Minakshi MenonPublished: 3 Mar 2019, 7:18 PM
Guest Article

"Paint nuts orange..."

... says our guest author, in an essay about the value of resourcefulness.

The Volvo Ocean Race is one of the world's greatest endurance sports. It is 70,000 kilometres long. The sailing teams are highly trained and equipped with the best safety and communication systems money can buy. But out there, in the open water, there is no telling what will come at them without warning: rogue waves, debris, large marine life, mechanical failures, injury, illness... So each sailor learns to do more than sail; each person brings with them the acceptance that it is up to them and they will find a way. They know that all the skill and training in the world will not help in a crisis if they are not also resourceful. Or as Forbes magazine puts it "...the qualities of focus, optimism and determination have always been considered a premium for this long-distance venture."

"Paint nuts orange..."

Minakshi Menon

As I put together a crew of my own for quite another kind of endurance race in my office, 3000 feet above sea level, I channel the skippers of those boats. I search from interview to interview for that quality I have respected in people I have worked with over the years. Every agency has these heroes. Behind every Cannes Lion or D&AD Pencil are intrepid men and women in suits who helped carry an idea across the line.

I remember an incredibly complicated SMS game that a copywriter dreamed up in a world before smartphones and social media. It needed to run for weeks, expected consumers to not only stay engaged with just one SMS a day but also spend their own money on that SMS. It was expensive, impossible, unthinkable - except it had an Account Director willing to run with it. So it not only got done but was also a success.

Today, our business is more reliant than ever on creativity, innovation and agility. Media channels multiply daily, trends shift hourly, consumer feedback arrives in real-time on public platforms. The pressures our clients are under are correspondingly greater. As their budgets shrink and their targets grow more challenging, they need agency counterparts who will stand up and say - "I'm with you, let's go". In a turbulent ocean of data, mantras, must-dos, and metrics, we and they have need of enterprising people on deck, with plain, old-fashioned can-do attitudes.

It's been called many things and markets itself as "new age" - the entrepreneurial mindset, positive thinking, mind power - but it's been around since the first human who looked at a stone and visualised it as a tool. Resourceful people adapt quickly to new or difficult situations. They have the ingenuity to make do with what there is, the imagination to create alternatives and the will to find a way. Those who are born with it are pushy, scrappy powerhouses who roll with the punches and get it done. Whatever it is, whatever it takes.

The good news for the rest of us is that it can be learnt. It's both a mindset and a skill. Think about your own problem-solving processes and change your perspective to "will do it" rather than "should do it". Practise being optimistic about your work - fake it if needed, until you actually feel it. When you are faced with something impossible, change your inner dialogue to "how about if..." Don't take the first "no" as the last word. When you come to a barrier, change direction rather than stop moving.

When McLaren won seven Formula One titles in 2012, it was, of course, the superb driving by Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. But it was also because their pit stops had been transformed by someone who persisted until he found a solution.

In the run-up to that season, the pit crew was taking an average of 4.5 seconds to change a tyre - this was too slow to win. So McLaren's chief engineer went beyond engineering for answers. He brought in a sports analyst who worked with athletes. His wide-ranging, minute analysis revealed an unexpected problem - the pit crew were looking in the wrong place when the car came in; if they just watched the wheels and nuts they would gain precious seconds. One of the simplest recommendations to help this along was to paint the nuts orange to make it easier to focus on them.

Most importantly, the pit crew were now looked at from a different perspective - as elite athletes. The mechanical training became part of a larger one that included physical training, team choreography and mental preparedness. On July 22 that year, at the German Grand Prix, they got Button's car out of the pit in 2.31 seconds, setting a new record for the fastest pit stop. Ferrari happened to win that particular race, but I am sure there was jubilation anyway in the McLaren camp.

Resourceful leaders focus on the task to be done, not the consequences of it, even under pressure. So they will go out and find the experts and the skills needed to make it happen. And if one method doesn't work, they are unafraid of trying wildly different ones. This is especially important in our business when we often only know where we need to get to, not how to get there. A side effect of this is also high job satisfaction because you prize daily achievements as much as awards.

Success is not a linear progression; it is usually a tangle of snakes and ladders. Having the inner resources to navigate this can be the most important thing an advertising person brings to the table. In that sweet spot in a Venn diagram where enthusiasm, resourcefulness and skill intersect, an agency and a client could live happily ever after.

(Minakshi Menon is senior vice president and office head, GREY Bangalore).