Category Archives: the career

Confirm (don’t just check for) Understanding

stupidest question

I have no fear of asking “stupid questions.” In fact, I’m that guy who leads with, “This may be a stupid question, but…”

If I do not understand something or if I look around a room after something is said and see this…

so confused…and no one else, especially the speaker, feels compelled to confirm understanding, I just do it.

Or if I just don’t get what was said and the rest of the room is like this…

einstein bobbleheads…I have to assume I’m in a room full of geniuses and need to be enlightened. Learner is one of my strengths in life, so I embrace it whenever I can.

Or if neither of those things occur, yet nothing is said to indicate understanding, I am more than happy to go ahead and ask the stupid, obvious questions just to make sure everyone’s singing from the same song book.

(I’m, also, that guy who will frequently ask, “Does that make sense?” as I answer questions, present or just run a meeting. I feel like I do this so often it’s a tic, and I sometimes worry people might think I’m being patronizing. I promise I’m not.)

Why do I do this? Is it the left over vestiges of the youngest of four siblings being a pain in the butt and asking “Why?” over and over just to be annoying? Could it be I am never anywhere near the smartest person in the room and just need that much help (to be sure, I never assume I’m the smartest person in any room – we can all learn from what’s happening around us at any point in time, even if we are the teacher or facilitator in the room)?

What I have learned, often painfully, over the years is the chance of a direct, linear, immediate connection between…

1. What Person A says

2. What Person A means

3. What Persons B-X hear

4. What Persons B-X understand

5. What Persons B-X do

6. What Person A expected to be done

…is not as common as we hope.

It tends to play out like this…

not confirmed

While CONFIRMING understanding goes something like this…

confirmed

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Whatcha been up to?

I’ve neglected my humble blog for a few years now, so it’s fair to ask.

I often get asked by young people just starting out in their careers about the path I took in my career and what advice I have. I get similar questions from folks looking to move into different roles in their career.

I, also, get questions from folks I used to work with and have not spoken with for a time about what I’ve been doing. And that tends to lead to a response along the lines of, “Oh. Why?” Or if they are less outspoken, just “Oh” with a confused look. And maybe a “That seems interesting” to try to cover the confused look.

So I figure I’ll explain how I arrived at where I am. Perhaps it will be helpful for those early in their career, those considering a change in their career and the folks who know me and have been wondering. I’ve found 22 years into my career, I’m able to tell this story in anywhere from 30 seconds to as long as someone is willing to listen. This should be a 5-10 minute read 😉  You can find the Cliff’s notes version at my LinkedIn profile.

There are a few things to know about what motivates and interests me before I launch into my story.

First, to be at my best in life, whether on behalf of my family, on behalf of my employer or for my own self, work-life balance is a must. So when I make decisions, my wife is my most important partner, and my family is my most important concern.

Next, I am fascinated by why people do the things they do and creating ways to help them do those things, or move them towards a more productive path if the one they’re on appears it won’t work out so well. With that, I am very interested in the tools people use in accomplishing what it is they are seeking to accomplish.

For a person fascinated with why people do things and the tools used in doing them, specific types of businesses, categories and/or verticals are a lot less important to me than the challenge presented. Businesses, categories and verticals and the various norms, vocabulary/acronyms, financials and technologies associated with them can be learned in relatively short order I’ve found. How people operate and solve problems in the environments and systems related to those businesses, categories and verticals, to me, is much more interesting. And, as I’ve learned over time, a lot more common regardless of the business, category or vertical.

Because of this fascination and interest, I absolutely love to learn, teach and mentor. So I enjoy building teams and collaborating with people with different perspectives and experiences as it provides a great outlet for simultaneously learning and teaching.

Organizing and leading teams around new challenges and opportunities presented by the way people do things is especially fulfilling to me. I tend to lean into situations where there is need for new structure where none has existed, and/or there’s a need in the marketplace that lives “in between” existing structures in organizations to address the marketplace need.

Last, I tend to be the type who says “Let’s figure that out” or “I’m not sure…yet.” I enjoy making sense of ambiguity.

Now, as for how I’ve arrived at where I am.

I was fortunate at the close of the last century. I was a young man working in media planning at an agency in Austin, Texas as the “Silicon Hills” were in their infancy and the dot-com bubble was inflating. One of GSD&M’s core values is Curiosity. I am just that by nature. So when the opportunity arose in 1999 to get involved with digital media, I went all in. From that point forward, every role I’ve gravitated to has involved a significant level of creating something new or different and then managing change caused by something new or different.

I spent the next seven years in a learning-failing-succeeding-growing cycle, building a top notch digital media team. It was incredibly fun, difficult, gratifying, humbling and exhausting. Aside from learning the various aspects of digital media a bit sooner than some, the lessons learned in how to be a leader, find and retain talented people, presence and poise in a myriad of situations – from business development to boardrooms to difficult clients to working across all functions and operations at the agency at a point in time where “digital” was as feared as it was understood to be needed – were incredibly valuable at that formative stage in my career to help me operate as I do now within all kinds of situations, environments and organizational structures.

Perhaps most important was it established my philosophy that people USE media to get things done. And just because you CAN do something (especially thinking of the various platforms and solutions that now live in the LUMAscape that were just starting to come to be at that time), doesn’t mean you SHOULD do it.  As marketers, our goal should be to understand what people are trying to do, see various paths they can take to do it, provide guidance to them in meeting their needs, and figure out how to make it better for them next time. For me, it has always been about customer experience, not as a buzzword, skillset, team or department…but just because that’s the way it should be. Everything else we do is just a means to an end, experiments to determine if we really are providing people relevant help on their journey.

I mentioned it was exhausting. I was needing to learn work-life balance since, as my wife will attest, I did not have it then (she will attest I don’t always achieve it now). And our second child was born in the summer of 2006. I was looking for focus, for one brand to work on, to bring the skill set I had built into a corporate setting.

Once more I was fortunate. I was contacted by Target who, at the time, was looking for someone with a digital background to come into their media strategy team. Right as I was beginning to seek a “client-side” role, a dream job with an amazing brand came to me.

While it may sound opposite to what the brand is known for, what I learned most at Target was patience. At an agency focused in digital, I was like an entrepreneur who could operate at a pretty good clip and with a good deal of autonomy. At Target, the marketing department at the time was 1,000 people. To get things done, you had to learn how to bring people along with you, to partner and collaborate, to gain consensus for your ideas. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this is the way it is in most organizations regardless of its size. I was just moving too fast as a young man to truly pay attention to it.

For someone who came up the way I did learning-failing-succeeding-growing at a rapid pace in a culture that valued such things, this was a challenge. And I believe my aggressiveness got the better of me in the Target culture. I’m sure my approach at the time based on the amount of experience I had could come off as abrasive. I claimed I didn’t like the “politics” there at the time.

Hindsight being much sharper than 20/20, everyplace has politics in some form or fashion – again, regardless of the size of the organization. I’ve become much more attuned to various organizational cultures and how to operate in them. But at the time I was ready for a change. I was interested in getting back into a faster cycle. I wanted to be someplace where instead of guarding brand equity, I’d have the chance to be part of truly developing a brand.

I had met the leaders of the Capella University marketing department at various local and national conferences and gatherings in my time at Target. I liked the people. Plus, they had a vision to do things a bit differently in their industry and were seeking to establish a brand to go along with a well-oiled machine that was their business model.

As was the case when I landed at Target, a life decision came close on the heels of my move to Capella. An off-hand conversation with a former colleague at GSD&M while attending SXSW led to a series of conversations. Before I could even process what was happening, I was Executive Media Director at GSD&M, a singular role that had not been part of the agency structure since 1997. It was now May 2010. The agency is famous for their “boomerangs”, and I had become one.

The next seemingly off-hand conversation I had led to my next role. A former colleague at GSD&M reached out. He had sold his consulting firm that focused on Consumer Journey research as the basis for developing marketing strategy to Ipsos. His team was now part of a forward-leaning group at the multinational firm responsible for developing, testing and launching new products on a global scale. He was looking for a “media planner” to add to their multi-lens team of researchers, designers and brand/marketing strategists.

After reviewing the job description and the work the team was doing, I told him if the role was for someone with more experience, it would sound like me. That got me a quick text message back and a breakfast meeting the next day. And, again, before I knew it, I was part of what would become Ipsos Strategy3.

This was a very exhilarating time for me. It felt very much like the days of building the digital team in the early part of my career. I was learning new skills, new ways to think and new ways to operate as I was now part of the 3rd largest marketing research agency in the world. It was all coming very naturally, and the flow in the team was electric. While I had built teams who were doing new things and creating new processes that were monetized, I had never truly been part of creating and testing products and services all over the world as I was now. The ideas created and work done with researchers, marketers and designers working together was incredibly fun and an amazing balance of right and left brain. On top of all of that, this was very much a peer group environment – working with folks who had similar amounts of experience as me.

And as can happen, things changed quickly at a number of levels corporately and down to the team level. As I saw how the various changes were coming together compared to the original vision, it became one of those moments in life and in a career where you think, “I have a seat on this bus, but is it the one I want to be on?”

I was at a crux. I had, what I thought, was an interesting breadth and depth of experience. There wasn’t a whole lot I hadn’t seen or done up to that point in the scope of a marketing career. So I needed to take stock of what it was I wanted. I needed to get on the bus I wanted to be on.

I knew I was looking for a VP/SVP of Marketing or CMO-type role, and my penchant for creation, change and managing that change had me seeking a situation where that would be the case. I wanted something where I could roll my sleeves up, get my hands dirty, to directly see – and feel – the change and results I was driving. I wanted to stretch into more operational accountability as well. And I wanted to see what could be found at a privately-held, small-to-mid-market company. I had been part of fast growth before and wanted to be more directly accountable for it. I was, also, interested in a company that, literally, made something.

Enter Ranch Hand. All the circumstances I was seeking were in this opportunity…and then some. The personal part has been the most challenging and, at times, rewarding. Moving the family to Shiner, Texas – population 2,069 – was an unforeseen portion of this opportunity. My hometown is small (not this small). I met my wife there. We were open to what this meant for our children, and they have thrived (My wife and I think they’d thrive in just about any situation, but we’re biased). Luckily, Shiner is nicely situated with easy access to Austin and San Antonio (90 minutes or less drives) and Houston (about a two hour drive) – so civilization is never too far away.

Two quotes come to mind as I’ve written this.

The first I’ll paraphrase and embed the link. In The History of the Eagles, Joe Walsh mentions a philosopher who said something to the effect of as you live your life, it feels like random events in the moment. But when you look back over those events, it comes together like a finely crafted novel. To this point in my career, I’d have to agree with that assessment. What motivates and interests me has always been there. It just took some experience and seasoning to find the words to describe it. Each step in my career I feel I’ve been blessed to exercise those muscles.

And the second is from Andy Bernard in The Office.

Screen Shot 2018-12-30 at 1.20.37 PM.png

I like that sentiment when considering through the lens of what you learn and take with you, not through the lens of regret. Because, ultimately, aren’t we all just trying to figure out why we do the things we do and how to do them better the next time?

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Stuff I’ve Said Other Places, Episode 3

I believe this will be the end of this series.  A nice, neat trilogy.  Pretty sure there won’t be a prequel or postquel.

This one was posted on September 11, 2006 at iMediaConnection under the title “Staffing Made Simple”.  Of course a joke for any media director, digital or otherwise.  My main intent with this one was to extol the virtues of a “cross-trained” media professional.  But as I tend to do, I meandered around a bit.

First was to take on what was at the time a budding air of superiority from “digital” folks – a “we-know-more-than-you-and-are-ready-for-what’s- next and-your-not” kind of air – while also incessantly bitching about ridiculousness of hours and not having enough people to help out.  I’ve always felt that sort of arrogance just needs to go away and the more people you can get to learn and understand more stuff, the better.  And the corollary – if you aren’t interested in learning new stuff, you’re in the wrong industry – is equally applicable.  There tends to be enough work to go around for everybody anyway so no need to be insecure.

However, I’ve also been in real world situations where getting to that point is extremely challenging for a number of reasons – even when it seems you have it in your power to make it happen.  Not really feeling up to getting into that right now…

Next was the thought of a truly fluid and real time digital media marketplace.  Mind you, this was prior to the explosion in ad exchanges/trading desks/DSPs/etc and so forth.  Perhaps we are closer, but noticed a few articles from various online measurement firms in my Twitter stream today about over 1 billion in online advertising being wasted on bots – and of course a note saying “and here’s how to protect yourself”.  So maybe impressions being traded at the impression level in real time is getting better, but seems the intervention of human beings for more than just pressing buttons is still required.

And to that end is the real reason I am re-posting this one.  Finding talent that can think critically about what they are seeing, develop strategy, and drive that through to application, completing the loop back to new data and doing it all over again – will continue to be a challenge.  Perhaps we have placed a bit too much faith and trust in the 1’s and 0’s, or maybe there’s too much teaching of placing too much faith and trust in the 1’s and 0’s vs. teaching what to do with the output from the magical programs, models and dashboards we see every day.  I’ve had discussions with a number of friends and colleagues who work at media companies, at agencies and at marketers who are all looking for talent who aren’t just data-driven, comfortable with numbers and technology, or are part programmer but who demonstrate actual critical thinking skills to understand how these things can fit together and apply actual strategy moving forward.

One conversation in particular stands out.  “It’s like they don’t even have a point of view on what’s going on in the industry, ” this friend and former colleague said to me.  Kind of a bummer since this is such a dynamic, fun industry to be in.

I will stop now in hopes that this somewhat curmudgeonly opening doesn’t take away from what I think is a hopeful message below.  Enjoy…

————————————————————-

Much has been made of late regarding the challenge of finding good, experienced interactive/digital media people. It’s a consistent topic in just about every trade publication you pick up or trade website you peruse. It’s even starting to get some play in some mainstream business publications, in print and online.

I have been relatively lucky in that I have a good, solid core of talent that has allowed for much organic growth as our clients’ interactive / digital / new / emerging media budgets have grown (note to headhunters and my esteemed colleagues– HANDS OFF); a great core of talent that has (more or less) willingly given up on the concept of “normal” work hours and work weeks as the workload has steadily increased.

I’ve become a bit exasperated of late, however, both in terms of my recent searches for outside talent, as well as with the trade buzz around this topic. I’m a firm believer in the idea that there is nothing new under the sun, and that the best way to get insight about the future is to examine the past. Since we live in the digital age that we do (I haven’t done the math on this officially but I’m thinking there are about 15 digital years per every calendar year), all I had to do was take a quick look back to the not-so-distant past for some insight on this current event.

There was a trend some 10 years ago of media planners and buyers making a jump into this internet thing without a safety net, primarily driven by curiosity, to establish themselves in this space. Paraphrasing Willy Wonka, we were the music makers; we were the dreamers of dreams.

I have many fond memories of just trying to figure it out. Back when sock puppets sold dog food online, and someone thought there was a viable business plan in paying people to surf the internet, stock options fell like manna from heaven (even for companies using sock puppets to sell dog food online and companies paying people to surf the internet), and The Big Guys’ main sales strategy was “We’re big. Buy us.” (See, 15 digital years per calendar year bring trends back a lot more quickly in our world.)

Nostalgia aside, the main reason I got into interactive / digital / new / emerging / title-of-the-week media was because I had a curiosity about media in which people were an active participant in the experience. There was the thrill of being able to see the loop close– seeing the actual behaviors resultant from our advertising. What’s more, the ability to use that data to make the plan better– immediately. And there were many folks like me (many of you reading this now) in the previous decade having a similar epiphany.

Do you think such curious folk in this industry ceased to exist in 1995 or 1998 or 2001 when you came into the game? Is there not a strong safety net now in place to show the way for the next generation of digitally curious media planners and buyers, digitally experienced or not? Are we not the potential Jedi Masters to these potential Padawon Learners? OK, I’ll stop now.

As lines blur between traditional and non-traditional, as most media move to digital and more measurable platforms, do we need to, in a media analogy, parse a finite universe of experienced digital planners and buyers until that audience is no longer efficient or stable to target? Or do we need to find an audience with a propensity for curiosity regardless of their demographic make up (traditional vs. digital) and show them the way?

Look, if we’re going to walk the talk of convergence / cross-platform / integration, it CANNOT all be driven by interactive and digital media experts (weren’t we the first ones in the recent past to extol the virtues of “media agnostic” approaches?). Likewise, in a world where medium is message and people use rather than consume media, all pertinent knowledge about a client’s business needs and goals CANNOT only reside with account folks and “traditional” media planning teams. It has to be a partnership in which knowledge and information are shared freely to get to a common goal. In the words of another wise sage — potentially as crazy as Willy Wonka — Roy Spence, “We do not have the corner on smarts.”

Roy loves to speak about the model of “Dynamic Collaboration” as the key to success. In order to get to innovative solutions, all disciplines must collaborate and ideate together BEFORE integration can truly happen. Otherwise, you’re just integrating the wrong things. And, the key to collaboration is removing the chip from your shoulder and checking your ego at the door– digital folks have just as much to learn from traditional planners and buyers as they from us.

I think we’re a long way away from an uber-planner/buyer who can effectively strategize, execute and optimize across the spectrum of media vehicles now at our disposal. Wonka also said, “We have so much time and so little to do. Scratch that, reverse it.” Whenever asked about the potential for “splitting” a person between traditional work and interactive work, I’m fond of pointing out that folks working for me have 40+ hour per week jobs, folks in traditional media have 40+ hour per week jobs, and I’m relatively certain no one (voluntarily) works 80+ hours per week.

Perhaps one day we will have a purely digital media marketplace where front-end planning systems are tied to media inventory management-negotiation systems that then feed seamlessly into tracking and billing systems across all media vehicles; something that is adaptable to the dynamic nature of seamlessly integrating messaging into content and programming, as well as efficient at placing “spots and dots” as needed. And it will come with a slick dashboard showing all of your results across all your spending in one place. That’s a bit more than a few digital years off, I think.

We live in a culture of media mash ups; the same could be said for the ways and means of how media gets planned and bought. A pertinent example in this very digital year: As search is touted for its efficacy in building brands, the industry is rampant with talk of broadcast being purchased on an auction model.

That seems to beg for well-rounded media people who have a working knowledge and understanding of all platforms; people who are comfortable with and can act on instantly available data allowing for real-time optimization, but also are comfortable working in an environment where efficient audience delivery is key; people who can walk the talk of the effect of media mix on communication goals– as well as business goals.

In my estimation, this requires hands-on knowledge where media people can be dedicated to working within an interactive/digital media team for at least a year, preferably within the first few years of their career. Conversely, a year-long “work study” for a young digital media person who has never worked in the traditional world is a must as well. Where they go from that point is up to them, but one thing is for certain: They will have sufficient context and tools to do any job in media well, regardless of how these various platforms evolve.

My favorite line from Chris Anderson’s “The Long Tail” is, “It is when the tools of production are transparent that we are inspired to create. When people understand how great work is made, they’re more likely to want to do it themselves.” I believe that sums it up nicely. Give solid, young media planners and buyers the tools they need and watch the innovation and creativity flow.

Perhaps I’m over simplifying. Perhaps with media agencies separate from creative agencies separate from interactive agencies such a system can’t work and flourish. Where clients manage bricks-and-mortar in silos from the digital world, perhaps what I’m talking about can’t flourish.

Or perhaps we just need to try harder to make sure that such a system can flourish. Mr. Spence also likes to say, “You’ve gotta kiss change on the lips.” Pucker up.

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Filed under future of media, stuff I've said other places, the career

You CAN get there from here

“Change” isn’t something that “needs to happen.” It simply is. It’s active. It’s continuous. You may be driving it, you may be driven by it, but you definitely don’t want to be run over.

Assuming structures and/or processes are the best response to change is a surefire way to be run over. Checking boxes off a to do list and correctly formatted reports and clear definitions of who does what when won’t allow you to get there from here.

An open mind, curiosity, passion, and a willingness to compliment or be complimented by collaborators in getting “there” is much more handy.

Most key is an excitement in the knowledge of the active nature of change. There’s a desire, even a joy, in frequently getting to a different “there” starting from a different “here.”

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Letting Megadeath Replace Killer App or There’s No Emergence without Merging

Note: There will be no mention of Dave Mustaine in the following. However, I’m digging the Sufjanness of the title.

Of late, a term from The Bubble has been rolling around in my head. Not because I’ve heard people using it, but because the behavior that it implies I’m seeing – again. That term is ‘killer app.’

Why? Probably because when folks are feeling they are in desperate times, they tend to reach for something, anything, the proverbial ‘silver bullet’, that will make everything better. And though no one is saying ‘killer app’ these days, much chatter abounds about Twitter, iPhone, Facebook, Orkut, Vimeo, et al and the various cottage industries that have sprung up around them in the form of apps for these platforms or the fact that these things can be reduced to apps that live on other platforms that can also be reduced to apps and live on these things platforms, too.

I completely get the need to have first movers and early adopters pushing the bounds of what is possible and creating buzz around “emerging” media and platforms. I am fine w/ account planners, media/marketing pontificators and prognosticators, bloggers and the ilk spending the majority of their time on Twitter talking about Twitter and the social and anthropological relevance of Twitter and the various ways one can get Twitter, use Twitter, and tweet about Twitter. I’m guilty of playing that game at times myself. I actually learn a lot from these folks – and do my best to filter out what the video link above mentions in an all too honest assessment of the environments. Bitterness, arrogance, hipster inside-edness and flaming is pretty rampant, but if you wade through it – and give as well as you take – you can see wonderful examples of many and varied best practices abound.

Anyway, the magic moving forward will be, IMHO (wait, I’ve got more than 140 characters here) – in my humble opinion – is realizing if your role is one of a zealous quest for turning over the next killer app and it’s relevancy in and of itself before it “tips”, or if you’re responsible for harnessing the disparate powers of these platforms to achieve something greater than the sum of the parts.

What I mean by that is this – IP/digital is practically ubiquitous. The infrastructure is built and it is solid. What we are seeing now are not ’emerging’ media, but new business models and communication platforms in their Gutenberg printing press stages. The winners in the new new media age will be those who can develop strategy to synthesize killer apps either as they arise or as they’re relevant. The winners will be able to decipher – i.e. have enough knowledge of IP/digital platforms – what the avant-garde of the media/marketing industry are talking about and doing and applying it to the early and late majority.

In a nutshell, those who can make the whole greater than the sum of it’s parts – and, most importantly, provide benefit to a large swath of the people that matter to them most – their customers.

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2009, I am not afraid and I will beat your ass

The last few weeks of 2008 have given me a glass half full perspective on the media industry. I’ve had a number of discussions w/ friends in the industry who are in relatively early stages of new business models or ventures in media. The kicker is these new models or ventures make sense – a lot of sense. Solving problems that need to be solved either for the business of media, the infrastructure of media, or directly for consumers.

Not pie in the sky, IPO and out, fast buck, free food and drinks types of business models from ~10 years ago. It just feels different in a good way. Real. Pragmatic. The pervasive feeling is one of hey, we’ve been thru something like this before, maybe caused by different factors, but we’ve been in something like this nonetheless. And we know what didn’t work and have a pretty firm grasp on why it didn’t – and ~10 years of experience and wisdom in a growing digital media landscape.

This time there’s a technological foundation and established consumer behaviors in place to support the models and ventures that are being built to make these ideas a reality.

With this sort of change comes a large amount of uncertainty. Personally, I’m a bit worn out w/ the wringing of hands from the old guard and the biting sarcastic I told you so of the new guard – and the pervasive doom and gloom from both sides. There’s some good, folk advice out there that goes something like, “It takes all kinds.” Indeed it does and will continue to be that way.

I’m excited and energized by the possibilities. Whether a marketer, at an agency, in sales or in any other corner of the media industry, I’m having a hard time locating a more disruptive point in media history.

I’m choosing to embrace it – to seek to drive change and not remain complacent. I’m going to do my best to keep my sarcasm in check, but my healthy skepticism in place to drive positive change. To keep my mind open, and be pro-active, patient yet aggressive.

Necessity is the mother of invention. There will be a lot of necessity coming at us in 2009. Let’s invent!

PS: Perhaps my fave album title was used in developing the title for this post…thx, Yo La Tengo

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On Calculators, Spreadsheets & New Media

So I really, really liked Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky (did I mention that if you’re reading this you should read the book already at some point? Yeah, I did). Anyway, I haven’t annotated a business book this much since The Long Tail.

In the Epilogue, Shirky tells a story about when he was in junior high and the powers that be were lamenting the increased use of calculators in schools, decrying it as laziness and bemoaning the inability of future generations to effectively do long division by hand, fretting over what would happen when the calculator fad was over. Shirky points out that he and his peers had already internalized and assimilated the benefits of this new tool, taking the obvious shift in doing math via calculator not as a fad but a change that was here to stay.

When I was starting my career in an agency media department, I recall the stories from my supervisors of doing media flowcharts by hand with slide rules and rulers. I still recall how when I got my first batch of office supplies, my supervisor told me to get my name on my ruler quickly because people had no qualms claiming them. As I was still trying to figure out why I really needed a ruler, I turned back to laying out flowcharts in Lotus 123 (kids, that’s a spreadsheet program not made by Microsoft, not sure if it’s still around).

I also recall my supervisors crunching large amounts of numbers on a calculator/adding machine (i.e. a calculator that had those roles of paper hanging out the back), then ripping the sliver of paper off to use as reference in a meeting. That same supervisor that told me to write my name on my ruler quickly also told me to do the same on the bottom of my calculator and to make sure I always had a calculator w/ me in every meeting. I nodded my head then went back to developing formulas and various other calculations in my spreadsheets so I wouldn’t have to rely on making sure I held onto little slivers of papers or develop formulas while rifling through data from disperse sources on a calculator in front of demanding clients and crabby bosses.

The point? To paraphrase Shirky, it’s not that I (or those starting their careers at roughly the same time I did) knew more useful things – we knew fewer useless things. We came of age professionally (the early to mid-90s) when the tools now taken for granted – tools that have been vastly approved upon – were in the process of overtaking the way things had been done for decades previously.

Another little fad started taking off as I was starting my career – these things called “banners” were starting to be sold on this thing called “the Internet”. So, if you’ve ever wondered why it’s taking so long for “new”, digital media to catch up with “traditional” media in terms of importance even though time spent with “new”, digital media is growing while pretty much every other media is decreasing in time spent, remember this thing called “the Internet” was coming of age as a medium when a generation of media people were still reliant on rulers and calculators to do their work.

Now nearly 15 years on, those of us who understood the inherent power of digital tools in more effectively and efficiently doing our work and saw the initial promise of are coming to points in our careers where the Young Folks coming to work for us don’t know what it’s like to not have a computer connected to the Internet within easy reach. And they’re taking for granted the tools available to them.

So, as I told my former colleague in response to not the first rant of his I’ve heard on this subject matter, I like to recall Gandhi’s quote: “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.” Feels like on most fronts, truces are being negotiated.

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