What I Learned This Year: Eleven Inc.’s Courtney Buechert

By Egotist / /


11 Things I Learned (or relearned) This Year

I think that 2013 will turn out to be the year that Eleven grew up in a lot of ways. We had been fortunate in many ways but fate caught us in 2012. As the new year dawned, we had to really think hard about who were are and who we wanted to be. And what I learned about the agency, the business and myself this past year will probably shape me forever. Here are a few things that stood out:

1. The old ways really don’t work any more: Seems obvious but the way we grew up working is so slow, so one-dimensional and so expensive that it just can’t deliver at todays pace of business. The good news is that if you like to make things, if you like to experiment, to explore, break rules and test your own instincts, this is your time.

2. Many of the old things always work: While the way we make things is forever changed, our remarkable ability to reach inside and move people remains as powerful as ever. As an industry, we remain uniquely good at this and you can see it in your clients’ eyes when you show them work you love.

3. Never give up (if you really want it): We had a very bizarre experience where we lost a really big pitch twice and ended up getting the business. It wasn’t because the clients couldn’t make up their mind or because our competition failed, it was because our argument and our passion exceeded our jammed out pitch work. In the end, the clients knew that we would not stop until we had work we loved and they hired us.

4. You don’t always really want it: There were a number of businesses that sounded really, really awesome and we were sure we wanted them. Badly. But we didn’t get them – only to find out after the fact that the clients were in turmoil, or crazy, or just wanted things that were different than we would have done for them. I have said that we dodged a bullet more than once in 2013.

5. Let the wonderful people in your agency do their jobs: We work so hard to find, attract and hire talented people who fit our culture but it’s amazing how we unintentionally limit them once they join. The single biggest factor in all the successes of 2013 came from the unleashing of these people; inviting them into to help solve problems or create new work rather than trying to direct them.

6. Agency people eat the best food in the world (and the worst): I have been lucky enough to eat at some of the best restaurants in SF and the country this year. But I have also eaten someone else’s pizza crust the morning after they left it in the kitchen. And I doubt I am the only one who did this. What the hell is wrong with us?

7. Really good work is hard: This is not a new lesson; it gets drilled into me year in and year out. You have to dive so deep, care so much and try so many things to get to some place that is really good. And then, there are thousands of ways for it to die and only a few ways for it to live. So you can’t ever stop or let up for a second. Really, really hard.

8. Great work is magical: Amongst the really hard work, there are things that appear from the inspiration and talents of the people around you that feel like a gift from the heavens. It might be a simple thought, a juxtaposed emotion, a piece of music or a clip of video. Pure. Powerful. Perfect. And you are instantly reminded that all the hard work isn’t really that hard.

9. I could not survive without kids or pets: No knock on spouses, partners or best friends, but kids and pets love you no matter how late you are, how lame you are or how great you are. You get to just be you.

10. Never say “never”: Cliché for sure. But earlier this year I told the agency that we would never move from the great offices that the agency was founded in. And almost as soon as I said it, everything changed and we are moving.

11. It can still make me laugh out loud and cry in public: I’m getting older, and wiser and I think I should be getting more cynical. But when the team showed me the “Hello human kindness” work for Dignity Health, I had tears running down my cheeks because it touched my heart.

This stuff we all do still works. (Phew)

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Courtney Buechert is the CEO of Eleven Inc.

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