Most of us learn very little after the age of 30.

We think we’re learning, but actually we’re just refining the same sets of beliefs.

The second stage of life is when we let go of the ego (the little self that is determined it’s right) and embrace the unusual or uncomfortable and allow these things to change us.

This is true learning.

It’s not based on age. Some kids are already in their second stage of life. Some seventy year old fools aren’t.

Stats show that the people most resistant to change aren’t the old. They’ve usually seen things come and go and feel they have no one they have to please.

The stick-in-the-muds are the 40-50 year olds.

Guess how old the average creative director is?

The great creative never stop learning and they never stop admitting they don’t know it all.

John Webster used to get youngsters to crit his work. Paul Arden never lost his childlike enthusiasm.

To be a great creative director, you need to stop thinking you are one. In other words, let go of the ego, and enter the second stage.

The first wine was good, but the second will be better.


Gaudí said:

Men are divided into two categories: men of words and men of action. The former talk, the latter act. I belong to the second group. I lack the means of expressing myself. I could not tell you about the concept of art. I need to give it a concrete form.

Nike Said

Just do it

Next time you’re faced with an impossible task, get scribbling. Doesn’t matter what. Get the ideas out. 

I call it creative constipation. You have to get the shit ideas out of the way first. Everyone’s first idea is the same. So have it early. Then have another. If you wait till everything is perfect you’ll wait too long.

If you get working when you don’t feel ready, you’ll have got all the nonsense out of the way when the great idea does come knocking.


OK shoot me down like a slow, lame pigeon with a red disc painted on its chest, but I reckon the wisdom of the many is a bit of a myth.

Wikipedia is actually fuelled by a surprisingly small number of people. Then it’s improved by many.

The Guardian has almost as many contributors who aren’t paid as those who are. But it existed first. They’re contributing to an existing worldview.

If you’ve ever been in a blamestorming session you’ll know exactly what I’m on about. Nothing, repeat nothing, is a creatively stultifying as one of those excruciating lame-idea round robins. Everyone’s scared of ridicule so they share their safest ideas.

That’s why I think the wisdom of the many chat can be overplayed. First you need a vision. Then if you’re really smart, you listen to people as you adjust it.

Or you listen to lots of people, then you go do something.  (Bit like an advertising brief).

All the great leaps forward were by individuals who captured the zeitgeist of whatever. Then (probably because of that) lots of people followed. And because they made it their own, it took off.

So we need the visionaries and the mavericks. Otherwise everything is bland and dull. No excellence. No challenge.

Focus groups would never have produced Nick Drake (who died, like Van Gogh, undiscovered).

As David Ogilvy used to say (quoting Gilbert K. Chesterton): “Search all your parks in all your cities, you’ll find no statues to committees.”


Advertising is full of Alpha types. The ones that want to do it all themselves and get all the glory. Any visit to an awards ceremony will tell you that.

Or look at the awards annuals. Suddenly the clever child has many fathers.

I’ve seen a single press ad with three or four art directors and two creative directors – all with the names next to it. That’s not about collaboration – it’s about wanting to take the credit. The perpetual Beta changes all that. Wiki changes all that. User Generated Content of all types change that.

Kevin Rose (founder of Digg) talks about build and release – don’t imagine you really know your consumer best. Adapt as you go. Be light on your feet and quick to change.
The watchwords of the New Digital Order are generosity and collaboration. If your idea gets better because of the wisdom of the many rather than the brilliance of the individual, where does your ego go from there?

Well actually it is still about brilliance. My first job in advertising was at O&M, where we banged on about the big idea. Very often though, what we regarded then (and still now) as big ideas are just clever ideas. It’s the same now on the web. People confuse new with good. Or clever ideas with big ideas.

I think we’ve still to see the consistent emergence of really big ideas. Perhaps inspired, or improved by this new era of collaboration and generosity. So there’s room for the alpha types after all. It’s just that they’ll need to leave room for a few extra names on the awards entry.


ibelieve_Clorets_targetsHere’s a cool little idea for clorets. Shooting range targets in the shape of the offending smell. So clorets targets that smell and gives you fresh breath.

So far so good. And I’ve seen stuff like that before. Rubbers (erasers), fire extinguishers and so on, getting rid of some metaphor or other. But here’s where it gets great: the creatives didn’t just fire and forget: they didn’t just have the idea and walk away. They thought about the How, not just the What of the idea.

How are people going to see it? Where will they be? How can we cut through? So here are two bits of brilliance.

One, they put the posters in the aisles next to the coffee and the onions.

Two, they turned the aisle into a shooting range.

So instead of a good idea, they got a great one. Bullseye.

Next time you have a fairly good idea, maybe the key to making it great is in the delivery.

landminesPostscript: another example of delivery being part of the idea. These stickers were placed near UNICEF information booths. They squared the circle. Overall result a much more powerful piece of communication.


At school, I only ever won one race.

It was in the 200 metres, against a kid who had challenged me to a fight. I hate fighting and I’d let him kick lumps out of me. So I still bore a grudge.

He was small and fast. I was big and lumbering. But I had anger on my side. That had to be worth an extra second.

We took off. He was marginally ahead. I clawed it back. He edged ahead again. I kept at him and kept at him and it seemed to work. Until at the very last I was completely spent and he nipped over the line a foot ahead of me.

But I was wrong. The finish line I was aiming for wasn’t the real one. In fact I was aiming for a mark at 210 metres, not 200. So when we passed the actual finish line at 200 metres, I’d been ahead of him.

If I’d had my sights set on the actual target, he’d have beaten me.

When we try for hard things, the best we can do is achieve the hard thing. When we try for the impossible, every now and again something incredible happens.


donkeyI have a friend called Norrie. He’s famous for hilarious but graphic stories.

We often tell him “TMI, Norrie. TMI.”  It slows him down a little, but not much.

We suffer from a different kind of TMI in life, all the time. We get too much of it. And we give too much of it.

Ever been reading a map in the car and have to turn the radio off to take it in?

Ever started giving directions to someone and realise you’re on w-a-a-ay too much detail? They’ll never remember it.

It’s not lack of data we suffer from. It’s lack of clarity. In life, in briefs, in everything.

The phrase “Burning your boats” is actually a liberating strategy. When the Romans invaded Britan, they burned their boats. No going back. They were committed. Which made them more focussed, more resourceful, and a lot more successful.

Making it hard for yourself also makes you more creative.

Shakespeare wrote in sonnets because it was difficult. I was once at an ideas workshop in BBC drama. We just pulled stuff out of a trunk and started a story off on the back of that. A Barbie doll. A plastic sword. A coconut. A scarf. Anything to get the ideas going. And sometimes letting the need bully you into action is what you want as a creative. With too many choices, you freeze.

Paralysis by analysis.

A brief that says “do anything you like, just be creative” might feel creative. But it’s the opposite.

A tight brief makes you focus.

Less is more. In the brief, as well as in the execution.