I have had my ego broken a fair few times. Not an explosive glass-vase-shattering break, leaving cuts and a messy floor; more like that by the wise rider of a winged Pegasus before taking flight.
When you brand yourself a believer in a MadWorld and you stride through the iron clad doors of corporate strongholds , your only armour being big dreams, ferocious passion and a wild imagination; you’re looking for something, and that something is often an ego beating. And I’ve found more than my fair share. I’ve had phones slammed, doors jammed, tables shaken, threats yelled, chests puffed, cheeks flushed, eyes gone wild; and I’ve witnessed some pretty churlish contortions of human physiognomies – all of which made me think about the nature of my own ego.
Has it at times been so big that rooms couldn’t hold it? Had I inflated it with so much hot air that it threatened to burst? Did those around me view me as a gargantuan doll they wished they could just pin the needle into? Exaggeration makes a great tragedy, doesn’t it?
I maybe never quite reached the Kanye lyrical stage of ‘such a big ego’ that it became my best friend, but I had my moments. I realised that the human being can be such a fragile, sensitive creature, a being that layers itself with so many barriers against being wounded, hurt, embarrassed, shown-up, dumbed-up, afflicted and biffed. But this is what inspired me to create for them, speak to them, reach them, stir their hearts and move their limbs. It radiated our uniqueness, but it also revealed fear. We are afraid, we are so afraid!
Fear is often disguised in our egos; insecurities muted through our ramblings of jargon; sensitivities concealed through our machismo. We prefer to show each other who’s the boss, who’s the client, who’s got the money, who’s got the power. We want each other to shut up and listen. It reminds me of the old Rabbi who used to try to hush his wife with a slurring ssshush, whenever she corrected his Hebrew from the top tier, saying he hadn’t yet made his point. Egos will make us persist for the wrong reasons, finish the wrong points, promote bad ideas. Egos are barriers that stifle creativity, suppress expression and drown out big ideas.
If I have learnt one thing in business, it is that much of business is really just boasting, posing (or perhaps imposing), and trying to get others to think that the sun shines from where we sure as hell all know it doesn’t! And this is often the environment, the cultures we ourselves cultivate, cultures of hostility and intimidation, of business persons being these infallible ‘idol-like’ judges of our stardom or our mediocrity – the critics who exclaim ‘I know it’s not good, but I’m not creative’. Perhaps this is unfair, because sometimes our stuff just isn’t great. We all suffer creative depressions and stuck-in-ruts, feeling wholly uninspired, and often left wondering how it is we ever convinced ourselves we were brilliant! But exaggeration is a necessity of tragedy.
We need to return to our roots, to our childlike states, to remember that we are working with humans, for humans – we are speaking to people. All business in some form seeks to service the human race often for starkly different reasons, and with distinctly different ethics. But humans are the market – the tired moms, the rebellious teens, the terrible two-year-olds, the couch-potato dad, the round-ass Instagrammer, the techy app-addict, the protesting student, the wise grandparent, the lonely bachelor, or whoever, however, whatever – they are persons. They are flesh and blood people, who dream, hope, aspire and seek inspiration, friendship, and community. How will we speak to them when our theatre of ideas is a cold formal boardroom filled with rambling big egos?
Big egos break brands! In fact big egos destroy human beings. Whether we realise it or not, revelations are just that – revelations – and they will happen when we least expect them. And that will only be once we’ve come down to earth, looked in the mirror, taken stock and reflected deeply of who and what we are, and have allowed ourselves, as business people, to become. Big egos break businesses, and businesses are brands, and brands are the life-blood of the business, because they create a relationship with people – people who must come to love them or hate them, sometimes even both.
Marketing and advertising environments are often showgrounds for an ego to romp, catwalk, peacock, and beat its chest. They are the cliques the inner circles, the temples of the who’s who of the who. They’re where we live out our titles but where our personas wave the flags of openness, diplomacy, charity, sociality and all the other fronts to supposedly temper our own egos – the egos that are at work every day, in a thousand ways and a thousand situations, all creating an unimaginable ripple effect, the consequences of which we have not even an inkling of knowing.
And yet these environments are supposed to be the arts of the business world, zones to colour our lives, to paint what is possible, to evoke and enliven a love for what we do – not a job, but a vocation. These are supposed to be the humanities of our business empires, the faculties where we are to “encounter words and images and ideas that are going to change your life”; not so?
Why then have our egos divided us among ourselves, our purposes, our offerings and our values? Is it because we are so busy trying to keep up with the Jones’ of our little industry worlds that we have forgotten to keep up with the Johnsons who got us dreaming, imagining and thinking creatively in the first place?
We’re not doomed though; we’ve just strayed, gotten a little lost. The big ego can’t kill creativity, but creativity can silence the big ego. Ideas can prick the big ego, watch it implode, and in turn make the real true human nature erupt, even within the doldrums of melamines-maples-objectives-and-jargons. Big egos may break brands; but big ideas build them up again.
I have had my ego broken a fair few times. Thank you to all those dreamers, thinkers, inspirers, friends, and foes who have broken my ego with their ideas, their dreams, their visions and their creativity. Your ideas have re-built me, when my ego tried to break my brand, my Mad me.
Now it’s time for me to return the favour.
About Adelaide Potgieter – Founder of Mad World
Adelaide Potgieter is an entrepreneur and founder of Mad World, a diverse group of companies consisting of the Mad:Advertising (ad agency) , CineMad (film & tv), Mad:Music & Mad:Studios (music, recording and video), Stagefront (stage, construction & shopfitting), Mad:Online (call & contact centre), The Bromwell (fashion and art retail), BREAD (food kitchen, bakery & sweet shop), aMadoda Braai (tshisanyama), Mad Space (property) and WTL (non-profit).