February 25, 2020

By Gonzalo López Martí    Creative director, etc. / lmmiami.com/

  • It happens again and again.
  • Regardless of the number of weeks or months an agency is given to prepare a presentation for a pitch or RFP, the last stretch will involve sleepless nights, lost weekends, exhaustion and nervous breakdowns.
  • Even if the entire payroll of said agency is assigned to the project with ample time to react, the outcome will be the same.
  • The very definition of a paradox: the more staff one adds to complete a certain task, the longer it takes to be fulfilled.
  • Pathological procrastination?
  • Indecisiveness?
  • Lack of leadership?
  • Sheer folly?
  • Why does it always have to be this stressful?
  • Are we masochists condemned to suffer for our art?
  • Is it a conspiracy by C-Suite sadists to keep the lower levels of the totem pole continually on edge, off balance, on the tip of their toes, unable to discern the urgent from the important?
  • By the way, the phenomenon is not new and has been analyzed.
  • If it serves as some sort of fool’s consolation, it is not privy to the ad business either.
  • There even is a law describing it.
  • The so-called Parkinson’s Law: "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion"
  • The concept was created during the mid 50s in the UK, when a gentleman by the name of Cyril Northcote Parkinson, himself a writer and naval historian, noticed that, despite the fact that the British Empire was shrinking year after year, the payroll of the pompously named Colonial Office kept growing.
  • Exponentially.
  • The first formulation of the law came in the form of a satirical magazine article.
  • As is the case with many new ideas and insights, it was initially concocted in jest.
  • Yet it proved to be empirically and factually true.
  • There’s more where that came from.
  • Noticing that he had struck a chord, the author later wrote a book elaborating on various aspects of bureaucracies and their tendency to metastasize.
  • Mr. Parkinson coined another law: the law of triviality.
  • Large organizations will squander an inordinate amount of time and critical resources addressing trivial issues.
  • Rings a bell?
  • Sure does.
  • I’d say every single pitch or RFP I’ve partaken of fits this description.
  • Which is great if you are a free-lancer on the clock collecting three figures per hour.
  • 90% of the time bickering over minutiae.
  • 10% of the time -when there barely is any time left- to finally select and mock up a sellable idea.
  • A dysfunctional clash of egos, neuroses, agendas, busywork, disparate skills and misplaced survival instincts.
  • Especially the latter.
  • Sure enough, Mr. Parkinson might have been a humorist but he had a keen eye to dig up behavioral insights.
  • In addition to describing the problem he identified its two main drivers:
  • -Managers make work for each other to justify their salaries.
  • -Managers want to multiply subordinates, not rivals.
  • A very human attempt at self-preservation.

 

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