There is a powerful, emotionally-charged moment in The War Room – the great documentary about Bill Clinton’s ’92 presidential campaign – where James Carville, Clinton’s lead strategist, says to the assembled campaign team:
There’s a simple doctrine: Outside of a person’s love, the most sacred thing that they can give is their labour.”
Andy Grayson and Graham North have recently written about how the advertising industry is wasting its talent. It’s a provocative piece that holds agencies (their dysfunctions and processes) themselves responsible for that waste.
It’s a good, smart piece, but the broad solutions they offer represent perhaps the smallest end of the problem. For if we are wasting our talent, it is because of our assumptions as to what that talent serves – to what we devote our labour.
I’d suggest that our industry allows its talents to go to waste because:
It labours under a far too limiting definition of what it does – namely advertising (it also interprets ‘advertising’ far too narrowly, forgetting the origin of the word means to “turn towards’).
It defines itself by output (advertising) not outcome (the building of brands).
It confines itself to a sector that has been static for almost 100 years (since the 1920s, advertising has represented about 1 percent of U.S. GDP) and it ignores all the other aspects of company spending that help build brands.
It chooses to chase ad-shaped problems (invariably pressing and short-term), rather than searching for growth opportunities which brand building can contribute to.
And for the most part it’s still in the business of asset delivery, rather than the building of long-term platforms and systems.
I’m sure there’s stuff that can be done to streamline and modernise how we work (as well as protect the sanity and dignity of our people). But I cannnot help but feel that rethinking our processes is rather pointless if we also don’t think to what end(s). After all, if our labour is sacred, it’s worth spending some time contemplating to what we give it.
Although strategic planning is billed as a way of becoming more future oriented, most managers, when pressed, will admit that their strategic plans reveal more about today’s problems than tomorrow’s opportunities. With a fresh set of problems confronting managers at the beginning of every planning cycle, focus often shifts dramatically from year to year. And with the pace of change accelerating in most industries, the predictive horizon is becoming shorter and shorter. So plans do little more than project the present forward incrementally. The goal of strategic intent is to fold the future back into the present. The important question is not “How will next year be different from this year?” but “What must we do differently next year to get closer to our strategic intent?”
Gary Hamel. & C.K. Prahalad, ‘Strategic Intent’, Harvard Business Review, May-June 1989