I am approaching—if I make it, I’ll get there in just six weeks—my 32nd year in the advertising business. So maybe I am feeling in the mood for a bit of reflection this morning. I’m thinking about what it takes to last as long as I have.
I think at the end of the day, you can boil it down to one word: Sitzfleisch.
I always thought the word Yiddish. The opposite of Schpikas—meaning ants in your pants. But it's German, I'm told.
Sitzfleisch is the ability to spend endless hours at a desk doing grueling work.
Sitzfleisch translates literally as "sit-flesh," and figuratively as the ability to persevere at one thing. It's the ability to sit patiently still and ostensibly summon tremendous focus to the task at hand or to tackle the problem in mind.
It is said of Einstein that his friends “always marveled at his prodigious sitzfleisch; the way he could sit in his study for hour, weeks, and even years working on the same problem.
As much as advertising is not like physics and the general theory of relativity, it sometimes takes sitzfleisch, too.
To get something done often means late nights and early morning and focus focus focus. It means planting your ass in your seat, shutting out the world and doing it.
We live in a world where sitzfleisch is often disparaged. Where if you’ve got it you seem a dinosaur, slow, stolid, stubborn and plodding. I think one of the reasons behind the relative lack of enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton is that she’s a sitzfleisch candidate. She doesn’t pop out marketable sound bites like a stand-up comic.
Over years or sometimes decades, she grinds out substance and policy.
In advertising we are often anti-sitzfleisch, too. We go for the quick and the glib, the one-liner. And many times they are enough.
But more often, even seemingly simple executions are labored over until they are just right. Sometimes, many times, sweat makes funny. Sweat makes motivating. Sweat makes empathic.
So the secret of my 32 years?
BTW, Sitzfleisch doesn't mean you have to stay ungodly hours and labor every night and weekend. It does mean, I think, when the rubber meets the road, an intense concentration bringing everything to focus. It does mean thinking through blocks and distractions and solving the problem at hand.