Friday, August 28, 2009

A bit more on ambition.

Last week it was announced that 38 years after the murderous slaughter of dozens of Viet Namese in the small village of My Lai, former Lt. William Calley expressed contrition for what he did.

Reading a NY Times editorial on this I was reminded of something a mother of one of the soldiers said to Seymour Hersh, the reporter who broke the story: “I gave them a good boy, and they sent me back a murderer.”

My point about ambition in my last two posts or so isn't that we shouldn't be ambitious, it's that much like our military-industrial-educational-entertainment system turned good boys into killers, the holding-company and client technocracy seem to be turning good creatives into functionaries and rationalizers.

Good ideas, if they emerge at all from agencies and clients today, are a distillate that have somehow survived thousands of pages of powerpoint, hundreds of mindless meetings, the magnified inspection of cost consultants, dozens of hours of consumer research and of course petty office politics, back-biting and GND (generalized nastiness disorder.) There was a PBS special about sharks on the other evening, and the sonorous announcer told of one sort of shark that can sense a single drop of blood amid 25 million drops of water. Sometimes it seems that clients can hone in on a single drop of creativity amid 25 million pixels. (An ex boss of mine once referred to a certain set of clients as "wit-seeking missiles.")

My point about ambition isn't that individuals, agencies or holding companies lack it. My point is that a system has emerged that seems to enforce mediocrity, like our reign in Viet Nam seem to induce horror. It's kind of like working at the Sheboygan County Fair for a summer, surrounded by bratwurst, beer and fried corn dogs while trying to lose weight. Your intentions may be noble, your will power may be stoic, but the odds are daunting. The question for agencies and holding companies is how to create a system that battles the system.

1 comment:

Graham Strong said...

It's sort of like mob mentality, but in reverse. You let leash a great creative idea onto the boardroom table, and everyone immediately feels the need to rein it in.

"Whoa there, how'd you think Pinkerton in accounting would feel if we didn't mention his 0.7% increase in widget-liciousness in this ad? We've got to fit that in somewhere..."

Creating by exec committee -- the next best thing to editing by it.