Thursday, July 9, 2020

Where do ideas come from?

As you may or may not know, on Tuesday evenings since the beginning of June, I've been teaching a class in advertising via AdHouse. Of course, we're doing this by Zoom, so I don't know for sure, but so far it seems attendance has been good and most of the students seem fairly engaged. We still have a way to go, but I think that's a good thing.

Last Tuesday one of the students in the class asked me how I work? How do I approach a problem? How do I start thinking, dissecting, looking for angles or ideas?

I'm conscious in my life that I get a lot of questions like that. Big and ontological. So, it's not unusual for me to take a full 20 minutes or more to answer. Most questions I field are not of the "what's the capital of Kentucky" variety. They're much more baroque and they demand, in my mind, a much more thoughtful answer.

A couple days ago I came upon an adage in my LinkedIn feed from the Twitter feed "@leeclowsbeard." Every so often, brevity and profundity collide and the explosion results in something wonderful.

The point is, whether you're a creative, a planner, an account person, in media, in support, a client, or even (heaven forfend) an executive, advertising is a whole-body experience. 

As the New York Lottery used to remind us, "you have to be in it to win it."

I am blessed (or cursed) with an eidetic memory. Eidetic memory is our modern way of saying 'photographic memory.' And what it means is as I wander through the world, as I read and view and hear and chat and listen to people, I take mental notes and try to store as much information and shreds of ideas as I can. I keep a lot under my greying hair and fading baseball cap.

Even with my memory, I have on my computer and on about 32 external hard-drives and 12 different clouds, reams and reams of links, jpegs, mp4s, articles, books, quotations, reviews, sketches and more. I have lists of jokes and a veritable storehouse of anecdotes from my eight decades on earth.

If I had to guess, I'd say the inside of my head looks like one of Walter Benjamin's notebooks.

I don't know how many gigaflops or teraflops or petaflops or exaflops I have in storage. I'd be curious to find out. But what I do know is that our jobs as advertising people is to make ourselves into observation machines. 

Our job, in fact, is a bit like a sparrow's. Out of the various shards and bits and scraps and traces and dustballs of life, we build our homes, we build our minds, we build the massive set of inchoate crap that we work to form into something no one has ever seen or heard before.

Maybe that in and of itself is entirely too vague. But as creators--not matter what our functional role in advertising is, we are creators, we take the atoms of stimulus and attempt to combine them in new and meaningful ways.

I can't be anymore precise than that, actually. We fill our storage units, cranial, emotional or digital to overflowing. We find some way through our memories or our sense of organization to call on those things when we need them and we start shaping them like a snowball until they have weight and shape and meaning.

We all have our own ways, I suppose. 

About an hour ago I said to my wife across the living room, "shit, I have no blog post for tomorrow and it's almost time for me to go to bed." My anxiety hardly registered with her.

She knows I've been preparing for deadlines my whole life.

That's what we do.

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