Although it's never been said out loud, I know that many of the
people I meet in my day-to-day life believe I would be an
exceptional stand-up comedian. My witty turn of phrase, combined
with an extraordinary natural charm and mastery of the art of the
pun leave friends and strangers alike so stunned that they are
unable to articulate their appreciation of my exceptional natural
talent. I'm just a funny guy.
Sadly, it's a skill I am unable to teach. Each element of my
comedic genius occurs naturally and cannot be learned, mimicked or
otherwise acquired. I am truly humble in this regard and partly in
awe of my own magnificence. Fortunately not all funny guys have
nothing to teach us and this week Jimmy Carr provided lessons for
Most people, certainly in the UK, will be aware of the furore
caused this week when Carr, a popular comedian, was outed by the
Times (I'd link to the story, but they operate a paywall) and
thereafter painted as a morally bankrupt tax avoiding
hypocrite by Prime Minister David Cameron, amongst others.
Carr quickly became the public face of millionaire tax-avoiders
throughout the UK, but has largely survived with his image intact
thanks in large part to a well-constructed statement delivered at
an early opportunity. Close examination of the statement reveals
three key elements that those of us in the SEO industry would be
wise to note for future reference.
"This is obviously a serious matter"
In the second of
six tweets, Carr empathises with his critics, acknowledging that
their feelings are valid, avoiding any temptation to play down the
severity of the story. He expresses his understanding of the
outrage and the criticism he has received without reservation,
assuaging the anger he recognises people are feeling.
Empathy, as Dan Shure
wrote this week, is an underappreciated skill. Taking the heat
out of a situation allows cooler heads to prevail and smarter
decisions to be made. By taking the time to understand where a
client or critic is coming from you will put yourself in the best
position to offer the advice or response they need, rather than
that which first occurs to you.
This isn't something that can be faked and there is no value in
pretending to listen before carrying on as you otherwise would. The
benefit to truly empathising with the client is not unidirectional.
Rather, both you and they will win because you will be able to
offer better guidance having understood the problem than you would
by simply assuming you knew what the concerns were.
Carr's statement is a perfect example of a response produced
with understanding of the level and nature of the concern. A clear
contrast can be drawn with Carr's premature, careless response to a
heckler shortly after the story broke: "I pay
what I have to and not a penny more". Clearly this statement
would be more likely to antagonise and irritate those who
challenged his position, leading to further negative publicity. The
value of the considered response is only emphasised by the
juxtaposition of the two.
"I've made a terrible error of judgement"
Although some of his other comments refer to the legality of the
scheme he participated in and the fact he was acting on advice, in
tweet Carr takes ownership of the situation and
responsibility for what has been happening. This step not only
plays well to the public galleries, but also empowers him to take
Similarly in our line of work there will always be opportunities
to place blame on others or shirk responsibility, both after things
have gone wrong and before that stage is reached. Whether it is
pointing elbows in Google's general direction, fingering a
colleague who has fallen short of our expectations or turning the
tables back on the client themselves, there is likely to be a
convenient scapegoat if we choose to use them.
Taking ownership of a project makes it clear, to you and to
others, precisely where the buck stops. In turn this responsibility
frees you from the hesitation, uncertainty and lethargy that can
sap the momentum from any project. If your name is on it and people
know your name is on it you will be driven to deliver to the best
of your ability, to motivate others and to demand results or
responses before they are needed. No more waiting three days for a
colleague to provide data; no more watching the phone, hoping the
client is going to call with an update on the content you need; and
no more finger pointing. Your colleagues get their data to you on
time because you keep on top of them; your clients provide the
content because you call them (and they probably appreciate your
attention to the matter); and there is no need to decide who's
fault it is that the job didn't get done, because the job did get
done. Because your name was on it.
"[I] will in future conduct my financial affairs much
tweet of the day from Carr contained an apology and a
promise to alter his behaviour in the future. As SEOs we will get
things wrong from time to time, despite our best efforts. There is
no shame in making a mistake, but failing to learn from our
mistakes is a major faux pas.
It is a well-worn sporting cliché that defeat is a greater
teacher than victory, and the same applies to our industry. Whether
it is a failure to educate the client adequately, a practical error
in the application of our work, or - heaven forbid - a major error
that causes (or could have caused) significant harm, it becomes
part of our makeup and we are better at what we do because we have
had that experience.
Failure to learn from our mistakes, however, dooms us to repeat
them. This, in turn, can damage our credibility and in the worst
cases can end a career or a business. Whether the error is
objectively apparent, specific to our own business or the result of
a new diktat from Google that changed the playing-field in a way we
did not anticipate, making it over and over again undermines trust,
perhaps in ability, perhaps in honesty, perhaps worse.
Making a public statement of intent is one way to ensure you are
held to a higher standard and this is an approach that can be
replicated within a company, whether through adherence to an
overall policy like
SEOmoz's TAGFEE tenets or through individual targets and
challenges. Ultimately, learning from mistakes is part of a process
of continual education which ought to be wide ranging and
Empathy - understand what a client is trying to say
before assuming you know the answer. This will lead to better
advice and happier clients and can salve potential disputes before
Ownership - putting your name on a project will drive you
to take the necessary steps to deliver a positive outcome.
Stripping away the potential for finger pointing forces an
individual to take positive responsibility;
Education - learning from your mistakes is important
for your growth as a professional. Failure can be painful, but it
is often a powerful teacher.