Chapter 1: No Assholes

Blog / February 10, 2020

This is an excerpt from Rethink the Business of Creativity.

There are two secrets to running a creative business: hire the right people, and choose the right clients. In both cases, assholes are to be avoided at all costs.



That may sound like common sense. But it’s surprising how many companies put up with assholes in their ranks, with the rationale that talent trumps niceness, that as long as someone is brilliant they can be excused for their appalling lack of social graces.

We beg to differ. Assholes are toxic and will corrode efficiency and productivity. If you’re not careful, one asshole can single-handedly derail all three P’s (People, Product, Profit).

They make the people around them unhappy, which shows through in the creative product, which leads to unhappy clients, loss of business, and reduced profit. Assholes are rarely worth it.

At Rethink, we protect ourselves from assholes by staying true to our values. When you look at every single decision you make through a people-first lens, you arm yourself against assholery right from the outset.

If someone doesn’t play nicely with others, it doesn’t matter how talented they are, how many awards they’ve won, or how much money they make you.

Of course, the best way to avoid working with assholes is to not hire them in the first place. When we interview people, we trust the rule of first impressions: Within the first five minutes we ask ourselves,

“Would I like to go for a drink with this person?” If the answer is no, the interview is usually over.

In most creative industries if you don’t make a good first impression, you probably won’t get a chance to make a second.

On the client side, it’s amazing how many creative businesses will put up with bad behaviour in order to win or keep a piece of business.

As in many creative industries, we win over prospective clients during a pitch process that often involves multiple meetings over a period of weeks. The client uses these meetings to whittle things down to a short list of one to three agencies. We use this process to ask ourselves whether we believe in the brand and the people behind it.

If there are assholes in the client ranks, we can generally suss them out. We’ve turned down major accounts because we knew that no matter the fees at stake, working for a bad client would cost us more in blood, sweat, and tears.

In the unfortunate event that an asshole does end up within your walls, it’s important to act fast. Each day they stay is another opportunity for them to damage relationships, normalize bad behaviour, and drain morale. And keeping them around signals complacency on your part—by continuing to sign an asshole’s paycheque, you’re implicitly condoning their behaviour. Your other employees are bound to notice, and may question your commitment to your values. So sit the asshole down, tell them it’s just not a good fit, and send them on their way (with a fair compensation package).

Life’s too short to work with assholes. 

Rethink the Business of Creativity will be available in-store from February 25, or you can pre-order from Indigo or Amazon. Find out more about the book and why we wrote it.