TITLE: Casting Shadows AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: August 01, 2009 7:09 AM DESC: ----- BODY: I have been reading David Ogilvy's Confessions of an Advertising Man. I have found it to be quite enjoyable. It is a slim volume, written charmingly in a style we don't see much anymore. It is about not only advertising but also leading a team, creating and guiding an organization, and running a business. There are elements of all these is my job as department head, and even as a faculty member. Many of Ogilvy's essons won't surprise you; he recommends the old-fashioned virtues. Hard work. Quality. Fairness. Honesty. Integrity. High standards. Candor. Ogilvy describes how to build and run a great agency, but at heart he is a great believer in the individual, especially when it comes to creative acts:
Some agencies pander to the craze for for doing everything in committee. They boast about "teamwork" and decry the role of the individual. But no team can write an advertisement, and I doubt whether there is a single agency of any consequence which is not the lengthened shadow of one man.
I sometimes wonder whether greatness can be achieved by a group of competent or even above-average individuals, or if an outstanding individual is an essential ingredient. In an advertising agency, there are the somewhat distinct acts of creating campaigns and running the agency. Perhaps the latter is more amenable to being led by a team. But even when it comes to great works, I am aware that teams have produced excellent software. How much of that success can be attributed to the vision and leadership of one individual on the team, I don't know. As I mentioned at the top of a recent entry, a university task force I chaired submitted its final report at the beginning of July. After working so long with this group, I am feeling a little seller's remorse. Did we do a good enough job? If acted upon, will our recommendations effect valuable change? Can they be acted upon effectively at a time of budget uncertainties? The report we wrote does not advocate revolutionary change, at least not on the surface. It is more about creating structures and practices that will support building trust and communication. In a community that has drifted in recent years and not always had visionary leadership, these are prerequisites to revolutionary changes. Still, I am left wondering what we might have done more or differently. The report is most definitely the product of a committee. I suspect that several of the individuals in the group might well have been able to produce something as good or better by working solo, certainly something with sharper edges and sharper potential -- at higher risk. Others on the group could not have done so, but that was not the nature of their roles. In the end, the committee rounded off the sharp edges, searched for and found common ground. The result is not a least common denominator, but it is no longer revolutionary. If that sort of result is what you need, a committee is not your best agent. Part of my own remorse comes back to Ogilvy's claim. Could I have led the group better? Could I have provided a higher vision and led the group to produce a more remarkable set of recommendations? Did I cast a long enough shadow? ~~~~ The shadows of summer are lengthening. One of the reasons that I have always liked living in the American Midwest is the changing of the seasons. Here we have not four seasons but eight, really, as the blending of summer to autumn, or winter to spring, each has its own character. Academia, too, has its seasons, and they are part of what attracted me to professional life at a university. From the outside looking in, working in industry looked like it could become monotonous. But the university offers two semesters and a summer, each with a brand new start, a natural life, and a glorious end. Whatever monotony we experience happens at a much larger time scale, as these seasons come and go over the years. Like the weather, academia has more than the obvious seasons we name. We have the break between semesters over Christmas and New Year's Day, a short period of change. When school ends in May, it is like the end of the year, and we have a period of changing over to a summer of activity that is for many of us much different than the academic year. And finally, we have the transition between summer and the new academic year. For me, that season begins about now, on the first day of August, as thoughts turn more and more to the upcoming year, the preparation of classes, and the return of students. This is a change that injects a lot of energy into our world and saves us from any monotony we might begin to feel. So, as the long shadows of summer begin to fall, we prepare for the light of a new year. What sort of shadow will I cast? -----