Friday, January 21, 2022

The limits of limits.

If you think about how things are made in the modern world and how that differs from an older world, you'll quickly notice that many many humans have been "de-skilled."

There was a time--say 150 years ago or so--that if you built something or cooked something or farmed something, you did a little bit of everything. 

A farmer would basically run his entire farm. An engineer would build an entire engine. Even a lowly writer would likely work with a printer to get whatever was being written typeset. In baseball, too, most players were generalists. 

They didn't just bat against lefties. Or just field one position. Or only pitch to one catcher. They could do a little bit of everything.
That made them more valuable and extended their careers.

As our economy became more sophisticated and Fordism and Taylorism came into fashion, most jobs were broken down into component pieces. 

Nobody made an entire engine anymore. The engine-making task was broken down into hundreds of operations and each worker would do one. You might spend your life, literally, tightening five bolts 500 times a day. (My guess is that the scene above from Chaplin's Modern Times will feel strangely familiar.)

This sort of specialization delivered a lot of power to management and took a lot of power from workers. Very few people can build an engine. But virtually everyone can tighten five bolts 500 times a day.

All at once, the worker became a replaceable part. Anyone can do it.

The same has happened, sadly, in advertising.

Individual jobs, scope and responsibility have shrunk. People call themselves "digital" writers, or "content" writers. Or "story" people. Or "systems" people. Or TV people. Or whatevs.

The thing we're supposed to be is large, not small. Multi-faceted, not limited.

To serve clients and serve your craft and serve your career, you should be capable of thinking of 92 ideas on how to solve a problem. No, literally 92. In 12 different channels.

I recently eavesdropped on an eminent friend's LinkedIn conversation. He's an old guy like me but way more accomplished and famous. And I caught my friend talking about things that by rights he should know nothing about--like UI and motion graphics.

He's not doing the one thing he was trained to do so many years ago. He's not staying in his swim lane. He's looking at the world and figuring out how to do it better.

I think that there is the key.

Looking at the entire picture of what motivates someone to buy or what makes your product interesting or what might bring a viewer a bit of comfort or information.

Not asking anyone if it's "in scope."

Not worrying about toe-stepping.

Not being an asshole, but

doing it.

I think that's how we bring dignity and dimension back to a career, a life and an industry that seems bent on making us piece workers.

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