Lasting Creative Impressions

Tim Leake Interview – Part 3 of 3

New York City – Soho

Parts 1 and 2 of our conversation with Tim Leake have taken us through the creative process itself, the role teaching can play in understanding it, and even tips the Saatchi & Saatchi Creative Director himself uses to maintain inspiration on a daily basis. This final part of the conversation will equip you with one last overarching recommendation and work to summarize the series’ creative takeaways.

Dessert dishes lay nearly bare on our table at Bar Pitti. Streaks of chocolate mousse, like little chocolate contrails, stuck to the bottom of the confectioner’s cups. As our conversation with Tim drew to a close on that summer afternoon on Sixth Avenue, I asked Tim if there were any last points he’d recommend in order to develop creativity in one’s life. He settled on a final conviction that had led him throughout his career.  “I recommend jumping at every single challenge that presents itself,” he said emphatically.

Tim strongly advocates being involved in a number of activities, responsibilities, and challenges, so that they can truly inform one’s creativity. “Back in college,” he noted, “I ran the school radio station. I was part of student government. I wrote for the paper. I joined clubs. Studied abroad. Directed a musical.” He candidly revealed that he felt the classroom was probably where he did the least amount of learning.

The same dynamic drive accompanied Tim’s beginnings in advertising as well. As an account assistant at Chiat/Day in Los Angeles, Tim made a point of fulfilling his job duties with a “creative bent.” That led to a chance to join the Chiat’s creative department as a Creative Assistant. “Which is not at all the same as being an actual creative,” Tim smiled. “In fact, it’s a job that leads absolutely nowhere unless you’re insanely proactive.”

Tim took night classes to develop his portfolio and seized the opportunity to work on any project with which he could get involved. This eventually led to selling real ads to clients, and ultimately in a promotion to be a real copywriter.

Performing with the Band at the Company Party

But focal to this idea is the notion of meeting challenges in areas beyond one’s core responsibilities. “Even beyond the ads,” he explained, “I volunteered for everything I could within the organization… I helped on new business pitches, taught internal classes, performed with the band at the Christmas party… Whatever. Embrace it all.”

Tim went on to suggest that this attitude applies to skill sets, too. “I don’t think creatives should only focus on being creative. The best creatives in the business are also insanely talented strategic thinkers. And likewise, the best planners are talented creative thinkers.”

Introducing “T-shaped” People

“There’s a term floating around the industry lately to describe the type of people agencies need to start hiring, called “T-shaped people.” The basic idea is that these people are deeply focused and skilled at one thing – the base of the T. But they also have great understanding and skills across a wide range of areas – the top of the T. Especially with all the changes agencies are going through lately, being good at lots of stuff has never been more necessary.”

Applying Creativity to the Whole Business

This exposure to other skills is not necessarily restricted to isolated agency departments or creative careers, for that matter. Innovators in any positions within agencies should solicit, collect, and evaluate ideas across disciplines. This is a creative approach not just to the work, but also to the business as a whole that we could all take to heart. As Tim recommended: Embrace it all.

Tim Leake’s 7 Lasting Creative Impressions

  1. Advertising is about finding creative solutions to business challenges.
  2. Creativity is a process, not a single solution. Always generate ideas and become more comfortable with altering, combining, or even killing ideas.
  3. The act of teaching something is the best way to internalize and learn it.
  4. Remaining creatively inspired takes work. Become disciplined about setting aside time regularly for ideation. Take a cue from Tim and schedule formal meetings with yourself, to signal the importance of this time to others, and thus avoid distraction.
  5. If you’re not in the “right mood,” hang in there. If a creative block remains, don’t force it. Do something else, shift mental domains, and come back to your work later.
  6. Keep It Simple, Stupid: Conceptually, and in consideration of your audience, don’t forget the beauty and impact that can come from simplicity.
  7. Embrace it all. Seek out challenges within and outside of your position. This approach helps you see with greater perspective and problem-solve with improved creative scope.

My sincere thanks to Tim Leake for the opportunity to speak with him, to learn more about the role of creativity in his life, and even to benefit from his taste in Manhattan Italian bistros. For further details on Tim and his work, visit his website,, as well as his agency’s website, or the agency’s blog,

Ad Agency New Business Resource

Follow us on Twitter:

Cheryl Burgess @ckburgess

Mark Burgess @mnburgess

Blue Focus Marketing @bluefocus360

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