Offence isn’t always the best defence.
There’s a lot to take offence to today. And I’m not just talking about the crazy socio-political climate we’ve found ourselves in.
Out work requires us to bring so much of ourselves to it, to push harder, to make things happen. A radical and creative agenda is exciting and inspiring, but it’s also taxing and painstaking.
Such an agenda requires us to hold each other to account, to each make tough calls on a daily basis, to act fast, sometimes with only a fraction of the information we’d ideally want. Sometimes, even in a place like ours, these actions cause offence.
I love the family analogy people use to describe Wolff Olins. The Nwokorie’s are typically Nigerian: loud and loving, nosey and noisy, unflappable and unfathomable, all in equal measure.
It’s not just a Nigerian thing though; families everywhere are characterised by the care that compels them to always get involved, and the love that makes them forgiving of the occasional offence. Wolff Olins is like that too.
That’s not say it’s ok to be offensive. On the contrary, offensive and insensitive people are like kryptonite to a creative culture. They rob us of our passion, tempt us to retreat to our shells, and reduce the incentive to be our most wonderful, creative selves.
Yet, if you’re like me, you’ll have to admit that even with your best intentions, you are sometimes sharper, harder, less sensitive, less thoughtful, than you should really be.
Something to keep working on (for me at least).
The creative process, with it’s demand for change and difference, is tricky at the best of times. When you are so invested in the work as we are here, it asks us to care about each other at least as much as we care about the work we are doing. And it requires a space where you don’t become damaged goods because you’ve taken a wrong turn or overstepped the mark.
It’s one of the qualities of this place that’s kept me here so long.
I’m particularly aware of this right now because we’re all so so busy. There’s a lot of good stuff going on, lots of new folks arriving, and lots of change about. It really could be an awesome year.
With so much to do, we’re all making decisions and taking action at a pace. Sometimes it’s about who goes on jobs, or who gets credit for what, or what we go for or say no to, or who we hire, or who gets promoted or sometimes — because that’s the nature of business — who we part ways with or who decides to part ways with us.
Offence will occur.
How we handle that offence, how we respond to conflict, criticism, difference of opinion, even the occasional (un)intended slight, might be the deciding factor in whether or not we do great work this year and have a great time doing it.
Air you differences as soon as you can. Even if you just agree to disagree.
Err on the side of forgiveness, not judgement.
Ask questions of people making decisions if you think they haven’t explained them well, or even if you just fundamentally disagree. Find safe spaces for this, like over a coffee or a beer so it’s not so heavy or confrontational.
Avoid being self-righteous if you’re action is challenged.
Distinguish between healthy discussion and harmful gossip.
As hard as it is, try, to see the other point of view. Don’t set getting your own way or winning the debate as the only good outcome. Sometimes, just talking about it is all the victory that’s needed.
Whatever you do, never stop caring, questioning, pushing, even if every now and then, you have to go back and make peace or park the battle for another day.
And save your energy for the defence of the ideals that matter:
- A fight for openness and fairness and equality
- A passion for beautiful craft and the arts and the humanities as the necessary humanising forces on technology and commerce and growth.
- A commitment to humbly get outside our many bubbles and learn about all people, not just people like us.
- An agenda to make organisations take responsibility for their impact.
- A belief that creativity, radically (fundamentally) applied, has the power to make better things and to make things better.
And this week as you engage in that defence, may you experience both the giving and getting of patience and forgiveness that keeps offence out of it.
Have a fabulous week.