Quora and, more recently, Forbes have both outlined how The Most Interesting Man in the World, Elon Musk, makes meeting efficiency a science. They are interesting articles that highlight the estimated $37 billion lost in unproductive meetings as well as some precautionary notes about the burnout potential of a company run with Musk’s style.
So, the question is raised: should an agency run more like SpaceX?
Here’s a look at how Musk’s principles apply to an agency (or, at minimum, your digital department):
1. Everyone Participates
Adopting an agile agency model is challenging but rewarding. This requires that the key people who will complete a project meet with the key decision makers from the client side at the beginning of the project. An agile approach puts the responsibility of researching, understanding and solving the business problem on every member of the team. The side effect is that all meetings demand preparation by all parties to ask all the necessary questions to ensure the solution meets the need. The consistent agile check-ins may appear to enable inefficiency, but this fear can be eliminated if meetings are only held when there is a tangible deliverable to present and review.
If agile is a bridge too far, another quick implementation to support preparation is sending briefs to all project team members and allowing everyone enough time to consider their questions prior to a face-to-face kickoff. And, don’t stop there. Share creative decks prior to internal review meetings so team members have a chance to build a list of discussion items before meetings. This shift doesn’t eliminate the need to present a brief or deck to start the meeting, however. Part of the preparation is making sure the context of those materials leads to the right questions, not just a series of non sequiturs.
2. Keep It to First Principles
Discovering and communicating the truth of a product or service is at the core of great advertising, and agencies promise ideas, specifically new ideas. For those reasons, this principle is perhaps the most useful for agency innovation. Keeping the project definition to the basic facts prevents an overly prescriptive brief, recycling past solutions or borrowing equity by removing the easy outs that plague agencies. Even if the first principles method isn’t a good fit as a long-term solution, it’s a great exercise that will force new thinking and strategies to solve a problem from planning to execution.
The benefits of first principles don’t stop with sparking innovation, either. Sticking to only the facts of a project can actually enhance efficiency because of its difficulty. Having alert minds maintaining a high level of discipline greatly reduces distractions by reducing counter-productive first-level concepts, dwelling on past frustrations and failings and keeping high-functioning minds busier with the task at hand. It should be noted that this methodology doesn’t abandon prior experience. Experienced team members have the advantage of bringing more productivity by bringing a deeper library of truths to the table.
3. Look to the Horizon
A room full of uninspired employees is perhaps the second most costly meeting of all (the top offender is still to come). Unfortunately, one of the toughest tasks in advertising is keeping all teams motivated. The grind of day-to-day minutia and ever-evolving feedback has a tendency to get people mentally stuck on tasks within a project. Those small problems disconnect teammates over time and snowball into burnout. As ideas get killed (or worse Frankenstein-ed), it’s the responsibility of the team leaders to maintain that the shared goal never gets lost. This drive in an agency keeps the problem solvers engaged in finding a solution – despite the boundaries – for which they can be proud or, at minimum, live with. Maintaining this energy when a client relationship has gotten off the rails is even harder, but that is when it’s needed most and can be the difference when it comes to keeping valuable accounts and employees.