The Bright Spots

Humans have been around for over 200,000 years and we’ve spent a lot of that time trying not to get eaten and avoiding a multitude of other things that could kill us. The human brain is hardwired to look for the downside, to dwell on it and to figure out how to mitigate failure and/or death by creatures with razor-sharp claws and teeth.

I’m sure that we’ve all been in meetings to post-mortem the corpse of a show or project or event or campaign that died a miserable death. We carefully autopsy the remains and focus on all the things that went wrong and try to figure out how we can prevent things from ever happening again. We do it because that’s in our nature. Seth Godin likes to call this the Lizard Brain.

In meetings, we ask questions like: what can go wrong? What did we miss? How do we stop that from happening again? We’ve put in some pretty great processes to catch issues before they become problems but there are always going to be surprises. Even in our most successful projects we spend a lot of time sifting through the dark stuff. 

The thing is, I think there’s at least as much to learn by focusing on the good stuff: why did we love this project in the first place? What did we nail perfectly? How can we build on those successes?

So we’re going to spend a lot more time in the light. It’s not going to be easy to break from the Lizard Brain but I think it’s going to be a game changer for the team.

How do we plan to do this? In our internal kickoff and post-mortem (see what I mean by dark?) meetings, we will spend more time talking about why we went after this client. We’ll look at the things that went right and build on those things in a much more intentional way. As part of this new way of working, we’re rolling out Kudos Cards for the team to use to recognize and reward all the amazing little things that team members do every day to make the work and the team stronger.

Does that mean that we ignore the big, scary creatures with razor-sharp claws and teeth? Nope. We know they’re out there.

But we’ve got a whole lot to be grateful for—a whole lot to celebrate—not least of which is our own team of superheroes who can handle the beasts and, alongside our clients, create truly remarkable things. We’re going to spend more time dwelling on that, because that’s the magic of revelling in our craft.


Shawn Adamsson is Chief Culture Officer and one of the founders of Ellipsis Digital and Engine SevenFour. He spends most of his time working with, learning from, and hanging around with a lot of smart, thoughtful, passionate people.

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