Category Archives: Thinking

No one ever died wishing they spent more time on PowerPoint Slides.

The year past has been one of the most memorable.  Moving country, changing roles and trying to be a grown up: it has been challenging.  The year has also been incredibly rewarding.  There is no greater lesson I have learned than change is inevitable, but can be difficult.

But there is a need for balance. No one ever died wishing they’d done a few more PowerPoint slides.  I just want to do what I love and try and make a few people happy.

From a career perspective, I have had the opportunity to develop the strategy and service offering for the CMG group of agencies.  Like any start-up, the volatility of clients, partners and personalities is the source of every high and every low.   Internally and externally. This is agency life.

A company that is only really 18 months old has grown from one to over thirty in that short time.  Nurturing that growth, and constantly looking for the big picture while managing to change the attitudes, processes and outcomes of six individual agencies of over 1,500 other employees.

The growth is not all sunshine and lollipops.  The change is not all management text-book materials. We did not and do not make every one happy.  But overall, the change that the team has developed through our strategic, creative and production capabilities has been a true step-change.

We’ve been recognized with the Digital PR agency of the year. But it is no time to rest.  My role, and what we colloquially call “the studio” must keep changing, must keep evolving, must keep adapting to ensure long-term success.

Personally, the journey has been one of growth and some serious self-reflection.  I won’t lie: my cynicism and jaded attitude was my biggest enemy.  Exhausted, stressed and highly caffeinated at all times meant that managing our teams of strategists and agency account managers lead to some hard moments, and harder conversations.

The stress of travel, relationships and friendships meant my usual sanctuaries were wiped.  Music, CrossFit and film become duties – to manage the stress required more discipline before.  My anxiety and lack of concentration was amplified to a scale I’d never experienced before.

I’ve grown up in a culture where it’s good to work hard, have a stressful job and be successful – but when you’re wiped out on the bathroom floor of a hotel room in the middle of a panic attack, your body forces you to stop.

There’s no prize for being the most stressed out.  There’s not even a prize for coming first.

Do what you love. Make people happy.

 

The simple truth of attitude

Be free. Do what you wanna do. Be yourself. Do what you do best.

Seems growing up not only tells us not to grow out of creativity, but also the simple truths of attitude.  Maybe I’m being sentiment growing up in my own heavy metal bands with nail polish, but if you’re feeling too old, or even too young, watch this.

What CrossFit taught me about fear and innovation

I remember starting CrossFit four years ago, and the first things you learn is all about your body and how far you can push it. Then you learn about the mind.  Then, you realise it’s the only thing stopping the body. Here is what I’ve learned about fear and failure through life and work.

On fear

The first time you’ve got over 120kgs on your back for your first heavy squat, you learn the worse case scenario: you won’t lift it. Not a bad outcome. But it is something that a coach has to point out to you time and time again, because your head gets in the way of something that your able to do.

You’re motivated to be as physically powerful as time and opportunity allows you to be.  You’re going to lead as much innovation by the same factors.  You can only achieve what you set-out to. Aim too low, and you’ll never achieve anything of great height.

Fear will strange creativity, innovation and progress.

On failure

Last year, three friends and I completed the 100km Wild Endurance event in 19 hours straight.  None of us had completed anything like this before in our lives. But we never questioned for a moment whether we could. We simply registered, then started training three months out and turned up one cold morning on in May at the blue mountains and just started walking.

Showing up is half the battle.

We made it. We came fourth. We were as surprised as everyone else. It’s something I’ll never forget.  This month I’ve been considering a 250km trek over the Sahara. If we didn’t make it: I’d still be considering it as a next step. I only know that because the three months of physio I needed after ensured I remember just what that pain felt like.  You learn from it, you want to keep learning from more of it.

On creativity and innovation

I sit in countless meetings where organisations cry out for creativity and innovation. What’s does that mean? Let alone, how do we do it?  How do you know when you’re staring at it? You mighn’t. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. You don’t turn up to the front of a CrossFit box to stand out the front wondering if you should go in.  Or maybe you do.

Creativity is something new or a new take on an existing idea. It doesn’t have a predetermined outcome. There’s a risk profile associated with the decision to follow these paths. Accept it.  Innovation (as the commercial application of creativity) is no different. Like any start-up knows, there’s risk, but there’s opportunity.

Steve Willis (Commando Steve) posted this last week:

Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.- Arnold Bennett

You ask anyone at point-blank range and they want change, innovation and not to fall stagnant. No they don’t. There’s a strength of character and level of  adaptability that you begin to lose as soon as you get into this game.  It’s hard to get it back, and you forget what it feels like for a long time.

Start-ups know this, and once they grow, they generally remember this: there was a time where everything was on the line, and nothing was certain. And entrepreneurs, love this feeling.

Ken Robinson talks about kids not being afraid of being wrong, that they’ll “always have a go” – and that’s important. So we should.  Ken talks a lot of what I’m trying to articulate here: we grow out of creativity.  We all need to just have a go. Pick up the bar!

If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” (Ken Robinson)

Opportunity and circumstance

We’re all what time, opportunity and circumstance make us.  We’re all products of our environments. You need to lead change before change leads you.

Successful people don’t fear failure, but understand it is necessary to learn and grown from. – Robert Kiyosaki.

People won’t remember your failures. They will remember how you deal with  them.  There is always opportunity. It is entirely up to you what you do with yours.

Go into the box, pick up the bar, and make your attempt. Lift.

Photo credit

Why promotions are like drugs

Short term fixes to long term issues

Users, pushers, dealers, and addicts. Hierarchy, and the promotions that go with it, can be a dangerous way to recognise the efforts of those around you. And be recognised yourself. Are you a user?

Peer pressure

Your peers become probably your first introduction. You see them all doing it – so why not you? Doesn’t seem hard, or dangerous. Just let out some steam about what you’re upset about or threaten to leave, and boom. You’ve got your first fix: more cred and more money. In fact, the person who gave it to you probably has a little more of your time now.  Why not even switch agencies and get that shiny title you’ve always wanted?

Dealers

They think they have heaps of friends. You know why you’re nice to them. Suddenly, you don’t see your friend, or acquaintance. You just see the gate-keeper. You need to keep them onside, so probably invite them to a few parties: but ultimately you’re not yourself around them.

It’s a necessary now

And finally, like all drugs: suddenly you need them just to function. To be normal.  Remember before you were introduced to a long ladder, you were happier. People recognised you for who you were – and you got on with what you were doing.

And now think about it: is it really fixing what ever was wrong? Are people treating you any different? How has this changed your relationship with those who knew you best? What are you going to tell your own staff about their promotions? Why not promote everyone?

You’ve lost sight of what really matters. You’re relying on everyone else’s validation.

Rehab

Now I know this seems dramatic: but I think we all go through a period where we know job titles can be important, but rarely mean anything to anyone outside of your context.  Whether you’re a creative director, vice president, executive vice president, or chief listening officer – people still remember the things you do, and come out of your mouth: and not your shiny American-Psycho-esque business card approach to those around you.

The sooner you stop worrying about the pseudo-hiercharchy of your current job – which I can assure you will change with your next one – the more you’ll start valuing those around you who actually recognise you for the great things you do. It might be monetary, it might be an email to your boss, it might even be a hand-written card with a bottle of wine.

When I look around the office, it is still most often those little hand written cards that people treasure.  So if you’re running a team, a company or the CEO of a board – try something a little more meaningful.  I’m sure it’ll get your team clean in no time.

Photo credit: HTB

Resilience, adaptability & capacity

Be adaptable, not annoyed.

Another installment on surviving agency-land.

There are lots of facts that we just need to accept: people will let you down, people are resistant to change, people have different levels of capacity, and there are always things you can’t control. Oh yeah, and most people have good intensions.

Resilience:

All these things need to be accepted. But I think all too often we quickly fly off the handle.  It is far too easy to let your frustrations explode into the environment around you. Tell everyone how annoyed you, stamp your foot and call your client stupid, or just generally not think much of someone.  All of which, is perfectly obvious to the person next to you: and depending on their own experience will either encourage them (generally junior staff) to join in or discourage them from wanting to work with you (generally senior staff).

Both results have different motivators: junior staff want to be seen to be fitting in and will take the lead from the next senior person they see. Having a toxic culture like this isn’t a great outcome though. Senior staff will generally start to mistrust you: if you can talk like that about someone you work with – then what on earth are you saying about them? And having a culture of mistrust is equally as unwelcome.

Most inter-personal and professional conflicts can generally be overcome if you take a second to really think about it, and remember those smaller things to be accepted: there are things you can’t control, and most people have good intentions.

And oh yeah, most people make mistakes.

Adaptability:

The important thing? Is how to overcome these obstacles (and not these people). Without making your co-worker, subordinate, boss, client making them feel like you’ve just crucified them. Like any obstacle: it’s critical to find another way around to achieve success.  At the end of the day, having a plan b is just as important as having a plan C.

Again, it’s very easy to try and distil the issue or obstacle down and have only two answers – I see it all the time: problem x can either be solved with a or b. But there is always an option C – and the better you get at finding that, but more importantly, understanding that there is an option c, and you will suddenly be adaptable.

And adaptability means survival.

Capacity:

Believe it or not, you can do a lot more after working for 10 years (regardless of industry) than you can on your very first probation. Another insightful fact I hope (jk). But it’s important to remember that this is just the case for everyone around you: we all have different capacities about certain situations.

I can sit through some situations like a cucumber (public speaking in front of 500 people), and completely have a heart attack in others (no way I’m giving that one away), but the quicker you understand and realise the strengths and weaknesses of those around you, then you’ll learn how to know their capacity and complement your own.

And by being resilient and adaptable, then your own capacity will naturally increase.

In summary

Next time you get annoyed, take a moment to breathe, take a moment to be resilient, and think about how to adapt, and then finally assess the capacity of the situation of those around you.

It’s all about people. But it is still probably more about you.

People experience process

I’ve always been a big believer that timelines, documents and due dates don’t deliver projects: people do.

You only need to ask my former boss, Andy Jamieson (Co-founder of Switched On Media), how unfamiliar I was with process. But I, like a lot of people in the discipline, think process is something that less creative, less enjoyable and all together dry people enjoy and enforce.

No one wants to be process driven: it’s stigma. A fear. When maybe it is just a lack of diligence or professionalism.

Then suddenly your faced with the fiscal, people and client management circuses of agency land. And suddenly, process becomes all that allows you set expectations, manage egos and deliver results.

It was only until recently that I truly appreciated good process.  That’s because I suddenly really I was inadvertently in the change management game: digital is new, and it’s unwieldily, and lots of people make it hard.  And Gavin Heaton was kind enough to help me understand change is really about positive experience – especially lots of short term experiences.

People experience process

People are not machines – and therefore they experience processes. Rather than just perform them.  It’s just like eating: we must eat, but we experience what we eat, and develop tastes favourite sand guilty pleasures. It’s not just for nutrition, because we can’t avoid taste, smell and texture. And just like eating, process is hard to avoid.

What I’ve learned is that process is about delivering results, and most importantly, it can allow success to be sustainable. If the process experience is bad, then chances are people will call it out and the results will decline.  However, if we focus on good experience during process, then the opposite can be attained: long-term and sustainable results, time and time again.

All these beautiful gant charts and timelines don’t deliver projects: PEOPLE do.

We always sell “experiences” to our clients. Whether they’re digital and or in the flesh.  So why do we fail so often to sell experience internally for our colleagues and staff?

The outtakes

If you’re a manager, leader or it’s your first day on the job: approach process with a positive attitude.  It’s about designing people’s experiences to achieve results.  Process (and positive experience) allows you to manage expectations.You’ll start designing and experiences process as a person.

So while I still believe people deliver projects: the tools they use and experiences they share can be just as critical.

Professionalism: In the mirror

Shot of Jye Smith in the mirror

Another note to self (gen y).

I think the most professional people, do lots of little tiny professional things to create that aura around them.  I like that. Continue reading

Leading with generosity

Leading and management

Last week I was talking about the affect our attitude has the affect on communications, and as a result, outcomes.  As usual, Gavin opened my mind to explore another notion – generosity.

Being open also implies generosity. When you are generous, you don’t know where that will take you. When you are closed to that possibility, you won’t be going anywhere. Here’s to the generous travellers of life ;)

What really got my attention is again, down the path of management versus leadership, is what generosity means in a work environment. Continue reading

Attitude driving communications and outcomes

Everyone else but me

There’s not denying I exhibit the tendencies, attributes and traits of the infamous gen-y.  But if there’s one critical sticking point I’ve noticed in myself, and see mirrored in many of those I’ve worked in over the past years, is that we have too many expectations of those around us and perhaps not enough of ourselves. Continue reading

The Cult of Done Manifesto

The Cult of Done Manifesto Diagram

An introduction to The Cult of Done Manifesto

From 2009, but still amazing today, this was written in collaboration with by Bre Pettis and Kio Stark in 20 minutes because we only had 20 minutes to get it done. Continue reading