Monday, September 29, 2014

Does Collaboration Actually Just Screw Things Up?

A depiction of the supposedly evil activity known as baton-passing

We work in a highly collaborative industry. And collaboration is universally held to be a good thing.

In fact the very worst thing you can say about an agency is that they work 'in silos'.

But hey, long-term readers will know that I get a kick out of questioning received wisdom. 
So - just as a thought experiment - let's ponder for a moment, what would our industry be like without any collaboration? 

I guess it would take the form of 'baton-passing', which means that one person hands their portion of a job over to the next person in the chain, with no time spent working on it together.

Currently, baton-passing is thought to be pure evil, akin to harming children or animals. And all we ever hear around collaboration is unequivocally positive. It is said to lead to more and better ideas, as different disciplines spark off each other. And it is said to lead to ideas that are 'more right', as each discipline reins in the excesses of the others.

But is collaboration really the dog's nuts?

The main argument against collaboration is cost. An example - a particular agency where I once worked was radically collaborative. Often we would have multi-hour meetings in which ten or so of the agency's most senior staff were sat in a room together. Result: we didn't make money. The benefits of collaboration must outweigh the increased cost, otherwise it's pointless. Are you sure that's the case in your agency? Have you stopped to think how much those multi-person meetings are costing?

The other argument against collaboration is that it dilutes expertise. Example: Person A is an expert at what they do, having logged more than 10,000 hours in their field. Under the collaborative system, they are encouraged not to completely finish a piece of work, but instead to leave it, say, two-thirds finished. They then go into a meeting with Persons B, C, D and E to finish it collaboratively. But whereas Person A is a highly regarded specialist in his field... B,C,D and E are well-meaning amateurs. Would it not be better to just get A to do the job by himself, and then pass it over?

Third and final point: one of the basic principles of economics is that division of labour is more efficient. This is from Adam Smith, people - the guy on the twenty pound note.

In the first chapter of The Wealth of Nations (1776), Adam Smith explains that traditional pin makers in a home workshop could produce only a few dozen pins a day. However, when organised in a factory, with each worker performing a limited operation and then passing their part of the pin onto the next worker, they could produce thousands a day. The pins were higher quality too, as once each worker became specialised in their own part of the process, their dexterity at it improved. Their tendency to innovate rose also.

Now obviously, we're not making pins here. But do some of Adam Smith's points still stand? Would an agency work better if it fully entrusted each step of the process to the specialists, rather than (for example) having meetings where suits help create strategy, or planners critique work?

Sure, we'd lose something if we abolished collaboration. But my provocation is, would we gain more?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Would You Rather The Workspace Of A Prostitute Or A Currency Trader?

What is good design?

Good design is design that meets the user's needs.

Workspace design is no exception.

Let's hear what a prostitute, a currency trader, and an advertising creative have to say on the subject:

Hi, I'm Leila. I'm a prostitute. My job relies on being able to create a very special bond between two people. We need privacy. We need to be able to shut out the outside world, in a space where we're not observed or overheard, where we can say anything and do anything, however crazy, if it feels right. That's when the results are truly mind-blowing. Hence, my workspace really has to be a private room; open plan wouldn't meet my needs at all. So what do I get? Ah, a private room. Cool.

Hi, I'm Jim. I'm a currency trader. My job relies on constant contact with a large team. We need openness. We need to be able to see each other and talk to each other - even shout at each other - at all times. It's great when it's noisy, there's a buzz, we thrive on that energy. That's when the results are mind-blowing. Hence, my workspace really has to be open-plan; a private room wouldn't meet my needs at all. So what do I get? Ah, open plan. Cool.

Hi, I'm Matt. I'm an ad agency creative. My job relies on being able to create a very special bond between two people. We need privacy. We need to be able to shut out the outside world, in a space where we're not observed or overheard, where we can say anything and do anything, however crazy, if it feels right. That's when the results are truly mind-blowing. Hence, my workspace really has to be a private room; open plan wouldn't meet my needs at all. So what do I get? Oh, I see. Open plan. Why? Okay, I'm happy to give up the door, can I at least have some walls - they can even be glass ones - so I can have a little privacy, and put my work up? No? Fuck it. I'll just put my headphones on. Maybe pop out to a cafe later.

Monday, September 15, 2014

New Idea: Ban Everything Except Post-It Notes

We all wang on about the importance of simplicity.

But our actions do not back up our words.

Not by a long shot.

Clients say they want 'simple, powerful, effective advertising.' But too many of them (not talking about mine, who are lovely!)  feel they will get to this by presenting the agency with 54 pages of Powerpoint charts and brand architecture diagrams.
Planners want Creatives to deliver great work that's on-brief... but there's often various possible briefs within the several pages they hand over.

And Creatives - yes, we must own up to our own failings too - write elaborate TV scripts, and lengthy descriptions of activations or interactive ideas... whose verbiage often obscures the fact they don't actually have an idea in them.

Anyway, I'm not here to complain. I'm here to suggest an answer.

We simply ban all presentation materials (Powerpoint, Keynote etc) and indeed all forms of stationery, except for the post-it note.

And I'm not talking about the rectangular ones. I reckon we go hardcore - limit ourselves to just the square ones.

If a Client wants 'simple, powerful, effective advertising' wouldn't they be better off stating their problem on a single post-it note?

If a Planner wants great work wouldn't he/she be best advised to write their proposed strategy for tackling the Client's problem on a single post-it note?

And if Creatives have come up with a great idea, shouldn't they be able to write it on, yes, you guessed, a post-it?




Pretty cool, huh? What do you say? Who's with me?

Monday, September 08, 2014

Let's Talk About Stress

My friend Matt Follows is a multi-award-winning creative and CD who has worked at agencies including M&C Saatchi and Wieden + Kennedy in London, and Clemenger BBDO in Sydney. Today he coaches creative leaders from advertising, film, TV, design, music, and gaming.

He wants some help from you, to help him help us.

Matt says:

I've been in the creative industry a long time.

Which means I’ve been fortunate enough to have been in it when it was the most fun, exciting, brave and confident place on the planet to work in.

But this isn't a rant about the good-old-days or a whinge about shrinking budgets, ever increasing media channels and tighter deadlines.

That stuff happens, industries change.

But I do have a question:

Is sacrificing our emotional health and wellbeing in the pursuit of creative brilliance really the best way to achieve it?

Stress, overwhelm and burnout isn’t something we talk about often enough in this business. And brushing an issue as big as that under the agency ping pong table doesn't make it go away. It simply makes it dig it's heels in deeper and bite you on the ass when you can least afford it.

From coaching creative heavyweights for the past 18 months it’s become clear that despite us turning a blind-eye to things like stress, anxiety, low self-esteem, overwhelm, frustration and sometimes depression, 'the job' does negatively affect us and our creativity. Especially if you're a driven, ambitious, 'want to change the world' kind of person, like most of us are.

We can see the signs of this all around us: in our friends, in our peers, in our bosses and in our current and fallen heroes. But to talk openly about how we're feeling is to show weakness, or a sign that you can't hack the pace.

Which is not only tragic, it's not helping our cause.

In the world of elite sports and high-flying executives it’s very different. Mind coaches and sports psychologist are constantly on hand to help the bright shine even brighter. These people get to the top and stay at the top because the health, strength and wellness of their mind is taken seriously and kept in peak emotional condition – not worn down or left to fend for itself.

So in an industry when our mind is the most valuable tool we posses, shouldn’t we also have access to those powerful resources?

For the past few months I've been researching what we're most struggling with in today's industry. Not to bash it or bitch about it, but to uncover the biggest fears, frustrations, struggles and obstacles we face in today's high-pressure, high-stake industry.

I’m then going to create a results-driven, highly targeted performance psychology training which will be delivered as group workshops, a series of short films and a book. Or maybe there’s a better way to deliver it?

Because let's face it, the pressures we face today aren't going to go away any time soon, so we do need a way to deal with them.

But is it good enough to have a yoga teacher and a massage therapist come into the agency once a week, or is there something more proactive we could do to make us happier, healthier and more creative?

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. And if you're a creative leader, could I be a cheeky bastard and ask you to be a confidential part of my study by filling in the 4 minute survey at the other end of this link?

Click here to take Matt's survey

Monday, September 01, 2014

Are New Ideas Truly Scary, Or Is That Just A Reassuring Story We Like To Tell Ourselves?

I kinda like this new ad for GE, by BBDO New York.

The message is that new ideas are scary, and can only thrive in a welcoming environment.

I bet the ad will resonate with many ad Creatives, who'll feel it's an equally valid commentary on our own industry.

But is it actually true?

Of course, we love to tell ourselves that Clients are scared of innovative ideas. So much so, that most Creatives see the process of making an ad something like this: 

Step 1. The Creatives give birth to an idea. From nothing, we've produced this beautiful, incredible baby. A world first.

Step 2. The Client says: "Hey, nice idea. We just need to make it fit with our brand pyramid."

Step 3. The finished product ends up looking something like this:
And yet...

I've very rarely - if ever - seen Clients who are scared of creativity or innovation. In fact I'd say they crave it.

But they also want something that is 'right'. Which means on brand, on strategy, etc. They make no apologies for that, and nor should they.

This is why, when we show them a baby, they hammer it into a triangle.

It's therefore up to us, I'd say, to create something that is cool, but also 'right'.