One morning Gordon Smith came into the office in a foul mood.
The glass had broken on the front of the washing machine at home.
And his wife had told him to get it fixed.
So he stormed into the office and started making phone calls.
Actually ‘phone calls’ is a euphemism.
The phone is not Gordon’s, or any art director’s, natural instrument.
Art directors are visual people and the phone is a verbal medium.
This is frustrating for them.
So actually he started arguing with the phone.
He approached it with, what we might term ‘bad grace’.
He went round after round with the phone.
It was like watching Frazier fight Ali.
At the end of several hours he was exhausted.
And no nearer getting a new glass-front than when he walked in the office.
Eventually I said, “Gord, why don’t you let the creative dept PA do that?”
Gord said, “It’s not agency business, it’s my washing machine.”
I said, “True, but let’s see what’s best use of agency resources.
You’ve just spent two hours getting nowhere.
During that time, we can’t work together.
So that’s four hours of expensive creative time spent not getting a problem solved.
Doesn’t it make more sense for the agency to spend less money getting a PA to do that?”
So we asked the PA, and she made some phone calls.
And in less than fifteen minutes, a new washing machine glass was being delivered to Gordon’s home.
I think having an expert in that area was roughly ten times more effective use of agency money than letting Gordon do it.
Gordon approached the problem knowing it was something he hated doing.
Knowing he’d waste ages on the phone, talking to unhelpful people.
Getting frustrated and getting nowhere.
So that’s exactly what happened.
The PA approached the problem as a simple phone call.
She expected it to get solved easily.
And that’s exactly what happened.
How you approach a problem determines the outcome.
I’ve got a Corby trouser-press at home.
One day I noticed one of the plastic feet was broken.
I thought, right I’ll make a wooden one.
And I’ll stain it black so that it matches the plastic one.
So I went to B&Q and bought some wood, some screws, some woodstain, a cheap brush, and some white spirit.
Cut the wood to length and screwed it in place.
But the bottom of the trouser press was plastic, so it was very wobbly.
I thought, that foot needs reinforcing.
I’d better put a longer piece of wood from the back of the wooden foot to the top of the trouser-press.
So I went back to B&Q and bought some small angle-braces, some nails, and some epoxy resin.
Then I went back into the garage and started putting it all together on the Black & Decker WorkMate.
While I was working I had the radio on.
Someone was talking about what women really want from men.
She said all most women really want is someone to put the shelves up.
I thought, that must be tough on women.
They can’t even put up some shelves up by themselves.
Then I thought, what do they do if they haven’t got a man?
I thought, I bet they phone someone up to do it for them.
Women can get on the phone and fix most things.
Then I thought, how would she solve the problem I’ve got?
She’d look for a phone number first.
So I went upstairs and looked on the side of the trouser-press and there was a label.
And on the label was a phone number.
So I called the number and said, “Do you do spare plastic feet for a Corby trouser-press?”
And the young lady said, “Certainly sir, five pounds a pair.’
So I ordered a pair.
Meanwhile I’d just wasted about twenty quid on wood, screws, nails, braces, glue, and woodstain, that I wouldn’t use.
All because I started on the solution, not the problem.
Dennis Lewis was a creative director at BBH years ago.
I once asked him what made them different as an agency.
Dennis said, “You know how, at most agencies, the brief comes into the creative department and it takes you about a week working on it to get the brief right, before you can start working on it?”
I said I did.
He said, “Well at BBH it isn’t like that. They take a lot longer sorting out the brief, but when it lands on your desk it’s right. You’re ready to start work on it straight away.”
That is a sensible use of resource.
There’s a definition I like a lot:
“Efficiency is doing things right.
Effectiveness is doing the right things.”