I’ve been sat at my desk for the last twenty odd minutes trying to figure out how to begin this blog post. From about midday I’ve known what I was going to write, however, as the day went on I realised just how difficult it was going to be to put into words. I’ve been worried I won’t do my topic justice.
In fact, ten minutes ago I was struggling so much I thought I’d default to what I always do when having writer’s block: smash out a really dry grammar tutorial. I mean, who doesn’t want to know what an Oxford comma is, amirite?!
But today this cop out would’ve really felt like cheating.
I’ll back up and give some context.
I’ve just finished day one of a three-day ‘boot camp’, which is part of a scholarship I’ve been awarded with the UK Marketing Academy. The year long course is designed to foster leadership via mentoring, career coaching, lunch and learns, workshops and faculties. Today, I joined the 29 other scholars to learn what this all actually means.
And it really was amazing.
Just today we had Stephen Miron (Global CEO of Global), Katherine Tulpa (CEO of Wisdom8), Chris Daly (CEO of CIM), Laura Jordan Bambach (Creative Director for Mr President), Gail Gallie (Creative Project Lead for Project Everyone) and Ed Smith (Executive Director Sales & Marketing for Foxtel Australia) deliver an hour long key note each that tracked their careers, philosophy, mistakes and learnings.
Trying to capture the value they gave us is hard. I worry I’ll rinse through every synonym for ‘incredible’ and come off sounding like a fairy. But the content that was covered was so inspirational, real and (most critically) useful, that it’s a risk I’ll just have to take.
In order distil what I learned I’ve tried to capture some of the top nuggets of advice we were given.
Revisiting my initial fears of this blog post, there’s no way I’ll do their wisdom justice. But here goes.
The importance feedback (but framing it in the right way)
This, I loved. It was from Ed.
He talked about how we have a tendency to really fluff things out when it comes to feedback. I notice this with the ‘360 feedback’ format which is so common in the UK. This is often set up as ‘what is so-and-so doing well?’ and ‘what could so-and-so do better?’
When you think about it, these questions encourage waffle. In the first instance we feel obliged to go to town on how wonderful the person is. The second isn’t confrontational at all; it allows us to skirt around any hard comments.
Instead, we should think of framing feedback up in this format:
‘When so-and-so is at their best they are A, B and C. When so-and-so is not at their best they are X, Y and Z. In order to be better they should focus on being more H, I, and J’.
That makes more sense. It’s directional, constructive and tangible.
Figure out your contact chart
Another good one from Ed (and particularly useful for anyone starting in a new role).
Very basically, this is the exercise of understanding all the functions of the people in your business and how they are going to impact, influence or assist you in your role. Then, off the back of this, figuring out how frequently you need to be in contact with them and ensuring it happens.
Coming from a huge brand, I can really relate to this. It’s so easy to become bogged down in meetings that have always existed, or simply not taking time to figure out who the people are you mightn’t have any contact with, but should. But avoiding this exercise it to the detriment of reinventing and easing up what it is we need to do.
Super useful. Super doable.
Train your flow
This one came from Laura. There is a whole theory around what ‘flow’ actually is, but simply put it’s your zone for getting the job done.
I wasn’t actually familiar with ‘flow’ as an official term until today, but it’s something I was already kind of doing (and really rate).
For me, when I need to knuckle down, I throw on my headphones and put Modest Mouse ‘Ocean Breathes Salty’ on repeat. And when I say repeat, I’m talking non-stop loop for as long as it takes. My record so far is just shy of 9 hours with the exception of toilet and drinks breaks. Rain Man for real, that.
Divide your notebook
Filing this under ‘why didn’t I think of that ’cause, like, woah that’s really smart.’
Very simply, if you work in a notebook, use the front pages as your to do list/work notes and when you need to write down something personal, go to the back pages, flip it upside down and put them there. No confusion, no clutter.
You’ll never get the permission to do what you need to do
This rings so true, but can also feel really scary.
As context, this was in answer to a question about restructuring and developing teams and whether these types of projects come as a personal initiative or a mandate from above. Which, as you can probably tell from the answer, need to be the former.
Too often we wait for permission or instruction, but it very rarely comes. If we see something we think needs addressing, we need to take it upon ourselves to drive that change.
Behaviour and Purpose
Often we talk about defining a purpose, be that for a campaign, company or smaller team. However, this is only the first step. What can be overlooked is agreeing on the behaviours required in order to achieve it.
Doing this takes a purpose from feeling like a lofty goal to something people know how to work toward.
You can make all the content in the world but without distributing it there’s no point.
I’m tempted to use this as my opening page on my budget sign offs. Although knowing the stakeholders involved, that will go down like a fish milkshake. Either way, it was a great point from Gail Gallie and good reminder that it’s still a message a lot of brands need to hammer home.
“What do you do outside of work that is creative?”
This is one of the questions Laura always asks when interviewing creative people. It’s not really a ‘point’ like the others, but it made me think about how to get the best when interviewing for new talent. It’s so easy to fall into all the interview clichés (what are your weaknesses? Where do you want to be in 10 years time?*) but at the end of they day, run of the mill questions will get run of the mill answers. Framing questions that are unique to the job, but allow candidates to really showcase themselves are what deliver the greatest insight.
* I mean, who know the answer to this, seriously? They barely had Facebook ten years ago.
Keep asking questions
While this last point isn’t new, it’s so often shied away from. It was one of the earlier gems from Stephen, but really stuck as a highlight of the day.
From what I’ve seen, it’s as though the more senior we get the greater the pressure is to know everything. The fact is, that’s bollocks.
Questions don’t indicate stupidity, they show inquisition. They show that a person wants to understand something in its entirety. In a way, they’re a sign of respect; the subject is being taken seriously. The art of asking questions is something we need to hold onto. And as always, it’s a sure bet that whatever we’ve asked, someone else in the room was wondering too.
I could keep going with this list for another hour at least. But it’s nearly midnight now and if the next two days are anything like today it’ll be wise to get some shut eye.
TLDR: today was pretty amazing.