Advertising is sometimes thought of as a very competitive, dog-eat-dog world where your instinct to survive is put to the test every day. I was always too busy or too worried to know if that was true.
Occasionally, one-upsmanship would rear its ugly head at a meeting, but I found that those things had a way of taking care of themselves. Usually the person who tried to show off merely showed that he really wasn't that good. The rest of us didn't have to say a thing. There was that misplaced sort of etiquette you find in a classroom, where students are reluctant to critique another's work. Then again, I never really worked in New York.
An art director who used to work for me here in the Bay Area (we'll call her Myra) decided she wanted to live in Manhattan. She was a wonderful advertising designer with great taste. She also loved to party, making New York a perfect choice. She immediately got a job with a large design firm there, and found herself in an environment where everyone had to take their work home at night --- or their ideas would be stolen.
Myra hated it. Nobody shared, nobody helped anybody. She did very well there, winning competitions and having her designs chosen by some of the biggest names in industry. But for every winner, of course, there are losers, and who wants to work in a place that creates an environment for bad losers. I love Myra, and was thrilled when she quit there to be in charge of graphic design for a prominent New York fashion house where people had better values.
Probably the worst situation is when you're in competition with your own boss, and I have been there. It's exhausting. A no-win. There were meetings where everyone was asked which idea was best, and mine or someone else's would be chosen over the boss' . It can be ugly, with your boss explaining to everyone why your idea wasn't as good. A classic father /son conflict. Pure envy, and you have to go to work every day for one of the Seven Deadly Sins.
In my case, competition took a strange turn one year when the agency c.e.o. was having an affair with a beautiful art director who worked for me. If I killed one of her ads, I'd get a call from the c.e.o. If I was working on a new campaign with another art director, I'd get a call from the c.e.o. saying his girlfriend had a great idea that could use my help. And call after call from the c.e.o. about how great things would be for the agency if I teamed up with her permanently. When I did work with her, we won awards. With all the pressure to give up my autonomy I realized a man doesn't live by awards alone. One day I simply quit.
Advertising is competitive, and that's healthy. Some people get sharper, and the work gets better. That's when we're also cooperating, knowing we're only as good as our last commercial.
When Myra left that New York design firm I quoted Benjamin Disraeli, the British prime minister: "Life is too short to be little."