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 book Mr Walker talks about how it’d be much better if students drank in the morning rather than the evening, from a sleep and memory retention point of view. We formed a pact to meet for a morning beer at the soonest opportunity. Mr Bingo, being a knowledgeable sort of chap suggested The Masque Haunt on Old Street (it opens at 8am for those who are interested in such things).
So this morning we met, we drank a single pint of beer, and we talked a very enjoyable hours worth of nonsense. We covered off a lot of things. From:
What kind of face is appropriate to make in a photograph whilst drinking a pint at 9am (our best attempt is above).
Who else frequents such a venue at such an hour? (Turns out all kinds of people. Most of them just having very reasonable breakfasts and coffee).
How do you start a naive and innocent movement when everything in culture is so pre-meditated?
Have you ever drunk a 9am beer when not at an airport?
We also reminisced about how, after the first job he’d done for me I took him out and told him he wasn’t charging us enough money. Apparently I used to have scruples, who knew?
There’s something very free about a Weatherspoons at 9am, especially on a sunny day.
We agreed to do it again in a month. And to bring a guest each. And the next month that guest could then bring another guest. And pretty soon there’d be a Weatherspoons full of nonsense, and affordable breakfasts…
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.
Are you, or do you know, someone ‘creative’? Someone who’d like to come and work with us for 7-ish months? (Please forward this on to people you think might be interested).
You’ll get thrown-in at the deep end of advertising — with support from some great mentors. And you’ll be encouraged to develop your own creative practice as part of a wider team.
We’re taking 6 people in London (and 6 in Amsterdam) — giving them a place to live, a space to work, a workable wage, and a bunch of creative opportunities to work on together. They’ll also have support and guidance from a bunch of good nice people.
The Kennedys has been running in Amsterdam for a few years. It’s been a roaring success. Great work has been made. Individuals have blossomed. And much fun has been had. A big percentage of the office’s creative department is now made up of people who’ve been through the Kennedys program. Which is great, and something we hope to replicate.
This is as much about us learning from them as it is them learning from us. We do not have all the answers. Actually we’re rather proud to have none of the answers at the start of a project. (That’s part of the whole “Walk In Stupid” thing this agency likes).
Tony Davidson (the other Exec Creative Director), is overseeing the admissions. He’s rather fond of randomness and is prone to saying things like “Dial up the crazy”, “let’s f**k things up”, etc. So I won’t be entirely surprised if The Kennedys is made up of: a Polish Food YouTuber, a viola player from Hull, a poet who no-one is quite sure where they come from but writes in Klingon, a performance coder from Spain, a furniture designer from the Outer Hebrides, and an amateur baker from Belgium who happens to have a really good Instagram feed.
And that would be really good. Provided they’re up for collaborating to make interesting and culturally relevant work. (The only restriction is that we need people who are legally able to work in the EU).
This is not an internship program. This is not an extra door into the agency for people who have been to advertising school and have a portfolio. This is a program for people who may never have thought about advertising as a career — or have thought about it and assumed they don’t have the right experience or skills.
Unfortunately the official closing date for applications has passed.
I sit on a desk next to Tony and I can see the pile of applications, I’m certain I can sneak some extras in at the bottom (metaphorically speaking). But you’ll need to get them in quick…
The questions we’ve asked people to answer are below. Make of them what you will. Choose to answer some or all of them in a way that you think demonstrates something about you. Feel free to include anything else you think might be interesting, amusing, or inspiring.
For details of where to send your stuff see the very bottom of the page.
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
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?