Thursday, February 17, 2022

Questioning god.

This isn't exactly a continuation of yesterday's post. Partly because I wouldn't expect anyone to read anything here two days in a row. Even I wouldn't if I didn't have to. But I noticed something else when my wife and I were at the Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Tuesday night. Ergo, an ersatz Part II.

There's a way of looking at a show like the Late Show, imagining yourself in it and finding yourself filled with fear, tension and a sense of peril.

You're about to go live in front of between three and four million people. Unscripted. And relatively unrehearsed. 

Though you and your crew are a well-lubricated machine--I think Jon Batiste said he had done over one-thousand shows with Colbert--doing anything, no matter how practiced you are at it, especially relatively live, is a leap into the unfathomable.

Anything can happen. And usually does.

Mostly, you can suck. In public. People could ridicule you. Think you're dumb or a hack. In my case, both. It reminds me of an aspiring standup comedian telling his mother how scared he is to perform. She replies, "don't worry, no one will laugh at you."

Failure. Like shit, happens.

We've all been in the situation. In some jobs, at some times almost every day.

Many people, it seems to me, respond to pressure in a way that builds pressure. They massage their temples, stare into their hands and perseverate over things that are relatively insignificant. Like should the word be "but" or "yet." Things like that. And they do it into the wee hours. It somehow feels right to them.

What I notice, so often, is that people in agencies act like they're the captain of the Titanic and they're taking on water. They act as if they're going to die. To burst into flames. To be consumed by the Incubus. And then succumb to a burning lake as if an IPG or WPP agency is a scene out of Hieronymous Bosch in a pissy mood.

Most agencies, under pressure, are as funny as a crutch. They expect you--nominally a creative person--to clench your teeth and tighten your sphincter and somehow be creative. They expect to loosen screws by turning them tighter.

Life doesn't work like that.

Laughter begets laughter begets freedom begets bravery begets laughter begets good work.

But most at agencies laughter begets scowls begets bad moods begets a bad 360 review begets bad work begets bad client relationships begets a bad career. And then things go downhill.

I just read a short piece from a LinkedIn connection about liberality in the office. Creating an atmosphere of freedom, not tension. It comes from a connection of mine called Mike Nicholson, who's spent 14 years at Abbott Mead Vickers. I don't know Mike. I couldn't pick him out of a solo lineup. But I think he's giving us something to think about

I think as serious as work is--and personally, I work like a dog, we should never be too busy to tell a joke, have a laugh, take a walk down the hall and chatter or help the person sitting next to you. We should never be too busy to smile. To crack a joke. 

I call this being a human. And being a human is part of being good at your job.

Mike's taking over from here. With something he calls
"The Let Your People Play Snooker Technique." He writes:

David Abbott left his office and wandered over to the full-size snooker table on the creative floor at 151 Marylebone Road.

The Guinness team were reviewing posters for the Good Things Come To Those Who Wait campaign which they’d spread out over the snooker table.

David studied them and there was a long silence.

Finally, he folded his arms and sighed ‘Oh dear. This is terrible.’

The team gulped.

Heads dropped.

I’m pretty sure one junior planner nearly fainted.

Then a grin gradually appeared and he asked ‘How can we play snooker if this great work is on the felt? Would you mind moving to the boardroom? Richard and Arg normally have a rack about now.’

Laughter erupted.

Proofs were relocated.

David returned to his office.

Feet on the desk.

Pen to pad.

David always defended our space to play and our time to think. 

(In the 14 years I was at AMV BBDO I never worked a weekend and left most days at 17.30.)

Dave Buchanan later advised me one day when we were waiting for the kettle to boil ‘Time. Money. Space. Talent. You need all four to do great work, Mike. If you can fight for all of those things the agency will fly.’

Creating and defending a process ensures great work.

Time. Money. Space. Talent. 

Absent today in most places.

As absent as snooker.


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