Climb Mount Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!
- Kobayashi Issa
Japan in winter. One of the most beautiful places in time on earth. No place seems to embrace nature in culture so much, and also pushes back against it so hard. The last of the autumn leaves are drawing huge crowds as people plan their KFC Christmas. Home to the busiest 24-hour city in the world and also a place that values contemplation and thoughtfulness.
There’s a sense of solitude in the crowds, of fast and slow together. Somewhere I’ve spent so much time I’ve a feeling of familiarity and yet I’m also always on the outside. A language I can read(ish) but who’s meaning stays resolutely out of reach. I’ve always found it a place of wonder, of contradictions living side-by-side. Both poetic and unforgiving. I’m here to help turbo-charge rare talent in our industry into leadership positions with ‘Rare by Google’ but have come away understanding more about the joy of camaraderie and the realisation that game-changing ideas start with urgency, but are given the time and space to grow in the right way.
Two-and-a-half years ago two brilliant creative directors (Tara McKenty and Stefanie DiGianvincenzo) were in Cannes, lamenting (as many of us do) the cookie-cutter faces of global advertising leadership along the Croisette. They had a burning ambition to do something to change it up. From one test event in Sydney started in their spare time, to delivering training all over the world in partnership with D&AD and part of Google’s core offering to the creative industries, Rare is an extraordinary mini-MBA for diverse talent. It changes what we do, by changing who does it, by investing in the development of rare talent in a meaningful way. This requires hustle, heart and a great sense of urgency – but each market is developed with the time to act on what the local talent needs. Start fast, and develop with the care to listen and deliver it properly.
Chaired in Tokyo by Google’s Kazuha Okuda, Rare Tokyo was exclusively focussed on gender imbalance. It’s key in a country that is ranked 110 out of 149 countries in the World Economic Forum Gender Pay report. Recently it’s been reported that many women are required to wear high heels and aren’t allowed to wear glasses in the workplace because it makes their appearance “seem rude”. Last year nine medical schools admitted rigging entrance exams to exclude female applicants with the best results because they may have children, ‘wasting’ doctor training that could otherwise go to a man. There is certainly a job to be done in our industry too, with fewer females in middle and senior management than almost any other country.
The unique flavour of the Japanese programme came to the fore through this process of urgency and space. Of just getting started, and shaping through the collaborative making process by listening to local talent. Allowing space for people to be heard. As Rare grows, this collaborative approach has created an extended family connected by the heart and hustle needed to get each city off the ground. Like a snowball down a mountain collecting the most driven and interesting changemakers from our industry from around the world. Every speaker, chair, and student becomes part of the Rare posse and it’s that camaraderie that makes big, brave industry changes possible. It’s a perfect example of inclusion as a superpower and a magnificent way to build a movement.
This collaborative creativity (call it design thinking, or even 'holocracy') is how SheSays has grown into the largest creative women’s network in the world. It’s how organisations like Extinction Rebellion grow and evolve, and one of the strengths that great digital creatives and thinkers can bring to the more traditional aspects of our industry to leapfrog their competitors and future proof their businesses in more interesting and uniquely tailored ways.
And this is the key learning from five days in a country full of rigid hierarchies, that we need to break them and instead listen thoughtfully to create something of value. But with the urgency and drive to get started making something as if our lived depended on it.
So if you’ve got a big idea for 2020 burning inside then hajimemashou! - let’s begin!. But create the space around it to make something magical too.
Shout out to fellow Rare Tokyo luminary and Londoner Selma Nicholls, founder of Looks Like Me, a talent and casting agency created to raise the profile of underrepresented groups. I can’t recommend them enough as an agency, or Selma as a truly transformative person. One who started her business with the urgency that comes from risking everything for a great idea. An idea that she’s given the space and time to grow. Now part of the Rare family.