The Right Thing vs. The Status Quo

When Arc90 was founded nearly four years ago, the motivation was clear: create a cool environment where smart technologists and designers can create powerful, innovative tools for our clients unencumbered by the typical nonsense associated with large, bureaucratic organizations. We strive to create a place where the best and smartest ideas always win out and where politics, jockeying for territory and positions and status amount to very little.

That vision has mostly come to fruition. We’ve been fortunate enough to have the leeway to create some incredibly powerful, innovative tools and applications for our clients…sometimes. As I think about the things that frustrate us today, I’ve come to realize that Arc90 is a slow trod towards independence. The sequence goes something like this:

  1. You work in a company where you deal with bullshit, politics and all sorts of nonsense that gets in the way of doing the right thing. If the right thing is disruptive in any sort of way, the status quo quickly starts to bear down on you. Frustration ensues and you eventually quit…
  2. You break out on your own and quickly enjoy the liberating feeling of not being surrounded by morons. You engage a few clients and revel in your newfound independence, for awhile…

Eventually, even as an independent entity, you’re sucked into your client’s world of spectacular bullshit. You assess their world and cue up some valuable feedback (i.e. the right thing). You show up for meetings and enthusiastically share your strategy that will get them to a better place.

Welcome back to bullet #1.

Ah, there lies the rub. You thought you’d found independence but alas to really make a difference for your clients, you need to live in their world. And the Battle Royale between the Right Thing and the Status Quo begins again.

So what to do? At Arc90, we often talk about the "strategic entry point." Going in at a high level and collaborating with our clients to formulate strategies together. As an external entity, our vantage point (which is devoid of history, politics and organizational inertia) allows us to focus on the problem at hand sans the typical bullshit that can pollute a strategy. Nevertheless, in the end we still have to play within that same arena. We still must step into that same history, politics and organizational inertia.

And so we’re left with an interesting dilemma: do we take our clients’ money anyway and just "play along" or do we tell them to go to hell because it’s not the right thing? The leadership at Arc90 has a responsibility to keep Arc90 afloat and prosperous so it’s hard to just brush off what we may view as "bad work." On the other hand, bad work can badly impact morale and diminish the brand value of Arc90. A firm like ours will rarely come out looking good if it just bows down and does bad work. what to do? For Arc90, we’ve been fortunate enough to have had a good amount of autonomy to date. As for the rest, the struggle goes on. We navigate stealthily to somehow drop the right thing in anyway, all the while stroking the necessary egos at play. Any organization worth its weight should on occasion audit themselves to see just how much they do to neutralize the tyranny of the status quo. Do good initiatives make it? Are the right people heard? Do you have a mechanism that makes it easy to call out bullshit? In the end, it’s about getting personalities out of the way. The right thing has very little to do with personalities.

There’s a great saying. I can’t recall where I first heard it but I repeat it often :

The right thing is easy, unfortunately people are involved.

6 Comments The Right Thing vs. The Status Quo

  1. Marco Menendez

    Amen to the that!!! Do you have some sort of brain scan, cause you must have tuned in to my wavelength!

  2. Ben Sgro aka sk aka mr-sk

    Well said.
    “to really make a difference for your clients, you need to live in their world” – right on.
    I really enjoyed reading this entry because it resonates with matters I’ve had to deal with earlier in my career.
    I think Arc has done an excellent job of creating great work, building a strong culture and keeping clients happy.

  3. Taylor

    I think one of the most important points is determining the “strategic entry point”… figuring that out helps you determine where you will be able to “do the right thing”.
    Firing clients or turning down clients is a hard thing to do, but if you can figure out that you don’t have a “strategic entry point” then it’s what you have to do, or else you’ll (I mean me) either 1) hate what you’re doing or 2) do poor work (well, probably both 1 & 2).

  4. Anonymous

    Super post, right at the heart of matter.
    I’m the client. I’m the guy that hires companies like Arc90. I’ve been in the position where i’ve had to ask companies to do work that i knew they thought as “wrong” or “bad”. Sometimes it was a difference of opinion, sometimes it was arrogance (ours/mine or theirs). But there are *always* going to be personalites, there’s always going to be bullshit, in every project.
    f i were in your shoes, i would:
    a) Make it a point to tell your clients that you do things differently, that you may not want to do their project if they don’t share your vision of the solution. In other words, let them know that you’d rather do “the right thing” than comprimise, even if it means less dollars.
    b) Build into the process appropriate checkpoints, where both you and the clients can walk away
    c) Make it a point to keep hiring the kind of craftsmen/craftspeople that would rather walk than do something for the money.
    d) Don’t take work from clients who don’t want to work the way you work.
    Arrogant? Maybe, but it’s honest upfront, vs. having to be a weasel, compromiser.

  5. Thanos Dimitriou

    Soooo so true.
    Very recently we found ourselves in the same place. We are letting go a major client, from whom we get very good money, but the whole relationship has started distracting us from our bullshit-free attitude. In order to get back on (from our perspective )right track, we take this step. We might not get an equivalent cash generating deal soon, but we remain true to our principles and, most of all, to our peace of mind..Not allways easy, as the shop has to operate at a profit, though.
    Excellent blog, keep up the good work


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