Reading through the piece it struck me how similar the cultures of Advertising Agencies and Tech Start-Ups are. And how similar bits need to change – namely the dudely hierarchical nonsense driven by outdated motives.
Those ideals inform how management makes decisions every day, from prioritizing broken code (craftsmanship) to making sure everyone leaves work on time (thriving).
So the important hard work bit – making the product – is still a priority. But I’m guessing they feel, like we do, that people who’ve left on time (and have a life) are better at doing the work thing.
“Just because your ass is on a seat doesn’t mean you’re working. If you’re brain dead after 6pm, go home. You can work like that for only so long.”
Couldn’t agree more.
Slack’s director of customer experience, points out that Slack’s “work hard and go home” culture is also better for women. “It allows them to say, ‘I can do this job. I can emulate the founders in the way I work and not get punished for it. And I can take care of my family.’ When people come here, we expect them to have a life.”
In other words: Work hard. Go Home.
But the most important thing the article does is make me like the people behind Slack. The fact that they work this way, makes me want to get behind their platform even more. They’re designing organisation-shaping software from the point of view of an organisation I’d like business to be shaped-by.
We’ve just started something that I’m rather proud of (note: this is specifically a thing we’re trialling in the London office of Wieden+Kennedy).
A couple of weeks ago we announced a bunch of changes to the way we work, some of the most significant are:
We’ve asked people not to email in the evenings (between 7pm and 8am).
If we ask people to work evenings or weekends they can claim the time back.
You may now only book meetings can between 10am and 4pm. This means early birds can come in early, and night owls can stay later. And that everyone has at least a bit of their day completely free from meetings.
Depending on where you work these things may not look like much. But if you work in an ad agency (or similar company) they might seem pretty significant.
But so far it feels like everyone outside the company who’s asked me about it. or any comments that I’ve seen ‘out there’ have missed the point somewhat.
So, I’m going to have a go at explaining a couple of things. (This is by no means an exhaustive overview of the program, so please don’t take it as such).
HARD WORK IS NOT THE ENEMY!
As pointed out in Campaign, we do get called Weekend+Kennedy sometimes. Just as ‘72 and Sunny’ get called ‘72 and Sunday’ and BBH get called GBH. But there’s a reason these agencies, and others like them, have decent creative output. It’s because we work long and hard to get to the best work we can.
And let’s not forget lots of us enjoy it. These companies are amazing workplaces. We’re blessed with talented, curious, interesting people as colleagues. And the places we work are often nicer than our homes. So, for many of us, hanging out at work is hanging out with mates, in a nice place, and doing what we love. And we’re not taking that away from anyone!
So if the enemy isn’t hard work (and long hours) what is it? It’s pretty simple, the enemy is modern life. Specifically modern life lived through connected devices.
The same screen wakes us up in the morning, lulls us to sleep at the end of the day, AND delivers urgent tasks from an insomniac boss. This seems like a bad idea.
Always-on sounds a bit nicer than never-off. But they’re the same thing. And creative brains need time off.
I’m no neuroscientist, but from personal experience I know what it feels like when my brain’s exhausted and I’m whipping it, forcing it to think harder. That’s not when good ideas happen.
Although the brain isn’t a muscle, it might be useful to think of it like one sometimes. Yes, you need to exercise it. Give it problems to solve. Feed it good stuff. And stimulate it with culture and art (and, if you’re like me, trashy reality TV shows). But you also need to give it time off to recover. To figure stuff out.
We need the time and space to be able to process the ideas and stimulation that are generated through the workday. Our days are filled with rampant collaboration and idea-generation. But most of us get far too few periods for silence and reflection.
It’s impossible to experience solitude when you’re connected to social media or email. We feel like we’re zoning out when we’re just browsing Instagram or whatever, but we’re not. We’re still hooked up to the big machines in the sky. And other people are liking stuff, and commenting and doing stuff to our virtual selves. You can never feel alone when that’s happening. (Which is the reason why it’s so addictive, but we’ll save that for another post).
So, if our work-life and our social-life are both crammed with stimulation and connectedness, when do our poor brains get a chance to chill-out?
In the shower or course. It’s one of the only places we’re disconnected. Where else in the day are all distractions shut off? Oddly, it was in the shower where I came up with this random thought: If the Internet had transformed physical work like it has mental work, what would happen?
Say my job was shifting big rocks from one pile to another. And a tool was invented that let me carry on moving rocks when I got home. From the comfort of my sofa! Would I do it? Of course not. I’d be sitting at home saying “f**k you! My arms are tired, my back hurts, and I need a rest”.
Or maybe I could do some rock shifting on the train in the morning? Again the suggestion would be met with a jolly “f**k you!”. But for some reason because it’s ‘just’ brain-work we seem to be OK with it.
We are in a business that’s almost entirely about brain work. So we need to make sure that we’re protecting our people’s minds. Buying a bunch of gym passes, hiring in a lunchtime Yogi, or putting a NutriBullet in the kitchen is all good. But we felt there was an opportunity to do something more fundamental.
Our changes hopefully show that we trust our people to be the bosses of their own brain-time and brain-space. And we’re removing practices that allow others to trample over them.
It’s only been a couple of weeks since we implemented this stuff. But, from personal experience, I can tell you already it’s having a big impact. The after-hours email embargo alone has made a massive difference to how I feel in the evening. I can do something on my computer (perhaps even something work-y), and I don’t feel the need to check email. I instinctively did check a few times on the first few evenings. But the habit dies pretty quick when no new mail appears.
So instead of feeling connected to the office in a state of permanent amber-alert. I can relax and let my mind wander to the place where good stuff is.
This whole thing isn’t about working less. Or not applying your brain to work outside work. This is about recognising that we need a healthy balance between being ‘on’ and being ‘off’. And sometimes that’s hard to achieve when confronted by modern-life. Especially in huge, vibrant, 24hr- cities like London.
My hope is that, through the changes we’ve made, those who need it will find more mental rest. And conversely the people who want more stimulation will have capacity for that too.
Both of these outcomes will, in theory, lead to brighter thinking and better work all round. Fingers crossed…
Like I said up top, this isn’t a comprehensive list of the things we’re doing, or the benefits we hope to see. If you want to keep track of what’s going on at the agency check the W+K London Blog: Welcome to Optimism
This looks totally epic! (In a muso-nerd fashion). The joy of seeing a ‘mature’ Soulsonic Force knocking out Planet Rock brought a massive smile to my face. Not sure when we’ll get to see it. 808 played at Sheffield Doc Fest earlier this month, so it can’t be long to wait…
I did a talk the other day at Here London. I had a truly lovely time. The other speakers were all – without exception – amazing, talented, interesting and passionate. I felt spectacularly un-worthy.
I whanged-on about what I reckon might be wrong with the world of ‘advertising’. (The same thing may also apply to other types of commercial creativity. It’s just that advertising feels like the canary in the coal mine of fucked-up-ness).
In one bit I drew an odd parallel between nightclubs and communication. And how, in the good old days, you’d have moments when a big tune dropped. And you’d get a reaction like this:
But now there’s so much music out there, no-one ever plays the same tune twice, for fear of appearing out of date. Everyone wants to be cutting-edge.
And it doesn’t come much more contemporary than DJ Anklepants. Seen below performing a set for Boiler Room in Berlin. You might notice that the crowd do not seem to be experiencing outpourings of ecstasy, there’s just a strange sense of bewilderment.
I’m not saying there’s not a place in the world for DJ Anklepants and his animatronic cock-nose (I’m actually a closet fan).
But there’s too many people in our industry spending too much time worrying about appearing unique, innovative, and disruptive to their peers. Instead of focussing on making things that are actually great, and might one day be seen by a actual real people.
I suspect that the current spate of ‘innovative’ advertising exists because it’s harder than ever to make a dent in mainstream culture. And perhaps it’s also why so many of these projects end up immortalised as: ‘look how what we did really moved people’ videos.
You know the videos I’m talking about. The ones where a brand does something surprising (typically on a sunny day, and often in a town square, or equally universal venue). We see people looking thrilled, entertained, helped, inspired, weeping, or whatever.
And we can’t help but think to ourselves: “Look! Real people, being emotionally touched by an advert”.
We’re all suckers for these images of collective joy. Because we spend our time glued to screens, physically separated from each other, these ‘experiences’ appear tantalisingly ‘real’ and joyful.
Especially when most of us struggle to imagine the feelings that people experience individually at computers or on phones around the world when we do something that appears on a screen.
So instead we make ‘happy people’ videos. To remind us that people really really love advertising, in all it’s glorious forms. And, because the video makers are experts in making stuff look great, we can’t fail to be impressed by how innovative, clever, and genuinely touching the work looks. But it’s also impossible to see what’s actually going on.
If the cameras were fixed, and the footage was honest and unedited, I suspect that much of today’s celebrated advertising work would capture audiences as bewildered as a bunch of clubbers faced with DJ Anklepants.
We’re at a unique moment when it’s possible to engage vast quantities of people on massively exciting platforms. And it’s up to us to use those platforms to reach people in meaningful and lasting ways. So let’s not be suckered by the shiny happy people enjoying mini-spectacles in the sun. Let’s stop faking togetherness and get some more Hardcore Uproar on the go instead.
Well not exactly. But there’s many parallels in his talk about achieving deliciousness in the kitchen. All you have to do is replace the odd word here and there, and he could be talking about what it’s like to work in a decent agency: what the tradeoffs and sacrifices are, the importance of failure, and the feeling that you want to vomit sometimes.
Well worth spending 15 minutes with…
I’m a huge fan of Lucky Peach which is the magazine that his group publishes. I’m not a massive food nerd, but it’s one of the few publications that I read every single page of when I get one. It’s always full of great design, photos and writing.
Mixed groups of arab adolescent men, african women, eastern european families with childeren and elderly people all participated in what resembled an unfamiliar wedding party. Each new song that was played introduced a different traditional or less traditional dance to the floor, which was then interpreted by the others, or simply denied in favour of cheerful improvisation.
I saw this ad on telly today and was totally blown away. My first reaction was “wooooah, that looks awesome” (in the voice of my inner 6 year old). Then my inner Daily Mail reader kicked in and was all like “oh my god, teaching kids to splatter bugs is raising a nation of serial killers, no wonder this country is going to the dogs”.
When you look deeper into the product it really is gross – you can make the bugs, inject eggs or guts into their bodies and squash the shit out of them (or buy a bug grinder if you want to crush them like a pro). Link to the whole creepy crawler range.
I still can’t decide whether it’s good gross or bad gross. I think I’m coming down on the side of bad…
John Maeda is the Fortune Cookie it says. I had no desire to snap him in half and extract his wisdom on a piece of roughly typed paper. But I did figure it’d be a chance to meet an interesting guy and ask him a question in a strange setting.
I turned up to the Riflemaker gallery and had a look round at a bunch of his tweets and some of his art.
Then I had to decide what kind of artwork I wanted to buy to documenet our consultation. It was part of the rules. I wasn’t really sure, so I thought I’d get him to take a picture of me and sign it. I thought that just getting a tweet would be a little ordinary. The profits are going towards funding scholarships to the Rhode Island School of Design, so I didn’t mind coughing up a few quid.
Once I’d made my choice. I got taken upstairs to meet the man. It’s a dark-ish room. He’s sanding there in a puffer jacket in a sandpit. There’s nothing else in the sandpit apart from a chair and a stick. There’s incense burning. There’s no doubt that an enigmatic air is being manufactured.
He starts out by asking me to sit down. And then he asks who I am and what I do. Turns out he knows John Jay from W+K (hardly surprising, everyone who’s anyone knows John Jay).
So the conversation gets pretty specific about work pretty fast – at some point during the conversation he picks up a Polaroid camera and takes a snap of me. He writes a single word “NO” underneath it and signs it.
During our conversation he paces around the sandpit occasionally making notes in the sand with a long stick. Towards the end of our conversation he pulls out his Canon S90 camera (I only spotted that because I have the same one) and takes a photo of his sand scribblings. I have no idea what he’s going to do with these photos and maybe I never will.
In the gallery notes they say:
“The overall experience being somewhere between McKinsey Consulting going on tour and a visit to the hairdresser. ”
Not an inaccurate description although my experience was somewhere between meeting Yoda, a tutorial with an amazing professor and a careers guidance session.
Oh, and at the end he told me not to worry. So I won’t.
Why did he write “NO” under my photo? I don’t think it was any kind of rejection, I suspect it’s actually connected to an important part of my story that he got me to share. A pivotal moment. Or alternatively he could have just written that on everyone’s photo who he didn’t like much. But I’m not going to worry about that either.