The cloak of collaboration.

You can find out all the answers to advertising's mysteries by asking questions. Ask the wrong questions though, you'll eventually be labeled a problem child. Despite acting like they have all the answers on a daily basis, no one in advertising really does. And a direct question is often seen as an offensive assault.

At my last agency a very vocal planner insisted we include interactive print in our presentations, despite focus groups showing consumers had zero desire for ad interaction. After weeks of asking "why are we doing this," the planner finally told me tell me he knew no one would ever interact with the interactive ad we're creating "But I want us to get talked about in Wired." Despite the fact neither client, nor creative, nor account wanted it, one person rammed it down our throats.

And it was all thanks to The Cloak Of Collaboration.™ What a marvelous buzzword, collaboration. It's positive! Inclusive! Anyone can join in! All for the Greater Good! Truth is, The Cloak Of Collaboration™ is nothing more than the same old behavior under a smarmy new skin. If decisions are awarded to the loudest in the room, if everyone is kowtowing to the biggest title, if one person is strong-arming, it's not collaboration. It's passive aggressive leadership as usual.

If you are working in a truly collaborative agency, you know it because it's a perfect ecosystem. Everyone feels valued, needed, and wanted. Leaders encourage as they lead. Even if they're the ultimate decision makers, they never make it feel like a one man show. They let you do your job. As a result, you do your job. The work becomes better, and workers can't wait to get to work and hang out with each other.

For an agency wearing The Cloak Of Collaboration,™ it's more like this: Leaders insist in the name of collaboration that you attend every last time-suck meeting. Yet all major decisions have been made by a select few by the time you get there. Tribal wars break out with one department pitted against the other. All of this takes place behind closed doors, of course. Because in every time-suck meeting, people sit around smiling nervously, listening to one person talk. Usually the talk revolves around how everyone needs to step up and become more collaborative. This talk is always given by one person who never stops talking. So the cycle continues. Everyone gets discouraged. And as a consequence, the work is bad, and you have no desire to show up for work, let alone hang out with coworkers you don't trust anyway.

It's hard to achieve and maintain the proper collaborative ecosystem because of egos, poor leadership and assholes. No one said it would be easy. But collaboration is sometimes the most important thing worth fighting for. It makes the work (and our lives) much better.

Try this:: if your agency has suddenly decreed a new way of doing things, or if you're on an agency interview, don't let The Cloak Of Collaboration™ fool you. Ask a lot of questions, even at risk of being labeled a problem child. Keep your eyes and ears open. And above all, your nose. Because no matter what they're calling it this week, bullshit always smells the same.

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