Step Two in Building a Campfire Agency: What vs. Why.

what vs. why

I set a goal of writing a five step process to building a campfire agency. Five steps that would fundamentally change the way to build a creative agency. So I started with Step One. Now that I’m on Step Two, I realize that relying on steps to create a campfire agency is pointless. And part of being in a campfire agency is to realize when you’re wrong.

But some good did come out of all of this… I realized why it was so challenging (and wrong) to write a point-by-point checklist on making a campfire agency. It’s because there are no “points;” there are essentially two questions: what and why.

What agencies are focused on everything what: what they do, what your role is, what their philosophy is, what their culture is, what what what. This is a great way to create a company of people that do specific things, follow the rules, undervalue the opportunity of risk, and are afraid of failure. What is a good question to ask, but it shouldn’t be the first question.

Go past what to why. Why your company exists. Why believe in a philosophy and direction. Why be passionate, and why care about all of this. It’s about asking deeper questions and making meaning. I completely agree with Guy Kawasaki in the video below. Apparently we’re as naive and romantic as Guy is…

Way back on April 1st, J. left a comment about the campfire. He asked about hierarchy vs. flat structure, how a “workforce who has generally very specialized skills and expertise, generate such thought cross pollenation” and “what happens when things go south and what are the ramifications when they do?”

Hierarchy or flat structure, specialized skills, and ramifications don’t define whether your agency is a campfire or not. We have both hierarchy and flat structure, specialized skills, and ramifications for when things go wrong. The difference is we have asked why about each of these things instead of what they are. Why is hierarchy and flat structure necessary for our business and our brand, and how will it make us succeed? Why should we have specialized skills within our culture of creative generalists, and how can they strengthen cross pollination and collaborative thinking? Why did things go south and what can we learn in order to fail forward?

Why should we punish (ramifications) for mistakes instead of asking why we should embrace failure? We have the belief that everyone here is accountable for everything we do. We’re constantly asking ourselves, “why is this important, and why will this help us reach our goal to create great digital brand experiences, and do it better than anyone else?” If it doesn’t answer that goal, we don’t do it. But if it does, we do it all the way.

Are we going to get it right every time? Probably not. But if we don’t ask, we’ll never try. A why agency is a culture that fosters this belief. Everyone is responsible, no matter how much or how little they’re involved. Because everyone is involved in everything. Which I guess is a much shorter way of answering the comment… it’s combining passion and trust to make people care, to feel involved at every level.

You can’t create a step-by-step process for why. Why is emotion+thinking; it’s a combination of beliefs, logic and spirit, and those aren’t steps. Why is the reason you start, build and guide a company. Why is easy to ask; what’s the harm in asking? The hard part is having the guts to back up your answer, your why. Why companies aren’t built on what, they’re built on beliefs. And beliefs take guts. If it was easy, everyone would do it.

Passion and beliefs. Courage, adventure and integrity. “Make meaning” isn’t a business plan, it’s a raison d’être.

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