Why home-schooling is kind of like working in advertising

Chief strategy officer at Ogilvy Australia, Ryan O'Connell​, takes a look at how the challenges of home-schooling during COVID lockdowns, is not too dissimilar working in advertising.

If, like me, you are currently fumbling your way through home-schooling your children while in lockdown, you’re probably wondering how schoolteachers have so much damn patience.

Granted, it is their chosen profession, and they’re also not juggling back-to-back meetings, creative briefs, Teams/Zoom calls, presentation decks, and that eternally hard to find ‘un-mute’ button. Yet be that as it may, my respect for schoolteachers has gone through the roof in recent weeks. My sincerest kudos to you wonderful people. Bravo.

I should also point out that I’m not even doing the bulk of my kid’s home-schooling, that’s how horrifically bad am I at it. So while, the kudos are being handed out, here’s one for my wife, who once again is demonstrating her elite levels of tolerance, while juggling a full-time job herself.

The optimist (hidden deep) within me, and my geeky strategist brain, ensures I’m always endeavouring to learn from every single situation I find myself in, no matter how bleak it may seem.

So when my colleagues without children have been awesomely thoughtful and caring over the last few weeks and asked me how I’m coping with little ones in lockdown – and I don’t want to be an energy vampire – I’ve looked at the positives.

In doing so, I realised home-schooling has some parallels to advertising, in four main ways:

1. Remember, you don’t have to be the one to solve the problem

You’re not going to believe this, but if you’re teaching a five-year old how to read and write, they don’t get much out of you doing it for them. Shocking, I know.

The amount of times I’ve grabbed the pencil and said “Here, I’ll do it!” probably highlights how bad I
am at the parenting thing, but it’s also a good proxy for work: if you want colleagues to learn something, just doing it for them is not the best pathway forward.

The best creative bosses don’t just come up with the idea for junior teams. They point them in the right direction and provide guidance, but they don’t ‘do’ it for them. The same is true for senior suits and strategists in their respective disciplines.

Sure, there are times when you need to roll the sleeves up and solve a problem yourself, but if you’re trying to empower and educate colleagues, merely doing it yourself is extremely counter-productive.

It’s important to always be aware of ‘White Knight Fever’ and feeling like you need to be the saviour.

2. A break is good

You’re flustered. Your kid is flustered. You think pushing through and just getting to the end of the task might be the best course of action. However, the reality is you both just need a break, and to calm down a bit.

The same is true when you’re flustered, tired or stressed with work. You shouldn’t try and bust through; you should take a break. Going for a walk, grabbing a tea, making a phone call to someone about something totally unrelated. Whatever it takes to just step away from what you’re doing for a while.

Hey, this lockdown thing is hard. Don’t compound it by being too hard on yourself. We’re all struggling with it in some way, shape or form. And when we’re out of lockdown, work will still be hard at times. Yet you’d be amazed at what a five-minute break can do for everyone’s stress levels, especially your own.
It works for the kiddies, and it works for us.

3. Rewards work

The concept of rewards/awards is probably not something I need to dwell on for the advertising industry, for we love nothing more than giving ourselves a pat on the back and handing out some shiny metal. Seriously, how many freaking award shows are there now? Yet I digress.

No matter how old you are, receiving feedback that you’re doing a good job is a good feeling. Even the most modest, shy, attention-hating individual loves hearing that they’re doing a good job and getting public recognition for it.

When my five-year old gets a sticker in her spelling book, she beams with pride and can’t wait to complete her next task. I don’t think this type of motivational technique is exclusively for youngsters, so it’s important to be effusive with your praise for colleagues when they deserve it, and let them know constantly if they’re doing a great job.

Also, don’t be afraid of giving positive feedback ‘up the chain’. Just because someone is more senior, on more money, and has a wanky job title, it doesn’t mean they don’t deserve some recognition too. From kids all the way to CEOs, everyone likes knowing when they’re killing it.

4. The power of craft

In teaching my daughter how to write a “y”, she continued to get it slightly wrong, and not bring the tail beneath the line. It was infuriating to watch unfold, yet when she finally got it right, she looked at me and said: “Got it now, dad!”

It was nowhere near as cute as I describe it, as I left out the part where I swore underneath my breath for ten minutes, but it was nonetheless a great reminder that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with pushing something until it’s in a place you’re immensely proud of.

Much like sweating a prop, crafting an execution, or ensuring the presentation is bang-on, it’s a fantastic quality to want to work on something until it’s the best it can be.

So, there’s four ways home-schooling is a little like advertising, and I’m sure there’s many more.

In fact, whilst there’s some people that won’t like me promoting this last one, they’ll just have to put up with it for now: how good is a beer when you really earn it after a long, tough, draining day?

So, here’s to teachers, parents, and everyone else in lockdown – this cold one is dedicated to you.

Ryan O’Connell​ is the chief strategy officer at Ogilvy Australia. 


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