It’s been in the works for over a year. But last week it actually happened:
I left the building. Or rather stayed at home, and didn’t log into Zoom. Anyway, I don’t work for Wieden+Kennedy anymore. (You might know that this isn’t the first time this has happened. And I love so much about that place and the people there I’m never going to say never – although they are probably terrified at the thought).
I’m not going to write a long soppy post now. I’ve still got a big emotional leaving party to get through later in the summer. But I felt like I had to update my sidebar at least.
I’m really excited about what’s coming next. I’ve been talking about doing things with some of my favourite people in the world. And it’s really clear to us that time is right to do something “new”.
There’s so much potential in the air right now. So many questions to answer. Things to try. And so much that needs fixing. And far too many brilliant creative and technological minds to rescue from drudgery and busywork.
And don’t get me started on how thrilling the current wave of technology is. I’ve not been this giddy since I first experienced the world wide web…
But first I’m going to take the summer off to recharge and refocus. And to spend some quality time with my kids who are about to go to ‘big school’ after the holidays, gulp!
In the case of the vote to leave the EU, Borwick, who seems to approach such challenges like a Rubik’s Cube, claimed that the most successful message in getting people out to vote had been about animal rights. Vote Leave argued that the EU was cruel to animals because, for example, it supported farmers in Spain who raise bulls for bullfighting. And within the “animal rights” segment Borwick could focus even tighter, sending graphic ads featuring mutilated animals to one type of voter and more gentle ads with pictures of cuddly sheep to others.
Tbe Vote Leave campaign were well informed (and open) enough to spot massive contradictions like this in the data, and use it to power their campaign.
We must never underestimate the sophistication of our enemies in the information war.
I don’t fully agree with all of it all the time, but The Outline is a wonderful thing. A publication that’s well written and beautifully designed for phones and computers. Loved this piece that came in the email yesterday: Productivity Is Dangerous.
Perhaps most surpsingly of all they’ve also managed to make advertising that doesn’t make you want to punch it in the face. I even shared a Goldman Sachs Blockchain Ad they’d made. Not because it was a good or bad ad. Because it was the best way of describing the Blockchain I’d come across. To be fair I’ve no idea who made the ad, maybe I should be congratulating the Goldman Sachs guys, but I’d rather not.
Last night Tony and I did a talk for a bunch of wonderful students at Ravensbourne. In order to get the damn thing prepared in time, in a collaborative fashion, we used Google Slides.
Whilst nerding around trying to get the thing sorted I noticed a feature I hadn’t noticed before. “Audience Tools”. Being a fiddler I turned it on.
Turns out it adds a handy promo bar to the top of your slides giving people a URL where they can ask questions.
The questions can then be voted on so that the hottest topics end up at the top.
It’s bloody ace. Especially for less cocky audiences that might be less confident about asking big questions in front of their peers (like students).
Some of my favourite questions from last night (along with edited versions of the answers):
For all those studying Digital Advertising here at Ravenbourne – are we doomed? We hope not :)
Depends what you’re studying on the course. Hopefully you’re learning how to acquire new skills and adapt as the digital landscape changes. And you’re learning to have fun with the unique bits of digital culture that make it a special place to do advertising-like things. If you’re learning that, you’re not doomed. I hope.
I saw just one black person in that office photo… That a thing?
Unfortunately yes. Not just for us, as an industry we’re too monocultural. Along with many other good people we’re working hard to address the issue. And we welcome any thoughts on how we can be better and do more to attract a more diverse pool of talent.
Would you rather be ignorant or know it all?
Our whole ‘Walk in Stupid’ thing probably answers this. It’s always safest to assume that you’re entirely ignorant. But I’m not sure I want to be regarded by others as totally ignorant.
What value do you place on a degree in a creative subject at Wieden and Kennedy? I.e. Is it a requirement for all of the employees?
It’s not a requirement. If you’re lucky enough to be on a creative degree course don’t squander the opportunity, milk it for all it’s worth. You’ll never have that much time and space to experiment again (said like a proper bitter old dude).
What types of activities do you do to feed the unconscious creative process?
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
I think it’s about time I gave it a go. I’m reading Medium content more and more every month. And over the last couple of years I’ve started to feel like I’m missing out by not being a contributing participant in the Medium community.
It’s kind of like what blogging used to be back when I enjoyed it. There’s a genuine community of people engaging with each others’ content. And it seems to welcome longer-form content with ideas in it – not just click-baity pro-blogging nonsesne.
When Google Reader went away my blogging network almost disintegrated overnight. At it’s best Medium is like the best bits of blogging, with the essential bits of Google Reader plumbed-in round the back.
I’m working on a bunch of new stuff that I think might be interesting to share. There some things that I’d like to put out in the world and see how people react – to see if I can get smarter through sharing stuff with a community of good people.
Watch these spaces…
I also have a bunch of draft pieces that have been sitting there gathering dust in the Medium back-end for a couple of years. It’s time to wipe them down and put them out.
Is Crackunit over?
Far from it. I’m going to play around with different kinds of cross posting between Crackunit and Medium and see what happens. I’m interested in how the two things can co-exist. And to see where traffic and conversation happens. Who knows maybe I’ll even managed to eek some kind of post out of it…
Fundamentally I’m still a bit old-fashioned and I like having my own place on the web. A spot that I ‘own’ that can’t be messed up through corporate acquisition or whatever. So Crackunit is here to stay, for now.
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.
In my experience, most people don’t schedule their work. They schedule the interruptions that prevent their work from happening. In the case of a business like ours, what clients pay us to make and do happens in the cracks between meetings, or worse, after business hours.
And I’ve often thought about this:
“I’m adding a meeting” should really be “I’m subtracting an hour from your life.”
What if meeting organizers had to ‘pay’ for the time they used from the assembled participants? And how the participants valued the meeting had a kind of multiplier effect on the cost to the organizer?