When I was a kid, my parents were kind enough to encourage my artistic talents through weekly art lessons. As we lived in a small town in Alabama, this was no easy feat. My mom drove me to classes in the nearest “city,” half an hour away. I loved those lessons because I got 2 hours to devote single pointed attention to my painting or drawing. But there was one part that I didn’t love. And that’s when my teacher would demonstrate a certain brushstroke or technique on MY canvas. While her intentions were honorable, it made me insane because whatever resulting work I created had a big blotch of her work right in the middle of it. It was no longer MY work. It was OURS.

When I first got into advertising, I felt much the same way when the client, the account executive, the president, or the secretary of the agency suggested a change on an ad I had created. After all, I spent most of my waking hours perfecting this communication. I knew it was as good as it could be. In my mind, any change was a bad change.

As the years passed and I matured, I learned that change was not all bad. With experience, I began to see that good ideas sometimes actually evolve into better ones based on the suggestions and collaboration of others. I also learned that it could be extremely beneficial to get input from clients at an earlier stage in the process. (That way, I don’t waste my precious time picking out curtains for a house nobody likes, if you know what I mean).

An old creative director of mine used to carry a slip of paper in his pocket that said, “What if s/he’s right?” At the time, that made me crazy. (Though I benefited greatly from his philosophy). I thought he should believe more in his own opinions and less in the opinions of others. Being easily influenced is not a great trait in anyone – but it’s a death knell for a creative director. Still, I see the wisdom in that little slip of paper of his.

Today, while I remain idealistic about creating advertising, I’m a bit more flexible in daily practice. I find myself actually listening to the opinions of others before deciding whether or not they’re valid. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still don’t believe in change for change’s sake. And I’ll go to the mat with you if you try to change something that I wholeheartedly disagree with. But it’s nice to know that others care about the creative work. And it’s even nicer to have a relationship with clients and coworkers in which you respect each other enough to freely discuss desired changes, but trust each other enough not to force them.

After all, in advertising as in art, there’s a big difference between collaborating and painting on one’s canvas.