

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Sean Thompson, co-founder of Who Wot Why, and Matt Follows, copywriter-turned-psychotherapist and leadership coach, dissect the creative brain and reveal the mental perils of award winning.

Thompson: I did it, I won the motherfucker of all awards: the Cannes Grand Prix. According to The Guardian, Honda Grrr was “the most popular winner of recent times”. The night was a blur to me. For months afterwards I was writing articles, being lauded, sneered at, and offered huge jobs. The last thing I was thinking about was creativity, my head was full of clutter.

Follows: If you’re the owner of a creative brain and you’ve won an award or two, then you’ll have experienced the clutter it can produce in your head. I have myself. I worked at Wieden+Kennedy London in its heyday, along with Sean, and the agency was on fire.

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I've been in the creative industry a long time.

Which means I’ve been fortunate enough to have been in it when it was the most fun, exciting, brave and confident place on the planet to work in.

But this isn't a rant about the good-old-days or a whinge about shrinking budgets, ever increasing media channels and tighter deadlines.

That stuff happens, industries change.

But I do have a question:

Is sacrificing our emotional health and wellbeing in the pursuit of creative brilliance really the best way to achieve it?

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"Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do."

That's one of my favourite bits of copy of all time. Those 101 words made me fight tooth and nail to get into this crazy, colourful world of advertising.

But where that quote once made me want to punch the air in support, it now makes me want to punch a frozen chicken in disappointment.


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Have you ever been burnt out?
If you have to think about that or you’re not sure, the answer’s “no”. But what about this one?

Have you ever felt like you’re running on pure adrenaline, able to work all hours of the night and day, slept like a log (after a few pints) and woke up (after a few coffees) chomping at the bit for the next “big opportunity” to land on your desk?

If the answer’s “yes” then you need to keep reading because odds are you’re staring down the barrel of burnout right now. And trust me, when that switch if flipped, it won’t take a couple of Neurofen and a week off work to pull yourself back together.

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