THERE’S NEVER A BAD TIME TO BE INDEPENDENT, BUT WE CAN’T THINK OF A BETTER TIME TO BE INDEPENDENT THAN TODAY.
“We started as a SHIP OF FOOLS. And that, I firmly believe, is why we have succeeded. We were struggling to figure out what an advertising agency actually was…See, when you don’t know, you try desperately to find out. But the minute you think you know, the minute you go Oh yeah, we’ve been here before, no sense reinventing the wheel, you stop learning, stop questioning, and start believing in your own wisdom, you’re dead. You’re not stupid anymore, you are fucking dead.”
— Dan Wieden
Independence comes with the responsibility to question authority and to question yourself. Independence is the right to fail. Those simple ideas are etched into the foundation of Wieden+Kennedy and they have taken us far.
2017 will mark the 35th anniversary of this company. The first 34 years have been a pretty amazing ride. We’ve made great work. We’ve built an independent global network. We’ve set the industry bar for what a creative advertising agency looks like and we’ve grown from a staff of 4 to over 1,500.
But the dissatisfied, unrelenting drive of an independent creeps up our spines and lodges in our brains and doesn’t let go. We question ourselves. We question our own authority.
“Does it feel as good as it used to?”
“Is our past really enough to carry us forward?”
“Are we as hungry as we once were?”
Can any company keep the momentum of its first successful, magical years going? It’s a question the Partners of this company have considered and debated very carefully over the past 6 months.
The thing is, momentum doesn’t last forever off of just one push. Eventually it slows down. Getting momentum as a creative company isn’t just about mass and velocity. It benefits from some urgency. It likes an enemy. It needs a group of protagonists who are not okay with the status quo and who have a stake in creating a new outcome. That’s how it all started for us anyway, in the beginning.
We’re kicking off this Medium platform with a milestone we’re going to remember at Wieden+Kennedy for a very long time. We’ll mark it as the day we remembered we are truly independent, free to organize ourselves any way we want to. This will be noted as the day the partners at W+K gave air to a new leadership group. A group who have more to prove than they do to lose. Honoring the gift of a brilliant history but unencumbered by personal legacy. Because this is what we’ve done. We can tell you, it feels pretty good.
The nine-person Partner group at Wieden+Kennedy will be restructured, renamed and will be joined by 15 new people. This group will become Stakeholders of Wieden+Kennedy. We’ve dubbed them the The Ship of Fools. As we did in the beginning, we’re pushing off into uncharted waters.
Our mission is to build a strong second-generation company. It’s a sticky baton that we’re passing. Hopefully that tension will push us further together than we ever considered possible.
We’re proud of this moment but we are also taking a hard look at ourselves on other issues that face us. While this change is a step in the right direction, it is still not an accurate reflection of the make-up of our agency, and the wider world. We need more racial diversity and women at the top. We selected this group from a pool of agency leaders that wasn’t diverse enough. What that tells us is that we have to continue to get real about why this is the case. It’s on us to support, promote and retain a much more wide-ranging group than we have over the past 35 years. We accept responsibility for making sure this leadership team grows to include that talent. We’ve got miles and miles to go before we sleep. This is a start.
The creative life worth living begins with confusion and returns to that confusion again and again — the trick is to feel at home in that uncertainty and allow new things to unfold.
The only important thing to remember from our history is this: W+K has always been at its best when a mess of unsatisfied people with more authority than their experience merits are staring into the wind trying to figure out where to go next. That’s the trick. Sorry if it’s not more revelatory than that but that’s our secret and now anyone is free to have it.
This is what self-ownership means. There’s never a bad time to be independent, but we can’t think of a better time to be independent than today. Today we re-launch this Ship of Fools. We’re grateful to have such brave next-generation talent at the helm.
On October 12, 2016 The Ship of Fools set off on its second journey under the leadership of the following crew:
We’re excited about the future of this place.
Colleen and Dave