Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Four Wolves in Sheep's Clothing Make Me Nervous.

In our Family, as in nature; trust in the pack... but watch your back.

Being the Alpha is tough. You keep the others in check, not just by your ferocity, but by your cunning, your stealth and your intelligence. No other animal on Earth lives in as complex a social society as wolves. The cast of characters is deep. The Alpha Male and Alpha Female rule the pack. Keeping dissidents in line, ensuring the integrity and structure (and therefore well being) of the pack in check. Then there's the Beta wolf. This one acts as a Lieutenant and a sort of second-in-command. This one is always there to settle scraps in the name of the greater good of the pack, but is always keeping one eye open for when it can take over in the endless struggle for power.

Last is the Omega wolf and you guessed it, this one is at the bottom of the totem pole is often ridiculed and even attacked by fussier pack members.

Any of this sound familiar? In our home, these positions constantly shift but not to a great extent. They are, mostly, fixed to a member of our family.

For my part, I play the role of the Alpha Male. I am in charge. I have the strength, knowledge and cunning to do so and remain in charge. For now.

I first made the observation that my four children essentially made up a wolf pack a few years ago. Constant in-fighting, struggles for power, temporary alliances – it's all there. It has all the makings of a Rudyard Kipling tale. And conflict resolution becomes a matter of overcoming adversity by either (literally) barking the loudest, or by taking your adversary out. Conflict in our household is almost a given and is NOT resolved by eliminating a sibling, parent or offspring (though the temptation has arisen). So we resort to more refined means of argument conclusion. Or so you would think.

Enter: the Ambush. The attack in the name of sport or of establishing one's place of dominance is epic. The ambush comes in many forms. Many of them cunning and all of them unexpected. If I hand down a consequence (I try no to use the word 'punishment'), each of the non-offending pack members will taunt the afflicted or remind the Alpha (me) of the specific details of the reprimand (if only homework and chores could be remembered and executed with such meticulous detail). Heaven forbid I fold on following-through on a consequence, I am besieged with an endless shower of reminders of how the child in question has NOT been properly scolded.

And it's not just each other they attack.

I am continuously told of how the grandparents are "mad at me" for doing something or for my not following through on something. Or how an aunt, uncle or grandparent are told something incomplete – if not untrue – and are relayed details to sensitive topics like what someone is getting for a birthday or Christmas or why I can't invite someone to a recital or play. I have had more long-winded over-explanatory conversations with family members than I would like to say trying to clarify things that were misinterpreted, relayed out of context or weren't correctly conveyed info of an event or conversation that some child has inaccurately shared. In short, my children (the Pack) inadvertently attack the alpha (me!) as well as each other.

It's biblical to refer to your followers as a flock of sheep. It is also a common business term. However, in our home, I can't help but think, the pack has overtaken the flock and are waiting to pounce.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

"Was your boss mad, when you said her ideas sucked?"

How I took a stand for what I believed in essentially lost me my job — and landed me a better one!

So I shared something recently with two of my kids that seems worth talking about. It was a lesson about passion and creativity. I hope you'll indulge me a bit.

I recently lost my job of two years as a copywriter for a small business-to-business ad agency in Phoenix, AZ. In this economy that might not be big news, but it was for me. Now as a creative professional (10 years as an Art Director, six years as a graphic designer/illustrator and four years as an advertising copywriter) I have dedicated my entire professional life to being a creative problem solver. It's not just a hobby for me, or my career. It's deeper than that, it's in my DNA. Honestly, it's hard for me to even conceive of a professional position that did not ask me to continuously require that I engage the right side of my brain. So the following scenario should prove to be, at least, an interesting read.

I watched the client roster for the agency I worked for slowly evaporate. The line-up of clients who "paid the bills" dried up like a spilled cup of water on hot summer concrete. Even after 34 years in business, the agency – and it's relationship with it's final remaining client – was on the ropes. The end, it seemed, was inevitable.

Now in all honesty, I tried everything I could – as a creative – to jump-start new business. I proposed email campaigns, direct mail initiatives, new web site direction(s) and design, smart media campaigns and even good old fashioned ads (we were, after all, and ad agency). The (agency) owner was having none of it. She wanted old school (which translates to cheap!), phone calls, solicitation letters and self-promo pieces created more than 15 years ago.

This became the pin pulled from the grenade.

The promo pieces were (among other conceptual train wrecks!), a box of Cracker Jacks™ and a laser printout wrapped around it that said "Cracker Jack Creative". Oh, wait, they get better! Another was a [tin] box of Altoids® that said "Refreshing Creative". Honestly, I can't make this stuff up! If you're thinking to yourself "what does that even mean?" I'm right with you. My daughter (14) and eldest son (13) even turned their noses up at hearing these less-than-stellar promotional ideas.

I was then asked, since there was no work, to consider a new business position, at a 60% cut in pay and no benefits. The job would be to follow up on these promotional efforts and try and drum up new business. I declined. I said there was no way I could follow up on these embarrassingly bad ideas. Not only were they insulting to the recipient (sending a box of breath mints, to me, says you have stinky breath), their was no strategy, no follow-up plan and no creative (all of which are reasons companies look to ad agencies to help strategize and best spend their marketing budgets). My boss was mortified and insulted. After all they were her ideas.

It shouldn't be a huge leap to note that my time as an employee in this place was coming to an end. I managed to keep the conversation professional, on point and about what was in the agency's best interest. Regardless, I needed to start my search for new opportunities. Two weeks later, I got an offer letter from a company who couldn't WAIT to hire me – a larger company with greater opportunities and a little more money. All because of my creative track record.

I told my two oldest kids a high-level version of this story. They were wide-eyed and full of questions. "Were you scared?" "Was your boss mad, when you said her ideas sucked?" "Was that why she fired you?" (Aren't kids great?) Me; "... well, what I told her was not untrue guys. I am a creative professional and when someone asks me to do bad creative work, it's no different than when someone else is asked to do bad work doing something else. You just have to know your do's and don'ts. I won't develop (or follow-up on!) bad creative, even if I think it will loose me my job."

Maybe it's the "Cracker Jack" creative in me folks. Though this discussion centered around conceptual thought and professional integrity, the final take away, for the kids, is that Dad stands by what he believes in. If I end up seeming a bit of a rogue cannon to them, so be it. Because good enough, at least in my world, never is.