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February 12, 2010
2010: The Year of the Underdog
 

It's 2010. The Year of the Underdog. The year that often follows The Year of The Big Shakedown. The Year of The Big Shakedown is also referred to as The Year that The Coasters Became Toast.

You know who the Coasters are. They do the bare minimum to get by. They never push for that extra 10% that takes something from good to "OMG you did this?!!?"

They don't think about their clients after the bell rings. They don't offer solutions that no one is expecting. They can't tell you the bare minimum details that one would expect someone to know about their clients.

They either don't notice that things could be better, or they notice but they don't care, or they notice and care, just not enough to be bothered.

"It's not my job. I pay people for that." Common refrains of The Coaster.

Super Coasters are those Coasters with extremely elaborate titles, who manage to take the least amount of risk, and avoid as much responsibility as possible. They're coasting remember?

Super Coasters are very good at training. Through observation, young wannabes begin to believe that in order to be a monetary success, it's best to be a Coaster. Thereby perpetuating the Coaster lineage, beyond their own company so it can infect an entire industry.

They don't attend award shows. They don't study the work.

Coasters usually don't have an opinion. Opinions are extremely time consuming to create, and when expressed, often dangerous.

Best to say nothing.

Coasters are often loathe to innovate. Things are fine the way they are, they've been like this for a long time, nothing is broken so why fix it, everyone else is doing it this way, the clients won't notice, it's too much work, it costs too much money. I'm tired, leave me alone.

Coasters can come in human form. Coasters can also come in the form of a business. Coasters can also be as large as an entire industry.

Coasters like to tell each other lies. It makes everyone feel better.

Coasters are created by fear. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of change. Fear of jeopardizing everything.
And what Coasters fear more than anything, is being exposed.

There is no one better to expose a Coaster, than an Underdog.

Which is why Coasters go out of their way, to silence the Underdogs. To attempt to chip away at their credibility. With sounds like, "Pffft" and exaggerated exhales and rolling of the eyes.

Underdogs challenge the status quo of The Coaster.
What Coasters haven't yet realized is they undermine their own status quo every day by Coasting.

Don't tell them.
It's better for The Underdog.

While Coasters are Coasting and convincing themselves that everything is okay the way it is, Underdogs are busy changing everything. For themselves. For their families. For their companies. For their industry.

Underdogs don't fear change. They create change!

Underdogs don't care about rules. Underdogs re-write rules.

They don't care how long something has been done a certain way, they only care if it works that way.
If it doesn't, they fix it.

Underdogs care more than anyone. They know every detail matters. They notice what the Coasters do not want to see, and they do something about it. They do what they believe to be the right thing to do. Not the easy thing. They make the tough decisions. They take responsibility. If they say Wednesday, it's Wednesday.

They save their creativity for their work, not for making excuses for their work.

They speak up. They are not afraid to be despised. Because they are not afraid to be despised, they are often loved.
They tell the truth. For which they are often both despised, and loved.

Because they tell the truth, they are trusted.

While Coasters are telling themselves, "It's a phase, it won't last." , Underdogs innovate first to respond to "phases" and eat the Coasters' lunches. And breakfasts and dinners.

When the Coasters finally realize the "phase IS here to stay" they scramble to catch up. But the Underdog is already on to the next thing - because they've learned by doing, not by going to conferences, what the next thing will be, and they'll be there first.

Underdogs learn by failing. Underdogs learn by doing. Underdogs learn by investing. Both time and money. First and foremost in themselves. Then they take their best selves and join Underdog companies that transform Coaster industries into Underdog industries.

Instead of trying to create what clients want, Underdogs create what clients need.

Despite what clients may be saying, Underdogs know that clients don't want cheaper solutions. They want solutions that will make everyone rich and famous. Underdogs understand that clients who complain about price are often only complaining about price in the absence of an ability to articulate something more tangible or constructive. "You're too expensive." is 101. Underdogs can read between the lines.

Underdogs understand that clients come to them for expertise so they become experts.

When Coasters stop hiring, Underdogs start hiring. When Coasters sacrifice talent to maintain their margins, Underdogs sacrifice margin to deepen their bench strength.

Underdogs believe in themselves. They believe in their companies. They believe in their bosses. Because Underdogs don't lie to each other. They tell each other the truth. When it's great, they celebrate. When it's bad, they make it better. They believe they can. And more than that, they want to.

The great thing about Underdogs is that it doesn't take a lot of them to undo the workings of many Coasters. Also worth noting, is that Underdogs don't give up easily. It's what makes them an Underdog. Underdogs don't want it all overnight, but they do want it all, and they're prepared to do the work to get it.

Underdogs are who we all want to be.
Because we know that sooner or later, the Underdog always wins.
And when the Underdog wins, they win big, and they win for the long term.

Why is 2010 The Year of the Underdog? Because 2009 was the Year when the majority decided things had to change. Clients voted with their pocketbook. They rejected the status quo. They forced agencies to make the changes they had been putting off. To re-tool. To get relevant. To stop with the explanations and excuses already. I'm bored.

The industry exposed The Coasters. We all know what they look like now, how they behave, what they say, what they do and what they don't do. It's harder and harder for them to hide.

The industry is screaming for The Underdog. Clients want to hire them. Agencies want to hire them. The best talent wants to work for them.

Who are you going to be in 2010? Who are you going to work for? Who are you going to hire? What kind of company are you going to create? What kind of creative are you going to create? What kind of creative are you going to buy? What kind of people do you want creating work for your business, for your client's business, for you?

A Coaster?
Or an Underdog?

Your choice.


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Heidi Ehlers is The Career Coach for The Creative Class, an expert on helping creative leaders excel, find their leadership voice, and flourish. www.heidiconsults.com
www.diaryofacreativedirector.com.
www.heidiconsults.com
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