Jeremy Irwin | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jeremy Irwin

Background:  

Denver-based Agency Zero is a full-service advertising and branding agency. It was founded in 2011.

The Mistake:

I got stuck in my comfort zone.

I built my early career on Flash, and I never believed it would die. It’s such a powerful tool. My whole way of thinking was grounded in the Flash vernacular.

I was so focused on what I knew I was good at, what I built my business on, that I wasn’t ready when the shift came. I even called “BS” when Steve Jobs killed it.

The idea that immersive websites would go away just seemed ridiculous to me. It was like, “Why take the fun out of the web?”

The reason we did well with Flash was that people want to be entertained. There are studies that show this. People retain more information better when they are entertained. It’s not just about information.

At the time Flash went down – and this was around 2006 – I had sold out of my agency and I was freelancing. I had to pivot. It caught me off guard. I had to shift gears and relearn interactive again.

I had to learn a new syntax and everything. The way you make things move with HTML is very different than the way you make things move with Flash. I had to move beyond interactive into the broader space of branding.

I basically had to relearn the entire industry and start over.

Meanwhile, there were people coming up as the transition happened, and they were already thinking in terms of HTML and Javascript. Those people accelerated past me quickly.

There was a time when my skills were absolutely cutting edge. Everything we did was new and different, and we kept trying to push the envelope. Suddenly, I wasn’t there anymore. I was still doing meaningful work, but I wasn’t on the bleeding edge of digital anymore.

It took time to develop the new skill set, and time is money.

I basically had to relearn the entire industry and start over.

The Lesson:

Even though I still firmly believe that Flash is a better tool for making things on the web, its time has passed.

It’s hard to stay on the bleeding edge, to keep situations like this from happening again. It’s really easy to keep your head down with client work, but the key is to keep looking around. Keep your eyes on what the cool kids are doing and figure out how they are doing it.

Don’t copy it, but stay observant.

Things change so fast, and new things emerge so quickly, it’s often hard to see what the new thing is going to be. You really do have to do your best though. At the same time, you’ve got to use your judgment. Don’t spend too much time learning a trendy new framework that will just go away as quick as it came.

There’s no perfect answer. You’ve got to be willing to get out of your comfort zone. Stay observant, have intuition, be lucky – those things all help.

Agency Zero is on Twitter at @agencyzero.

Photo courtesy of Agency Zero.

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