Stephen Covey, in the updated forward of his groundbreaking book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, tells a story of pleasurable subway trip gone terribly wrong. One weekend morning, the riders were reading, talking quietly and genuinely enjoying the public transportation. The peace, however, was short-lived when a man with two kids boarded the train. The kids were out of control, yelling, jumping, playing and going so far as to knock newspapers out of people’s hands. Needless to say, the mood changed and Covey was annoyed. He asked the man to do something about his kids and the man told Covey that the kids’ mother had passed away no more than an hour earlier.
As I was walking on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica listening to the local street performers, I overheard someone say, “Wow, she really sucks.” I was with my family, so I repressed the urge to turn on my heels and get in the kid’s face. If I had, however, I wanted to say something like, “Who the f*ck are you to say ANYTHING about her abilities? She’s putting her heart and soul into chasing her dreams and is baring her soul by performing in public. She probably practices hours on end and continues to work incredibly hard to master her craft. She probably works three jobs in order to go after her passions. What are you doing? Oh, right…you have the undeniable talent going through life one-handed, as your other hand is dedicated to holding up your pants. I stand corrected.”
My experience, while not nearly as dramatic, and Stephen Covey’s are similar in that opinions and perceptions were formed and reactions were made without full knowledge of the situation. Covey probably felt like an ass when he asked the grieving husband to get his kids under control, and had I actually reacted the way I wanted to, the kid (or I) may have felt equally stupid. I didn’t react, however, because I didn’t know that kid’s situation. Perhaps his brother died trying to sing that very song and ripping on her was his way to deal with his pain. Maybe he was there every single day watching the performers and dealing with his own grief with his negative critiques. Yes, it’s a stretch, but it’s not impossible. Besides, I don’t know if any of my assumptions about the singer were true.
As I mentioned in my last post, social media provides a platform from which all of us have the opportunity to form opinions and perceptions…and give voice to our reactions – just like Covey did on his subway ride. I just wish it could all be done in a more compassionate way. Instead of me wanting to rip the kid, I should want to ask him if he’s okay? Is everything cool with his family? I just want to make sure, I’d tell him, because his negative response to the singer gave me cause for concern. Covey could have done the same.
I admit it, my own response to what I’m calling anti-social media is based on what I perceived as a personal attack. Recently, a member of the advertising community took it upon himself to rip on the “aha moment” campaign that we have worked incredibly hard to create, develop, launch and maintain. I’ve hesitated to write about it because by doing so I’m giving more life to his opinion than it would otherwise have. But the truth is his comments continue to boil my blood, not because he ripped us – everyone is entitled to their opinions – but because he did so without knowing…well, anything. He took it upon himself to declare our efforts a failure without so much as breaking off a call to find out what we thought.
Had he called me and explained his thesis that the campaign was a failure, I might have asked him this: Do you know what our success metrics are? Can you prove we failed because of the hundreds of hours of due diligence and discovery you’ve done? Or are you basing this opinion on nothing more than…well, nothing?
If he had taken the time to do what any seasoned, credible journalist does and actually fact checked, we would have been able to show him that the campaign, was (and is), in fact, a major success. While some may argue an eye for an eye gives me the right to turn the spotlight on his agency’s creative, and although I’ve formed some of my own opinions about the work shown on his website, I wasn’t part of the discovery; I don’t know the success metrics for his efforts. And, as a result, I don’t feel comfortable commenting.
Historically, I stay away from critiquing anyone’s creative efforts. (Though, as I’m perfectly willing to do – I fall on my own sword and admit that I’m not infallible, here.) I might argue with theories (e.g. I’m not a big believer in any exposure is good exposure, but if that’s what the client agrees to – more power to you), but I’m not going to ever say, “Wow, that spot sucks.” There are some spots that I don’t necessarily understand and I sometimes think, “I would have loved a chance to come up with some ideas for this campaign.” But, does it bring me pleasure to rip someone else’s work? Not really. (And, say it with me, I don’t know what the success metrics are supposed to be.) There are, after all, quite a few people who need to approve creative work (particularly in advertising). The person who ripped the “aha moment” campaign is basically suggesting that everyone involved in the effort is stupid – on both the client and agency side.
I know that much of the criticism most people unveil is rooted in something much deeper than the surface. In fact, Covey quotes Thoreau, “For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, there is one striking at the root.” In other words and in its rawest terms, most of the shit we complain about isn’t actually about what we’re complaining about. Those are just leaves. It’s the roots that have us really upset. Sure, you don’t like our campaign, but what’s the real problem? Look in the mirror and figure that out.
I know that I’ll continue to have my buttons pushed by (anti) social media and I know that people will continue to react from a place of ignorance, but I think I’m done ignoring this ignorance. It’s time to speak up and speak out.