It’s a long way to the top

So I’m about to hit the 12-month mark. On July 17th of this year 365 days will have passed since I stood posing for photographs, fake scroll in hand, forced smile in place, at graduation. A lot has changed since then, and no longer a wet-behind-the-ears graduate, socially awkward (okay, that hasn’t changed, but I’ve long since learnt that’s one social attribute that’s here to stay) with little understanding of agency etiquette, I’ve finally settled in at Savvy.

Which means it’s plain sailing from here, right? Not exactly. Although now free from a world of textbooks, coursework and exam papers, I’ve been launched into one where there’s more to learn than ever. Background reading and booklists are the norm here, and I’ve been recommended every book from industry idols to social media brainboxes; they’ve all got something to say and it’s my job to sit up and listen.

Then there’s digital to stay abreast of. And despite my previous declaration of love for Savvy’s ever-changing speciality, I can’t deny that at times it’s like building castles in the air. Just as I get my head round the latest app fad or newest social platform it’s bumped by something cooler, quicker and equally baffling.

In the short time I’ve been working at Savvy I’ve seen QR codes ousted by iBeacons; Twitter profiles undergo an image overhaul; LED light fixtures that fast-blink coupons to your phone; the first voice-activated banner ads and startling developments in wearable tech. And that’s just last week.

Plain sailing it isn’t. There’s so much to learn. And without exams to work towards or months to spend perfecting my latest piece of work, at times it feels like being stood at the bottom of a very large mountain looking up.

My driving instructor (and there you were thinking I was all grown up) calls this being ‘consciously incompetent’. There are four stages to learning, he says; the first is to be unconsciously incompetent – you don’t know what you don’t know. In essence, you don’t know what you’re missing, so you don’t, or can’t, care. Next there’s conscious incompetency; you’ve become aware of what you don’t know and the learning that lies ahead of you. That’s the scary bit. As you start to make inroads into your task; as you start to succeed in whatever it is you’re learning to do, you’re consciously competent. You’re making progress, but it’s hard work. It takes all your concentration and focus to keep it up. Finally, you become unconsciously competent. This is the one we’re all striving for; you’ve learnt whatever it is you’ve set out to do and can conduct yourself effortlessly.

The nature of our industry means there will probably never be a point where we can sit back, feet up, safe in the knowledge that we’ve covered all bases. Digital for one isn’t slowing down any time soon. Perhaps the best we can hope for as marketing practitioners is to be consciously competent, or even consciously incompetent, for as long as we know what we don’t know we can find out and move on to the next.

And as much as ‘consciously incompetent’ seems like the last thing you’d want to be labelled with, there is a beauty to it. It leaves the door wide open for opportunity. It means there’s no limit to your success, no end point. It might be that the knack is not to self-assess and obsess over what you don’t know, but to concentrate and draw on what you do, leaving one eye open for new and relevant information. That way, piece by piece, you’ve got a shot at getting as far up that mountain as you possibly can. There’s no way to take on board all the information available to us (thank you, Internet) but as Leo Burnett said, “When you reach for the stars, you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handfulof mud either.”

So although yes, there is a lot to learn, there’s also a lot to gain. At Savvy you don’t just drift along throwing in your two-cents worth here and there, you put in the time and you reap the rewards. You might not see it in writing, or receive printed proof of your top marks – we’re past all that. But sometimes all it takes is positive recognition from a global client or big name brand, or to produce a piece of work that you’re particularly, personally proud of. Something you wouldn’t have dreamed you could do a couple of months earlier. I read recently a quote by Dutch-born American editor Edward Bok that not only reinforces this but makes that mountain seem a little less daunting. He said, “A young person, to achieve, must first get out of his mind any notion either of the ease or rapidity of success. Nothing ever just happens in this world.” Makes sense to me.