Weeknote 0002

A thought about weeknotes, why they’d be valuable for agencies and yet why they’ll never adopt them, follows below.

So I’ve been doing a bunch of research in recent weeks into the automotive market and its aspirations to move from product manufacture to service provider.

  • And these days CES is a car show. Almost all manufacturers are augmenting their tin boxes with digital services of some kind. But I’ve noticed two things.
  • First, all the initial predictions (circa 2015 or so) about connected vehicles predicted growing demand at a rate that never materialised.
  • Second, the considerable majority of those who have adopted them think the experience is bad.
  • The big consultancies that made all these big predictions don’t mention how off they were, but are now preaching that the future of automotive depends on selling subscriptions rather than tin boxes.
  • It still seems like a blinkered view of how automotive, or perhaps mobility, will move onwards. It’s as if everyone’s trying to solve problems that aren’t problems. Does anyone even want a self-driving car? Driving the thing is the good bit. I can’t imagine why someone would buy, insure, park and maintain a car and then hand off the driving to a computer. Seems entirely backwards. Anyway.

Onto other things.

  • I’ve also been doing some brand essence and positioning work again. Nice to be deep in the details of something like this. There are always many thorny contradictions through which to work.
  • Watched Get Back again. Glyn Johns is staggeringly glamourous all the time. Be more Glyn Johns.
  • I love Mastodon. Running my own instance is the right setup for me, but with the drawback that the federated timeline was blank. Then I discovered the FediBuzz Relay as a means of synthesising the buzz of a thumping great instance.
  • I have this nagging, malformed theory that Elon Musk might be the world’s greatest philanthropist: he’s used his fortune to cripple a toxic, abusable, politically-destablising and unregulated platform while there’s still time. Although he also keeps stacking up contradictory evidence. But maybe, I dunno, he’s bluffing?

Bass notes

  • I’ve been practicing on my new bass daily. I think you get further by practicing little and often, as opposed to a heads-down cram on a Sunday. I’ve been following the lessons that work has sponsored. It all starts with technique exercises. Feels less unnatural every day.
  • I can sort of roughly play Sweet Home Alabama to a recognisable standard. It’s the archetypal beginners’ bass lick: straightforward plucking pattern, not too many notes and plenty of time between the notes to move around the fretboard while that is not yet instinctive. Nice shootin’, Tex!

Why agencies don’t do weeknotes

Adland/digital/product agency people are not in the habit of keeping weeknotes. You might think it’d be a useful convention to introduce. But, I can tell you categorically that you should not waste an iota of consciousness or effort trying to do this: it’ll never, ever work.

Agencies talk of innovation and ideas and creativity and the future, but are starkly conservative. That leads them to sell talent by the metre as opposed to by the value it could bring: it’s a model so flawed that, like democracy, it’s a frustration there’s nothing better that could be implemented in its place. Well, there are other models that would work in theory, but it never, ever, ever works for real because clients simply won’t buy it. The only way clients will agree to buy agency talent is by the metre, and that is the fundamental cause of agency conservatism.

All that leads to one thing: timesheets. The gold, what little there is, is in them there timesheets. In every agency I’ve ever worked, there is a near-constant collective monologue about job codes, traffic management and timesheets. This reaches a head at the end of the week, as timesheets need to be put in. Typically, this administrative task enters the pre-frontal cortex on Friday at about 4pm, and then begins the labourious task of trying to reconsile whatever it was you did over the last five days.

Timesheets are weirdly taxing because they demand a fidelity of recall that doesn’t suit the way we remember things. Our memories are connected to the feelings we had. It’s easier to recall how you felt about something than what you did about something. This is what makes human memory so fallable. Change the feeling: change the memory.

Anyway, that’s the crux of why agency people don’t keep weeknotes: it’s the switch of mental mode. Timesheets demand a mode of logical guesswork that requires us to suppress all thoughts of what went well, what we learned, what was fun or how valuable something was. Then mode-switching back to emotional recall is just as mentally expensive. So, agencies will never, ever keep weeknotes. Even if there were some internal drive for it, it wouldn’t stick. Unless someone could construct an AI that you could feed emotional memory in the form of weeknotes and it could map the effort or value back to the billings. Hashtag free idea.

This all ladders up to the power imbalance between agencies and clients, as almost everything about agencies ultimately does. Clients aren’t at fault, but they do have the casting vote in any decision. It means there’s a constant downward pressure on price while general fannying about on both sides increases the cost of service. The squeeze in the middle causes the enthusiasm for reconsiling working hours regardless of value. Perversely, if clients insisted on receiving weeknotes like they do for financial transparency, they’d benefit enormously. It would encourage the agency to balance its collective attention between the money charged and the value returned. Anyway, won’t happen, don’t even try.

Perhaps to disprove all this, I like putting in my timesheets. It keeps me honest. The cruelty is that the work gets done largely outside the periods of time in which my timesheets record. All too often I’ll spend an unhealthy proportion of the ‘working’ day staring blankly at a problem or fiddling in the margins. Then at 4am I’ll wake with a solid idea. Then I’ll have to reach for the laptop to capture it, trying to make up the time lost fannying around during the day before the idea sailed in.

I’m careful to make my timesheets accurate, but there’s accuracy and then there’s accuracy. They could not feasibly reflect both the fannying-around time and the real, valuable work because it was impossible to predict where and when the lightning would strike when whatever project was costed up. I’d love there to be a line-item in the proposal for ‘fiddling around writing fairly unsatisfying bullet points on a PowerPoint chart while waiting for the magic to happen’. But clients wouldn’t buy that level of honesty either.

If this were a snappy LinkedIn post, this last bit would be a rallying cry for rethinking the model. But I’ve not put this here with any expectation it’ll change. Rather, by recording it, I never have to think about it again.