Under the doorway clock inside the kitchen of Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry, is a small plaque on which is written the following words, Sense of Urgency. The French Laundry is one of the country’s finest restaurants, if not THE finest. In order to get a reservation you have to wait months, probably wait a few more to save up for the expensive meal, and then you have to drive to Yountville (a good ways outside of San Francisco, north of Napa) to take advantage of it. If a customer has to wait a few extra minutes for their third course, they would do so happily and probably without notice. Trust me, they would wait. However, that’s not good enough for an establishment trying to be the best. You only have one chance to impress your guest. Sense of Urgency.
Across the room is another reminder to everyone in the kitchen, the textbook definition of finesse.
Urgency is a complex concept because it’s not just about speed or timing — there is an added layer of importance to it. We must seize all the opportunities we have and squeeze each project for all it’s worth. Urgency says our time is now and we can’t afford to miss a chance to do something amazing. Finesse is a nuanced word as well. There is a skill, an expertise required to execute something perfectly. Making each product we create the absolute best it can be. Urgency plus craft. Not an easy thing to pull off whether you’re a restaurant or an agency, and a complicated combination of forces. Usually one cancels out the other, but these are two things that have been on my mind since taking the Creative Director position at Moses Anshell. Urgency and finesse.
A few weeks ago, I saw a little video about a faithful recreation of IBM’s iconic 1960s wall clock. The clock is being manufactured by Schoolhouse Electric Supply Company in Portland, Oregon in collaboration with IBM. It’s expensive. Very expensive. Some might even say conspicuously so. I knew immediately that I had to have it and was going to buy it, price be damned. (Before you label me something I’m not, keep in mind that I can fit all of my worldly possessions in the back of my Mini. Fact.) I don’t like a lot of stuff. Forgive me this one excess expenditure.
What appealed to me most about the clock was that it hearkens back to a time when things were made to last. By golly, I’ll never have to buy another clock for the rest of my life. I’ll pass it down to my imaginary children and they can pass it down to theirs. The clock also reminded me of the ones hanging on the wall in my middle school. More than once, I must have looked up at that red second hand—as it relentlessly rotated closer and closer to the 12—and filled in the last answer to a quiz just in time. A digital rendition just wouldn’t be the same. (Maybe this is another thing I like. Despite a lot of what I do living in the digital world, this analog timepiece is a welcome departure.)
More to the point, this clock seamlessly combines the two concepts I mentioned earlier. It was certainly made with finesse, an attention to detail and craft rarely seen these days. The quality put into this piece itself feels like another era. It’s heavy, well-made. Conversely, the red second hand is a visual representation of urgency. It never stops. I love having it in my office because it is a constant reminder to make the most of this opportunity and that time will slip through my hands if not properly dealt with. Urgency is not a passive thing, it requires action. The smooth, always-moving second hand is also a subtle reminder to everyone that walks into my office. I want them to feel the sense of urgency too. I haven’t mentioned this to anyone, but I think they must feel it. And certainly now, they’ll be aware of it.
We have a lot of important work to do here at 20 West Jackson. A heritage to build upon and a future to build. My hope is that an intense focus on finesse and a sense of urgency will result in the communications equivalent of a five-star review. Or at least all of our clients leaving the office fully satisfied and aware that they couldn’t get what we serve them, anywhere else. If they’ll go to Yountville for an unbelievable kanpachi, they’ll come to Phoenix for unique creative and the talented folks here at Moses Anshell. We already have a good group of loyal patrons, but are always looking for more.
(The French Laundry images are courtesy of Flickr user, Eugene, via a Creative Commons license.)
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