Team Talk: Jane Burhop and James Crawley
James and I met 10 years ago when we both still had Blockbuster video memberships. For the last 7 and a bit years, we started and now run the creative company, Common Ventures. Neither of us have rented a DVD since. Similar to video stores and Pandas, our happiness quickly became a threatened species.
When the 2000’s hit their teens, our business grew and strangely, so did our scepticism. Our creative partnership had morphed into 2 very different and diverse roles, but like the infamous stretch armstrong, we always came back to meet in the middle.
The full-mouth, sandwich squished lunchtime advice. The 'My Uber's 2 minutes away, but....' lifesaver. The '6 laps of the same block' breakdown. The ‘Park bench’ brainstorm. The 'Can I run something by you’ 2-hour phone call. It’s taken over a decade and a myriad of mishaps for James and I to realise that the person who isn’t caught up in the details is the one who can offer the most clarity and encouragement.
Confirming this theory, I had to message a friend: What is the name of the duck you talk to at work?
They have a non-judgemental plastic mallard that is always up for a chat. The duck's sole purpose is to listen to other people's problems. The team are encouraged to pull the drake aside and talk through the nitty-gritty of their issues in an effort to find a quicker solution. Picture the duck as the highly, under-qualified work psychologist. The very act of articulating out aloud what their mind is running through dissolves the ifs, buts and wtfs. Genius.
I'm not trying to strong arm you into convincing your COO to buy the office a duck (go onnnnn), but rather pointing out that talking things through with your work-wife, boss, or, if you're one of the lucky ones, resident waterfowl – will only do your attitude a world of good. Throughout the years, James has been the duck I never had.
The thought of a bunch of professionals having a D&M with an inanimate object is a hilarious scene, but the act of actually having a chat actually takes a lot of guts.
Be okay with being uncomfortable as being uncomfy is something you'll be quite a lot. This discomfort will give you an injection of naivety that keeps you curious and foolish.
It's not that it will always work out, it's going into a shitty situation, an impossible problem or sweat-inducing environment with the confidence and knowledge that you'll be able to make it work. Somehow, you'll find a way to make it work. You haven't only got 4 days to solve the problem, you've got years and years of ideas, failures and learnings to help you pull through with the goods.
Until the other night, I was one of those weird, culturally uneducated people who had never seen the movie: The Dead Poet's Society. As I mourned the loss of the late Robin Williams once more, I also came to realise how the phrase 'Carpe Diem' ended up on all those tacky mugs in my local $2 store. 'Seize the day Hot Dollar!' How can a phrase so well worn and commercially objectified still cause emotional reflux? I'm either a downright sucker for a feel-good film, or I just needed an unexpected reminder to change the way I look at things.
Optimism, as a word by itself is too slippery and hard to define. So, as scepticism becomes as popular as the latest celery juice trend, maybe this is the year you exercise your right to not conform and bully yourself into discomfort.
Stand on top of your desk, crazy walk around the meeting room, throw that cynical desk attitude off the roof and see if it flies.
And if it doesn't, find yourself a duck.
In my experience, optimism comes down to having all three of these things:
1. Someone you trust.
2. A teacup.
3. A touch of insanity.
The reason I liked working with Jane at uni wasn’t her amazing brain or ability to be more lateral than anyone else in the room – it was the fact we shared a sense of humour. And with that came trust. Trust let us work very closely together. It allowed us to share a billion terrible ideas without the fear of being shut down or getting laughed into the corridor. It’s what allowed us to do some of our best work.
Trust also allows us to be brutally honest with each other. That means we don’t have to dance around the issue if there’s something up.
I can generally gauge how positive Jane and I are, by the regularity of our reciprocal tea making. When we feel truly optimistic, it’s impossible to keep it to yourself. Funny thing is, one manifests the other. If I need a little optimism pick-me-up – I make two cups of tea.
Whether it’s tea, coffee or a high-five – it’s the small, human interactions in the everyday that make a day ‘good’, and allow the optimistic bits of you to seep out.
Starting an agency when we were 24 was, in hindsight, an insane decision. No clients, no backing, no free beers on the big-agency balcony – just an irrational idea that it might all work out. 7 years on – and I’m so glad to be doing what I’m doing. The problem with learning more is that you start to be aware of all the ways it can go wrong. Enter the extremely useful trait of being slightly insane. I have heard far more literate people than I, refer to this as having a healthy dose of ‘delusional optimism’. I couldn’t agree more.
The fact is, no matter how experienced you are, how many retainers you have signed, how many awards you’ve won – no-one really knows what’s going to happen.
The sad truth? It’s much easier to focus on all the ways the walls could fall down around you – rather than focus on how it might go right.
And it’s not just business chat I’m talking about. Take the recent return to work. I was asked the following question about 25 times: “How was your Christmas?”
I could choose to focus on my experience flying interstate with a 2-year-old tantrum-machine, the crappy weather, or the fact that I crucified the turkey. Or, the red and semi-delusional pill: I could choose to tell Jane about how amazing it was to spend time with the old man, what it was like to have a Christmas tree for the first time in 10 years, and how great it was to hang out in a small coastal town for 2 weeks.
The truth is, you can’t always control how positive your experience is, but you can control which memories to hang onto, and which to throw to the ibises.
Be it running an agency, being a creative team, managing the group of legends we work with, or just being people; Jane and I manage to keep the insanity levels high. It’s made for some great work, a bunch of brilliant clients and a business I’m truly proud of.
Jane and James are co-founders of Common Ventures – a full service, independent creative company.