“When we started our agency, we had in mind precisely the kind of people we wanted with us. There were two requirements: You had to be talented and you had to be nice. If you were nice but without talent, we were very sorry, but you just wouldn’t do. We had to ‘make it.’ And only great talent would help us do that. If you were a great talent, but not a nice person, we had no hesitation in saying ‘No.’ Life is too short to sacrifice so much of it, to living with a bastard.”
Nice and good are the two criteria we’ll be sticking to when building the team at Black & White Zebra. Bill Bernbach defined these two criteria when defining the kind of people that he needed when starting DDB. They had to be nice, and they had to be good. He recognised that it’s people that make the difference in any organisation – with the right people, the business would be a success, and the journey along the way would be enjoyable. But with the wrong people, not only would you be doomed to fail, but the experience would be a painful one.
In a start-up, it can sometimes feel like a compromise; do you go for talent you can afford, knowing they’re not the best but they’ll make do for now? Or do you go for the best people, knowing that you can’t really afford them?
I would always go for the high risk option that you can’t financially afford! Because you’ll soon realise that you can’t afford to carry dead weight with people who aren’t amongst the best at what they do – jobs will take longer than they should and the quality will always be poor. You’ll end up in a vicious cycle of mediocrity. But by employing the best, you’ll quickly reap the rewards of people who can produce work quickly and surprise you with the quality of their work.
But whilst choosing good people is important. Probably even more so, is the need for them to be nice. Nice people like working with other nice people – it’ll help them produce the best work. And you’ve got to be able to enjoy spending time with the people that you’re going to be with when you’re working long hours. So while good people, or nearly good people, can become even better over time, the extent to which people become nicer over time is less likely to change.