Monday, February 4, 2019


About 17-thousand years ago, when the Earth was considerably cooler than it is today, I had the great good fortune of working directly for and with Steve Hayden. 

I’ve never been shy about speaking my mind, but the trick to working with someone as brilliant and even more brilliant as Steve is to shut up and listen. To study how he works, what he says, how he interacts with people and how he wrestles a problem to the ground.

I was on set shooting with Steve, and everybody was pleased with the commercial we were in the process of filming.

The client came up to Steve and said, “I think we have a hit on our hands. It’s too bad our first round of spots was so bad.”

Steve didn’t even pause.

“Maybe if we didn’t strike out then, we wouldn’t have a hit now.”

I filed that away deep in my grey matter.

Last week I finally finished Andrew Roberts’ great new biography of Winston Churchill. In the conclusion, Roberts reiterates Churchill’s many failures as a leader: the Dardanelles, the independence of India, the invasion of Norway, and many more.

When asked about his many failures, Churchill responded with this: “
I should have made nothing if I had not made mistakes.”

It occurred to me that Churchill and Hayden on the same page. Failure allows success. In fact without risks, there would be no successes.

It further occurred to me that you can likely divide agencies and creative directors into two types.

There are those—the larger of the two types—who are so afraid of failure that they are overly punctilious about everything. They don’t trust. They over-correct. They congenitally regress to the mean. Safety first is their credo.

Then there are those rare Creative Directors, like Churchill and Hayden, who let you go. Who say, “try it.” Who say, “let’s see.” Who say, “yes,” instead of “no.”

These CDs aren’t reckless. They’re trusting. And they know enough to trust you and risk. They also abide by the wisdom that Czeslaw Milosz noted in his great book, “The Captive Mind.” Milosz attributed the epigram to an ancient Jew from Galacia:

"When someone is honestly 55% right, that's very good and there's no use wrangling. And if someone is 60% right, it's wonderful, it's great luck, and let him thank God. But what's to be said about 75% right? Wise people say this is suspicious. Well, and what about 100% right? Whoever says he's 100% right is a fanatic, a thug, and the worst kind of rascal."

In other words, there are those who believe that there's only one way to do things: their way. And often you're tortured through 218,032 revisions until their ways are accommodated.

That’s something else I’ve learned in my long years on this fast-dying planet. No one, no politician, no boss, no parent, no stock-picker, no expert, no client, no focus group, no swami, no no one is right more than six times out of ten.

I worked for Hayden, but never Bill Bernbach. Though I read that he carried a card around in his wallet. 

It’s a card many of us could use. It read: “Maybe he’s right.”

Maybe there's more than one way.

Maybe risks need to be taken.


No comments: