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Block Kryptonite, Enhance Superpowers

In-house transformation. Value-seeking. Driving efficiency. Generating creative power. All major initiatives in our industry over the past 5-10 years.

If you’re a leader of any sized in-house agency (IHA), you know that the in-house movement has made tremendous advances the past decade. We’re more business-focused; we have improved workflow processes, organization and talent; and we’re functioning more collaboratively within our teams and across the industry. Not least, our creative power is skyrocketing! You also know the concept of transforming a creative service-bureau into a fully functional (and valuable) IHA is at once exciting and frightening. However, what you may not have heard as much about: we’re living on the edge.

If we’re going to truly and collectively smash through the barriers and perceptions of old, we have to continue making major advancements and improvements in our mindsets, our habits and our perspectives. And that starts with acknowledging our Superpowers and the alternatives to those powers—our Kryptonite. Because the same habits and skills that make us powerful as an industry can do us in.

IHA Superpowers Bind Us All
As in-house agencies, we share these significant strengths:

  • Proximity: We’re on the inside—close to all the people, products and processes that make our companies great.
  • Longevity: The average turnover in our business is only 5%. That longevity translates into incredible smarts and experience.
  • Institutional Knowledge: The fact that we’re close to the business and have teams who have worked at our companies for many years gives us unmatched knowledge about how things work. That’s a great Superpower!

But Don’t Forget About Kryptonite

  • Weakness: Beware, our strengths, over-expressed, can become our weaknesses. We don’t want to let our weaknesses stagnate and begin to define us.
  • Myopia: If we’re too close for too long, our frame of reference shrinks. We must take great care in IHAs to ensure we see outside-in views as clearly as our inside-in proximity provides.
  • Dysfunction: The longer we stay in one place, the more likely it is that junk will collect. This is not to say that all long-standing items, habits or people—the results of longevity—are bad. Quite the contrary. But habits, processes and capabilities must not stand idle, or they become junk.

Institutionalized Thinking: A great example of institutionalized thinking is in the movie “The Shawshank Redemption,” a brilliant story about people with great institutional knowledge, in this case of a prison, who are ultimately incapable of functioning outside that institution. We must always bring an inside-out perspective to our in-house teams, and never become institutionalized.

Here are my suggestions to avoid these Kryptonite traps. The solutions are simple, though not easy:

  1. Protecting against your IHA’s Kryptonite and fostering its Superpowers requires full commitment, complete honesty and daily vigilance. That translates into open, clear-minded and brave leadership—leaders who know that creating change creates discomfort and resistance. Brave leaders persevere anyway.
  2. You need an objective, well-articulated vision and value statement for your IHA. “Better, faster, cheaper” isn’t enough. Becoming THE group that changes stakeholder behavior around strategic imperatives—that’s more like it.
  3. Operate like fiends. Collaborate wildly. Stomp out inefficiencies. Prioritize your strategies and your projects. Build advocacy and educate often. Bring outside-in views to your company—always.

Is this all it’s going to take? Of course not. It takes daily, clear-eyed persistence in a variety of focus areas. But if we collectively stomp out our Kryptonite and expand our Superpowers, the sky’s the limit.

What propels your team forward? What holds it back?
I’d love to hear from you and swap stories.


Wayne Barringer

Wayne is the head of Boeing Creative Services – a 150-person in-house agency with offices in Seattle, LA, St. Louis and Chicago. Before he led a full-scale turnaround of the IHA at Boeing, he consulted on and led successful transformations at external ad agencies and PR firms in the Pacific Northwest. He has served on the adjunct faculty at three major universities and has delivered keynote presentations at some of the industry’s biggest events, including HOW Design Live!, IHAF Annual Conference, ANA In-House Agency Days, Creative Operations Exchange, and multiple corporate events.