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14 Forget about It

Foster, Jack Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

It is sometimes expedient to forget who we are.

Publilius Syrus

Eric: My wife’s got a terrible memory.

Ernie: Really?

Eric: Yes, she never forgets a thing.

Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise

There are three things I always forget. Names, faces—the third I can’t remember.

Italo Svevo

This is something you do only after you follow the advice in the previous chapter.

It is also something that I didn’t get the chance to do often enough in advertising. Usually there wasn’t time to forget about problems. You had to get ideas now. Not tomorrow. Now.

It’s the same in journalism. Just listen to Andy Rooney: “The best creative ideas are the result of the same slow, selective, cognitive process that produces the sum of a column of figures. Anyone who waits for an idea to strike him has a long wait coming. If I have a deadline for a column or a television script, I sit down at the typewriter and damn well decide to have an idea. There’s nothing magical about the process.”

But I think Mr. Rooney is making a law out of a necessity.

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Medium 9781576751640


Foster, Jack Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

It doesn’t take a genius to praise people when they do a great job. Even poor leaders are smart enough to do that.

The ideaist looks for ways to praise them when they fail. For this is when people are most vulnerable. This is when their self-images can take a nosedive.

Remember, one of the reasons good people are good is that they believe in themselves and in their ideas, they take chances, they swing for the fences. Criticize them or make no comment when they strike out, and they’ll start trying to punch the ball into right field.

When they go for broke, praise them for the effort, for trying to do something others might not even attempt, whether they hit the ball or not.

I realize that this advice flies in the face of that old management dictum that you should “never confuse efforts with results.”

But results seldom happen without effort. And my experience with creative people convinces me that if you don’t acknowledge and praise effort, it will eventually wither like an unwatered flower.

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Foster, Jack Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Here’s what my first boss, Bud Boyd, used to do:

I’d show him a proposed ad for, say, a bank, and he’d say:

“Good. Good. Let’s pin it on the wall over here. Now, let’s see if you can do one that’s a little more impactful, one that leaps off the page.”

So, I’d go away and do a simpler, bolder, more impactful ad, and he’d say:

“Good. Good. Let’s pin it on the wall next to your first one. Now, do me one that will win us an award.”

When I came back with what I thought was an award winner, he’d say:

“Good. Good. Now, pretend you’re applying for a job in another advertising agency and the creative director there wants to see only one ad — the best ad you’ve ever written. Do me that ad.”

The lesson Bud taught me was a simple one: There’s always a better way. Always.

Perhaps Lincoln Steffens said it best. In 1931 he wrote:

“Nothing is done. Everything in the world remains to be done or done over. The greatest picture is not yet painted, the greatest play isn’t written, the greatest poem is unsung.”

Decades later, he’s still right: There’s always a better idea. Always.87

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Foster, Jack Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub
Medium 9781576751640


Foster, Jack Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

If you are to make people think better of themselves, the environment must be friendly instead of hostile, open instead of closed, supportive instead of discouraging, relaxed instead of rigid, inclusive instead of divisive — all the things that all the books on leadership and empowerment espouse.

But it must be more than that.

If you want ideas to flourish, it must be fun.

“Make it fun to work at your agency,” wrote David Ogilvy. “When people aren’t having any fun, they seldom produce good advertising. Kill grimness with laughter. Encourage exuberance.”

Mr. Ogilvy did not have to limit his remarks to advertising agencies and advertising. The same could be said about any kind of business producing any kind of product or service. For you know it’s true:

People who have fun doing what they’re doing, do it better.

“The number one premise in business is that it need not be boring or dull,” said Thomas J. Peters. “It ought to be fun. If it’s not fun, you’re wasting your life.”

Note that neither Ogilvy nor Peters had any doubt about which is the more important — good work or fun. The fun comes first.

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