CQ – Commercial Intelligence

At the Cannes Lions 2013 International Festival of Creativity, I launched the concept of CQ – Commercial Intelligence – and identified CQ as the fundamental attribute that crystalizes what’s required for the successful leadership of creative businesses.  This is the transcript of my presentation at Cannes.

We at The Talent Business wanted to host a forum on leadership because we believe that above all else, leadership is the key determinant of business success.  Identifying, developing and securing future leadership is literally securing the future of the business. 

Now, more than ever before, the speed of the leader determines the speed of the organisation, and the vision of the leader, above all else, will define the corporate culture and give people in that organization the belief system and self-confidence to deliver sustainable business success.

No more is this the case than in ideas driven businesses.  In ideas driven businesses, people are the asset and if you have no people you have no assets, so it is ironic than many agencies have no strategy in place for developing their key asset – leaders of the future.  Agencies will instinctively promote the account handler who runs the agency’s biggest client into the CEO role and the creative who has won the most awards to ECD.  The assumption here is that a great practitioner must make a great business leader.  This is a flawed assumption and I will come onto why it’s a flawed assumption in due course.

Historically, the thing that agencies have been good at is nurturing emerging talent and developing great practitioners.  Most agencies have had a keen sense of what a great practitioner looks like, for creative, and across all disciplines.  And yet being a great practitioner is probably more challenging now than ever before.  In a technology driven world, new competencies have to be mastered, and more than ever before you need to have the ability to make the complex simple, you need to be able to handle ambiguity, and you need to be even more flexible with your thinking.

Being a great practitioner in a technology driven world is certainly a pre-requisite for potential business leaders – but it is not enough.

The other given for potential leaders is a well developed EQ.  I think it is generally understood that EQ is a pre-requisite for successful leaders but is still something that is ignored when identifying great practitioners with the potential to step up into leadership roles.

Broadly speaking, the key elements of EQ that we are interested in are self-awareness and empathy.  Self-awareness, because a successful leader is self-aware enough to recognise his or her own strengths and weaknesses, and will build a team around themselves that compensates for these.  Empathy is important to understand how ones behaviour impacts on other people, and to understand other people’s emotions and perspectives.

So in summary, super smart leaders of the future should be drawn from great practitioners who have a well developed EQ.

But that is not enough.

Based on our observations and experience at The Talent Business, we believe that there is one fundamental attribute that crystalizes what’s required for the successful leadership of creative businesses, and that fundamental, but widely unrecognised attribute is CQ – Commercial Intelligence.

We believe that the concept of CQ is uniquely important in creative businesses.  This is because creativity is not innately commercial.  Agencies harness the power of creativity for commercial gain.  And you can only harness the power of creativity for commercial gain if you have agency leaders with a highly developed CQ.

CQ can be learnt.  But not everybody can learn it.

For this reason, we’ve developed an observational tool to help identify those great practitioners who have the potential to develop CQ.  The rising stars who can transition from practitioner to leader.

We have devised three questions that address the three key areas of observed behaviours that, in our experience, indicate potential to develop CQ.

How do they define success?

How do they approach decision making?

Do they value relationships?

Looking first at how they define success, do they do this in terms of say business objectives, or brand transformation, or number of hits, or shifting stuff, or do they define success on the basis of a narrower, personal agenda.  Their vision or definition of success is the first important indicator of CQ.

Secondly, how do they approach decision making?  Decision making is an important aspect of leadership because creative businesses are fuelled by the generation and exploration of ideas.  Closing down ideas (and the myriad of constraints that force decision making in agencies) is often counter-intuitive.  I have seen first hand how the inability of a CEO or CCO to make decisions can literally paralyse an agency, or even a network.  Somebody’s approach to decision making and their preparedness to make decisions is the second important indicator of CQ.

Finally, do they value relationships?  I believe that great work that drives commercial success is born out of strong relationships (with colleagues and with clients).  Some people instinctively foster relationships.  Others find them a chore.  We believe that valuing relationships is the third important indicator of CQ.

CQ crystalizes what’s required of leadership in creative businesses.  Every creative business needs it in their leaders.  But current agency practices mean that it’s actually quite hard to find.

So if you believe, as we do, that in creative businesses, leadership is the key determinant of business success, continue to develop brilliant practitioners, place greater importance on EQ when promoting them into leadership roles, and above all else, start looking for, and spend more time nurturing, CQ.