Greg Hahn on the beauty of purpose with a lowercase ‘p’

Want your agency staff to be inspired? Mischief’s Greg Hahn explains why purpose at the agency level makes talent feel more like builders of cathedrals versus mundane bricklayers.

There is a form of punishment that used to be used on prisoners, which has since been outlawed and declared torture.

The punishment was simply this: every morning the prisoners would go out into the field and dig a ditch for eight hours. At the end of the eight hours, they would have to fill the ditch back in with the dirt they removed. Every day, day in and day out.

The reason it was determined to be torture was not due to the physical nature of the task, but the mental. The sheer futility of the effort drove the prisoners mad.

There are creatives in massive agencies all over the world nodding their heads and thinking: “I feel you.”

The feeling that all your work was for naught is deflating. Knowing that all your future work will be for naught is debilitating.

Yes, we’ve all had those tough times and hard accounts. But what separates the burnt-out from the fired-up? The answer, I believe, is purpose.

Not ‘change the world’ Purpose, but lowercase ‘p’ purpose. Understanding why you are there. At that particular job. In advertising, it’s about understanding what your agency stands for. And how everything you do can contribute to that.

Let’s look at this another way.

Imagine you are a bricklayer. Your task is to stack bricks on top of each other. If all you believe about your job is that you are stacking bricks on top of each other, how passionate or inspired would you be after day three?

Now imagine the same job, but you understand you are not simply stacking bricks – you are building a cathedral.

You imagine the wide eyes and audible gasps when people walk in. You think about the lives that will change inside the walls. The memories that structure will imprint on thousands of minds. You begin to view things differently when you understand the purpose of your efforts.

Purpose can mark the difference between a laborer and a craftsperson.

Now, swish-pan back to advertising. It seems very few agencies have a defined purpose, or more outwardly, an obvious brand.

Today, in the midst – or maybe the beginning – of the Great Resignation (don’t make me buzzword again), knowing what your agency stands for and why you are there has never been more important.

People have a need to be a part of something bigger than themselves. To contribute to a mission. Not to get all ‘Sapiens,’ but it’s hardwired in our survival DNA.

When you know what you are doing is adding to the mission, there is no wasted effort. Sure, things may not always go the way you want – work dies, pitches get lost – but if you are staying true to yourselves, if it’s in service to the bigger mission, it’s all footsteps forward on the path to progress.

As an agency leader, the street runs both ways (sorry for the metaphorical traffic snarl, but you get what I’m saying). Your role in this is paramount. If you want people to believe in and support the bigger vision, you have to believe in and support them. To give them the freedom to fail, but also the freedom to excel. To make sure they are growing, learning and producing work they are excited about. And to give them space to breathe when they need it.

Magical things can happen when people understand why they are here and why their work matters. Instead of feeling like they are digging futile holes, they start looking for ways to turn ditches into the foundations of beautiful cathedrals.

Greg Hahn is co-founder and chief creative officer at Mischief @ No Fixed Address.

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