Age doesn't always bring wisdom
So, suffice to say as I rapidly approach my mid-forties, I have made enough mistakes both professionally and personally to understand life is an unwieldy and unplanned journey.
But it has only really been the last couple of years that I have started to reflect on many of these ups and downs and properly learn from them as opposed to letting the ego take control and plough on regardless - which unfortunately does seem to manifest itself in many of the articles and comments by peers in the digital space.
So, not being hugely ego-driven (one of life’s best lessons), I tend not to give advice (or as some say – ‘thought leadership’ – a genuinely creepy term) as I still know next to nothing and am constantly trying to develop – so when I do write – my pieces are only ever those that are ramblings of my everyday experiences and thoughts as and when ‘stuff’ happens.. and this one is no different….
Damn my education
I do go on quite a bit and sometimes, I freely admit, I do occasionally attempt to over intellectualise things – making the simple overly complex. As an aside - my first reinvigorated newsletter looks at the subject of simplicity (if you are remotely interested, do sign-up at my website www.davemcrobbie.co.uk) through the eyes of digital, science, sport, culture and brand.
Anyway, someone did once say to me ‘second-hand’ that all I did for a period was read loads of books and recite them back…. Now, putting aside that the originator was a bit of a **** (we all know those who we would not share a glass of red with, don’t you think?) - there was some truth in that - but the kernel of the ‘reading and reciting’ phase came from a realisation that my 'winging it' for years was not hugely beneficial to my mental state or my professionalism.
There is a line in the song Don’t Go Away by Oasis - “Damn my education, I can’t find the words to say, about all the things caught in my mind” – and this was exactly where I found myself after 'winging it' – I'd got to a good level in companies (whatever that means...), knowledge and drivers were all in my head - but I couldn’t truly articulate and then prove that any of my ideas had any credence.
So, I read and I educated myself (I’m an Open Uni student) - immersing myself in books and listening to people – some were a waste of time, but some were fantastic – they never preached or said how much they had achieved even when it was mightily impressive – I found myself attracted to those type of people and continue to do so – and am lucky enough to be working with a few now.
Learning as a barrier
Recently, I have noticed that in the wider context of the digital space - I see a wall of distrust being placed around more academic and professional learnings. This seems to be slowly permeating the digital market (call it a kind of de-intellectualising) and particularly in the area of influencer led marketing and social selling.
This creep also seems to affect those in the industry that want to be generalists, as if somehow being well-rounded and knowledgeable on a number of topics is no substitute for being an expert in one or two. Although, when senior 'subject experts' sell and then point junior 'subject experts' at the wrong problem because of a lack of ability to look at the wider picture - generalists tend to be asked to clear up the mess (for a while anyway).
But what seems to be happening within digital is a drive towards 'winging it' – sure I understand that this thinking does in many ways go against the perceived drivers of the digital space – where you can achieve great things by innovating and coming up with an idea that carves out a niche and an income. But there is a limit to what can be achieved and what is ethical for a seemingly professional market, and, reading posts, attending conferences or simply buying a book – without trying and failing or realising that you have been failing in some aspects of your work - seem to be in vogue now – leading to the archetypal ‘race to the bottom’.
For example, I’ve seen occasions where companies have been provided a social engagement resource and ‘expert’, who has been in post 3 days, their experience of social media, human behaviour and the client audience segment limited to a three-slide presentation by an Account Exec and an ‘Off you go’. With the greatest of respect – liking an Instagram post by Kim Kardashian and wearing tight jeans (with or without a beard) does not prepare you (for example) for engaging with museum goers.
I’ve also seen social ‘influencers’ showing a complete lack of knowledge or respect when making cold calls to who they think are potential clients: - as in this magnificent example and response and in a less straightforward manner - this frankly shameful 'influencer approach'.
These and other examples of ‘winging it’ behaviour has an effect in my opinion, of only increasing the 'commoditisation' of digital and agency services – with the knock-on effect of annoyed clients leading to an uptake of automated (AI/Machine learning) systems and the move to ‘in-house’ digital and digital marketing teams. All of which increase the pressure on the already 'squeezed middle' of agency land and thus onto their staff - the circle then becomes complete...
There is nothing wrong with flying by the seat of your pants – I did it for around 20 years, after stumbling out of school two weeks after my 16th birthday. But I've learned that 'winging it' (or being innovative…) must be blended with a level of knowledge and self-educational rigour if you are going to add value to clients and give yourself a level of self-satisfaction – certainly when you get to your forties…