The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Look For The Biggest Challenge, Not The Easiest Success …
September 11, 2013, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

One thing I have always loved is big challenges.

Big, bastard challenges.

The sort of challenges that people dream of overcoming, even if they never do.

That’s not just because I love the idea of being one of the people who finally ‘crack it, but because it creates a sense of infectious excitement and ambition that unites a team like nothing else.

Of course, the fact it makes you think bigger, broader, harder and more deviously is also a massive plus.

Now, having great ambition means nothing if the client isn’t behind it and sadly, more and more of them prefer to have incremental percentage increases rather than really going for moving the needle, but there are some out there and they are the people you want to work for and with.

However before I go on, I should point out that the people who want to try and change the landscape are not mad.

They’re not irresponsible.

They’re not even commercially immature.

The reason I say that is because they’re the sort of insults that many in business throw at these individuals because the harsh reality is industry – any industry – prefers ‘consistency’ to ‘drama’ … however in every case where a client has encouraged me/us to ‘go for it’, they have had legitimate business reasons for adopting that approach and personal ego was not one of them.

Well, not always.

Anyway, I’m saying all this because I keep hearing more and more people from agencies basically suppressing ambition.

Sure, they’ll go on about making ‘brave advertising’, but I’m not talking about that … I’m talking about doing the things that could fundamentally change the market, the brand and the industry forever.

However even when those amazing opportunity arise, I’ve heard certain individuals say things like, “that can’t be done” or “they’d never go for it” … basically stopping potential before it’s even begun.

Now without doubt, there are major implications and obstacles when you choose to take on the bigger challenge … implications and obstacles that can not and should not be underestimated … but by the same token, too many people decide an outcome before it’s been even given a chance to be explored.

Now don’t get me wrong, a client is not going to hand over huge amounts of cash just because you fancy doing something dramatic, but the thing is, if you want to have a chance of having a go, you have to earn the right to do it and part of that comes from demonstrable experience and part of it comes from giving them undeniable evidence that while the journey won’t be easy, there is a genuine chance it can be achieved.

That still doesn’t mean they’ll go for it, but you stand far more chance of making it happen than just focusing on the stuff most people could do in their sleep.

At the end of the day, if you want to make a major difference, you need to make a major difference.


PS: I know today will be tough for you today Dave. Hope you’re OK.

27 Comments so far
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This is a great post Rob and your final sentence is brilliant. Maybe that is one of the key contributors to adlands commercial decline, they talk big but they favor easy. My evidence is that even today, most agencies believe the solution to their clients problems is a television spot. Enjoyed this, great quote by Bethany Hamilton too.

Comment by Pete

Given that quote made me write this post, I’m not sure everyone will agree it’s great … but I do, I absolutely love it.

Comment by Rob

Thanks Rob.

Comment by DH

Take care my friend.

Comment by Rob

Sept 10 is going to be tough on Baz. It’s the day apple officially moved in to desperate town and bought an apartment on no hope avenue.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Trouble maker. I’ll still get one … well, I will if I con Baz into giving me one. Which becomes increasingly more difficult these days. Disgraceful.

Comment by Rob

And I want possible. But I also want easy. What’s wrong with that?

Comment by Billy Whizz

That’s why Mcdonalds have a $1 menu option.

Comment by Billy Whizz

This is great Rob. I agree with Pete, the last sentence is a phenomenal sentence.

Comment by George

I don’t know why my comment appeared under Billy’s but I can assure you it was unintentional.

Comment by George

You want to be close to me. Pervert.

Comment by Billy Whizz

I found this post personally inspiring. And though I might be suffering from confirmation bias (I have never made a secret of my frustration with the industry for its lack of creativity and entrepreneurial spirit – factors resident mainly in big agency networks) – what I loved about this post was something different however – the way it highlighted the real value of a big challenge.

It’s ability unify people and bring them together.

I saw that first hand when I worked for Wunderman in Australia in 1996,. At the time Y&R had lost the Foxtel ad account and the direct business (which Wunderman held) was likely to go next. With it, was also likely to go my job (much needed at the time) and those of a significant number of my colleagues.

Keeping the account seemed an impossible task.
How my colleagues and I had underestimated ourselves and the potency of this thing called Challenge.

It brought us all together, every one of us (so much was riding on it) and it led to the sweetest success I have ever tasted. We beat whybin lawrence tbwa in the pitch (at the time a powerful agency in oz) and kept the business – for the next 7 years!

Leadership was key to all of this – and none of it would have eventuated without the genius of a man I still consider to be the best boss in the world – robert wong, the man who could never be fazed!

Feeling terrific and inspired today!

Comment by patrick dsouza

I’m glad this post made such an impact on you Patrick. I’m also glad you’ve seen first hand the power of the bigger challenge. Of course many people reframe small problems to sound big to make themselves feel better about what they’re doing … and to be fair, sometimes what seems a small challenge is much bigger and more influential than many may first think … but the really big stuff – the things everyone knows could change everything – are often known to everyone but kept unsaid because the risk of public failure means they’d rather keep things the same than put their neck on the line.

As I said in the post, this is not about taking stupid risk, but it is about looking at the major issue and working out how you could address it and why addressing it – even if things don’t quite pan out as you’d hope – still makes more commercial sense than playing on the sidelines.

Comment by Rob

Well put. Well said. This post has reset my personal compass and buoyed my day.

Comment by patrick dsouza

Very nice Robert.

Comment by Lee Hill

The one thing I remember Jeff Benjamin saying at Spikes a few years back that inspired me to keep believing and striving to do the (possibly) unachievable rather than say “it can’t be done” was something along the lines of “most of the work I have showed you today came from an idea that we would sell in to the client yet return to the agency wondering how the hell we would actually do it”.

I liked that kind of ridiculous seat of your pants ambition. As you allude to here – the unknown is exciting, infectious and once you crack it – kapoooow! I’d rather be doing that than easy and safe.

Comment by Oz

Like Patrick, I also feel really inspired by this post. It is the prospect of doing something challenging and potentially game-changing that motivates me to work hard and makes me feel enthusiastic. As a junior 6 months in to my first job though, it’d be really helpful if someone could explain HOW you work with clients to make these opportunities happen? You say you need to earn the right, provide demonstrable experience and have undeniable evidence that it could work. Could you elaborate a bit on this and give any example scenarios, please? Thanks

Comment by hray

1 go into business with the best mate of your client who happens to be so fucking rich that you dont mind handing over a bunch of cash to a couple of planning twats.

2 act like a red setter puppy who gets so excited about absofuckinglutely everything youd do anything for free.

3 make your other business partner a genius that makes everything fucking brilliant.

Comment by andy@cynic

thanks for the advice. ill go bang my head against a wall so that my dreams die quickly

Comment by hray

my work here is done.

Comment by andy@cynic

Hello HRay, thanks for popping by.

You’re right, it’s a catch-22 situation and I was lucky I worked for – and with – people who had earned the right and respect to push boundaries.

For me, the key was learning from people beyond adland … people in business, people in education, people in almost every walk of life beyond adland. The reason for that wasn’t just it increased my breadth of thinking [and as a result, my breadth of responses] but because it allowed me to pull from a bigger well that allowed me to open – and hold – conversations with clients regarding pushing for a more ambitious goal.

Over time – as more people did it and as I was fortunate to work with people that helped prove it – I earned the trust of clients that meant when I go in saying we should be tackling the bigger problem/opportunity, they listen and discuss rather than hide and call the boss asking me to be removed from their business.

Comment by Rob

I know this post isn’t about Apple, but it kind of is, since they once changed the game and seem to have surrendered the initiative while tinkering with incremental little changes.
They won’t be getting my fingerprint, let me tell you that.
By the way, hray makes a valid point, unless there’s a worry about surrendering competitive advantage, I bet you have much to say about making clients make this kind of stuff happen. And don’t say work with a brilliant suit.
I was talking to Kitty Lunn in Korea (she liked my talk so maybe she shouldn’t be taken too seriously) and mentioned how it was much easier to do stuff in China when you’re client is Nike.

Comment by northern

are you snorting glue. what the fuck are you talking about? i know youre a planner so youre paid to make no fucking sense, but you were always 1% better than the typical twat so what the fuck has happened to you?

Comment by andy@cynic

It’s news to me I ever made sense, even 1% of the time. Thankyou.

Comment by northern

i was feeling generous. wont ever fucking happen again.

Comment by andy@cynic

What’s wrong with a TV spot? It launched Old Spice, Levi’s and Chrysler in the US, not a viral video. A good idea is a good idea, not matter the platform

Comment by adwench

When they’re done well – and for the right reasons – nothing is wrong with a TV spot Adwench. However this belief by adland that everything can be solved with an ad is as mad as the social media guru’s who think everything can be solved with a Twitter campaign.

The examples you use are good ones – and not just because they were done by my agency – but their “issue” was linked far more to relevance than product.

For the record, Old Spice’s idea wasn’t the ad – though that was obviously amazing – it was the insight women buy their mens personal grooming products. The amount of people who think the ad is the idea frightens the crap out of me.

In my mind, you identify the problem, create the solution and then use awesome communication to amplify that solution to the masses. Sadly, many in adland think you talk about the problem and the solution is an ad which is both short-sighted, overly simplistic and not utilising the talent so many agencies have.

This is not just adlands fault, it’s also clients who look at agencies as an ego outlet who are not allowed to push for greater goals and ambitions, but it’s not exclusively their problem.

Comment by Rob

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