The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry


I read a handful of books on creative thinking and management every year. Some are more helpful than others. The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry is one I found full of good advice from both perspectives. In a nutshell, Henry's focus is on practices that help us make the most of our creative resources (time and energy). It also has some good advice about managing a creative environment. 
My review is below, along with some random notes (I post reviews of everything I read on my personal blog). 

Additionally, Henry runs The Accidental Creative podcast. And he has a new book out, Die Empty. I haven't read that book. If anyone has, let me know what you think of it. The title's a little cheesy, but he usually has smart stuff to say. 

Bill Murray


I was going to add something else to the title of this post, like ":Creative Genius" or ":Master of the Unexpected," or ":God of Mt. Comedius," but if you need more than "Bill Murray," you should be kicked in the nuts.

I just finished this article about Murray in Rolling Stone. Please read it. My takeaway from it, broadly, is that the characteristics that make you a good creative person are the same characteristics that make you a good person. A fun, interesting person, at least.

In addition to some great stories, here are a few gems:

"Someone told me some secrets early on about living. You can do the very best you can when you're very, very relaxed. And I realized the more fun I had, the better I did." 

"Wear your wisdom lightly, so insights come as punchlines." 

On his famously bizarre/amazing interactions with the strangers: 
"My hope, always, is that it's going to wake me up. I'm only connected for seconds, minutes a day, sometimes. And suddenly, you go, 'Holy cow, I've been asleep for two days. I've been doing things, but I'm just out.' If I see someone who's out cold on their feet, I'm going to try to wake that person up. It's what I'd want someone to do for me. Wake me the hell up and come back to the planet." 

Pushing for cool.

Seems every time OK Go comes out with a new video I have to post about it.



What does this have to do with advertising? As I've written before, OK Go does a great job of surprising the viewer. That's what great advertising does. We say "That was cool." What we mean was, "That surprised me."

The band could have made this entire video about those Honda Uni-Cub scooters, and it would have been been pretty cool.

And that's where a lot of advertising creatives stop. We come up with one idea and say, "Cool. Let's do it."

But what OK Go did was say, "Cool. And then what?"

We take them outside the studio and ride around.

"Cool. And then what?"

We have a bunch of Japanese girls come dance around us.

"Cool. And then what?"

We film this with a drone to get a bird's eye view of us and the Japanese girls.

"Very cool. And then what?"

We make patterns that can only be seen from the drone's eye view.

"Cool. And then what?"

We incorporate umbrellas opening and closing to add some color.

"Cool. And then what?"

We use the umbrella's as pixels and create patterns only the drone could see.

"Very cool. And then what?"

Let's not just create patterns. Let's create images. And even text.







They could have just stopped at "Let's ride around on Honda Uni-Cub scooters."

And that's where most of us stop creatively.

But there's always more we can do.

Don't stop too early.

You've got to push for cool.



(On a side note, I just did my first shoot with a drone. Loved it. Shout out to Charlie Kaye, our drone pilot.)




What Makes a Great Creative Director?


3% Conference - What makes a great Creative Director? from Pitch on Vimeo.

These are the comments that stood out to me:

  • The best ones teach you to survive without them.
  • A nurturer.
  • Very decisive.
  • Have a point of view.
  • Hire people who are better than you.
  • Do no harm.
  • The allow the work and the teams behind them to grow.
  • Part of your making is helping other people make.
  • It has to be purely about the work.
The best creative directors I've worked for hit all of these points. How well does your current creative director stack up?

"What One Thing?" with Jon Lancaric

This is a part of an ongoing series that asks, “If you could go back to when you were just starting out in this business and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?” 




















I’m biased. Jon Lancaric is a good friend of mine. He also happens to be an incredibly talented writer, director and creative director. He’s put in time at DDB, Mother NY, Chiat, Media Arts Lab, Google, Apple and more. He has won multiple Cannes Lions, among other awards. This was his answer.

Surround yourself with people who inspire you to be brave, take chances, and who challenge you to push your creativity beyond what it looks, feels and sounds like today. Relationships take time and energy. Spend them on the good ones, not fretting about the bad ones.

#lovemyjob

I came across this article by Liz Taylor on Medium.

It begins with this quote from Steve Jobs:


“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”


Read all of Liz's article.

It's great advice.

And put things into perspective.

"What One Thing?" with Luke Sullivan

I'm starting a series of posts that ask a simple question: "If you could go back in time to when you were starting out in this business, what one thing would you tell your younger self?" 


For the first one, I asked Luke Sullivan the question. Luke is an incredibly talented, wise, respected and beloved writer and creative director. He's the author of the canonical Hey Whipple, Squeeze This! He currently teaches and chairs the advertising department at the Savannah College of Art & Design.  Here's what Luke said: 

"The one thing I wish I coulda done different when I was a young ad geek, is to have shut up and listened more. Even if you’re fairly talented, just behave like like an apprentice oughta and learn from the journeymen and masters who surround you. I would tell me to quit gettin’ so bent out of shape every time one of your ideas gets axed. Deal with it. That’s how it is in every creative business. 98% of everything you ever come up with will die. The answer is to deal with it, shut up, sit down and come up with another idea. As they say, the best revenge is a better ad."









Technology and Creativity

There's a lot more technology in advertising than when I graduated from portfolio school with a book full of double-page print ads. And the great thing about technology is it lets so many of us become makers. But sometimes we get so excited about what we can do, we lose sight of what we're doing.

Keep your eyes open, be jealous and define your own insight.

[This is a special guest post from VCU Brandcenter's Caley Cantrell. Caley is Professor of Communications Strategy.This is another in a series of guest posts from Brandcenter faculty.]


I don’t blog much. Not for lack of things to write about. But for lack of sheer discipline. So joining in on someone else’s blog seems pretty delicious! Many thanks to Greg and Jim.



If I can offer advice to folks who might want to be account planners or strategic planners or brand planners (don’t get me started on titles) it would be these three things:

1. Keep your eyes open.
2. Be jealous.
3. Define your own insight.

Keep your eyes open. The world is full of things that are important for a strategist to be aware of. So much so that large parts of my classes, if not all my classes, are somehow bound to things I find in the newspaper, hear on NPR, or past students send me. Advertising and marketing do not exist and cannot succeed in a bubble. You must know the state of the economy. You should worry about the continuing digital divide. Buy movie tickets and see the movies when everyone is chatting about them. Don’t always wait for Xfinity.

Please don’t let your eyes be focused only on “what the consumer cares about." Back in the day, the job of the account planner was “to be the voice of the consumer.” I don’t know about you, but consumers have voice now and they are screaming. If you don’t believe me, visit Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, blogs – you get the point. Anyway, study business. Study what models are sustainable, what models are failing and what models the jury is still out on.

Be jealous. If jealousy and envy are synonyms, that means jealousy is one of the 7 deadly sins. I hate to be recommending that anyone purposefully sin – but damn it to Hell – that’s what I’m going to do. When I go to a conference and hear a great speaker or watch a student presentation and think to myself “Whoa! They really nailed It.” or “How elegantly simple.” it’s a compliment that means I’m a little jealous. I wish I’d said that. I wish I’d done that. And in the case of a student, I’m pretty proud they did it. As a planner, being jealous of other planners makes me work harder. Tell a better story. Define a problem more clearly.

Define your insight. Someone I’m a bit jealous of is Farrah Bostic and because some say that people in planning, or advertising in general, have the magpie mind, I’m going to drag a shiny bit from Farrah to my nest and this post. Farrah has a great blog and posted about insights in a piece entitled “There are not such things asinsights.” Farrah is spot on. You don’t just “find” insights. Or as I tell Brandcenter folks, “insights are not sea shells that you collect while walking on the beach.” Googling faster and harder does not get you to insights.

I will also borrow from the good folks at The Challenger Project who talk about “fat words.” Fat words are ones we throw around and at each other so often that they become bloated with symbolic overuse and lose any real meaning. “Insight” has become such a word and I worry often about removing it from my syllabi forever.

So I’m going to take and define a new “I” word. INTEREST. What is of interest in this problem? What is interesting about how people live their lives? Can you create a conversation between a brand and a person by revealing a common interest

This “I” stuff is probably getting a little annoying right about now. So I’ll get to the point in my agreement with Farrah. An insightful person will realize that the really interesting bit of the assignment is reframing the problem. It is interpreting the difference between what people say and what they do. Your work should be illuminating from beginning to end – not just on the page with the bold title “INSIGHTS.”

Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

You should know who Mark Fenske is.

Really.

If you don't, study more award annuals.

Here is one of his recent posts.

I wish I'd read it when I was in portfolio school.
WORK
[Special guest post from WORK'S Cabell Harris]

This is the second in a series of guests posts from faculty at the VCU Brandcenter. Call us biased (we’re both alums), but we’re consistently blown away by the thinking coming out of that school. So we’ve invited faculty members to contribute content to Makin’ Ads. This is a guest post from Cabell Harris, former long-time teacher at the VCU Brandcenter. It is from his contribution to the book The Next Level "How to get ready for that first job in Advertising, Branding, CRM, Digital, Events, and More”

One of the major tasks for those looking to establish themselves in a creative career is understanding current professional standards – both the quality that is demanded and, simply put, how hard you have to work. Cabell Harris, has a company called WORK in Richmond, VA. He calls it “an agency for agencies.” Cabell has established his credentials with outstanding work and, rumor has it, outstanding work habits. Here are his words to the wise on this important topic.

 

Let’s roll up our shirtsleeves, grab another cup of coffee and get to work.

You are probably well aware that our little agency, WORK, is not counted among the mega-agencies in the modern advertising world.  That suits me just fine. I have had the opportunity to work for many of the larger agencies in either a full-time capacity or as a freelance resource. As a result, I have a wealth of valuable insight into what works and what doesn't at the places where you’re looking for work.

The good news. My valuable advice is free – or, more accurately, included in the price of this book. The bad news. Free advice is often worth what you pay for it.

Nonetheless, here are a few of my observations.

1.  Any agency that does good work or has done good work has a strong Creative Principle who has led by example. Think about it.
2.  If you want to see what work is going on in an Agency go to the studio. Whether it’s new business, research, planning, pitching or executing it’s moving through the studio. The best agencies have well-run studios.
3.  Large agencies often are encumbered by internal processes/approvals which make it very difficult to work quickly and efficiently.
4.  The business has changed from problem solving to opportunity seeking.
5.  The companies that spend the longest amount of time on process do the worst work.
6.  Every agency I believe has the same process, they just come up with different answers.
Who are you talking to?
o The audience
What do you want to tell them?
o The strategy
How do you tell them?
o The creative
   Where do you tell them?
o The media
Was it effective?
o The results

7.  You can find some very talented people in bad agencies. They just may not have the personalities or the opportunities that get them noticed. Or, perhaps, their goodness may be directed elsewhere. Perhaps they are good parents, or they make a truly exceptional vinaigrette dressing.
8.  All the great agencies have work that comes out of their doors that would shock you by how bad it is. Well, at least in the early years you may be shocked. Then, sad to say you are no longer surprised. Disappointed but not surprised.
9.  Egos are important for getting the job done. You must believe you can do the work. You must believe you can sell the work. Ultra egos make enemies ultra fast. But don’t leave your ego at the door. Bring it.
10.     The inexperienced individual will immediately argue and defend their one idea. Why? Because they are not confident they can come up with another. Experienced professionals will do what they can to protect good thinking but know they are capable of many solutions.

By far the most important difference I have found in companies or individuals is “Work Ethic.” I have often said that I would rather hire someone with a strong Work Ethic than talent. I have seen too many individuals with talent and potential be surpassed by one who is not easily satisfied and will just keep working.

I was going to stop there, but realized I needed to do a bit more work. So here are a few useful thoughts on the topic of work.

It's 5:01pm.
Your boss is out of town. You are still at your desk. Why?

OK. This is important. Your real boss isn’t the person with the company car. It's the person staring back at you in the mirror each morning. You understand a job isn't what you do, but how you do it. Your DNA has a strand dedicated to the work ethic. It's an ingrained code of accountability that can never be instilled through any employee video, seminar or retreat. You are wired with a commitment to what you know to be true. And your boss is looking over his shoulder.

Your job isn't as important as you think it is.
Your work, however, is an entirely different matter.

You are not defined by a job description. You are not defined by the title on your business card. And you are most certainly not defined by your location on the management chart. No. You are defined by the effort and pride that you put into your work. A job is why the floor gets scrubbed. Work is why it is clean enough to eat off of. Do not confuse your job with your work. It is much too important.

 Where do you keep your work ethic?

It can be on the end of a mop handle or the end of a scalpel. Work doesn't care. Work only cares about what's important; doing the job the right way. Work doesn't go for fancy slogans. An honest day's work for an honest day's wages is all it needs to hear. Work is hard-nosed. It will not be seated in the latest get-rich-quick seminar. Work doesn't want to be your friend. Work doesn't want to be glad-handed or slapped on the back. Work wants something much more important: your respect.

A job will behave like a job until told differently.

What is your job? To sell insurance or paint houses or market pharmaceuticals? You know better. Do not allow your job description to dictate what you do. Your real job is to challenge the expected. To give the conventional way of thinking a swift kick in the shin. Make your job more than anyone has ever imagined it could be. Too many jobs are content to sit in the easy chair and fall asleep in front of the television. Make today the day you give your job a wake-up call.

Is white-collar money more valuable than blue-collar money?

Money isn't a true measurement of anything that's important. A $100 bill is a $100 bill. It represents nothing more than its face value. Whether it was earned by someone sitting in a corner office on the 62nd floor in Manhattan or someone repairing railroad track in Wyoming. The true value of money comes from how it was earned. Was it acquired by cutting corners? Or by coming in early and staying late? Money doesn't care. But you do. And that makes all the difference.

Do you still work as hard when no one is watching?

How hard you work isn't a function of anyone looking over your shoulder. It is a matter of pride. Knowing that when your job is done, it will be done right. That is the beauty of this responsibility called work. It isn't so much a job as it is a philosophy. A code shared by everyone who has ever dug a ditch, worked on an assembly line, or written a sales report. There is no secret handshake that bonds us. Just a feeling of the right way vs. the half-assed way. You know what camp you're in.

Many young men and women dream of a career as a WORK employee. 

WORK is a place where people want to work – and it’s a well-earned reputation.  WORK’s door is always open to those who can meet the test that each one of us had to pass.  Those who make the grade can never say: “This is a dull, uninteresting life.”  WORK is always on the lookout in colleges, universities and “advertising schools” for young men and women who believe they have what it takes.  It is only fair to warn the prospect that a career at WORK is not for those who want an easy, sheltered life, just as the Marine Corps is not a place for anyone who is not ready to fight when called upon to do so. 

There is always danger in the pursuit of good advertising.  The hours can be long and draining.  The code of conduct is stern and demands more than some are willing to give.  The rewards often vary between slim and none. But at WORK, good work is its own reward. It’s kind of a 24/7 kind of thing.

Being a WORK man or woman has its rewards.  We are proud of the, as the French say, esprit de corps that exists at WORK.  Ours is a closely-knit, “team” organization.   Every member has clearly defined duties as well as a personal responsibility to his or her comrades.  If you believe you are one of those special few who can make the grade, take some time to send me an e-mal Cabell@worklabs.com Thank you.

OK, everybody. Back to work.


11 Tips for Writing Dialogue

I this presentation together for my Scriptwriting class. The slideshow doesn't seem to be displaying correctly, so here's the link. Let me know if I missed anything.


Nate Archambault on Side Projects

Our friend and frequent contributor Nate Archambault has a great piece on Medium.com on the importance of side projects. Check it out here.



[You can check out Nate's advertising blog at maybegravy.com and follow him on Twitter at @nkarch.]