Why This Second Grade Handout Should Be Your New Creative Manifesto

Focus on simple but crystal-clear fixes to challenges and hurdles

Headshot of Greg Hahn

Last week, I attended curriculum night at my daughter’s school. In discussing the things the kids will be learning this year, the teachers handed us the chart above.

Greg Hahn

My first thought was, what an amazing thing to give a bunch of second graders. My second thought was, what an amazing thing to waste on a bunch of second graders. After all, when was the last time they’ve been asked to “revisit” the brief after two weeks of all-nighters?

And so, I am sharing it with you. I feel like this is as good a guideline for a creative department as any second grade handout or industry guru’s blog/panel/talk/keynote I’ve ever seen.

Let’s unpack a few of these a bit. By the way, if I ever again use the term “unpack” and there isn’t actual luggage involved, please feel free to hit me.

Instead of It’s good enough, try thinking, Is this really my best work? 

We’ve all heard the clichés about good enough not being enough. But really, what does that mean when it comes down to actually doing the work? It feels very vague. But by internalizing this notion and making it relevant in a personal way, it will be easier to know if you’re there yet with the work.

We’re all our own worst critics, and that can be hard at times. But just by being honest with yourself and not stopping until you are completely satisfied with your work, you will inevitably make the work better and your work life more fulfilling. And now I’m thinking this sentence should be funnier.

Instead of saying, I can’t make this any better, try thinking, I can always improve.

Somewhat related to the previous thought, this mindset is really helpful when it comes to feedback. Ours is an industry well fed by feedback. There are word docs and video edits with revision numbers longer than the numerical expression of Pi. It’s a job requirement that you understand and can gracefully deal with the fact that your work is going to be evaluated and changed.

Instead of immediately fighting it and picking up your crayons in a fit, pause and think for a minute, “Maybe they’re right, where are the holes I didn’t see?” It’s turning a setback into a springboard. Remind me to make that into a coffee mug.

Instead of saying, I made a mistake, try thinking, Mistakes help me learn

Creative departments should be safe zones for scary ideas. Mistakes will happen. The key is to learn from them, and also learn not to be afraid of them. This is a good reminder to never let a spectacular failure go to waste.

Instead of Plan A didn’t work, try thinking, There’s always Plan B. 

The best creatives don’t get overly-attached to one idea because they know they’ll have more. This is a business where things we love die. It’s always hard when it happens. But with ideas, as with goldfish, the best way to get over it when one dies, is to go get another one.

All the thoughts on the second grade chart are great and all are very relevant to a creative department. The main themes uniting them are perspective and framing.

Advertising can be a frustrating business at times. Keeping these guidelines in mind will help those in the creative department turn frustrating moments into growth opportunities. By putting this growth mindset to use, not only will the whole department’s work get better, there will be less crying in the halls.

Greg Hahn is chief creative officer at BBDO New York.

@maxcatt Greg Hahn is chief creative officer at BBDO New York.