Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Human progress. Not a one-way process.

Late last week I read a really good opinion piece in "The New York Times" by a guy called Michael Goldfarb. It was about a couple vacationing in France who stumbled upon an 11th Century Chateau that was, slowly, being rebuilt by a family of four. You can read it here.

The Darnas family, the Chateau's current residents, had been spending every summer holiday, every Christmas, every spare weekend for the last 20 years rebuilding the castle. 

Some of its original protective walls were made of finely chiseled stones that fit together and needed very little mortar to hold them in place. In later years, those advanced stonecutting skills had disappeared. Stones were randomly placed on top of each other. The newer the wall, the more poorly constructed it was.

Here's the part of the column that really got me, Goldfarb writes: "Human progress isn’t a one-way process. We can forget how to build things. We can go backward as well as forward...And, of course, it isn’t just technological innovation that can go backward. Societies can forget the social and political innovations that allowed them to flourish."

I think about this as I think about the agency business. Have we forgotten how to build things? Have we forgotten how to treat people?

Have we forgotten how to make work that imparts useful consumer information in an executionally-brilliant way. More, have we forgotten basic human truths--that people, if we ask loyalty from them, should be praised, rewarded and made to feel secure. Not made to work harder, faster and for less money and less security.

In short, have we as an industry forgotten and gone backward?

If I were running the circus, here are five things of the first things I would do.

1. A room of one's own. Admit that the open-plan mania that every agency fell for was nothing more than an attempt to cram more people per square foot. It was never shown to increase collaboration and communication. It was to increase cash-flow. Give people quiet space once again and they'll be happier and their work will be better.
2. Bring back traffic and schedules. When I started in this business there were traffic people. They would darken your door and say "George copy is due to the Client Thursday. You have to get approval from Harold on Tuesday." You knew what you needed to do and you didn't need a trellis of Trellos to get you there. Then, there were client schedules. They'd get first review. Second review and final review. Not 37 reviews in three days, or even three hours.
3. Eliminate email and slack and text messages. Walk down the hall and find someone. It's worked for roughly 200,000 years of human presence on earth. It might work today if everyone slowed down a notch or two.
4. Bring back job jackets. I know, you don't even know what a job jacket is. It was a giant envelope kept by traffic with every bit of information on the assignment, and every version organized and at your fingertips. It was about 900 times simpler than going through your email, your sent mail, your downloads, your desktop and your files to find a previous version.
5. I'd make everyone watch this. Yes, I know those days are gone. But it makes sense to me for everyone to be aware of the thought, craft and care that goes into making something. It's lost today and most people think things happen instantly and without consideration. 


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