Last week I had an absolute ball running a session for the Agency Hackers community on our Agency Radar forecasts of inflation and recession.
Sounds bizarre to enjoy that, doesn't it? But, to me, it was energising.
I wanted to write about the weird optimism I feel, behind the pessimism about the global outlook — after all, I'm also forecasting this will be a golden age for agencies.
I struggled for a few days with the words, when serendipity provided me the way. An email arrived from the blogger Noah Smith in which he quotes the philosopher Antonio Gramsci on how he was “a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will”:
You must realize that I am far from feeling beaten…it seems to me that… a man out to be deeply convinced that the source of his own moral force is in himself — his very energy and will, the iron coherence of ends and means — that he never falls into those vulgar, banal moods, pessimism and optimism. My own state of mind synthesises these two feelings and transcends them: my mind is pessimistic, but my will is optimistic. Whatever the situation, I imagine the worst that could happen in order to summon up all my reserves and will power to overcome every obstacle.
And that says perfectly what I love about great entrepreneurs, especially those in the adventurous terrain of agency land.
Yes, plenty of agency owners are the 'crushing it, smashing it' type who always appear to be up, thinking they need to portray pure optimism and fake it 'til they make it — so they find it hard to frankly face up to problems. And of course the people at the far pessimistic end of the scale never start an agency in the first place.
But most leaders I meet are thoughtful, wise, frank and open people capable of being both "pessimistic because of intelligence, and optimistic because of will".
And this is where true hope is, I believe. This is real entrepreneurship. Being able to see what's wrong, where the problems are going to come from — and having the will to make it all good.
This was demonstrated by a question in the webinar from an agency founder I respect highly, in which he half-joked that maybe he's crazy for planning to grow his agency in this coming economic storm. I don't think that's crazy at all. I think that's great agency leadership, to both know big problems are coming, and have big positive plans based on that reality.
So that's the challenge this week. Embracing both those aspects in your self. Let your intelligence go wild with exploring what could be problematic in the next year, but let this knowledge fire up your will to build a great agency to be proud of.
- Get started by exploring the Agency Radar (the intro is free to all, with more detailed analysis for Convivio subscribers but that's only £225/mo so only total pessimists would think they weren't going to get enough value to make it worthwhile — with the Radar, the Playbook, monthly 'office hours' calls with me, and more, so just subscribe 😜 )
- Then use our radar to map out your own radar for your agency, with some ideas on how to do that here. We also offer in-agency workshops for your board and/or exec team, to help you dig into our research, do your own horizon scan and factor the insights into your strategic planning.
- Get fired up about your purpose and ambitions all over again. Your clients need you more than ever. They need you to be the trusted adviser who shows them what's ahead and prepares them for it. Procurements will go quiet, and that's not going to be the way to win business now — being their go-to wise head is going to be the way. Fire up your will power all over again. There are great opportunities ahead, for those who can see ahead.
- Read the blog post by Noah Smith on how to stay optimistic in these dark times with the quote on optimism and pessimism. The book Hope In The Dark by activist Rebecca Solnit is also a good read on this. Convivio subscribers can read my summary of the book and how agency leaders can adopt its lessons.
- My colleague Joe Baker has written a two part series on the challenges of leading an agency in a time of high inflation (which most CEOs have never experienced before), and some ideas of what you can do about it.
- In next week's newsletter we'll dial up the will-power part of this equation. In your inbox next Monday morning.
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