As Chief Creative Officer of what3words, Ivan Pols is tasked with ‘helping everyone talk about everywhere.’ In the latest in Genie’s Inside Track series, we spoke to Ivan to find out about the work he’s doing to make that happen, and what it takes to run a best-in-class in-house creative team.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration in good questions and hard problems. And that could be anything from ‘how do you get anyone to eat this cereal?’ to ‘how do you build a global standard in addressing?’ I enjoy being pushed.
The other way I find inspiration is by watching people. We spend so much time behind our computer screens but the work that we create is out there in the real world and has to influence people in somewhere between two and 10 seconds. As creatives, being able to do that successfully requires observation.
Tell us about a campaign you wish you’d conceived?
The one that sticks out to me is Tide’s ‘It’s A Tide Ad’ campaign. In 2018 it allowed them to basically own the SuperBowl, and it was so successful that every time you saw a clean t-shirt in an advert you’d think, ‘it must be a Tide ad.’ I admire that ability to create an association with just a couple of words. And then everyone’s in on the joke, everyone can make a Tide ad.
Who have you worked with that has most inspired your journey to date?
Most recently it would have to be the team at what3words (Chris Sheldrick, Jack Waley-Cohen, Mohan Ganesalingam, Clare Jones and Giles Rhys-Jones). They set up the company with a clever idea and a clear vision for making the world a better place.
That comes through in every aspect of the business – from the fact that emergency services and NGOs can use us for free, to the type of marketing we do and the way we talk to our users. It’s a unique way to approach the world around us, and for me that’s very inspiring.
One of my favourite projects was a film we shot with AirBnB a couple of years ago, about the Dukha Reindeer Tribe in Northern Mongolia. We did it on a shoestring and it was only a matter of weeks from having the idea to making it a reality, and it was a very special experience. It really sums up what I love about this business and the people we work with.
What piece of work have you made, that’s had the biggest impact?
When I joined the team I was looking at how to help people understand that what3words is an address. I was convinced that when people were scanning a guide or a website listing, they weren’t understanding that the random three words are a precise location. We needed to work out our equivalent to the ‘@’ symbol or the hashtag. We came up with three forward slashes – /// – in front of the what3words address which makes it much easier to read.
We incorporated the three slashes into our logo in 2016, along with our app and our website, and from that point began using it in our communication. Soon, people started using it too. We weren’t explicitly telling anyone to do it, it was just picked up, and gradually repeated and repeated and repeated. It’s been building ever since.
What are your aspirations for the creative industry?
I think we’ve made a mistake by labelling it ‘the creative industry.’ It suggests that some people are creative and others aren’t, and that’s not the case – the most natural thing for human beings to be is creative. So my aspiration is that instead we work as creative champions: people who care about creativity and how creative techniques work, and who coach others to harness their own creative thinking.
This means everyone gets to be creative, and we’ve given people the tools and the coaching to do that. It breaks down barriers because suddenly you’re not having to be precious over who ‘owns’ creative thinking within the business.
What are your ambitions for what3words?
My big ambition is for what3words to become part of people’s normal life. To be used the same way postcodes are used, or QWERTY keyboards. If we can achieve that, that’ll be amazing. But it’s a rare thing.
What are the key ingredients you’re going to be looking for in the talent you hire?
I’m looking for craft: people that can make things. It’s important to me that you’re not just a thinker. We are thinkers and makers.
I’m also looking for people who contribute to the team dynamic. So I’m very careful about hiring people who bring different backgrounds and worldviews.
Your culture binge:
Denis Villeneuve, the director behind Dune, Blade Runner. They’re not just movies, they’re also paintings.
Podcast that taught you something new
I like In Our Time by Melvyn Bragg. I just love hearing smart people talk about things that I don’t fully understand.
Show/exhibition/music that’s inspired you
I recently went to the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris and saw the Mitchell Monet exhibition. It was amazing to see works that you imagine you know, but then to see them there in front of you almost 20 metres wide.