January 26, 2012
Beth Comstock, SVP and CMO of GE recently had a great article on Forbes online: “Innovation is a State of Mind”. If you know nothing else about me, you do know that innovation is an absolute obsession of mine — and it’s nice to know that someone so successful and highly-regarded feels the same way.
She starts her piece with a quote from the great, late entrepreneur Robert Noyce: “Optimism is an essential ingredient for innovation. How else can the individual welcome change over security, adventure over staying in a safe place?”
I agree with this statement, but only to a point. Absolutely, if you don’t believe in possibilities, opportunities and the fact that there is a way forward you might as well pack up your office and go home. But I think that ‘acceptance’, ‘willingness’ and ‘courage’ are equally, if not more, important. Why? Well, okay, we all know that the economy is bad everywhere. Unemployment is still high. Jobs are still scarce. Life is uncertain.
So let’s say that I run an ad agency. New business is hard to come by. Every time I answer the phone it’s a client calling to cancel a project or reduce a budget. They are questioning every dime we spend and send us back to re-quote time and time again. We have a hiring freeze. My staff are stretched beyond their limits, tired, fed up and stressed. Raises are out of the question. Nobody’s having a good time.
On the positive side I know I have good people working for me. They know how much I value them. We do great work, consistently. Despite all the budget issues we have good client relationships. In my heart I believe that we will come out of this whole. So yes, I am optimistic about the future.
What I have accepted is a problem that seems to be out of my control. But have I accepted — or even asked myself — whether or not there is something in my control that needs fixing? Do clients value what agencies do? Do they consider that a lot of what we do is not as unique a skill or talent as we think — but is, in their opinion, a commodity? Does the whole agency model need changing?
This soul-searching won’t change the economy overall, but are there more relevant services we could offer clients? Would it help with new business? Would clients be willing to pay more to get what they need and want and value?
All right. So now I acknowledge and accept the fact that we should take a long, hard look at what we do, how we do it, how much (or how little) we charge for it, and what our clients might value more.
Am I willing to take this on? It’s a lot of work. It’s not easy to undo what an industry has been doing for 50, 60, 80+ years. Generally people hate change. It won’t be easy to sell it to my boss. It won’t be easy to sell it to my staff. Do I not have enough on my plate? Do I really need to take this on?
Yep. So far so good. I am optimistic about the future and the future of my agency. I accept the fact that some of our challenges are of our own doing. I am willing to invest the time and the money to come up with innovative solutions.
So do I have the balls?
Because there are risks. My boss could shoot it down. My boss could get pissed off because instead of spending my days concentrating on making the agency we have successful, I am wasting my time day-dreaming. Even if I got my boss onside, and even if we were to include our clients in the process, this wouldn’t be the first time a client endorsed an idea in theory and walked away from it when it became real. Maybe we’d lose some staff who hate the idea — and also hate the fact that because we may have eliminated some services, we have also eliminated some jobs. What if I miscalculated and it didn’t get us new business?
But on the other hand, what if it worked like a charm? What if our new and innovative approach to what an ad agency could and should do for clients won us rave reviews from clients, prospects and the press? What if profits soared? What if we attracted, and hung on to, the industry’s top talent? What if we couldn’t cope with all the new business that beat a path to our door? What if we ended up on the cover of Forbes?
Without the courage to try, we’d never know. Without the courage, willingness, acceptance and optimism.
There must be something to this idea of innovation — why else is it the theme at Davos this year?
January 15, 2012
Don’t ask me why, but I’ve been thinking about my writing habits today — and how they’ve changed over the years. No less weird, just different.
When I first started to write professionally we didn’t have computers; and yes, I did hesitate to ‘say’ that out loud for fear that you’d immediately jump to the wrong conclusion: No, I am not living in a nursing home. I have all my teeth. I do not drool. I have no need for adult diapers, pureed food, pull-on pants or a walker. I was born post WWII, and 1984 (when Apple was launched) is not really that long ago.
I’m just saying.
So … back then we didn’t have computers. We did have typewriters , but I didn’t use one — at least not to ‘create’. My preference was to write everything out by hand; and only when I had a draft that I liked, did I type it up. Even more bizarre, though, was the fact that I never used a whole piece of paper (I promise I am much more environmentally conscious/friendly now). In fact I probably went through a pound of paper each time I wrote something.
I’d write a line on one sheet, then a couple of lines on another sheet, a thought here, a thought there — and on and on it went. Once I had some critical mass, I’d start weaving all those thoughts and words and sentences together until I had a few paragraphs I liked — which could have taken countless tries on countless sheets of paper. Then I’d carry on — again using many sheets of paper for many versions — until eventually, I’d have enough to type my first draft — which I’d edit by writing all over it, making the changes in pen, first.
I simply could not seem to sit at a typewriter and write from scratch. I also needed total silence. And every couple of sentences I had to have a cigarette and a cup of coffee.
In 1985 I moved to Toronto (from Montreal) to work for the ad agency, Ogilvy & Mather. Needless to say we all had Macs. Mine collected dust. I continued to work the way I always had, until one day another writer — who had been watching me in disbelief (and disgust, and probably pity) for months and months — came into my office and shut the door. She told me that she wasn’t going to leave until I started to use my computer.
I gave her every reason why I couldn’t, shouldn’t and wouldn’t and it all fell on deaf ears. She removed everything I’d piled on top of it, dusted it off, turned it on and sat down next to me — ready to start my tutorial. I don’t know if she follows my blog but just in case, “Thank you, Erin Moore!” But the little writing muse inside my head was still hooked on quiet, coffee and cigarettes (I had an ashtray the size of a spare tire and it was always filled to the brim with smoldering butts).
Until I decided to quit smoking when all the anti-smoking laws started taking effect in Toronto — which dates back about 20 years. Agency management were quite concerned — they were worried that my productivity and my ability to write might be negatively impacted. Truth be told I think they were also worried about mood swings. Smoking is an addiction, after all. As I recall they did check my office for sharp objects and I also remember that my letter opener mysteriously disappeared one day. Yep, you got that right — instead of encouraging me to stop, they encouraged me to “think it over carefully, and not to rush into anything.” Only half in jest, by the way.
I quit cold turkey and thankfully my talent stayed intact. I did have the odd tantrum but I don’t think the lack of nicotine had anything to do with it — probably had a lot more to do with difficult deadlines and unnecessary revisions (I am all for constructive criticism — it’s the minutia that kills me. All would not really be lost if we didn’t change the comma to a semi-colon, would it?)
And that was the way I worked for quite a while (with my door closed and bottles of water by my side) — until 2000, in fact. That was the year I was recruited to be a partner in an independent start-up agency. Up until this point you were defined by how big your office was, whether or not you had a window(s), whether or not you had a couch etc. But now ‘cool’ was large, open-concept, loft-like offices with brick walls, wood floors (or industrial carpet), high ceilings with exposed pipes and play areas (pool tables or basketball hoops or putting greens etc.).
So that’s what we went for. Most of the people in our agency hated the idea — at least at first. For some unknown reason I absolutely loved it. It was so much more collaborative. And honestly, when I was engrossed in what I was doing I totally blocked out any conversations people were having. I never heard a word and I was never distracted.
Now I work alone, from home. When I first went out on my own I furnished myself a lovely home office. Good lighting. A nice desk. A fabulously comfortable, ergonomic Aeron chair, bookshelves, good storage space — everything you’d need and want.
I hate working in there. I don’t work in there.
If I must work from home, I prefer my dining room table. Why? God knows. I guess some things don’t have to make sense.
What I’ve realized is, I don’t like working at home because it’s too quiet. And by quiet, I don’t mean I want noise. Playing music or putting on the TV don’t help. In fact they make it worse. It’s the ‘sound’ of human energy I crave. It’s a ‘buzz’.
So now I work most of the time at Starbucks — primarily because there’s one just across the street from where I live. But I have worked at other cafes and all sorts of public places; and while they’re all pretty good, some are better than others. There are some Starbucks I don’t like. The buzz isn’t right for some reason. Again, don’t ask me why. Just one of my peculiarities, I guess. It appears that I’m not just strange, I’m also picky.
But it is working for me, so who am I to question it.
What about you? I’m curious about your writing habits. Hope you take the time to share them.
January 9, 2012
Who’d a thunk it?
Not so long ago I was trolling through WordPress, as I often do, looking for interesting blogs — and found one almost immediately (oh, I know there are tons of them), but this was the first one I got to and I loved it — so I didn’t look for any more that night. If you’re a writer — or even just love reading interesting, well-written posts — then you should check it out: Magnificent Nose. What I find really interesting is the fact that there are several writers who contribute to it. It’s a neat idea and they’re all great writers. In fact, I liked it so much, I decided to follow it, and subscribed so I would get email notices every time there’s a new post.
Over the holidays I was notified that Julie Goldberg — had just posted: “I don’t have time to believe in writer’s block”. I don’t know a writer who hasn’t, at one time or another, stared at a piece of paper (or a computer screen) hour after hour, day after day, maybe even week after week or month after month — and it just stared back. So needless to say I was intrigued. And once I got into her story I couldn’t believe what I was reading.
What Julie was describing was a scenario I am currently living through — or at least was living through until I read her blog post: A novel she’s been writing for about 20 years. A project she starts and stops and starts and stops etc. etc. etc. The good news is, she’s finally making some good progress. But that’s not why I’m sharing this with you.
I started writing a book almost 4 years ago. Amazingly, I had about 6 chapters written in 5 months — and I had a full time job at the time. Got off to a really fabulous start while visiting friends in Bequia, where I wrote 3 chapters in 10 days. And then I hit a wall.
No, it wasn’t writer’s block. It took me about a month to figure out that I was avoiding the chapter that came next because it dealt with subject matter I didn’t want to re-live: The death of my mother. Once I figured that out I had a decision to make. Deal with it and write the chapter or abandon the book forever more, because the book would not be the book without that chapter.
By then I had become a freelance writer and a strategic consultant so I was working from home. The quiet was too much for me so I took my laptop to a neighbourhood Starbucks and wrote it in 3 days. I sat there for as long as 7 hours a day — and yes, I kept buying. I drowned myself in coffee and tea and water and sustained myself with yoghurt and cheese and crackers and the odd slice of lemon poppyseed poundcake — so I didn’t have to feel guilty about being there all day.
And that was that.
Several times I tried to get back into it and couldn’t. I was distracted. I knew it wasn’t writer’s block — I have been doing all kinds of writing — just not on my book. The longer I was away from my book, the more pissed off at myself I became. I love the idea of this book and desperately want to write it; and finish it; and share it.
But I just couldn’t focus on doing it. At one point I decided to go away for a month — to some remote locale where I’d have no distractions — nothing else to do but write. Until life took over and I got a new client and was too busy (happily) writing for him to spend any time on myself.
Now, of course, I don’t care. Because Julie’s blog struck a chord with me — a big chord. And that very night I, once again, got excited about my book. In my head I started working out the chapter to come. I’m trying to write something every day — and so far, I’m succeeding — thanks to Magnificent Nose.
You see — inspiration can come from anywhere — even in your own backyard — which is exactly what WordPress is for those of us who blog here. Is there a moral to my story?
You bet. Don’t just come here to write your own blog. Spend some time reading other blogs. You’ll meet some great people who have some very interesting stories, many of whom have had or are having similar experiences to your own.
And who knows. They might even be able to help you sort out a problem or two. Look what happened to me.