Porch Note #1: Jack Hanna Says Humility is on The Endangered Species List.
Welcome to my dark, faux Holden Caulfield-Meets-Gandhi-Meets-Frida Kahlo-Meets-Bowie Playground.
This is my first attempt at typing curated thoughts on "The Net". In the event of a digital apocalypse, I have 78 journals in my house when future creatures need to ruffle through the remnants to discover, "what were the humans thinking?"
Some of these ruminations are not always ground-breaking concepts, some are abstract, but most are an attempt to translate real work experiences into a formula for enlightenment. I'll probably misspell stuff along the way, thus deteriorating the standard of literacy for our future generations.
I promise to throw down the occasional 4 letter word for flavor only. If I interject the occasional Spanish phrase, it's coming from a place of passion and not pretense. If I interject the occasional phrase en français, it's definitely coming from a place of pretense.
I'd like to kick this show off by talking about humility, a characteristic that is definitely in shortage these days across the leadership spectrum in the public eye. Even circus clowns exercise the occasional flamboyant apologetic gesture to the audience.
More specific to the creative industry - ad agencies, in-house shops, publishing houses, production crews, rep houses, design studios large and small, what have you -
There's a reason why Mad Men is a TV show. As much as we like to think that art imitates life, and don't get me wrong - anyone traversing through the ad industry mine/mind field for even an hour recognizes that the series hit an important nerve. It got us excited about the provocative nature of the methods of assholes. (Peggy Olson is excluded from this premise, since she deserved her badass drop the mic moment).
In practice, however, creative minds are no longer in a position to be assholes. We are in a privileged position to solve problems through humor, play, imagination, brain power and collaboration. Key word being privileged, because the majority of the global labor force is doing back breaking work for a living. Sometimes without a pension to show for it. Thanks Reagan.
The challenge with this privileged position is that it can quickly devolve to a state of egoism, self-importance and self-aggrandizing tunnel vision if left unchecked.
Just like our better demons, humility in a leadership trait is contagious, too. Humility instills respect and confidence in your team. It says, "hey, I'm a human. You're a human. We're doing our best." Don't think for a second that creative leaders have all the answers. They have alot to learn too. Humility keeps that space open for growth. Humility makes production sets and shoots awesome. The stealth and quality of work tend to reflect that energy. Humility inspires trust in a team because creatives have breathing room to focus on being passionate about the work. It's a wonderful tethering of respecting that individual's skill sets, and in turn, that individual learns to recognize that he/she is not an island in the work. Increased cortisol levels triggered by fear that Gary or Brenda are going to take a proverbial dump on your each and every creative move does not inspire retention rates or future vendor partnerships.
Here are a few notes on how to be less asshole-y that I try to practice, though sometimes failing miserably at:
- Hey Gary, we're in a meeting. Turn your goddamn Deep Purple "Smoke on the Water" ringer off. The vibration feature too.
- Assume that even if you are an expert, you don't have all the answers.
- Wait 5 seconds after a person in the meeting has completed a thought, then respond.
- Assume that in a collaboration, someone's point of entry into a project or brand is completely different than yours.
- Get off social media for a month and just go around and talk to the humans of your daily, like the dude that works at 7-11, the woman who rings up your groceries, your neighborhood bartender. Keep your phone in your pocket when you have these delightful musings.
- Always for big projects, do a post-game download with your team. Talk about things that worked, things that didn't work, things you learned, things you thought your team knocked out of the park. Critique can be a celebratory event.
- Apologize if you fucked up. Ask for help if you need it during said fuck up. Move on.
- Bring back face to face brainstorms and commentary with your team. It's not always practical with quick turnarounds to walk away from the shared google doc or Basecamp threads, but after a bit more practice it changes the tone of engagement from a reactive to a proactive one.
At the end of the day, let's reserve the high horse for a Teddy Roosevelt statue somewhere.
Thanks for reading,