My career started before the Internet was born. I use that line with many college students as I talk with them. They laugh and give me a quizzical look. As I continue my story, I tell them years into my career, I finally learned to think critically, creatively and figure out how to navigate tough challenges. I didn't have answers at my fingertips like all of us do now with web browsers and social media available on every device. I can remember many times when I was in project kick-off meetings and the speed of information transfer felt as if it was a firehose flowing into my brain. I was trying to take it all in, write it down and translate it into marketing and creative terms in my head. At the end of the meeting, I had a headache just trying to assimilate the information. I would walk away scratching my head and think to myself,
I have no idea how I am going to do this, but I will figure it out.
This concept was engrained in my head early in my career. I was privileged to have many bosses who challenged me to think and be creative, to figure out what needed to be done. Being creative was a strength of mine. Thinking intuitively out of my comfort zone was not.
Listen To The Wisdom
Bosses can say some pretty stupid things. I understand, I am a boss, and I try to limit the number of times I put my foot in my mouth. However, good bosses can deliver experiential wisdom that can be quite profound and extremely useful if employees just listen and pay attention. I can think of three people who were bosses and mentors for me early in my career. They don't know this, but they helped to shape who I am to this day. I carry on what they taught me, and I share it with my own staff.
Think Creatively And Deliver On Time
When you have to either be creative or deliver on time it's okay. The problem starts when the project you're working on requires both. I was fortunate to have a boss who was a superb writer and creative thinker. She taught me to really think creatively and apply that thinking to our videos and campaigns we were producing for broadcast TV. I was stretched and challenged to really go outside my comfort zone, be creative, bring back whatever might be applicable, then execute it on time, every time. In the broadcast TV world, the expectations were high and the challenges were stressful. I quickly learned that thinking creatively was very important, but delivering results on time was probably even more important.
Think Through Challenges, Create A Solution
Years ago, I had a boss that was a master at communicating in very difficult situations. I was amazed at his ability to work on a client project and then be able to think about three other client projects simultaneously. I learned to think about more than just one client and project, sometimes even three, four or even five. My boss had this amazing ability to distill highly complex information and make it simple and easy to understand. He once said to me something that I share with others to this day.
You need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Working with marketing clients means I am constantly putting myself in uncomfortable positions. I have to quickly grasp the client's business model and creative challenge, understand the information download and repurpose it so that the creative team can execute the project plan quickly. I learned to exude confidence in front of my clients and also have confidence in myself that I will be able to think though the challenging tasks at hand and come up with a creative, dynamic solution.
Combine Creative And Business Thinking
Years ago, I wasn't quite sure it was possible to combine creative thinking and business thinking. I always thought the two were mutually exclusive. After all, I spent my career up to that point working on award winning creative projects and didn't feel compelled to thoroughly understand both the creative and business disciplines equally. Then I met someone that changed my perspective completely. I was working at an agency in Atlanta. The owner and CEO was truly a seasoned professional. He commanded respect, looked the part, and also added incredible insight and value when the extra intellectual push was needed. He knew how to perform at a high level in every job at the agency, because he had done it before. He was also the business thought leader. He always gave us information on current trends, statistics and ideas that were forcing us to think not only about the creative implementation, but also about business and industry innovation. He challenged me to combine my award winning creative talent with acute business knowledge. This was difficult for me at first. However, his persistence and willingness to invest in me helped shape my thinking so that I would eventually become a thought leader today.
Pass It On
I challenge every employee who reads this to be a critical thinker far beyond what is expected of you. Listen to your bosses, even though they may not always makes sense. You just never know when they will tell you something brilliant that hits you square between the eyes as you stumble backward thinking about it. Usually circumstances like this force you to think outside your comfort zone. Trust me, as painful as it might have felt when your boss first told you about something that you didn't want to hear, but you knew had merit, at some point in your career you may reflect on it and be glad you encountered the experience. Then the time will come, and it will be your turn to pass on the wisdom to your employees. As you reflect back, you realize that your bosses were right. Hmm, you did learn something.
Follow Scott MacFarland on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@scmacfarland