Conventional Wisdom

I’m leaving my agency-side job of 10 years today so here are a few things that I’ve learned and that have been true for me. Take with a grain of salt please.

1. Your clients will leave you

It’ll sometimes be your fault, but sometimes you’ll be fighting against things that you can’t change or affect. It may result in people being let go or lives being unduly impacted — it happens, take steps to understand and learn why..

2. Your team will change

You will almost certainly fire someone in your lifetime. Do it gracefully even if the person is awful or the termination is justified. When people leave don’t take it personally (unless it is personal, you idiot) — be happy people are growing.

3. You will be wrong (a lot)

The client will sometimes be right; sometimes you will miss the point of a brief or not have all the facts and you will be wrong. Your team will have worked for nothing. When in doubt, assume you don’t have all the facts and admit defeat. Come back stronger.

4. Budgets change

Prepare, plan and brace for the worst. Don’t let normalcy bias get the best of you; putting blinders on does not justify your lack of preparation. If you don’t, it’ll be a painful crossing to the other side.

You may drown in the river below.

5. Context matters

Do the research, ask the shitty questions and pay attention to the markers. If you don’t understand why decisions are being made get as much information as you can. It’s the only thing that will help you understand how to arrive at any solution to any problem.

6. For the love of god, listen

Take a minute to practice empathy with your clients and your peers. Even if for a second take the time to understand where they’re coming from, what they’re going through and trying to accomplish. It’ll save you a lot of frustration long term, even if you disagree with anything you hear.

7. Don’t cross your moral boundary

You will be asked to do something you’re not comfortable with. Say no. Don’t do it. If you have doubts, you have not found your moral boundary yet.

8. Trust each other

If you’ve built a team or have a client who’s open, trust is an important asset you should use. You have to earn the right to ask for things. My mother once told me a long time ago that trust is a thing you earn over time and lose in an instant — take that with you.

9. Everything and everyone is deeply flawed

We’re all human beings. People make shit mistakes and do stupid things. Learn to discern between maliciousness and stupidity. The origin of intent will help you sleep at night.

10. Find at least one thing you love outside of work

For me it’s been photography. Find a thing that gives you joy that has nothing to do with what you’re passionate about but don’t treat it as a distraction. Find an active thing to do that’s not a thing you would do normally. “Going out with my friends” doesn’t count.

11. Point out things that are wrong

If you are to fall on your sword do it for something you believe in knowing you might be wrong.

12. Fight for what you believe is right

See above.

13. Disregard preachers

They’re akin to people who have gotten rich by selling books about how to get rich. Third party non-technical knowledge is experience and experience can’t be relayed effectively.

14. Good people and holding them close

Experience over resumes. Hard workers over everyone else. Acknowledge, reward and promote those who make you better.

15. Don’t abuse the system

The moment you think “people work for you” it’s time to call it quits. You should seek to inspire trust because it’s a much stronger bond than fear. Everyone works harder if they believe in you and what you’re putting into the work.

16. Tune in

Spend time reading the news, books, differing opinions and experiences. Travel for a bit if you can, talk to people you don’t know in the office. In all, force other perspectives onto your own to understand how to reframe yourself.

17. De-Escalate

Take it off email, nothing ever good has come of electronic M.A.D.