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    Lessons from an Ad Man #1

    Over the holidays I finished off an old book that had been on my 'I really should read that' list for ages - Confessions of an Advertising Man by ad industry legend David Ogilvy. The 'Confessions', first issued in 1963, provide a little bit of a glimpse into the Mad Men world of advertising in the 50s and 60s.

    Ogilvy's book is a little short on the dramatics and indulgence portrayed on Mad Men, but it is long on practical, insightful, and simple advice for running a business, managing people, serving customers, and more.  Since I love to share such nuggets of solid business advice, and I need to create a few more blog 'series' to help keep this little blog updated, this post will be the first in a semi-regular series called 'Lessons from an Ad Man.'

    So with the too long setup out of the way, on to Lesson #1 - this one on what fourteen years of running his ad agency taught Ogilvy what his, as the 'top man' in the organization should consider his primary responsibility:

    After fourteen years of it, I have come to the conclusion that the top man has one principle responsibility: to provide an atmosphere where creative mavericks can do useful work.

    Like much of the insights in 'Confessions', Ogilvy doesn't really knock you out with how incredibly profound or ground-breaking his thinking on management was. But if you pause to consider that he was postulating about this idea of management as an enabler of creative accomplishment back in the early 60s then the observation seems a bit more meaningful.

    Face it, 50 years later it is pretty easy to find any number of management and leadership gurus and though leaders advising the very same thing. Find the best, most creative and talented minds. Carefully construct an atmosphere where they can and will be motivated to work on what drives them. And finally, be brave and smart enough to stay (enough) out of their way.

    A simple recipe for success, no? 

    Ogilvy had it figured out in 1960.  How long do you think it will take the rest of us to catch on?

    Have a great weekend!




    2012 Rewind: The secret of not wishing to be anywhere else

    Note: I am winding down the last, waning days of 2012 by re-running a few posts from this year that either I liked, were (reasonably) popular, or just didn't get a fair shake the first time around.  If that is not your sort of thing, then come back on January 2, 2013 when fresh and tasty content resumes. Thanks for reading in 2012!

    This piece, The secret of not wishing to be anywhere else, ran in June and was, I suppose, a bit of response and reflection on feeling pretty tired and a little sick of all the buzz, chatter, and noise that surrounds work and business sometimes. And for what it is worth, this might be my favorite piece I wrote in 2012.


    The secret of not wishing to be anywhere else

    Whether it's during a long meeting at work, standing on the sidelines of a U-7 soccer match in the cold rain when you know you have about 4,120 other things to do, or making small talk in a big room at an event or trade show, most of us at least once in a while, battle with the sometimes intense desire to be somewhere else, or to be doing something else.

    Part of this, I think, stems from a kind of achievement at all costs, stay one step ahead of the next guy, keep Tweeting and Tumbr'ing and Instgramming, while simultaneously talking, texting, and making sure your SEO and SEM and mobile optimization strategies are all in place and whirring. There's always something else to do, something else that could be done, something that the next guy is doing that maybe threatens or angers or makes you envious. Whatever. Work, building a business, angling for some better opportunities, trying to raise your profile to get on an internet list or get comped to an event - it can be a pretty exhausting grind.ATL

    Of course there is lots to do, maybe more to do than ever before. Certainly the explosion in platforms and applications that require care and feeding are one reason, and I suppose the degradation (for many folks), in the employee-employer contract or said more plainly, the notion that the next day at any job might be your last, as the spectre of one bad quarter or a decision from a large company to jump in to your market conspiring to make any job in any company seem more temporary and fragile than in recent memory.

    So the natural, and I think for the most part correct, response to all this uncertainty, (and also, paradoxically, opportunity), is for professionals to be much more on the hustle, even those with so-called 'real jobs'. There is a lot of chasing going on no doubt, and while the rewards can be really nice for the ones that do it well, and work at the the hardest, certainly all this chasing and hustling and posturing and angling comes with some downside.

    First, the nagging feeling that no matter how much one works, there is someone else out there doing just a little bit more. And that's annoying. Second, it is really, really, easy to forget to say 'No' sometimes, and to remember that less is usually more, (and more interesting). And last, it is easy to fall into the trap of feeling no matter where you are and what you're doing, that you've made the wrong, or at least not the best, most bang for your time, SEO-optimized decision and that somewhere else, something fantastic is going on and you're missing it.

    The truth is there probably is something better going on. And you are missing it. And there, wherever there is, is one of your peers/friends/competitors thinking the exact same thing. 

    Have a Great Week!


    2012 Rewind: On Gates and Gatekeepers

    Note: I am winding down the last, waning days of 2012 by re-running a few posts from this year that either I liked, were (reasonably) popular, or just didn't get a fair shake the first time around.  If that is not your sort of thing, then come back on January 2, 2013 when fresh and tasty content resumes. Thanks for reading in 2012!

    This piece, On Gates and Gatekeepers ran in May as part of what seems like the annual blogging exercise of finding interesting college commencement speeches to write about. Of course I complied, and this was both my favorite post on the subject as it talked about the wonderful commencement address given by author and artist Neil Gaiman.


    On Gates and Gatekeepers

    A week or so back I had a post titled, 'The Skilled Trades Need a Famous Commencement Address Too', in which I whined for 500 words or so about the prevalence of actors, politicians, ridiculously successful internet gazillionaires, and the other non-relatable types that seem to deliver just about all of the annual college commencement addresses, or at least the ones we hear about. My point was more or less that in a tough economic climate, and with an enduring and worsening need for talented people to enter fields such as the skilled trades, teaching, and other not-as-glamorous-as-acting-or-being-a-social-media-consultant, that the consistent set of messages stemming from the annual round of typical commencement speeches, ('Just go out there and be fantastic', 'You can save the world', 'Borrow $20k from your parents and start a business'), were all just getting tiresome.  If the nation truly needs more machinists or nurses or accountants, then could we at least start acknowledging that more openly and with more conviction?

    So as I said, I don't really give two shakes about 99% of the latest round of commencement addresses. But once in a great while there is a talk worth talking about, and worth sharing, even if it does bear some similarity to the hacky, same-old same-old advice that gets recycled each spring.  The speech I wanted to call out was given on May 17th at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia by the author Neil Gaiman, famous mostly for The Sandman, a series of comics written between 1988 and 1996.

    In the speech, (text here, embedded video below, email and RSS subscribers will need to click through), Gaiman, speaking to a graduating class from an art school, offers advice and wisdom gained over his career as a working, and certainly, highly successful creative. While the entire speech is interesting, I wanted to call out two passages that speak more broadly to issues about career planning and management, and to the pace of change impacting not just the creative industries, but almost all organizations these days.

    On career planning and management:

    When you start out on a career in the arts you have no idea what you are doing.

    This is great. People who know what they are doing know the rules, and know what is possible and impossible. You do not. And you should not.

    Value in the real world - In your organization, the people making the rules, setting the boundaries, (maybe that's you?), are inherently limited by their tendency to fail to envision a world outside those boundaries. Having a job setting rules, well it seems that is a path to a long career setting rules and enforcing boundaries. Maybe you are ok with that, maybe not. 

    On organizational and business model change:

    I've talked to people at the top of the food chain in publishing, in bookselling, in all those areas, and nobody knows what the landscape will look like two years from now, let alone a decade away. The distribution channels that people had built over the last century or so are in flux for print, for visual artists, for musicians, for creative people of all kinds.

    Which is, on the one hand, intimidating, and on the other, immensely liberating. The rules, the assumptions, the now-we're supposed to's of how you get your work seen, and what you do then, are breaking down. The gatekeepers are leaving their gates. You can be as creative as you need to be to get your work seen. YouTube and the web (and whatever comes after YouTube and the web) can give you more people watching than television ever did. The old rules are crumbling and nobody knows what the new rules are.

    Value in the real world - In the arts, and probably your business too, the landscape two, five, ten years out is entirely unpredictable, and it is likely what works today will not work tomorrow. The gatekeepers are leaving their gates. 

     Don't allow yourself to use that as an excuse to over-analyze or hesitate. The winning organizations are not waiting to 'see how things play out', by that time, it's likely that you'll be too late to adapt once the new landscape is revealed. Better to set off on the course you think will be successful than wait for some kind of signpost from beyond.

    Anyway, that's it for me on commencement speeches, at least until next Spring. 

    The video of the full speech is below, and I think definitely worth your time over lunch, or at night when you have a spare 20 minutes or so.

    Have a Great Weekend!


    Great places to work are like great sports franchises

    The nice people over at Glassdoor.com released their 'Top 50 Best Places to Work for 2013' list today, and as usual it is an interesting collection of all kinds of organizations - large and small, high-tech and old-school, and relatively young to long lasting.

    The full list can be found here, as well as on the image to the right, (click the thumbnail for a larger view).Click to expand

    The important aspect of the Glassdoor 'Best Places' list, unlike any of the other, similar types of lists that are around, is that it is determined not by some kind of expert panel of thought leaders, judges, or academics; but rather it is calculated from the company reviews and ratings about the companies that have been left on the Glassdoor.com site.  So these ratings are the closest equivalent to say, the Amazon.com book review or the Yelp restaurant review for the workplace.

    But since I like to compare, evaluate, and assess just about everything through the prism of the world of sports - rather than give you a (lame) take something along the lines of 'Facebook is the Best Place to work again, I wonder what lessons you can learn from this', I thought I'd make it fun, (for me at least), and cherry pick a few big names form the list and juxtapose them with the big time sports team they seem the most like.  

    Why do this?

    Why not?

    Here goes:

    2. McKinsey & Company - Easy, these guys are the New York Yankees.  Big name, big reputation, have a kind of mystique about them and have had it for a long time. The name that the rest of the market compares themselves to.

    4. Bain & Company - Again, pretty easy. If McKinsey are the Yankees, then Bain are the Boston Red Sox. Also have a big name, have had some success, but will always be looking up at the big dog on top.  It is fitting that McKinsey came in a couple of notches above Bain.

    11. Careerbuilder - Not as obvious as the McKinsey and Bain comparisons, but I will go with the basketball's San Antonio Spurs.  Consistently good, with some legendary performance in the recent past. But also consistently overlooked and sometimes underrated despite their pedigree. Finally they both have a bit of 'I can't believe they are still relevant after all these years' kind of feel to them.

    24. Trader Joe's - I will go not with one team with which to compare the eclectic grocer, I will go with an entire league - the National Hockey League (NHL), currently not playing their current season due to a labor/management dispute.  Like the NHL in sports, Trader Joe's is kind of a niche player in the grocery business, has a kind of weird appeal, but if it was gone hardly anyone would really miss it. Think about it - does anyone really need a Trader Joe's?  Or the NHL?

    35. General Mills - Time for a football comparison. Let's go with the Green Bay Packers.  Midwestern organization, been around forever, everyone can recognize them by their brand, and kind of hard not to like, even if you don't care about cereal or sports. Feels like they will be a part of the landscape forever.

    50. Starbucks - I'll go international on this one and call them Manchester Uniited from English football soccer. They are both ubiquitous, have a global presence and instant brand and name recognition, and both have the most annoying fans/customers that you will ever encounter.  Man United fans and Starbucks customers are really similiar - smug, kind of annoying, ('Quad-soy-no whip-light foam-hazelnut-extra shot'), and somehow think being a fan/customer grants them some kind of unearned social status.  Disclaimer: I am a Liverpool/Dunkin' Donuts person

    That's it - I need to stop there, but I am sure you have your own ideas. There are 45 more companies on the list that need a sports team equivalent assigned to them, have at it in the comments!



    Avatars and office decorations - sometimes little things matter

    I've never been one for personal office decorations - family pictures, inspirational posters, desktop golf putting games, etc.  I always kind of felt like putting up pictures of the family or the pets on my desk or walls was sort of dumb - after all it was just work, I wasn't going to prison or on some kind of arctic expedition. I'd just seen all these people and animals in the morning, and I'd see them all again that night. I would put a calendar on the wall maybe, but that was about it.  And for me, that was perfectly normal and acceptable. If other folks wanted to 'personalize' their work environment with photos and other items, more power to them, I mean to each their own, right?

    Except for some folks, and surprisingly even some leaders I have known over the years, my decision to leave my office free from flair was (at least sometimes), interpreted as a demonstration of a lack of commitment to the position and to the organization. For some folks, a colleague that doesn't take the time to put up a few pictures reads to them like someone that doesn't really intend to stay very long, and/or doesn't really care enough about the job to make the space more warm, welcoming, and personal. While I wish that workplaces would be free from these kind of petty and trivial situations, I am also enough of a realist or pragmatist to understand that is often not the case.

    I thought about that former job of mine when I caught this recent piece on Business Insider, A Simple Illustration That Shows How Steven Sinofsky Wasn't a Team Player, about former Microsoft executive Steven Sinofsky, who up until a few weeks ago, ran the huge and lucrative Windows business. Apparently, and for reasons that remain unclear, (probably forever), Sinofsky did not join the rest of the Microsoft executive team by replacing their corporate website headshots with a cutesy Microsoft Kinect-style avatar.  Check out the image below, and notice how this lack of participation stands out.


    According the BI piece, this seemingly small, unimportant detail spoke to a larger point, that it "symbolized Sinofsky’s reputation inside Microsoft — (he) focused intently on controlling the success of his own division, and not all that interested in playing along with the rest of the company."

    Silly right?  I mean Sinofsky was an important, busy executive. He probably couldn't be bothered to supply an avatar image, (or more likely, just approve one), for the website. I mean, who cares anyway? What does that have to do with building great products?

    I suppose nothing. But somewhere, someone, maybe more than a few folks, interpreted this as Sinofsky's lack of 'buy-in' to the team.  It's likely people that felt that way probably felt it all along, and this little example helped to cement their feelings about him.

    Either way, and whether we like it or not, sometimes these tiny, insignificant things matter. It would not have killed me to put a few photos up in my office, heck, I could of just bought a couple of new frames and left the stock images they usually come with in them. No one would have known the difference.

    But it would have at least made them feel like I was more like one of them, and I was indeed also part of the team.

    And that is not insignificant.