I believe that great game changing ideas come from the edges, not from where you usually look. That’s why I like how the arts — and especially movies — let you free your mind to explore new ways of looking at familiar things.

At WS Toronto we host monthly Movie Nights for our staff. We choose movies that make you think. Then we discuss their relevance to our work. One thing we’ve all learned is, you can stumble on some great nuggets tucked inside a documentary or feature film. Like Pete Townshend’s insight on building an audience: “don’t market to them, market them” in the doc Lambert and Stamp or Errol Morris’s view from the The Fog of War that the public “sees what it believes, and does not believe what it sees.”

Over the holidays I spent some quality time watching movies and TV series that link to my key business priorities for 2017. Here is what’s on my mind for next year [and what you may want to put on yours?].


A Marvel superhero returns to Harlem to smash the corrupt power structure that is choking the life out of the community. Lots of action, great performances and the best musical vibe on TV.

The best turn is by Mahershala Ali as criminal kingpin Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes. His office at the club has a portrait of rapper Biggie Smalls that dominates every frame. That’s my inspiration because separating the “biggies” from the “smalls” is the key to healthy time- management and getting things done.

Lesson 1: Self-actualization guru Stephen Covey said: “Put first things first: The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” In our industry, separating what matters most from what matters every day is hard but essential. Thinking slow, not thinking fast, gets you ahead faster.


Beyond is just ok as a movie. I like the new franchise so any title works. The relevance to our business? At some point in the story Kirk always turns to Scotty with an impossible demand for more warp drive to get the Enterprise out of trouble.

Capacity management is a major concern for me. Time is the one thing we use that never renews. Managing other people’s time is an enormous responsibility. We’ve got to be smart and convert time into revenue efficiently to drive the business forward in a sustainable way. If we lose control of over-service and unbillable administration, we deplete the agency of its energy and spark. Next to go is curiosity, innovation and client care.

Lesson 2: Be relentlessly focused on taking total staff time down as we boost revenue per person by bringing more consistency and visibility to everyday client and people management. It is a big challenge, but it’s doable and should always be top of mind.


This coming-of-age story is about a 16-year old girl who resists her parents’ efforts to control her destiny and push her into the “better life” they wish they had. Surprise, she rebels and falls in with an older lover whose flaws are her real education.

This movie reminds me we must never stop learning. We’re working hard to become a better learning culture inside WS Canada. We believe leaders need to have a craft and teach it. We want staff to attend as many outside panels as possible. We bring speakers from the outside in. We host “The Scoop Live” to stay on top of current events. The WS Academy is our focused learning program on agency basics.

Lesson 3: A strong learning program is essential to our efforts to deliver an engaging employee experience and ensure the agency keeps ahead of the world outside our bubble.


Back to the stars with a classic. Relevance? Everything that goes right or wrong in our business usually starts with the choice of client leader. They are the Jedi Knights. A great one drives the business forward with happy clients and award-winning work. A weaker one shows up as over-service and over-utilization on a spreadsheet from finance while your client shows up at a competitor.

Our business is getting more complex. Leading an integrated account in a shared resource environment is a big challenge. Our success as an agency will be driven by our ability to deliver our CX pillars in a seamless way. It’s never been more important to be “IN” a client’s business, know their strategy, their competitive challenges, their culture and the client as a person.

Lesson 4: Our client leaders must be able to lead the way as our Jedi Knights navigating the future.


No movie collection is complete without an entry from the Coen Brothers. The Big Lebowski is a case of mistaken identity that breeds one mistake after another as “The Dude” seeks restitution for a ruined rug.

The Dude is my role model. Who I aspire to be. He knows who he is. As the spiritual leader of a small tribe of screwed-up bowlers he expects the universe to bend to him. He has a true sense of purpose and demonstrates admirable flexibility navigating scam artists, militant nihilists, an unhinged Vietnam vet and assorted low-lifes, never once losing sight of his inner Dude.

Lesson 5: Staying close to our purpose and navigating what comes with agility is essential. Keep the focus on our north star. Do what we do and the results will follow.

Best wishes for a great 2017! I hope you spent some time at the movies over your break.