"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.

The So Called Talent Crisis

You can buy this poster at The Keep Calm-o-matic. Click on the image to take you there.

You can buy this poster at The Keep Calm-o-matic. Click on the image to take you there.

You go to university, get an advanced degree, graduate, and then disappointed – no pissed – that the offered salaries aren’t what you think they should be, or worse, your talent is not valued. So says this piece in Digiday.

I get it. You’ve been told – no you listened to – all those experts (and educators) who said that the best education, nurturing the best talent, would land you in the job of your dreams with the salary and culture to go along with it.

You may be bringing some awesome new ideas and talent to the agency, but you just got out of school.

You have no experience. You are unproven.

You have never sat across from a client who is telling you, “I want something marvelous and innovative”, but is a) unwilling to pay (much) for it, and b) has a specific idea which he will personally art direct. To. Death.

And it doesn’t matter who you are, that breathtaking portfolio – created in the dreamy (albeit competitive) world of the classroom – has nothing to do with reality.

The creative that sells stuff is, unfortunately, reality.

Oh, I know what it’s like to know you have a lot more bankable talent than anyone is willing to pay for. But you have to learn the ropes. And that’s not the old way to do business; it is the way to do business.

When clients are squeezing every single cent out of an agency, there isn’t a whole lot of cash to go around. Especially for someone who is extraordinary but hasn’t a clue on how agencies make money.

So I don’t have a lot of sympathy for new grads who aren’t willing to do the ugly work at an agency.

Ugly is where reality lies. If you want to live in a fantasy, stay pissed. If you want to be in advertising, get real. Go to work for a crappy salary (agency salaries are always crappy at the beginning) to get some real experience.

If you pay attention and drop the arrogance, you’ll learn really important things – like where your talents can take you; learning to do what you do efficiently (aka make a profit); aligning with the people who will teach you the reality of agency life and how to work it; and how to really get what you want without whining.

Talent crisis? I think not. It’s just that the talented aren’t willing to invest one second beyond graduation in learning. It is an investment, but one with a big payoff if you’re willing to do the work, and yes, even work in a place that doesn’t have a game room or a keg of micro-brew in the break room.

Take it from me kids, I’ve been in the business nearly 40 years (even kept up with technology too – unimaginable at my age, I know) and there’s still a ton to learn.

And by the way, there are a million ad folks out there – with real, live experience – willing to teach. It’s the cheapest, most useful class you’ll ever attend.

This Blog Is Not About You - And It Is

Just like they say on Law & Order, ripped from the headlines. Well, not really.

I write about what I have experienced first-hand. Then I put it into the context of a functioning agency or department (actually how they should function if they’d just get with the program); how to make things better; what is unacceptable; and pretty much, what I think.

Basically the joy – and danger of blogging.

Every day, every interaction, every lame-brain thing that happens in an agency or marketing department is actually not about you specifically.


Well, there truly isn’t anything I haven’t seen - related to the daily trials and tribulations of an agency. So when I write about something, I may have been reminded about it by a recent experience. But I can guarantee, with absolute certainty, that I have personally experienced it. More. Than. Once.

What is utterly remarkable about my experience and what I write about is the fact that everything is unremarkable.

What is utterly remarkable about that, is that I see all this crap everywhere, and one would think we’d all learn from one another and not make the same annoying – and expensive – mistakes. Repeatedly.

So that’s why I write about stuff that you think is about you. Because it is. And it isn’t.

Go ahead, toss me a nugget. Tell me about something that is troubling your agency or department, and:
I’ll tell you if [that] I’ve experienced it
I’ll diagnose the cause
I’ll tell you how to fix it

Bet’cha can’t stump me, because after 35 years, there truly are no surprises.


"Handles Rejection"

There’s an ad on Craigslist for an in-house graphic designer. Among all the regular skills/qualifications on the list, “Handles Rejection” is listed.

It’s the last thing on the list, by the way.

Oh, yeah, also on the list of duties:

Ensures operation of equipment by completing preventive maintenance requirements; following manufacturer's instructions; troubleshooting malfunctions; calling for repairs; maintaining equipment inventories; evaluating new equipment.

What the heck happened at this place with the previous designer?

What kind of workplace is this?

I was a graphic designer waaaay back when. But Handling Rejection wasn’t what we called it. Usually it was more like – My eye is drawn to...there, come back with something else; do this or that; I want the product featured (yes!); add a starburst with the price (yay!); or the ever popular...make the logo bigger.

Any graphic designer with five minutes experience knows that they will have to swallow their creative pride once in a while to make something...better. Or just make the client happy. We've all been there. And that's not rejection.

Since I was in the graphic designer mode back in the dark ages, I had to do equipment maintenance. I had to clean and change chemicals in the processor...For the type...That we got from the typesetting machine...And for processing stats...

Oh, you guys have it so easy these days…

Back to the point. The point being that someone in this company felt they had to include ‘Handle Rejection’. Why did they use those words? 

Sometimes the job postings are the most telling about company ‘culture’.

Why Am I the Oldest Person Working On [name whatever it is]

I was researching my post about Rob Strasser and found this post on the adidas internal blog – their History Project – the post was written by the ‘Godfather’ of the project: Peter Moore.

Feel like you’re the oldest person on the project? Have a

Feel like you’re the oldest person on the project? Have a seat.

As a native Oregonian, and way back when I was a graphic designer, always looking for a cool assignment, I paid attention to the folks at Nike and adidas. I had friends there and occasionally did a little freelance work for them. So the fact that they were – and still are my contemporaries seems somewhat odd.

I still think of them as 30-somethings. I’m surely 30 in my head. 

What struck me was what Peter Moore, the Godfather, had to say about his age:

Finally, the reason I am the “Godfather” of this project is simply because I am, by far, the oldest person on this project (and most every adidas project I work on).”

I’ve written about ageism, as it applies to advertising, and perhaps it is a young-person’s game. There’s a lot of changing technology, things are moving faster – or so everyone seems to think. Well, information travels faster, and therefore marketing a product must be immediate. But even more importantly, it must be relevant.

We’re not too old to work on your project. But why do I always feel like I'm the oldest person in the room? 

Oh, that's right. Because I am. What good is longevity in an advertising career if we can't apply and share all those lessons learned?

The process itself (any process really) does take time. To do things well and thoughtfully, and make them truly relevant, does take skill, experience and thorough consideration. Why is it that we react just as quickly to the unimportant [some celeb’s drunken escapade], as we do to the tragedies [Boston Marathon bombings]?

I think that we all need to step back from our media-filled frenzy and decide what is truly important for our clients and, even more, for ourselves. Faster isn’t better. It just gets you there faster – which may have been an unnecessarily rough ride.

React to what’s important – you may not be the most experienced to determine what that is. That's where us old folks come in handy. After all, responding quickly to the emergencies in advertising is what we seem to be about these days. The passage of time fine-tunes our personal GPS. We know how to get there quickly, but we have the experience that allows us to sort the celeb disaster from the real disasters.

Time to have a chat with your resident ‘sage’ – and pay attention. They’ve been there. Done that. You’ll learn a lot. And they are willing to share.

Slow down to be better.

Ageism in Agencies – Does it Exist?

There was a discussion in one of my LinkedIn Groups about age. Here’s the question and below that, my response:

"Q: At what age does a HR, CEO finds the candidate not employable? late 40s, 50s, 60s...be it creative, client servicing..."

The idea of too old depends on HR and the hiring manager. HR usually vets incoming resumes for open positions; and if they’re worth their salt, also actively follows talent they would like on their team.

Age shouldn't be an issue. At all. But it is.

Just because someone is pushing 50, 60 or even 70, doesn't mean their talents are dusty and they are void of current knowledge.

The problem becomes one of perception. HR, the CEO or hiring manager may be well under 40, may not have experience working with someone ‘older’, and their idea of an individual in that age-range resembles their parents.

If a person in a position to hire has had the awesome experience of working their way up through an agency with a mentor who is in that age-range, they may consider hiring someone ‘that old’. A perceptual shift.

However, I’m seeing a lot of ‘hot, young agencies’ comprised of 20- 30- somethings who are successful – but the learning curve is steep. Lots of time and dollars wasted ‘re-inventing’ what the seasoned ‘ad man’ (and woman) already know. Bill Gates said, “Success is a lousy teacher.” He is right.

Buoyed with an experienced team member, the young shops can get where they want to go faster avoiding common pitfalls. This translates to more time to work on great creative, thus eliminating unnecessary costs in time and materials.

Ageism is alive in advertising. And actually, everywhere. Those of us over 40, or 50, or 60 have a lot of knowledge. And we’re ready to share.

So to answer your question: there is not a ‘too old’. An individual doesn't fit if their experience, skills and talent are not relevant to your needs.

What do you think? If you’re ‘over 40’ have you experienced shift in your ability to get hired in your field; regarded for insight or sought-out for opinion/advice?

If you are ‘under 40’ do you find those who are older are less or more creative, capable or relevant? Would you hire someone over 50 or 60?

Do You Use Advantage Software?

Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater.

I’d like to know how it’s going. If it’s been great, please, share your experience.

Is it making you crazy? Well, any technology can do that to you - but this is about Advantage / Webvantage.

If your experience with Advantage been less than stellar, I’d like to hear from you as well. Because an investment – not only in hard-dollars, but also in the time it took to implement it, is worth fixing.

Or at the very least, review it before you make a big change. Change is tough - remember?

Your colleagues will love you for making their lives…easier.

We are happy.
So on to the questions…Did you implement it agency-wide? How did that go / how long did it take? Is everyone using it? Is it performing as you expected? Are you using Webvantage as well?

Yes to all of those? Awesome – tell us about your experience.

We are unhappy.
Okay, I’ve worked with hundreds of individuals, some of whom have had a not-so-great experience with Advantage / Webvantage. I’d like to hear from you. It will be therapeutic. At the very least, you can vent.

Questions for you…How long have you had Advantage / Webvantage? Did you have assistance during the implementation process? Were you prepared for the setup, testing, training, and roll-out? How has the follow-up been? Have you made adjustments along the way?

Is it just a raging headache and you’re looking to another solution?

I really want to hear from you. This post is a forum for you to air and share. Bring. It. On.

And by the way, I can help you.

Sometimes you don’t have to throw out the baby with the bathwater. There I said it.

Let’s fix your issues so you can get to work!