Lessons from the Ladder: ‘Don’t be afraid to stay quiet’

DebsBy Debs Gerrard, creative director, KBS Albion

 I’m constantly surprised by how much you can learn from just about any situation in life. My first set of life lessons came from the Russians. At age six, I was training 20 hours a week as a gymnast under gritty Eastern Bloc taskmasters. I quit at age 11 but here’s what I learnt:

* Talent is but a small part of success.
* Passion is everything.
* You have to do things that scare you to move up a level

Nine years later, I took these lessons into my first “sink or swim” agency job. I quickly realised that putting your heart and soul into everything – especially the stuff no-one else wanted – meant that people would make time for you. With the echo of “yeshche raz” (“once more”) in my head, I also learnt that persistence is equally key to creative success.

As my career progresses, what I find more interesting is how to inspire others. Sadly, yelling like a Russian coach wasn’t me, so I had to create my own leadership style and figure out how this could be reflected in a creative process. I reinvented our conceptual ways of working that put stakeholders at its heart.

Since then, I’ve been working with the broader agency team to codify how we work across product, communications and brand to create the incredible. Here are a few more things that I learnt on this bit of the journey.


For a long time, I thought that my career would be stunted because I would never be the loudest person in a room. Increasingly, I find this to be a strength, as a modern creative process demands greater empathy and collaboration. Don’t be afraid to stay quiet.


Nowadays, as a creative you need to be genuinely commercially savvy and have a deep understanding of your client’s business. Opt out of this and expect to be marginalised as just the words or picture person. Engaging with the commercial strategist at KBS Albion has given me some of the most remarkable creative springboards of my career.


“Fill your head with s**t” is potentially the best advice I’ve had in my career. I’m constantly meeting people and shamelessly asking questions. I’m currently conducting a series of interviews with chefs, artists and even cheese-makers to try to understand how they think.


One of those interviews was with Paul Hedge, owner of Hales Gallery. He told me: “If you want to draw an elephant, draw a giraffe and then gradually change it into an elephant – you’ll get a much more interesting elephant.” A top tip in lateral problem-solving.


My first executive creative director said he had hired me because of my enthusiasm, not my average student portfolio. Don’t get me wrong, I think this industry has a lot it needs to change – but be an enthusiastic participant in where it needs to go, rather than a cynical commentator on where it is.



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