Friday, March 7, 2008
Does a brick have an inside?
As the world has grown increasingly dumber, I've found some solace in reading books by or about the brilliant. It turns out that many of these bona fide geniuses are scientists--physicists in particular. Though I understand nothing of physics, what I've discovered is that these people are artists of the highest order. They solve problems not with cyclotrons and particle accelerators but with the sheer force of their creativity and imagination. Also these physicists are almost always relentless--they don't stop until they breakthrough. A lesson all of us in advertising can learn from.
Right now I am reading a book by Nobelist Richard Feynman, "Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman." It's basically little anecdotes about his love of unraveling. This short passage particularly struck me. Feynman was a graduate physics student at Princeton in the 30s and his peripatetic mind led him to audit a graduate philosophy class. Naturally he is called on by the professor and asked "would you say an electron is an essential object." Like me, Feynman had no idea what an essential object is, so, like a good account guy, rather than answering the prof's question, he asked one instead. "Is a brick an essential object?" He writes: "What I had intended to do was to find out whether they thought theoretical constructs were essential objects...my next question was going to be, 'What about the inside of the brick'--and then I would point out that no one has ever seen the inside of a brick. Every time you break the brick, you only see a surface."
What I find important here is Feynman's questioning. He doesn't merely accept an assignment from his professor. He works hard to find what the professor is really asking, challenging the professor the whole way, learning himself and teaching the professor.
This is what we should do with clients. The ad business needs more creative questioners. Not rote answerers.
Posted by George Tannenbaum at 8:41 AM