Rhod Ellis-Jones is the principal consultant for Australian agency, Ellis Jones. Holding a Masters of Arts and a Bachelor of Science degree, his key areas of professional interest include shared value, research as engagement, the arts, integrated communication, brand and place identity, and social impact. You can meet Rhod at July breakfast event.
Can you describe a major ‘lights on’ moment in your career… an event, occurrence or moment in your career when you learnt a powerful lesson that significantly changed your approach?
I was working as an adviser to the Lord Mayor of Melbourne. I was assigned a speech: an event to launch a monograph of Australian artist Albert Tucker’s work. To prepare the speech I interviewed Barbara Tucker, his second wife (now sadly no longer with us). She was loquacious, bright, wise and humble. I didn’t want to get off the phone.
The last point she left me with was that Albert Tucker had spent his life wrestling with the duality of good and evil, present in all of us and the institutions we create.
Ever since, I have been constantly reminded of Tucker’s struggle and resulting insight.
What was the background to the ‘lights on’ moment?
I was in my late 20s, over-confident and suitably naïve. Something I wouldn’t have enjoyed hearing at the time! But, while enjoying success, I often felt exposed, as I was, as a freelance consultant without the buffer of a consistent mentor or business partner.
What was the major lesson you learned?
- There is no truth, only perspectives on it.
- Awareness and introspection are essential attributes of designers, strategists and communicators.
- As much as we are called on to give absolute advice and direction, we are doomed to failure unless we create space for multiple perspectives and acknowledge the dynamic environment in which advice is given.
- We are all capable of doing bad things, particularly when (unwittingly) we trip over our own ignorance. I am very cautious of branding anything ‘bad’ or ‘good’. Too often a policy, a product or an organisation, is both.
How have you applied that lesson in your career and what has the impact been?
As someone who is called on every day, to understand and communicate – to steer the behaviour of people near and far – I am ever aware of the many perspectives as well as vested interests.
I try not to be quick to judge and to repress that base human reaction of blame. It has helped me be creative and, more importantly, help others who work alongside me to be creative in the pursuit of a better functioning society.
How do you believe other communicators could benefit from your experience and the lesson you’ve learned?
- Nuance is critical to effective communications.
- Create the space to think. Never believe too much in the ascendancy of your idea or strategy before you have invited discussion. Be willing to give it new life and greater impact with the input of others.
- Feel the relevant emotions before you think: our emotions transcend our capacity for reason.
- And consume art in all its guises! Except musicals.