TSLA creative chief Hanyi Lee: Adland needs to take the word innovation off its pedestal

Hanyi Li Secret Little AgencyHanyi Lee, the chief creative officer of Singapore hot shop The Secret Little Agency, told an audience at Spikes Asia that the word innovation has lost its meaning and the advertising industry needs to have a frank discussion about what it really is.

In a presentation titled ‘The truth is”, Lee told delegates: “I hate the word innovation. The word has lost its meaning. I don’t know what people really mean when they say it, and I don’t know what people take out of it when I say it.”

“We need to take the word off its pedestal and have an honest conversation about it,” she said.

Innovation comes from being brutally honest about what needs to get done, being responsive to change, and tackling a problem head on, Lee suggested.

“If you want to create something new with no pre-existing manual, you need to get in the trenches,” she said.

“I’m not saying we’re the most innovative agency in the world, but we take action, and without judgement. In a sense, innovation is a dirty word. You have to get in the trenches and make it happen.”

Lee said that to become an innovative company, it was important to hire “real” and “truthful” people.

“If you want to tackle a real problem in the real world, that takes a full commitment to be want to be true. If you don’t have real people, it’s difficult to do innovative work.”

“You can’t steal a creds reel and a powerpoint deck and become the next Wieden + Kennedy, because it’s not true to who you are,” she said.

“You need to hire experts that are themselves – not hire by title or experience. You need to resist the temptation of an amazing resume if that person doesn’t somehow fit.”

“You need to hire the most truthful and real people you can find,” she said.

Placing people in an open plan office is not a sure way to create an environment conducive to innovation and free thought, Lee added.

“It seems like you’re embracing openness [by having an open plan office]. But openness is about the intangibles not the tangibles. You need a system that you’re at home with. You need to open yourself up to criticism from the junior art director, and you need to take that criticism to heart.”

An example of TSLA’s work Lee gave was the ‘Coffee connector’ for the Economic Development Board.

Robin Hicks at Spikes Asia


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