"Ignorance More Frequently Begets Confidence Than Does Knowledge"

No, this isn't a "when life gives you lemons" moment.

No, this isn't a "when life gives you lemons" moment.

~Charles Darwin

Dunning and Kruger proposed that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:

  1. Tend to overestimate their own level of skill
  2. Fail to recognize genuine skill in others
  3. Fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy
  4. Do recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they are exposed to training for that skill

Therein lies the problem. We have leaders – managers, directors, Veeps, C-level folks, owners – in our agencies and marketing departments who have experience, serious credentials and perhaps an impressive education behind them who know more than we do. But ignorant on how anything gets done in the office - and incompetent because they may have never had to do what you do.

So, can they do your job?

Probably not.

Why? Because a) they don’t know what your job is, b) they actually don’t know how to do your job, and c) they didn’t care until today (á la Ken Lay)…

Then there’s some huge, expensive mistake; profits have gone down the tubes; or there’s a whole lotta bitching going on. No matter how much you rearrange the office (Titanic anyone?) to create serendipity for that kumbaya moment, no one is happy and things just aren’t working.

Then management starts messing with the flow. [Tend to overestimate their own level of skill]

They confidently ride in on their trusty steed and sabre drawn – ready to apply rash decisions and big old Band-Aids to the mistakes; cuts in perks/benefits/staff to ameliorate mounting Red Ink; and my personal favorite, new process, tools – or worse – an organizational behavior consultant to assuage the bloodshed.

And everything turns to crap.


What did management fail to do?

Take the pulse of the staff. Ask the simple, obvious questions: what’s working and not working? [Fail to recognize genuine skill in others]

You don’t set sail without a map, compass and these days, GPS. And certainly not without a skilled crew.

So why on this Earth would management make all these decisions without a simple query and just a little bit of background? Because they are smarter than everyone else. They’ve read all the articles about the latest management trends – from Kaizen to Holacracy – and they are knowledgeable because, since it's in the pages of Forbes or Wired:  It. Will. Fix. Everything. [Fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy]

Yes, knowledge is power. No, I’m not saying management is stupid – or incompetent. (Some individuals are though, and they should go, post-haste.)

But management very often is ignorant of what it takes to get that stuff that you do – done. And they’re very likely incompetent when it comes to something like developing a serious spreadsheet – with all those fancy formulas, Photoshop miracles on their corporate mug shot, or writing code for a new app. They have you to do that.

People, you are stuck with your managers, so offer-up some help.

When things aren’t going well, errors made, general animosity in the office – I’ll bet you recognize it well before management acknowledges it.

You have skin in this game. If management doesn’t know what’s going on and you see problems, make them aware. And more than that, come up with a couple ideas for solutions. At least you are making an effort to fix the problems. Management just might thank you. [Do recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they are exposed to training for that skill]

If management chooses to blissfully go on their way and ditch your ideas, you have a couple options: either sit back and watch the implosion or get your resume tuned-up and out to prospective employers.

Now excuse me while I put on my invisibility cloak of lemon juice.

Really. Boring. Stuff. But Agency Life Will Be Better.

I’ve been reading about Kanban (as it relates to software development) and The Theory of Constraints.

It’s really super-boring when you read this stuff and apply it to an advertising agency. But there are a few nuggets in there.

In my line of work, I’m all about Process, Tools and People.

A.     Process – how you get stuff done, start-to-finish
B.     Tools – what you use to do your stuff, communicate about your stuff, and store your stuff
C.   People – the people who do the stuff and their willingness to do A, and use B

It’ll all come together. And by the way, I don’t like to use jargon unless I’m looking to confuse my audience. (yes I know you’re all highly intelligent folks, but Orwell said it best:  “Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.” My everyday word is stuff.

So The Theory of Constraints, as identified in Wikipedia (my go to source for all things about organizational management) goes like this:

The theory of constraints (TOC) is a management paradigm that views any manageable system as being limited in achieving more of its goals by a very small number of constraints. There is always at least one constraint, and TOC uses a focusing process to identify the constraint and restructure the rest of the organization around it.

TOC adopts the common idiom "a chain is no stronger than its weakest link." This means that processes, organizations, etc., are vulnerable because the weakest person or part can always damage or break them or at least adversely affect the outcome.

It goes on…

Types of (internal) constraints

  • Equipment: The way equipment is currently used limits the ability of the system to produce more salable goods/services.
  • People: Lack of skilled people limits the system. Mental models held by people can cause behaviour that becomes a constraint.
  • Policy: A written or unwritten policy prevents the system from making more.

So I could repackage these three constraints as:

A.     Tools – inadequate, redundant, time-consuming
B.     People – unskilled, unmotivated, crappy attitude
C.   Policy – the notion that you are maxed-out and have to say no, or worse, you outsource because A and B were not addressed (aka process – you actually think you have one – but you don’t actually follow it)

Now as for Kanban (as it relates to software development – which is kind of like the process in advertising) – is all about efficient process and improvement. In other words, one that is free of the baggage and crap we load onto a project (or anything for that matter) – which could be an attitude or too many bells and whistles for that website you’ve been trying to get done…for months.

The Kanban method is rooted in four basic principles:

  • Start with what you do now
  • Agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change
  • Respect the current process, roles, responsibilities and titles
  • Leadership at all levels

Now, I’ll repackage Kanban as:

A.     Don’t re-invent the wheel – there’s actually a nugget of process in there. You start a project; it goes through your machine and comes out the other end, finished. Your process is probably messy – it just needs tweaking
B.     Get along, make it better and don’t be an asshole about it. You can actually work with others to improve life at the agency (and it doesn’t require dogs in the office or Beer Fridays), and realize it takes a little time and a bit of input
C.     Respect the things that work, don’t cross into another’s territory, and be honest with one another for cripes sakes
D.    Own the project, the process and give credit. There are huge benefits, like making more money and not hating coming to work every day

So, before you fall asleep I’ll wrap this up into a neat little package. Take a look at the issues in your agency or marketing department (your constraints). What’s driving everyone nuts? What's too cumbersome and taking too much time? Who's not pulling their weight, or worse, being a jerk?

Start practicing a little Kanban and get things done without so much grief.

Yep, that’s a start. Need help? Give me a call (702-370-7447). The first one’s free. I’ll do a little Kanban magic and figure out what constraints are ailing ya.

A couple parting items:
Here’s a lovely link to Orwell’s 5 rules for effective writing
Here’s a link to Orwell’s Politics and the English Language. Read it.

Fixing Advantage – or Just About Anything

It doesn’t matter what you use, from Advantage to Workamajig, I can predict that if the agency management software you are using isn’t ‘working’, there’s more at issue than the software itself.

Blame the software. Always the first response.

In my post a couple days ago, I asked for questions/issues that you are having with Advantage, in particular. I happen to know the software very well – that’s why.

But the lessons here apply to any technology solution you are using.

I received an email from a project manager in an agency who is doing ALL of her updates after work. And these updates take her two to four hours a night. She’s really sick of it, and looking for a different job because she wants her life back.

What? Advantage is a database program, and everyone in her agency has access...that is specific to their role. She should be able to see, from her computer, the progress of her projects and make adjustments during the course of the day.

So we chatted, got online and I took a look at how she was using the software.

In her project schedule, every line entry was unique and required direct input; tasks were assigned to some employees (not everyone was available to assign); no time per task was allocated (therefore no automated resource planning). She input due dates only – manually. And only key dates.

Everything was straight data-entry.

Then she prints out her schedule every morning and during the day, hand-writes changes. After work, she spends her evenings updating everything from her hand-written notes.

This is one person in a 200-person agency. There are eight PMs. Each uses the technology differently.

They reduced a comprehensive database to an Excel spreadsheet.

Training on the appropriate use of the technology; developing a process to use it; and compliance in its use. That’s the magic formula for successfully using agency management software. 

someecards.com - It's more work to complain about having to use the new software than it is to actually learn how to use it.

We then went where she had never gone before – how to use the software – appropriately.

Schedule templates, allocated hours for tasks, assigned employees (this required getting HR to set up everyone in their proper role). Pushing tasks out to employees – and requiring them to use their task list – plus having staff update it themselves (Gasp! which means they mark it ‘complete’ – no, that is not hard). Now, this PM wouldn't have to update everything. Herself. Every night.

Wow, they’ve been paying for this technology for years, and never used it as it was intended.

Here are their next steps: Review the setup – which really needs an overhaul. Nothing had been done since they installed it – seven years ago. Review roles and designate them appropriately. Set up appropriate tasks for the schedule (and condense it down from the 700+ that had been created) and build templates. It makes for fast work of getting all projects (large or small) in the system.

Then last, but not least, train and enforce compliance. You need management’s full support here, because this is where the whining comes in. You will actually be asking your colleagues to be a part of the solution. It’s only a mouse-click for crying out loud. Not any harder than an IM to their friends about lunch.

And I only covered project schedules here. Think of what you can do when you get the entire agency on board?

The Remote Workplace & Yahoo!

I work from home. I have done so as an employee, as a freelancer and consultant.

So I know first-hand, the benefits of working from home – and working in an office.

Marissa Mayer, a new mom/CEO/and-everything-else-awesome, sent out the word that Yahoo! employees must now work in the office.

Now all this talk about open-concept offices and so-called ‘collaboration’ has me railing from time-to-time. You just can’t force collaboration, and I believe that employees need quiet space/time to concentrate.

However, collaboration isn’t as easy if your colleagues are working in different geographical areas. And all that crap about GoToMeeting being THE collaboration tool. I used it for years. It’s okay, but nothing beats being in the same room with your co-worker and being able to call him out on texting his friends about this lame meeting.

For Yahoo!, and Ms. Mayer, the ‘backlash’ has started. They’re talking about how it ruins families reduces productive time by 5 – 7 hours a week!, Ms. Mayer is trying to be more ‘male’, blah, blah blah.

Get this: I love working from home. I wear sweats, and no makeup. My days start early and end late.

Working from home gives me the option to work 12 – 16, or more hours per day without a problem. And did I mention that I hate to drive? I think the daily commute is the biggest waste of time we have in our daily workday. More on that later…

But, having worked remotely for an employer, I can say that when you have daily contact with your colleagues, you have a much better sense of how to work with them. Management has a better sense of you as a person. Those things keep you employed. You'll have a much better sense of expectations because frankly, you can’t hide.  An added bonus – you will develop enhanced radar and be able to detect when ‘changes are a comin’. Such as a corporate edict on working in the office. 

Yahoo! evidently has a big problem with flabby employees. Or so the articles elude. People call in, turn in work-product, whatever – and get a paycheck. Easy. Others pour themselves into their 16-hour day. Both are equal in the eyes of management. This change will shake-out the slackers, and I’ll bet, flexibility will still be on the table.

The article from Time states:

“Eliminating the ability to telecommute eats away at the core of what Yahoo, an Internet pioneer, and Mayer, a new mother, would seem to be all about.

Sure, working from home is what Yahoo! is all about.

…and closes with:

Technology has revolutionized the workplace, allowing people to do their jobs while still caring for a child home from school with the flu or on weekends and vacations when urgent matters surface. Yahoo has a respected place in history as one of the enablers. Turning back the clock can’t be the answer.”

Sorry, but there are two different points here. The ability to take care of a sick child and working exclusively from home are completely different. Just about every workplace recognizes the former as a part of having employees – with lives and families. Working remotely is not, in any way, the only way to achieve that basic flexibility.

I have watched this stupid debate for years. We work, we have families, and we continue to work. I have first-hand experience in this area and don’t see this change in Yahoo! as insurmountable.

I was a single-mom with two very young kids and worked as a freelance designer/illustrator. I tended to their needs and tried my best to do my work. From home.  It was either spend time with them during the day and work at night – or start and stop continually while trying to get just a half-hour of undisturbed work in.

I had to come to terms with reality. I had to work to make money so my family could survive. That meant I had to focus on work. I put my kids in – GASP! – daycare. I could no more afford an au pair than I could afford to jet off to Paris. So my two little ones got up early every morning and were delivered to a wonderful Grandma-type lady – who raised nine kids of her own. She was wonderful. I was lucky.

So in that environment, they lived, and so did I. They learned to socialize with other kids, had organized activities, were loved by their caregiver, and brought home the flu and pink-eye.

The downside during those years was the drive. I put – literally – at least 1000 miles a week on my car. I spent a lot of time in my car. Therefore I hate to drive now.

So as an experienced work-at-home person and work-at-work person all I have to say is: Go to work. Quit whining. Your kids will survive – your family will not die. Hone your radar. And if you don't like it, prepare your resume.

The Drama of Creative Agencies or Something Like That

Okay, once in a while you just have to call someone out on their B.S.

Here you go.

So I’m a fan of Ad Contrarian, and checked the comments on his post about a particular agency’s landing page, and one comment had a link to Agency Wank.

Agency Wank takes screen shots of statements agencies make about themselves, posts them on his site, and then folks post notes (comments).

Well, one agency that was captured got very, very angry and invited the Wank over for a drink and a laugh, and – let me quote here; “Afterwards, I personally will kick the living s**t out of you. It’ll be a hoot!”


As a result, it looks like the Wank has taken a break – but the site lives on…

Well my take on it is this: First, if agencies wrote anything as pedestrian as what they actually do on their sites – without jargon – it just wouldn’t be…interesting. They bury the fact that they’re asking a simple question:  Use us because we do everything better than the other guy.

Second, anyone in an agency taking a comment seriously from a Tumblr site called Agency Wank, and inviting that person over for consumption of alcohol and a good shellacking is…a waste of time.


I think these two guys – I’m sure they are guys – could parlay this into some really good…promotion.

Forget Cannes. Instead we can have some sort of Agency Smackdown or Cagefight to ordain the best Agency Statement of Purpose Ever. The battle of obfuscation.


The stage will be set in an historic building with plenty of exposed brick, hip retro furniture, microbrews, and an open concept office so everyone can contribute - and collaborate on the win.

The reality of it all is that once you put it out there for the world to read, everyone has an opinion. Using tons of jargon is just asking for it.

So I just have to ask: There’s actually an ad guy without a thick skin?

Didn’t know they existed.

Setting Expectations in Your Agency

So now that you have the client on track, you, as the client-facing individual – which for simplicity I’ll call the AE – are charged with getting the ball rolling by outlining your own set of expectations inside the agency. (I know that in some agencies the client can have contact with anybody – I can’t even go there.)

So it should go like this: I want X (defined in a brief or at least a job order), by Y specified date and time, there are Z dollars to get this done. You have just set your expectations. What. When. Budget.

In my world, the PM would review the specifics, get you an estimate and confirm resources – right away – and notify you whether it is a GO or a NO.

But you would know that already, because you checked with the PM first. Can we do X by Y date for Z dollars? You are my favorite AE already.

If you have fulfilled the troika of essentials, the job is good to go.

But, alas – how many times have any of the three essentials been either tweaked, violated or completely ignored in your agency?

If you have good agency management tools in place, and people are playin’ by the rules (aka compliance), the deviation is quickly detectable.

As I mentioned here before – no one has a right to spend agency money without approval. That means, scope, timeline and budget are not defiled by an individuals’ decision to tweak a project.

If there’s a better idea, better anything – just have a discussion with the AE and PM – that’s all it takes to ensure there is room, or time, and/or budget to give the client…more.

Expectations can be the minimum, but when we’re dealing with what the client asked for, what we agreed to – exceeding them – especially in a creative environment – does need advance clearance if it affects scope, timeline or budget. It’s a quick conversation. Got it?

The dark side is not setting expectations. No regard for time or budget – and you walk over to someone who’s busy and you’re giving them direction – verbally – bypassing your PM.

Because it was faster

Well this causes grief, confusion and additional cost – jeopardizing the projects with expectations.

Have you ever noticed how well that usually works out? Rarely cost effective.

Be a good citizen. Set clear expectations. That means, do your paperwork, and engage your PM. You will get what you want, when you want it, at the specified budget.

How easy is that? Be my favorite AE. 

Ambassador to the Agency

As a project or traffic manager, you have most likely been placed in the middle of an argument between (usually) creative and account. Or my personal favorite, a writer and a proofreader.

It usually goes like this:

A proof is ready for the client. You check it, it fits the brief, log it in and send it to account for client approval.

Account reviews it, and it doesn't  in their opinion, match the brief... or perhaps their vision. They send it back and tell you it’s not acceptable.

Creative says, no changes, it does follow the brief, it is fantastic and we are not changing anything.

And so it goes, back and forth. You are running interference between the two (or three, or more) because they’re all way too busy to get together – or perhaps they really don’t like confrontation.

Stop where you are. Pull them in one room to debate, argue and blame one another for failing to follow the brief / changing what they meant / being too creative.

Go for speed. As soon as a victor is declared – and they actually articulate exactly what they want – get direction in writing, a date and time you’ll see it, and then hold them to it.

It is not your job to run back and forth to mediate border wars. Your time is too valuable ensuring everything else GETS DONE.

So, next time you get a proof for the gazillionth time, save everyone a lot of time, money and grief. Get your awesome colleagues into a room and do not let them out until they compromise. (They may never agree – so show them the budget and actuals).

Tough love is efficient.