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Off My Plate

Posted on November 19, 2012 and read 2,709 times

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pierno Off My PlateAdam Pierno
Creative Director
Partners + Napier, Atlanta
Hunting the Spark

I was waiting for a meeting to start last week and I overheard a conversation between a few staffers. I wasn’t eavesdropping, but I was just hearing it. They were catching up on a project. They hadn’t heard from the client yet, but they were sure when they did, it would be a rush. One of the people in the group asked about a few of the details of the project that had not been talked through internally, never mind with the client and wondered when we’d get the time to do that. The response was, “When they want it done, we’ll just have to do it.”

There are people inside every agency, and in every company in the world, whose job it is to wrangle people and projects. To make sure things are happening. And to just get shit done. These people have a critical role in an industry like ours where there are at least as many dreamers as doers, and projects can take on full and interesting lives of their own if given enough air and room on the status sheet.

I salute these people, and I would be close to useless without at least a few of them.

The other side of this coin is something I’ve been frustrated by since I got involved in this business. I refer to it as ‘Off-My-Plate-ism.’ This philosophy will destroy any business that allows it. It reduces the work we do, and the thought needed to do it down to a checklist. That checklist, and the people applying the checks as quickly as they can, are the enemy of progress and interesting outcomes.

Agencies are wonderful places full of imaginative and interesting people. That’s why young people are lured to them over seemingly more stable and higher paying careers like accounting and law. If you don’t agree that people get into this business to be a part of coming up with amazing solutions for clients, you can stop reading and click out now.

Beyond the allure of cool and beautiful ideas is an army of smart and passionate people working very hard to create, nurture and protect those ideas. And to sell them. And to make sure that the idea is successful in its intended mission. No one gets into this business to do bad work. Or worse: to be average. But subscribers to ‘Off-My-Plate-ism’ are only interested in completing items and putting them behind them. One less thing to think about, one less thing to do. It is the antithesis of craft. Expediency over excellence.

This is not about project managers or account execs trying to make deadlines. ‘Off-My-Plate-ism’ infects people across the company and makes them try to dumb your idea down. Or copy/paste code instead of thinking through a new solution. Or just telling you something can’t be done when maybe it can. Instead of a focus on how to improve the thing, or how to achieve the task in a better way, the focus is on completion.

Anyone who has done this job knows that nothing is perfect in its first iteration. The best design is refined and sharpened over a series of sessions and breaks. Even right up until release, there is still improvement happening. The Off-My-Plate mindset tells us that the first version is probably good enough, because we need to get that thing over to the client. The person would be more likely to be annoyed if there was a last minute change that made the piece better than if it could just be released and crossed off the list.

As you’ve experienced, there comes a time on every project where some unexpected event pops up. The due date might move up unexpectedly, the platform you intended to use has an unexpected limitation, or the location you wanted is no longer available. On these occasions, the Off-My-Plate mindset will tell us to just keep checking off the to do list. Don’t stop to adjust, let’s just get this thing done. And even as these unexpected things keep popping up, we are pushed to just keep working and not stop to think.

Don’t overlook Off-My-Plate thinking. Address it. Ask “why.” Try to explain the details of what you’re hoping to achieve and stack those up against the goals of speedily getting a project done. And when you have this conversation, take your time.




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