Wednesday, March 4, 2020

The Minimally Viable blog post.

I had been in this business literally a lifetime before I ever heard of the concept of a “minimally viable product.”

It’s a notion, I’ll admit, that I not only don’t understand, but that I also never will.

I’m trying to imagine what sort of creator or producer or even a chef would put out something considered minimally viable. Unless you had some implicit disdain for the person using that minimally viable product.

“Yeah, this 2021 Chevy Piscataway three-row SUV? It’s beautiful, fuel-efficient, a low-emissions vehicle. And those brakes? They’re minimally viable!”

“That California roll you’ve ordered? It’s made with minimally viable fish. The fish is teeming with maggots, but don’t worry about it, they’re minimally viable maggots.”

Since my circumseverance from the minimally viable holding company world, I’ve been spending a middling amount of time with a number of notable people in the ad industry.

All of these people have had, like me, long careers under the calloused thumb of various holding companies. All of these people have reacted like Igor Denisovich from Nobel-prize winning Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s 1962 novel “One Day in the Life of Igor Denisovich.”

They rebelled. They said ‘no more.’ They said ‘this makes no sense.’

“It can be on the end of a mop handle or the end of a scalpel. Work doesn't care. Work only cares about what's important; doing the job the right way. Work doesn't go for fancy slogans. An honest day's work for an honest day's wages is all it needs to hear. Work is hard-nosed. It will not be seated in the latest get-rich-quick seminar. Work doesn't want to be your friend. Work doesn't want to be glad-handed or slapped on the back. Work wants something much more important: your respect.”

What is not understood by the great and controlling and MBA’d and tie-wearing and country-club-belonging denizens of the holding company hegemony is that work in creative industries makes no sense until it does.

One assignment you can have nothing after two weeks of round-the-clock toil. The next assignment you can have a great idea at the non-gender-specific urinal. 

You can't really run a cost-benefit analysis on how ideas are derived. Though Holding Companies and the 40 people they hire to watch over 15 creatives think you can.

You can't really run a cost-benefit analysis on giving people offices, privacy and a door, a soft chair, time to walk around the block, periodic bonuses and the occasional raise and prove to the tightest sphinctered CPA that these appurtenances of common decency make economic sense.

You can't approach writing Moby Dick or even the latest and greatest "Sale-a-Bration" under the philosophy of Frederick Winslow Taylor. 

Taylor, for the uninitiated, was one of the first ”management consultants” and one of the first to systematically study “industrial efficiency.”

The great Peter Drucker wrote this about Taylor:

“Frederick W. Taylor was the first man in recorded history who deemed work deserving of systematic observation and study. On Taylor's 'scientific management' rests, above all, the tremendous surge of affluence in the last seventy-five years which has lifted the working masses in the developed countries well above any level recorded before, even for the well-to-do.”

Drucker called Taylor "the Issac Newton (or perhaps the Archimedes) of the science of work."

A 4-minute piece on Taylor from ABC News.

Spoofing Taylorism with a musical-comedy touch. 

I’m not usually one to disagree with Drucker (and he’s not around to defend himself) but to my eyes, in creative pursuits, not manufacturing-based ones, Taylorism is a chimera.

That is, it sucks.

Here are two bits from Taylor that to my eyes are an anethema to creativity:
1.    “It is only through enforced standardization of methods, enforced adoption of the best implements and working conditions, and enforced cooperation that this faster work can be assured.”
2.    “One of the very first requirements for a man who is fit to handle pig iron as a regular occupation is that he shall be so stupid and so phlegmatic that he more nearly resembles in his mental make-up the ox than any other type. The man who is mentally alert and intelligent is for this very reason entirely unsuited to what would, for him, be the grinding monotony of work of this character.”

Creative people—and I supposed I can be counted as a member of that group—do not like the word enforced. It’s our nature—it’s what makes us creative—to rebel. In fact, I recoil every time a website tells me “I must submit to terms and conditions.” Or that many holding companies have an expense system called “concur.” I don't concur.

Our job as creative people is to resist
enforcement. It’s to not accept things as they are. In the words of Apple, our ethos is to “Think Different.”

Creative people also, and this frustrates people in “management,” are not generally stupid. Part what creative people do is question everything. Yeah, that’s a pain in the ass. Yeah, that’s time-consuming. Yeah, that’s a lot of things. But looking at life upside-down and backward is at the core of being creative.

I’ve spent 29 of my 36 years in the business working for Holding Companies that to my mind proscribe to the tenets of Taylorism. [I don’t know if Taylorism is taught in business school anymore. But I do know that the technocrats who are meant to manage and constrain the time and excesses of creative people subscribe, whether they know it or not, to his precepts.]

Imagine if a project manager said to Thomas Edison as he was inventing the incandescent lightbulb, “you’re only scoped for two more hours.” If they had, I might be writing this in a room lit by whale oil.

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever bureaucracy and project managers get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to think about Ed McCabe and Perdue chickens.

Today, according to “Forbes,” Perdue is the 251
st largest company in the world with annual sales of $7.3 billion.

But before Ed McCabe and his agency Scali, McCabe, Sloves there was no such thing as a branded chicken. You bought a no-name chicken from a grocery store or a butcher. A commoditized, no value-added chicken. 

McCabe didn’t just build a brand. He built an entire category.
And he gave Perdue the ability to charge more for their chickens than farmers just yards down the road were charging for theirs. 

Because he thought about chickens. And about making Perdue chickens different.

I’m making this too simple.

But maybe McCabe built the chicken category on the strength of ten words.

Built a $7 billion business on the strength of ten words.

Ten words.

“It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.”

Maybe those ten words took him a year to come up with.

Maybe they came to McCabe in the shower in a split second.

How do you put a time clock on that variability?

There’s really only one way to be a creative person—whether you’re in advertising, writing movies or novels, painting giant canvases, or just pecking away at your Smith-Corona on an asinine blog.

The only way to be a creative person is to live the work you do.

It’s to think and observe and work and breathe and bring your entire self into what you make.

There is no technocratic system that can calculate, really, how you work and what you do. The façade the holding companies perpetrate to advance the notion that they have systematized creativity and know how to calculate the time it takes is nothing more than a crock-of-shit.

Dr. Eric Kandel, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine, believes it's peoples' subconscious that most ideas come from. I can tell you, I have about 1/3 of my ideas when I'm asleep. If I weren't able to think full-time not spread-sheet time, I would never have been able to write almost 5,500 posts and well-over one-million words.

I didn't dream this. I know this: Minimal viable products and creativity can’t co-exist.

If you think they can, I have a minimally viable bridge to sell you.

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