Thinking about your creative work like Lego Blocks

“It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose.”

– Capt. Jean-Luc Piccard


We’ve all been there if you work in the advertising industry. You have this great idea, the right idea, the mindblower idea. You’ve spent the last six months crafting this idea, molding the idea, and pitching it to your co-workers. They buy in, it’s on brief and with just a few tweaks here and there, it’s even better than before. It’s your baby dammit and it’s going to change the world… right? Of course it is! Of course it is. Of course it is.

Pitch day comes and you pitch like you’ve never pitched before. The team is firing on all cylinders and there can be no doubt that this is the greatest ad idea ever. The idea of a lifetime.

The presentation comes to a close and there’s a pause. A bottomless pit of silence and despair. You look at your client and your client stares back at you. Gahh! Seconds turn into years and the clients’ steely gaze is giving nothing away. You take a breath, hold it in and wait.

“This is the greatest idea of all time!” They say as their eyes go from viper to bunny in what seems like an instant. “When do we start! Let’s talk next steps!” It’s a win. No, that’s too small, a homerun. Nay, a grand-mother-fuckin-slamma-damma-ding-dong. You and your crew leave the presentation high-fiving and fist-bumping your way to the bar. You all did it. It’s going to happen. It’s actually going to happen.

It doesn’t happen. The company goes out of business the following day. Something to do with stocks and poor ownership or some other crap. Unfortunately, your idea, the one you nurtured and grew with passion and care, the one that was going to take the advertising industry by storm, is now dead before it ever got a chance to breathe.

Devastation. What now?

There’s plenty of ways good ideas get killed. Some are eviscerated in meetings, some fall off cliffs, some are hit by a random bus, some just walk off into the distance—never to be seen or heard from again. And it’s a hard swallow every single time it happens. There are just too many permutations to bringing any idea to life to expect them all to succeed. And the better the idea, the harder the fall for creatives and their delicate feelings.

So, how should we as creatives (or anyone really) handle something like this? Well, after having many good ideas die bad deaths throughout my career as an advertising Art Director, I have a few thoughts on how to get past the sadness and move on to bigger and better things.

An example:

Years ago, I was approached by our Managing Director (now Partner) Ric Williams to help pitch on a local craft beer company’s brand identity. We wanted to re-invigorate their look and feel and I went to town designing some new labels for them to help win their business. I developed a brand-new illustration style for them. Something unique and offbeat. It was right and it was the best illustrations I’d ever done. I received great feedback internally from my peers and I knew I was on to something really cool. I poured my heart and soul into those bad boys, let me tell ya.

Unfortunately, Ric’s industry contact and pathway into the organization left the company for greener pastures and I was left with a bag full of illustrations that would never see the light of day.

Devastation. What now?

A few months later Ric came back with a different project. A company called Honest Dumplings. And while developing that brand I ended up dusting off the illustrations I had done for the craft beer company and adapting that unique style for Honest Dumplings. A perfect fit. Even better than before.

I ended up grabbing illustration and branding awards locally, nationally, and internationally for my work and it changed my perspective on “dead” work. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have got there anyway with the illustrations, but all the leg work and hours spent on the craft beer labels gave me the experience and the technique to bring the Honest Dumplings stuff to the next level.

It made me think “Your work’s not dead. It’s just in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to strike.”

All the thinking and effort a person puts into an idea, a design, a campaign, or a headline is never truly wasted. It’s growth, it’s experience, it’s learning, it’s getting better at presentations, better at drawing, it’s researching and honing your craft, it’s relationship building and teamwork building and network building and you building.

People are watching and listening to you. The work you do is impressing and informing people daily. The effort you put in doesn’t go unnoticed. It will come back around. You will get another opportunity eventually. Caring about your work is integral to doing good work. But pushing forward after things come crashing down is what gives you the strength to get back on the bull and ride again.

Once I realized this, it made the deaths of projects hurt less. I knew that all the hours of work I put in could be re-contextualized and re-packaged for different clients and project.

A few other examples:

I needed to learn 3D for a cool project that never saw the light of day. But it gave me the skills in 3D software to impress many other clients because that skill could be translated to their projects as well. 

I developed one of the best and most unique brand identities of my career and the company I developed it for just couldn’t find the capital get off the ground. The brand and presentation work that was done however, is now shared internally and in pitches to prospective clients as an example of great brand design and art direction. It essentially became a tool we use to help build brand identities as an organization today.

More recently, we developed a great brand launch advertising campaign for a client that would help them stand out in a very, very, stale market. We made it through 3 levels of client approvals and got the green light to go into production but in the end, it didn’t see the light of day. And that’s ok because we built a fantastic client relationship along the way and were able to share just how creative our team is. And honestly, now we get a chance to try and top our last great idea and do an even greater one.

I try and think about my work like Lego blocks. I just built the best Lego castle I’ve ever built. I show it to a friend, but he knocks my masterpiece out of my hand and it falls to the ground and smashes into tiny pieces. “Castles are for losers” he says.

Devastation. What now?

The truth is that all the pieces are still there, all I have to do is pick them up, rearrange them in a different way and voila. Another Lego masterpiece. But maybe I’ll show this Lego rocket ship to a different friend.

Perspective is a life-saver in our industry (sometimes literally). I sell the most intangible thing to people on a daily basis. My ideas. I don’t think for a minute that my ideas are always going to be accepted or even work for that matter. I have faith that they will succeed and change the world and I’m an optimist at heart. When my creative ideas and projects don’t succeed or even make it out the front door, I know that I can just rearrange the pieces and make something new. Something better. And that always makes me feel good.


Want to chat more? Reach out to Scott Steele, ZGM's Director of Visual Execution, at


View all posts

Want more stuff like this?