The notifications on the LinkedIn app have been going crazy over the past week and it turns out the cause is that most important of occasions, the LinkedIN anniversary! Apparently it is ten years since I set up We Are MC2 and, if a week is a long time in politics then a decade must be near an eternity in digital… When I set up the company the digital world was excited by the launch of the Google+ social network and the launch of the first Amazon Kindle. I have, at least, outlasted one of those.
I’m not sure about the title of the blog, it feels a bit clickbaity and a stretch of the truth. I have never been a consultant at a top ten firm and I suspect they do things very differently to how we do them. When I left Age UK ten years ago the only thing I knew was that if I was going to be a consultant I would try to be one that I would want to work with. I did not want to be the kind who turns up in a sharp suit, sells a dream and then leaves in a puff of aftershave.
So this piece might be more accurately entitled ten things I have learned working with all sorts of digital teams over the last decade.
- Be the consultant you wish you could work with – being a Head of Digital can be both fantastic (there’s nothing like being at the centre of change to keep you interested in what you’re doing) and an incredibly hard and stressful job. We all know the common challenges of being overworked, under-resourced, brokering resource battles and having literally everyone have an opinion on your work.
During the merger years, Age UK was definitely both brilliant and also incredibly hard and felt at times like turning the Titanic. I never tried to turn it single-handedly but worked with a brilliant team of people – both internal and external – whose expertise I trusted and who had high levels of integrity and experience. We debated strategy and approach, tried innovative ways of working and developed an ambitious roadmap together. More importantly, when things were tough, we stood in the trenches together. I still think of them when working on projects and I hope I make the sort of contribution they did.
- Honesty is the only policy – whenever you walk into a new organisation in the third or public sector you can guarantee, if you have been around a while, that you will know at least one person who works there or – at worst- know someone who knows someone….. So reputation is, literally, everything if you want to stay in business and develop long-term relationships with clients. And long-term relationships are the best; build trust and confidence in each other and the work you can do together becomes more and more interesting.
- You can not know everything, don’t try to – like many first gen (aka old) digital people, I remember when you could build, edit and market your own site through the miracle of HTML and a modem. But, like dial-up connections and Dreamweaver, such things are now firmly in the past. Now digital ranges from Crypto and cyber security to content engagement. There is no way you can know everything and it’s important to know what you do not know. If, on top of that, you can add a network so that when you don’t know something you can find someone who does then that helps hugely. There are very few problems that someone in the sector has not already solved.
- Build your house from bricks – often my job involves trying to persuade senior teams that investing more in digital is the strategically right thing to do. That’s a hard thing to do because change is difficult for organisations and it can be painful when resources are moved from one area to another. Those senior teams are charged with not making decisions lightly and if they are doing their job well they will ask you very difficult questions. When they do that you don’t want to be the little pig with the straw. If you want to convince people to go through the big bad wolf of change then you need to be the little pig with the bricks of data and insight.
- Train like a pro athlete – ok, not really, generally speaking I train like a snail and have been overtaken whilst out running by an elderly chihuahua. Athletes train so that they can sell their physical prowess and work hard to keep it in an optimum condition. If you are a consultant then all you have to sell is what is between your ears and you should try to keep that as fit as you can – so that it can at least get out of the starting blocks at a pace faster than an elderly chihuahua. Read books, go to talks and events, listen to podcasts and debate ideas with other digital folks.
- Walk your dog – I don’t suppose even Einstein could have managed too many great thoughts after a day of having his soul sucked by the dementor that is Microsoft Teams. Obviously I am not comparing myself to Einstein but rather saying that if your nose is permanently at the grindstone you will never get any perspective. Taking some time to let your mind connect the dots and to reflect on big issues without pressure often provides different solutions. I’m always amazed the way things can suddenly fall into place whilst I am out walking the dog (she’s great at digital).
- Leave more behind you than paper – I once got called into a charity who had just had a major consulting firm deliver their strategy. They had paid a lot for this work but they simply didn’t have the money, the skills or the time to implement it. That said, it was beautifully presented and everyone agreed that if only it were possible it would be great! I can’t think of anything more soul destroying than spending your life crafting beautiful strategies that no one can execute and which grow old and dusty on a shelf. Instead, we try to focus on giving teams a plan to execute, a way to evaluate and iterate that should see them grow long after we have gone.
- Get your geek on – way back in the 90s, when I built my first commercial website, you could sit at your desk having a cigarette, listening to Blur and coding in Perl and HTML and you could do everything yourself. Times have changed but those early days of digital provided a grounding in how tech works that really helps (and which I try to keep a bit up to date). That knowledge of how the various components come together is hugely helpful in trying to put the jigsaw pieces of a roadmap together and I’d recommend everyone in digital to build their own website and sharpen their tech skills.
- One and done – we all want to be as efficient as possible and, when your time really is your money it sharpens the focus on what does and doesn’t drain the hours. Unnecessary iteration loops are a rabbit hole of lost time and client unhappiness, so you need to do something that may seem counter-intuitive and invest time upfront to ensuring you have understood everything they have said and have taken them with you as you have worked your way through the project. Getting it ‘right first time’ will be worth that heavier initial investment as it’s overall more time efficient and leaves everyone happier and less stressed.
- The simple way to work shorter days – being your own boss… living the dream… a perfect work/life balance…. I know many people think consultancy is the fast track to a utopia which involves short days and big bucks. I have no idea how to achieve that but, for me at least, I have found a way to make the days seem shorter. Choose your projects wisely, work on things you are passionate about and with people that you like and respect. I have found that getting any of those things wrong can make the days considerably longer and making good choices is, I suspect, why after ten years there is literally no job I would rather do.
Finally, as it is ten years, a personal thank-you to everyone who has made it an incredible experience. It’s been great to be a part of the little team at MC2 and a part of bigger teams working alongside clients to deliver amazing work that could only have been done collaboratively.
I won’t name check those who have helped, worked with and supported for the list would be long and I would worry that I would miss important people out. But there is one person without whom this would not have been possible.
One of the many things people have asked over the years is why the name MC2. Ten years ago, sat in a pub with my dad, I talked about setting up a company and I was nervous. He offered to be the company secretary and smoothed the path by telling me that if it didn’t work out he’d ensure I didn’t starve. I am a weekend science book reader and I loved the idea of digital change as a form of energy (e=MC2) but the original idea came from two McCormacks sitting in a pub trying to think of a name. He’s not around anymore, having passed away a few years ago, but on this tenth anniversary I know there would be no MC2 without MC1.