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  • Writer's pictureJeff Eaker

Success seeker or failure avoider?

"Once I rose above the noise

and confusion.

Just to get a glimpse beyond this illusion.

I was soaring ever higher.

But I flew too high."

Most ECDs have some kind of white board hanging outside their office. Usually, it’s right next to the door. A lot of times the white board will have a list of projects that the group is working on. The hot ones will be starred and if you’re on the hook so will your name.

Sometimes the white board will be used more as a message board. Common examples are:

In L.A. until 11/14

Leave scripts on chair

And one of my personal favorites, I’ll be in on Saturday.

But sometimes, ECDs will use their whiteboards to deliver a bit of inspirational thinking. A nugget of wisdom or motivational insight to rally the troops. Perhaps a good, solid David Ogilvy quote. I’m always a sucker for those.

A while back, I was working at an agency, and there was a really talented ECD just down the hall. This guy was as legit of a creative as they come. Incredibly smart. A resume filled with the most famous agencies in the country. And pretty much every award the advertising industry has to offer on his shelf. Plus, he was a really nice, super cool guy. He had every box ticked.

I didn’t work in his group but his office was just down the hall from mine. Since it was on the way to the men’s room, and I’m an obsessive hydrator, I passed by it a lot. He was prone to doing the inspirational message thing. And though I’m quite sure it wasn’t his intention, one of his inspirational messages really fucked with my head. This is what it said:

Success seeker or failure avoider?

To the casual observer, it’s an easy question. Everyone wants success. And everyone knows it doesn’t just fall in your lap. You gotta go out and seek it. That’s what winners do. Success seeker is the obvious answer here. If you’re ever asked this question, answer immediately and emphatically that you are a success seeker. Don’t hesitate. Don’t waiver. For God sakes, don’t be like me and question it or try to break it down. Just say, “Success seeker. Yes, sir. Yes, ma’am. One hundred percent. That’s me.”

Because if you don’t, there’s only one place for you to go. The failure avoider pile. And though there’s an inherent wisdom in treading cautiously through the minefield that is life, no one except your doctor and your insurance agent is going to give you any kudos for lining up with the pussies.

However, in its defense, failure is a tricky word. It’s a word that’s very near and dear to my heart for obvious reasons, but none-the-less, it’s a bit of a goofball. Especially these days. Because you’d have to be a fool not to notice, but failure is kind of having its moment right now.

Wieden + Kennedy, arguably the best advertising agency in the world, have Fail harder as their company mantra. In the corporate world, failing faster is all the rage. And since launching this blog and forever attaching my name to an entire kingdom devoted to it, failure has turned out to be an extremely productive concept for me. You might even say, it’s kind of become my jam.

"Masquerading as a man with a reason. My charade is the event of the season. And if I claim to be a wise man, well It surely means that I don't know."

I was at a different agency one time and they made me take something called The Clifton Strengths Finder test. I had never taken one of these things before. I didn’t really know what it was but it asks you a series of questions and then tells you your strengths based on your answers.

Being an idiot, I answered every question as truthfully and honestly as I could. I won’t tell you the outcome but I implore you not to follow this method. If you’re at a place that’s stupid enough to give you one of these asinine corporate personality tests, then you can bet your bunghole they’re stupid enough to take the results seriously.

So do yourself a favor and lie your ass off when you take that test. The answers they want are pretty obvious. I just couldn’t stomach actually choosing them. But, you are no doubt smarter than I and if you just don’t try to be honest, you’ll get achiever and your boss will promote you. Instead of getting something lame like empath and having your boss think you’re soft and not leadership material.

You’d think I’d have learned my lesson. Yet, here I am again, faced with another obvious choice and I just can’t seem to pull the trigger on what’s clearly the preferred answer.

For me, success seeking sounds kind of aggressive. Success seeking requires hustle and chutzpah. It requires focus and dedication. Single-minded, eyes on the prize, tunnel vision, eye of the tiger kind of stuff. And I’m such a born and bred, die-hard Gen X’er that when I see the phrase success seeker, I just think to myself, “Man, I want that but it sounds like kind of a hassle.”

It’s like chasing after the girl every guy in class is lusting after. There’s way too much potential for rejection.

But I’m not really interested in avoiding failure either. That would require a lot of thinking things through in advance. Planning stuff out and sifting through the potential consequences. I don’t remember seeing any of those things in the results of my Clifton Strengths Finder test.

I like to go with the flow and rely on my instincts. I actually prefer to be reactive. I tend to call a lot of audibles at the line of scrimmage once I see how the defense is lined up. It’s not a bad method. But a blitzing linebacker can sometimes throw a wrench in my ability to move the ball steadily downfield.

Which is probably why my blog is called Kingdom of Failure instead of Kingdom of Success.

And also why I just can't get that sign out of my head. It keeps wiggling around in there like a kid in the bed who kicks you in your sleep the whole night.

Success seeker or failure avoider?

I need another option. An escape route. A philosophical parachute that I can deploy for emergencies such as these. Anything that can get me out of this conundrum. Which, as luck would have it, my old friend advertising provides quite nicely.

Whenever I’m working on an assignment I try to come up with as many ideas as possible. Quantity yields quality is what they say. I’m a big believer in that so I try to find as many ways in as I can. But ultimately, I’m looking for three ideas. No more. No less. Three is the magic number. The magic number is three.

One of these ideas needs to be what they call a fast ball down the middle. That’s your failure avoidance idea. It’s dead nuts on the brief. The tone is anchored firmly in the voice of the brand. The messaging is crystal clear. And most importantly, you won’t be embarrassed to shoot it.

I always present this idea first. It calms and soothes the nervous client. Once seen, postures visibly relax. Hands with crossed fingers reach behind the head in a display of executive contentedness. They know they have something they can take home with them that most likely won’t get them fired immediately.

From that point, we move towards success seeking. The second idea pushes buttons that the first one only casually acknowledged. It’s still a fastball and it’s still in the strike zone but it’s got a good bit of movement on it. It's a two-seamer and tends to paint the inside corner of the plate. Eyebrows raise. Discussions are had. A bite-sized serving of risk is added to the menu—served on small plates and intended to be shared.

This sets us up for the third idea. The one you say could make the brand famous. Change minds. Shift behavior. Start a movement. Create a new religion. This is your full on success seeking concept. This is the one that says shit or get off the pot. Put up or shut up. Go big or go home.

It’s the idea that makes them nervous, which you immediately identify as the exact response you were looking for. Eyebrows raise even further. Fresh rounds of sometimes heated discussion are churned up. But most importantly, it finally allows you to relieve yourself of the horrible burden we've been discussing.

Because now, it’s not your problem anymore. Now, it’s their problem. As you sit back with your own hands crossed contentedly behind your head and ask THEM to decide what THEY want to be:

Success seeker or failure avoider?

"Carry on, you will always remember. Carry on, nothing equals the splendor. Now your life's no longer empty. Surely heaven waits for you."

Thanks for reading. I'll see you again, real soon.

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