How To Build An Agency Culture That Values Ideas, Boredom and Listening — And Still Stay In Business

Lessons from Adobe’s 99U annual conference

Julie Weber
Jun 5 · 6 min read

That led us to ask: how does one begin to build a culture at an agency? And are we crazy for thinking we can do this?

This past May found us back in New York City at Adobe’s annual 99U conference. From the reality of AI to how to build for inclusion — we found that if we peered over the side of process and innovation there is a sandbox full of the magic required to craft a culture that nurtures, inspires, motivates, and encourages.

1. We need to give permission to our team to be honest above all else.

The opening speaker of 99U was a neuroscientist who came to talk about the future of AI: Vivienne Ming, Founder and Executive Chair of Socos Labs. And rather than telling us what was possible with or without AI, she reminded us of the power of our humanness and a world that will always be human first — the originator of ideas, art, and technology.

2. Time, space, and boredom are essential to creativity.

Ah, the joy of multi-tasking. Of endless Chrome tabs. Of starting one thought, and finishing off an unrelated email and forgetting said thought altogether. If I don’t have a pile of simultaneous deadlines, hundreds of emails, and a calendar with no break in it — I have a nasty little habit of worrying about not having too much on my plate.

3. Foster openness by creating conditions for deep listening and shared purpose.

Humans are chiseled masterpieces designed by the hand of evolution, conditioned by ancient processes. We were built to listen up to 100x faster than we see — and yet have built an incredibly visual world to operate within. M. Scott Peck, an American psychiatrist, once said “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.”

4. Celebrate people, projects, wins, and losses.

Christina Amini, Executive Publishing Director, of Chronicle Books, spent an hour talking about collaboration at 99U in a special workshop. And collaboration, mind you, does not look, smell, sound, or taste like compromise.

Culture isn’t just a dream, or benefits, or work/life integration.

It’s setting and activating an intention to create space for art, new ideas, mistakes; to honor each other’s gifts; to create purposeful breaks; to celebrate.

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Julie Weber

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Marketing is Design is Everything