Succeeding in-house means losing the creative industry ego

In-house creative teams can be sidelined if they are seen to be overbearing or insular, says what3words’ chief creative officer Ivan Pols


I joined what3words after a career spent at a few famous advertising agencies, where I was a global creative director. I believed awards were really important, spoke in a peculiar language of acronyms, and had the unfortunate habit of thinking advertising was more important than it actually is.

What I didn’t have was any experience of working outside of my industry, and felt I needed to prove myself over and over again.

what3words was created by a musician, a mathematician, and a language expert, with business development people and software engineers.

Its working culture was quite different to what I was used to. It’s more of an iterative engineering process rather than leaps of logic and selling the big idea.

Of course, I had noticed I was working at a tech startup, so I had tried to change my approach to fit in.

But not long after joining what3words, a few of us with advertising agency backgrounds were duly informed that we were perceived as having unjustified pride.

Our egos were apparently a bit much.

That was hard to hear, since it didn’t match how I felt I was behaving. But in branding, perception is everything.

As a marketing leadership team, we decided to accept the truth of it and change our behaviour and reputation. We improved over the years by being sensitive to our ego habits and supporting each other with honest feedback. I think we’re all much better business leaders and colleagues because we learned to listen.

I’ve spoken to creative people inside all sorts of businesses about this idea of losing the creative industry ego. It comes up again and again as something that needs to happen to have productive relationships with other departments.



When we change industry environment, we need to adapt how we work, not what we make. When that change doesn’t happen the in-house creative team can be sidelined, or in some cases I know of, retrenched.

This is now the advice I give anyone who joins what3words: leave your last job at your last job. You don’t have to justify yourself, and the fact that you are here means you’re good. No one wants to keep hearing about what you did somewhere else; what matters is what you create here, today.

It’s advice I wish I’d been given and hope I would have been smart enough to take.

In the beginning of what3words the marketing leadership team was seen as a clique. It was perceived that we spoke over people, that we surprised key stakeholders with our solutions and we weren’t open.

Now we’re trusted, create meaningful business impact and have seats at the main table.

For me personally, learning to adapt to the culture of what3words, and learning how to add to it, has been creatively empowering.

We’ve built a wonderful brand together, which is why we came here in the first place.


Ivan Pols is chief creative officer at what3words. This article was originally published as part of his series of In-House Essays.

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