April 13, 2010

(Please) End Cubicle-Factory Creativity in 2007!


By Paul McEnany

Admittedly, I'm a young guy. I've got a lot of learning ahead.

And you guys, you've got long resumes, have done things that I only now dream. But, as I learn the business, the language and the in and outs that no textbook or opening-day manual could ever teach, there are things that become more clear.

I want to go to battle, every day, with a leader I trust. I want to get as much meaning out of my job as you do in yours. I want the time to let my head swim, so I can be the innovator that you need. So, from that perspective, here are a few things that everyone at your shop would like to tell you, but won't. Why? Because they're afraid that if they do, they'll get fired.

Consider these few suggestions as you wrap up the year and plan for a great 2007:


1. Pick a fight...and lead us into battle.

Nothing unifies a team like a rallying cry, the loud hoot and holler of an "us" versus "them" mentality. If you're in business and you're making money, there's always someone or something there trying to extract as much as possible out of you. Make them your enemy, and lead the charge. The team's already willing to fight for you, right? Now, give them a reason.

Or, it may not be that easy. For us in advertising, there could be some idea, some foothold that's restraining your ability to change a deeply entrenched way of thinking. Make that behavior your enemy. Let us, your team know that you are doing so. Boldly destroy whatever dogma holds you down. Of course, if this is your objective, pick an idea worth battling. We'll follow.


2. Move from task-oriented to responsibility-driven.

Punch the clock. File reports. Write a semi-creative brief. Make a spreadsheet. And on, and on... Change the way you may have been looking at us, sometimes as machines. This has the added aspect of making us feel that you no longer commoditize us and our jobs. You don't like it. Neither do we.

What is the responsibility that comes with the goal? Allow us accomplish it, however we see fit. Processes are great, and sometimes they save a little time, and maybe even a little money, but if you over-process, if you continue to remove the chance of screwing up, you may actually end up doing so. Relax. You may be blown away when you see the work you get back from us. And that's the first thing you should be hoping for, an expectancy of innovation.

Fundamentally, our business is to sell ideas, and if you've over-processed your office into some robotic machine you can also revert it back to the idea factory that we all want it to be.


3. Give us time to think.

If you've bred middle managers to hover over team members, making sure we''re not surfing the net, engaging in office chatter, or even sitting back in our chair for a good stare at the ceiling, you may actually be robbing us, your team of the intuition and inspiration that motivates everyone. Be counter-intuitive to what the bean-counters say. What do they know about creativity anyway?

The employees at Google literally get 20% of their time to work on whatever projects they want to. It seems to be "working" for them! In my opinion, that's how you get people dedicated to improvement, to innovation, and even more, to inspiration. Did you consider doing that this year? Is your plan to do it next?

If you hired us because of our talent, ask yourself if you have you sucked it out of us or given us a platform for everyone to shine even more? Have a little faith in yourself that you made the right choice. Watch us as we breed good ideas instead of you "telling" us to do so. If you're so good a manager, set it up so that you're constantly impressed and surprised by your team's brilliance. Anything else in this hyper-competitive environment is the last thing you can afford.


4. Create a bigger goal/Surprise us!

Remind us that our jobs are actually about something even greater than money, that they're about the team's, the client's and the client's customer's lives, everyday. And make sure everyone believes it! Make sure every employee feels the love. Prop us up in some tangible way.

If that was the goal, Would anyone ever try to duplicitously launch some fake blog? Would anyone ever send out another spam email, or stuff another mailbox full of trash without asking?

Think about charities. Find a cause. Do some things that you've never done before, Offer something unexpected. Next year, refine your mission and constantly push us to think past the numbers. The money will flow freely when your goals are pure. Let us know you believe that as much as you say it.


5. Make innovation a job requirement

What system do you have in place to reward innovation? There are plenty of systems to make sure we are getting the job finished, but if you want to grow your shop, you can't be singularly concerned with only doing the things you've done well before. Constantly push yourself and us to do better, to find new ways to reach consumers. Make it easy for ideas to be shared, and the good ones to rise to the top.

Now, after you've rewarded these great ideas, implement them. Having the guts to actually follow-through will inspire us to keep creating, to follow your lead to keep reaching for those higher goals.


6. Make us just a little uncomfortable

There's something to be said for job security, but there's even more for boldness. Putting the attention on both good team members and bad exacts the best results. The talented ones flourish while the losers leave. Comfortable team members sometimes slow their motor, stop innovating, stop reaching and driving. You see it. So do we. Don't stand for it. You want us to be hungry, tenacious, crawling and scratching towards the goal.

Now, that's not to say you should fire at will, just to prove a point or to scare the others. We're not talking about fear-mongering. It's really just a function of your ability to see and reward talent. Only enlist people that make you just a little scared yourself that they'll be better at your job than you are, and require the same all the way down the line.

We call this good fear. It can lead to greatness which ultimately becomes exponential. David Ogilvy once said, "If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants."


Agencies are finally getting it in this new era. Your competition is much attune to these issues and will be more so next year. Both agencies and advertisers have been a little slow in the last cycle to keep up with consumer interests and new lifestyles of collecting and sharing information. Advertising is not a prerequisite. Offer more. Starbucks didn't become Starbucks on the back of Ogilvy or Bernbach, and Apple didn't change the course of pop-culture by taking the advice of Bogusky or Burnett.

The only way to remain relevant in a world increasingly distrusting of us will be to constantly inspire, to constantly innovate, and to never stop trying to change the world. It may seem a little grandiose, but small men and small ideas aren't what consumers crave. We want to experience inspiration in ways we never have before. "Be" the solution.

Wake up. Begin now. Act as if it's a new year today, before it's New Years Day. If you do it, so will we!


Paul McEnany is a new media and marketing strategist at Levenson and Hill in Dallas, TX and works with clients in business categories ranging from logistics to QSR. He is a contributor to Beyond Madison Avenue, one of the most popular marketing blogs as well as his own personal marketing blog, Hee Haw Marketing. A budding activist, he can be reached at paul.mcenany@gmail.com.


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