Creative Director Advertising Agencies

Why creating a 'flow state' can help your agency remain relevant

By Ian Haworth, Chief creative officer

September 13, 2016 | 5 min read

Survival of the fittest is the name of the game for so many creative agencies. So how do you ensure you’re delivering a perpetual flurry of fresh thinking and innovative ideas? How can you create an empirical value that drives success from nothing?


It’s down to getting in the ‘zone’, becoming utterly immersed in a feeling of focus, and enjoying the process, otherwise known as the ‘corporate flow state’.

Truth be told, flow states are most commonly associated with startups because of their entrepreneurial nature and fresh thinking from the word go. Small startups are less afraid of ‘failure’ than established brands, and are willing to take bigger, bolder risks. But by incorporating a flow state in their workplace culture, more mature companies and larger established corporations can stay relevant in a constantly disrupted marketplace.

Make it cultural – make it diverse

The physical nature and appearance of the workplace is a key contributor to achieving that corporate flow state. A space must reflect an agency’s working culture and set the backdrop, the atmosphere to nurture creative spirit.

I’ve experienced working at agencies where they had no reception, but instead hired maître d's to work the ‘front of house’. Transforming your workspace from ordinary to the extraordinary will inspire a culture of originality. It shows entrepreneurism and innovation.

It’s a state of mind

Often the first thing you’re confronted with upon entering an agency is a showcase of Lions and D&AD pencils. That’s all well and good, but should your past accolades be so revered? They are a by-product of your work. Not the work itself. So imagine an agency where awards are accepted, appreciated, celebrated, but from the quiet of a private room, or even in big rubbish bins! The corporate flow state doesn’t rely on past achievements, but on the now.

Thinking outside the box and giving everyone credence is also critical to flow state. One of my favourite quotes ever comes from a janitor at NASA, who when asked by then US President Kennedy what his job was, replied: "I am helping put a man on the moon."

A culture of creative possibilities where everyone has a role means you’re all part of one vision. You tend to act without thinking. You have individuals like musicians, athletes, artists entering flow states all the time. But when a creative group is in a flow state the potential can be tremendous, yet impossible without like minds. It’s infectious and the results speak volumes.

Unlearn, be honest and listen

A critical part of entering a flow state is to use your existing knowledge of a client as a springboard and not an anchor. Don’t let your knowledge stifle your creativity. Freeing yourself from assumptions can be a healthy and extremely powerful tool and embedding this in an agency culture can help you churn out those fresh ideas.

Also immensely powerful are honesty and clarity. I like to think of clarity as being a catalyst for the imagination. If you’re clear your imagination will only flourish.

The old adage ‘the more you listen, the more you learn’ couldn’t be truer. The most genius creatives I ever met were the ones who often said the least. But when they did speak it was relatively thought through. The art of listening helps all of us. By listening you’re encouraging and empowering people to be their very best within a team framework. Nobody likes a know-it-all.

The V formation

This brings me to probably the most important facilitator to reaching a flow state. You’re only as strong as the weakest member of your team. Geese have actually nailed the art of solidarity by flying in a V formation, allowing them to maximise each other’s strengths and support one another. To achieve creative flow, you have to be on the same journey. The true strength of a great working culture is not so apparent when you’re doing well, but when things go belly up. Trust in the collective – it works.

Get emotional

Let’s face facts. Fundamentally at the heart of everything is emotion. Funny or sad, happy or thought-provoking, all work must strum our emotional strings. This needs to extrapolated in working culture. We need to believe in our ideas, hold true to creativity and champion iconic work. Emotion needs to be at the heart of everything we do and an agency culture must be aligned to that.

A flow state isn’t easy to achieve, but once you’ve experienced it you’ll recognise it needs to be part of an agency’s ether. People come out enlivened as opposed to feeling stifled by a painful and forced process. It’s when they do their most original thinking, where they’re lost in the moment, devoid of all ego. Achieving this flow state is vibrant, it’s energetic, it’s visceral at times, but you’re all in it together. It’s how I imagine the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team feel – and their success is second to none.

Ian Haworth is executive creative director at Wunderman UK

Creative Director Advertising Agencies

More from Creative Director

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +