When I moved into my new role recently as CEO, I remember saying to myself that the two things I wanted to focus on were making our agency a happy place for people to work at, and … I forget the second thing now. Anyway, this is the important one. And it came from observing our working environment in the industry. I’ve only fleetingly seen workplaces in other industries and disciplines, as an agency partner to clients in those businesses. But for an industry that must rank among the highest in providing creative (soul) satisfaction, ours is also the one fuelled by an awful lot of angst on a daily basis.
It’s not surprising at one level. We’re in the business of churning out ideas, and as creators of those ideas, we can get pretty precious about the ones we create. “How dare he criticize / poke holes at my idea? Who does he think he is, Arnab?” We’re like the mother in that Akbar-Birbal story where they go in search of the most beautiful child in Agra. No mother is ever going to see her child as anything but the most beautiful in the world. And so we pander to our egos.
But then this pandering to egos seems to become not merely a habit but an addiction that’s hard to escape the clutches of. And before long, a lot of us are less about the work we do or enable, and more about the power we can wield and hold on to, for as long as we can. I’m not even talking about the top of the food chain here. This malaise seems to creep in from pretty much the first time we have a person who is more junior than us in the system. And while the British may have left us a long time ago, their legacy of divide and conquer seems to be a familiar strategy adopted and encouraged by many in the ranks. I’ve often wondered why a person’s insecurities seem to grow the higher they rise in a hierarchy.
And so, inspite of all of us self-proclaimed Gods of our fiefdoms, we manage to churn out some amazing ideas. Our peers from other industries look enviously at us for our lifestyles, our office “culture,” our informality, our “festivals,” and yes, our ideas. And I wonder how much more amazing we’d be if we could strip ourselves of all these things that hold us back from realizing our potential.
It’s tempting, and perhaps all too easy, to acknowledge and dismiss these as the vagaries of working with people—irrational creatures that we are. After all, we’re not an industry that produces stuff off of an assembly line, optimizable through Six Sigma processes. It’s also tempting for me to dismiss this pipe dream of mine as being too naïve, and put it down to my having learnt nothing in my 20+ years in the industry, across two countries.
But I won’t. Because I’ve managed to not just survive but thrive (my career graph’s progress notwithstanding) in this very same industry. Because I have experienced what it feels like to work in a place where I don’t have to watch my back, and can devote all my energy to the work (hat tip to many of my bosses for that).
Which brings me to Pipe Dream #3 (in case you’ve been following my earlier ones about the #RoadToCannesLions India Fund, and a method to madness for recruiting great new talent into the industry).
Actually, this is probably the one that’s closest to my heart. It’s the one that I’m most committed to, and it’s the one around which I plan to throw the weight I have now acquired as a CEO. It’s my singular goal to do what it takes to create happiness in the agency, primarily through the use of an incredulous trait: being nice to one another. My logic is simple. We spend more waking hours with each other than with our loved ones at the agency. The least—actually, the best—we can be is nice to each other. And, to paraphrase the famous words of Elle Woods from Legally Blonde, “Being nice to each other makes for happy people. And happy people don’t just stab each other in their backs.”
Oh, I remembered the second thing I said I’d focus on as a CEO: great work. I think a happy place could possibly be a decent foundation to creating great work. I’ll let you know in the days to come.