—The new normal flexible work arrangements are great, but the best way to learn is by watching colleagues do the job you want to do one day, says Angus Tucker—
I‘ve come up with what I believe is a winning strategy that can help young people get promoted in just three days. There are two conditions, however: Those three days need to be in the office, and you need to do it for at least a year.
OK, I’ve probably lost half of you already, but hear me out.
If you’re young and starting out, and you can get to the office in a reasonable amount of time (say, less than an hour), you would be foolish not to get into the office and work beside your bosses and a whole bunch of other smart people for three days a week.
And here’s why: We learn by doing, but we also learn by watching. Watching people more experienced than you doing their job—and what you hope might some day be your job—for eight hours a day is the fastest way to get better.
If you’re an account executive, watching your CEO do her thing every day is a real time primer on how to run an agency. And if you’re a young creative, watching your CD direct other teams is a great way to learn how they cajole, challenge, encourage, re-direct, and do basically all the things you need to do to be an effective leader.
But that’s not even the best part. The best part is that they get to watch you. You will literally be seen those three days. Your presence, talent, enthusiasm, energy and personality will be felt. Way, way more than on Zoom.
And that can lead to all sorts of things. Like perhaps an impromptu discussion on a new piece of work, that lets you see how your CD evaluates an idea: “Hey, did you see that Anytime Fitness thing that Mischief did? I think it was the best Super Bowl ad, even though it didn’t even appear in the Super Bowl. What did you think?”
Or perhaps an impromptu review of a presentation right after a meeting: “Hey guys, you got 10 minutes? I want to go over how you presented and give you some thoughts on how to present better.”
Maybe impromptu “build” sessions where an idea gets way, way better in 30 minutes rather than four days: “Hey, I saw that thing you’re working on on the wall. It’s cool but do you need that line at the end? It’s way simpler without it.”
Or maybe it’s as simple as impromptu lunches, coffees and conversations with people who will make you smarter, better, and more informed.
Did you see a pattern there? That’s right… It’s the word impromptu. And impromptu can’t be scheduled in a 15-minute Zoom chat.
And here’s the thing—as much as you may want to plan your life and your career, much of it happens by accident. Or as John Lennon put it “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”
As much as I’ve tried to plan my life, most of it has been the result of something unplanned. The first good ad I ever did was because I was in the office when everyone else wasn’t. It was just before the Christmas Holidays, and the CD walked by and said “This brief just came in for Peoples Jewellers. No one else is around. You got an hour to jam with me on it?”
At the time, I was a 32-year-old copywriter with literally nothing good in my book. You’re damn right I had an hour. (BTW, that ad won two Marketing Award Golds and gave me my first feeling that I might actually be good at this job.)
Could that have happened in a Zoom world? Maybe. But my gut says no. It happened because I was close by. I was around. I was the guy who my CD just happened to see when he needed a hand. I think it’s what Woody Allen meant when he said “90% of success is just showing up.”
I know full well I’m going to take a beating from a lot of people for writing this column, so before I finish, let me say this: I am not a back-to-work extremist. This is not Elon Musk saying “get your lazy asses back in the office. And bring a pillow!”
I think the flexibility in the working world borne from the pandemic is great. I really do. Having Monday and Friday at home is wonderful, and I think it would have made starting John St. with three little kids a lot less chaotic for my wife and me.
And I understand that for many people, working from home works. But from what I’m seeing and reading, most of those people are not the young ones I’m talking about—the ones who have never worked in a pre-pandemic world.
This generation has literally never worked side-by-side with their colleagues, and don’t know what they’re missing. And my heart bleeds a little bit for the young kids who aren’t getting to learn faster by being around the people who have so much to teach them.
And all I’m saying is that those three days in the office might get you where you want to go faster than not.
Angus Tucker is the co-founder and former of CCO of John St. He sometimes wonders whether it might be more than just coincidence that the world is facing a global mental health crisis at the same time that we have been isolated from each other for three years, and that maybe—maybe—we might be a little happier if we got into the office around actual people once in a while.