Monthly Archives: July 2016

Being Pioneer is Not for the Faint-hearted

Quote about Robert  “Fastest Knife in the West End” Liston, pioneer surgeon from 17th century:

Although Liston was renowned for his success stories, he also developed a reputation for the flamboyancy of his surgical failures. For instance, his joy at amputating a patient´s leg at the thigh in less than three minutes was hindered greatly when he realized he had also inadvertently sawed of patient´s testicles. 

And perhaps, most famously, another leg amputation performed in less than three minutes had the unfortunate result of killing three people: the patient (who survived the surgery but died of gangrene several days later); his young assistant (whose fingers he accidentally sawed off during surgery and who would also later succumb to gangrene); and “a distinguished surgical spectator” whose coattails Liston also slashed. The man, who found himself surrounded by geysers of blood, was so convinced that the knife had pierced his vitals that he immediately “dropped dead from fright”. It was later described as “the only operation in history with 300 percent mortality rate”

Cristin O´Keefe Aptowicz: Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine

Robert Liston gives us good guiding light how to approach anything new:

  1. There is no framework when you are developing something from the scratch, you have to pave your own path.
  2. You cannot always avoid mistakes, but you can always be fast.
  3. If you experiment, it is better to saw other guy´s testicles than your own.
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Auftragstaktik and The Lack of Leadership in Advertising Industry

“No plan survives contact with enemy”
– Helmut von Moltke
 
I have met great people, personalities and borderline geniuses during my years in advertising. What have I encountered less is good leaders and visionary leadership.

The biggest problem in advertising industry is leadership problem. Majority of us (me included) have been promoted because we are great experts. We are good strategists, writers or suits but majority don´t have any experience or natural skills to lead or inspire teams. I would argue also that the major reason for churn in ad agencies is due to bad management and lack vision and strategic vigor. When you don´t have the vision you end up doing things yourself or micro-managing your team which naturally annoys any sensible person.

Because majority of leaders are former experts, only few can do the leap to strategic level from tactical grunt work. Contrary to the stereotypes, the right leadership approach to creative industries can be found from military strategy and of all places in usually rigid and authoritarian Germany. “Auftragstaktik” or Mission command in US, is a mission-type tactics doctrine, which promotes freedom and speed of action within defined constraints. The idea of Auftragstaktik originates with Frederick the Great, who was frustrated by the lack of initiative within his leaders. Military strategist Helmut von Moltke coined the actual idea hundred years later (whose quote above is one of the best articulations of strategy). Currently similar types of command are advocated in US, Canadian, Dutch and British armies. The basic idea of Augftagstaktik is simple:

  1. Leaders give the team clearly defined goal
  2. Leader gives the team specific timeframe to accomplish that goal
  3. Leader lets them accomplish that goal independently

Essentially in Auftragstik you say your team what you want them to achieve but you are not saying how they can achieve that. This should result to two benefits:

  1. The team has the ownership and pride of the particular project. They will become better at solving problems and you also cultivate future leaders. They are closer to the project/actual fight so they should do their decisions where things are actually happening.
  2. The leader frees his/her time from tactics and keeps focused on the broader strategy. The leader should have better visibility of business/the war so he/she should be able to show guidance and vision to the team.

If you cannot give responsibility to your team and don´t trust them, you have either made bad hires or you are control freak. Both things are naturally highly worrying. If your leadership is diluted to micro managing you do more harm than good in your company. Then your choices are either to evolve from manager to true leader by trusting your team or you just have to face the reality that you are not cut as a leader at the first place.

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