Future Leaders with Rod Gillies

Event review by Jaimie Anderson, Whyte & Mackay

Having worked with Rod before, I knew we’d be in for a thought-provoking session on creativity as an important leadership quality… ‘and the ranting starts now. Creative is not a personality type, it is not a choice or a habit or an inherit trait. When I hear someone say, ‘but I’m not a creative person’ it not only makes me sad, it makes me angry’  - my expectations were instantly met.

Rod is Head of Marketing at The Borders Distillery, and he has spent all his adult years working in the drinks industry. Rod works with Lego, he writes, he’s hyperactive, allergic to process - he’s a stereotypical creative (his words, not mine). I think that’s why some of us have that creative insecurity, because compared to others, perhaps our creativity is less obvious.  

So, there’s creative, and then there’s useful creative which Rod defined as the putting together of insights and information in novel and interesting ways. It sounds quite simple doesn’t it? Less scary.

Rod talked through his way of finding useful creative which is about filling your head with 3 buckets of information.

  1. People – get out there in the real life and observe the end user. Capture and recognise what is changing right now in their heads, worlds, lives, and attitudes. Talk to people. Ask questions. Take time to understand what people are saying. It’s far better than the long-term trends that everyone has access to.
  2. Setting – understand the sometimes-messy reality of where your product is bought, sold, regulated. Is the product too tall to fit on the supermarket shelf? Do the bars make enough margin to stock your brand? Getting to understand something that, perhaps on the surface doesn’t seem related to your role might just be the source of your next useful creative idea.
  3. Process – understanding process can be the seed of the ideas. Know enough not to ask stupid questions, or even better, know enough to ask dangerous ones – the what ifs. As marketeers, it is quite frankly irresponsible not to understand how the product your marketing is made, and if you don’t then why would technical teams listen to you!?

Now your buckets are filled with facts, insights, observations, sit back and give it time (said no senior manager hardly ever!). But it’s true, letting things work away in your subconscious is important. We often feel the need to be chained to our desks, but Rod reminded us how important it is to give yourself the space. His way of doing this - skelping a tyre with a sledgehammer.

And when the good ideas come to the surface out of the 100’s of bad ones, Rod shared some rules to help direct these ideas into useful ones. He attended a talk by Doug Chiang (because we couldn’t let May the 4th go by without referencing Star Wars) and shared 3 rules.

  1. Have a striking silhouette – peak notice/interest from the end user
  2. Believability – 1 compelling reason to believe trumps 3 or 4 every time
  3. 3 second rule – is it immediately apparent what the product is? Break category rules but only change one big thing dramatically otherwise it’s too confusing

It is easy to get caught up in the day to day, the stakeholder management, the deadlines. I have found working from home a real challenge to my creative thinking, I like to go away and ponder, scribble on a blank sheet of paper, talk to people, bounce off their energy, and then go back to my scribbled bits of paper to refine my thoughts. It is not only ok to take a step back, it is important that you do. And don’t forget…

  • Fill the buckets and give it time
  • Skelp a tyre and pretend you’re Thor
  • Bad ideas are the context of good ideas
  • From a massive pile of crap, gems emerge
  • Engage stakeholders before the idea is fully formed
  • Be more Star Wars
  • Useful creative does not come from a personality type

Rod’s passion, energy and openness came at a much-needed time for many of us as we navigate our roles from the confines of our homes. Creativity can come from anywhere. Our creativity might not be as obvious as the person next to us, but it does exist. And it’s our useful creativity that will really help along the way.

Review by Jaimie Anderson (@jaimie_s), European Marketing Planner at Whyte & Mackay





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