Why I Want You to Be Uncomfortable

Faris Yakob, Chief Innovation Officer at MDC Partners, visited Colle+McVoy this past Wednesday. When he arrived, we gave him a quick tour to get him familiar with how we work and what makes us tick. As we were walking around, he somewhat jokingly said, “Nobody really knows what I do.” Funny, I thought. I know the feeling. The feeling of trying to explain what I do to my parents, friends, fellow students and colleagues. There are varying levels of confusion depending on whom I’m talking to. I know because I’m good at listening and reading body language. Extremely undervalued characteristics for people in today’s business world and something I look for in every person I hire.

Trying to explain what I do can be frustrating. Sure, people need clarification. I get it. People want job descriptions, a list of deliverables they can expect from you and who exactly does what within a department. Some people prefer color by number only using black and white. Some people need clarification to the point that they spend more time thinking about what exactly I do versus what they do (or should be doing). I find this interesting considering the chaotic organizational structure of advertising agencies in general. Agencies organizational structures are chaotic because collaboration is the main ingredient to success for remarkable agencies. Organic collaboration is not the result of some magically balanced equation or a finely tuned org chart. Collaboration occurs when you get the right people in the room at the right time. When this happens, people lose sight of their title, job description and which department they work in. They’re more concerned with contributing to the greater good to make a good idea better.

Back to me not telling you exactly what I do.

During this presentation to the greater agency, Faris gave a presentation titled “Technology Is Stuff that Doesn’t Work Yet.” The title of the presentation is insightful on its own. And given that I work in the world of technology, it’s relevant to me not telling you exactly what I do. If technology is “stuff that doesn’t work yet,” my job hovers around “stuff that hasn’t been thought of before.” Because technology is in a constant state of innovation, I’m always working the hardest I can to keep up. (Thank you Twitter and RSS feeds for making this easier to do.) But no two situations are ever the same. Every situation requires original thought. Strategists need to weed through the complexities of technology, people and brands and break them down into simple insights. I’m not saying one person or department “owns” strategy. I’m saying that we at least need someone captaining the ship to make sure we’re sailing in the right direction. Somebody needs to be held accountable and keep everyone on track. Strategy is at its finest when it’s influenced by a diverse representation of disciplines within an agency. It’s also easier to keep strategic momentum going throughout the remainder of a project if those producing the work helped produce the strategy. But someone needs to captain the ship. Onward.

Back to me not telling you exactly what I do.

As you can see, it can be difficult to describe exactly what I do. But I would argue I’ve given you some insight as to what I might do. And I’d like to leave it at that. If I get too specific, I’ll limit my perspective and increase my chances of being comfortable. Being comfortable isn’t an option in my world and I owe it to my agency, my team, my colleagues and my clients to make sure they’re never comfortable. Being comfortable keeps you static in today’s dynamic culture. Simply put, if you’re comfortable, you can’t move forward.

We all win if we create things that don’t work yet because that means nobody’s ever done it before. Which means it’s distinctive, memorable and spreadable. Which means we’ve achieved our goal of making good ideas the best they can be.