1. Biggest mistake of your career?
I have a lot of fuck-ups that I could call upon – but as is often the case, they tend to be the best lesson you can have. At least after some time has passed. But this one ultimately affected the answers I gave in the other questions.
On face value, it may not seem like much, but it hurt me very deeply. Partly because I really liked the client it involved, and partly because I just knew I’d let myself down. There’s a bunch of mitigating reasons I could claim, but basically I was lazy, arrogant and over-confident.
I had been asked to pull together a POV on an issue a client was facing. It was late in the day, but I had worked with them enough to know what was going on and why they needed it.
But in the end, I phoned it in. What’s worse is I knew I had, but I thought my opinion was still better than other opinions so they’d like it.
When I presented the work to the client and his team, they listened patiently and asked some questions before he asked if I could stay for a chat after the meeting. I remember his opening line, “what makes you think you can get away with that with me?”
I knew exactly what he meant but I tried to play dumb and front it out. He then explained 3 things that had a huge impact on me.
- He didn’t want to be told what he already knew, he wanted to know what he didn’t know.
- He doesn’t need people creeping to him, he needs people who will help him be better.
- He was saying this to me because he liked and respected me or he wouldn’t be wasting his time.
For days I was really down. Not just for what I’d done to a client who was important and had done amazingly provocative work, but for myself.
I had become the person I wanted to destroy.
I’m so grateful he held the mirror up to me. It taught me a lot about the most valuable thing you can offer someone is transparency. It’s hard to do, but for me … it had a huge impact on creating the opportunities I’ve had and the creativity I’ve been able to be a part of.
Oh so many things, but ‘good-enough culture’ annoys me a lot. The people who are OK with a lack of rigour, ambition, craft and backbone.
Those who would rather do what has been done before than to use creativity to push things in more interesting ways.
For me, this attitude is an act of selfishness. An active decision to choose convenience over craft and all it does is end up undermining everything and everyone around them.
Short term personal gain at the price of the industries long term shame. For me, people who are OK with good enough are simply not good enough. In fact, I just see them as dangerous.
3. Useful advice
I’ve had a bunch but the most recent one came from an interview I watched featuring the brilliant football manager, Brian Clough. In essence, he states the goal of any business should never be to simply win… but to always strive to ‘win better’. I did a rambling, sentimental talk on it, which you can see [and help the Samaritans by watching it] at https://tinyurl.com/y8hs53w
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