Sunday, October 31, 2010

Self awesomation.

RSA animated this presentation by Daniel Pink. As the author of Drive, he advocates right-brained and intrinsic motivation. That's where our passion lives. It's the difference between safely completing a job and pushing yourself to exceed job expectations. Checking it off our list or making a deeper statement.

If you're a creative thinker, chances are you're not driven by standard external motivators. Creatives have a love/hate relationship with themselves. Most of the time they are trying to appease their inner critic (who is often a discerning asshole.) If they can impress this inner critic, the world will love them. At least briefly, in their own minds. They may not admit it, but this is their motivation. (That, and yes, cool shiny things.)

Pink calls out three key intrinsic motivators:
1. Autonomy (empowerment) 
2. Mastery (improving skills)
3. Purpose (working toward a bigger goal or being part of something bigger)
More than anything else, creatives want to be challenged to do great work and be empowered to do so.

Pink references an interesting study, with a Bob the Builder metaphor no less. The study goes against the core concept of self motivation. (Someone says self motivation, I think Stuart Smalley daily affirmations.) We've been taught to picture ourselves succeeding. No doubts. This is known as declarative self-talk.

Declarative vs. interrogative self-talk

Declarative self-talk = "I will be awesome."

Interrogative self-talk = "Will I be awesome?"

You would think the declarative statement would be more effective. Wrong. When doubt is introduced, you are forced to question variables. Construct a game plan. Humility becomes part of the equation. You have to take a step back and look at the big picture. Challenge yourself and your team.

"… questions open and declarations close. We need both, of course. But that initial tincture of honest doubt turns out to be more powerful than a bracing shot of certainty," Pink concludes.
So, the question is, will you be awesome? Ask yourself and get back to me.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ad industry, have you met your audience?

I still get chills watching the Levi's 'Go Forth' campaign spots from W+K. 

Yes, the campaign was criticized for not speaking to the Levi's-buying audience. Or for being "too good" in execution. (If that's a bad thing?) In spite of the critics, they had a bigger idea here. They captured an idealized, yet gritty America. Blurring stereotypes and encouraging us to go forth with purpose. However, to move forward, we must first look both ways and behind us.

"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." – Soren Klerkegaard
A 3six5 post by Rishad Tobaccowala reminded me of that insightful quote. He also inspires the idea that today is the culmination of many other singular days. Significant or insignificant, these days combine. They affect who we are and influence what we will do with today. It's almost subliminal.

As I think about my audience and an angle for a campaign, I realize we don't really understand ourselves. Well, not today anyway. We have to look backwards first. That's how we got here and that's what's driving today's decisions. And likewise, our audience comes to today's table with their own unique set of yesterdays.

Sometimes we generalize, thinking that everyone aspires to live or be a certain way. That's not really the case.

Your utopia may be another's nightmare. Ad Age wrote an eye-opening article on how the advertising industry sees pop culture. It's littered with assumptions. Assumptions we all occasionally make. Some things to consider for that "integrated" campaign pitch.

AdPulp referenced the Ad Age article and offered Congress contender David Esrati's advice. He suggested that ad people get into politics. That we should step off our pedestal, swim in real mainstream America, and better understand our actual audience.

Though I've always considered myself urban-minded, I happen to be a product of Middle America.

In fact, my hometown deemed itself "America's Home Town." My mom could care less about technology and admits she has no idea what I do. I may as well be speaking another language. She smiles and nods as I update her on what I'm working on. I do the same as she tells me the latest high school sport news and small town happenings. My parents were always very supportive of our crazy whims and ambitious endeavors. That's what Middle America is built on – community, hard work, and possibility. 

What you think people think is not always what they think.

Middle America or Manhattan, we need to start seeing our audience as a group of individuals.

That's what we are. That's what they are.

People with unique stories and important opinions. People that are passionate about beliefs today that have grown out of the culmination of their yesterdays. People dealing with internal and external conflicts that we can't imagine. People that see themselves differently than others see them.

Now get to know each other and behave. 

As in politics, it's one thing to say something and another thing to do it. Can you inspire your audience to change their behavior? Can you entice an individual into becoming part of something bigger? After all, as Faris points out, we are in the business of behavior. And with motivation, behaviors can change.
"Behavior is motivation filtered through opportunity." – Clay Shirky

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

The art of music and album survival.

I was reading today about the music industry and its scramble to adapt for digital usage. Demand is high for impulse-purchased songs. There are suggestions that albums go away or get priced ridiculously low in order to compete with single-song sales.

Are we really an anti-album society? 
One song is purchased and then thrown into a sea of other lone songs. I'll admit, the iTunes shuffle setting is pretty cool. I swear it's using some crazy mind-link-technology, playing songs that I'm thinking. And yes, Pandora radio is awesome.

But what about the bands who still consider themselves album artists?
The musicians that produce an album meant to tell a story or capture where they were artistically when they produced it. Maybe they sequestered themselves somewhere, writing hundreds of songs and carefully selecting a dozen. From beginning to end, painstakingly pacing and ordering those chosen songs. Are they all going to have to go rogue?

Are we respecting the music enough? 
The hunt for new music is over before it begins. Songs are easily attained today and the supply is endless. We take it for granted, get bored, and move on fast. We may not even see the album artwork before it gets tossed aside.

There used to be an extensive album courtship followed by a serious relationship with new music. The stages went something like this: 

Side note: I think my music obsession started at age 7 if that helps put this list in context. And yes, I realize that's weird. 7-year-olds probably don't need to be members of 'tape clubs' – listening to David Bowie, Joy Division, Duran Duran, etc.
1. You were enamored with a song, and you may or may not know the name/artist.
Yes, this was a time before the magical interwebs. If you were lucky, you caught the video credits on MTV. You know, back when they used to play videos. (You're thinking, what?!! A full, uncut video? That sounds like some sort of insane urban legend. Or, you're nodding your head and feeling old.)
 2. You made a bad, static-laden radio recording of the song to get you by until you could buy the album.
Flashback: Some of you will remember impatiently waiting for the radio station to play that 'one' song. Blank cassette locked and loaded. Your old school, all-in-one-music-playing/recording device of choice within reach. The siblings warned to keep it down because that song 'might' play at any moment and you're still pissed about them busting in on the last failed recording attempt.

It's been hours since you caught the end of that amazing song. They have to play it again, right? And, since only so many songs were on regular radio rotation, they do. Recording initiated. You mentally will the doorbell and phone not to ring for a couple of minutes. Dammit, there goes the dog. Do over.
3. At last, you buy the album and listen to it over and over, until you have to shelve it for awhile.
Ah, the record store. It's a designer's dream. I could get lost in there. The album art, the smell of vinyl, the complex packaging, and the inevitably cool background song playing.
4. You see the band perform in concert.
If you truly love a band or album, nothing compares to seeing the live performance. The best performers bring their passion to the stage. The audience can't escape it. Live music exposes layers beyond audio alone. You feel it in your soul. 
5. You get the album off the shelf and play it over and over, until you have to shelve it for awhile. Again.
After seeing a much-anticipated live performance I sometimes go on a band-related semi-OCD tangent. For instance, after seeing Black Rebel Motorcycle Club this year (finally) – I watched documentaries and listened to BRMC or bands associated with a band member for at least a week.
6. If it's really good, you'll discover it again later. When you listen carefully, it can take you back to another time and place.
Nostalgia is powerful. When you've completely forgotten an album that you once loved and hear it again, it's pure ecstasy.
7. Okay, no one has time for that sort of music commitment anymore, but let's support ways to save the albums worth saving.
Artists are finding ways to deliver albums on their own. Bands like Radiohead have broken free from music industry constraints, offering online honor systems for downloading their music. It's a great way to get the music out there and offer fans a variety of purchase options with reasonable pricing. Like the best album artists, they are personally committed to the art of music.
"The Smiths was an incredibly personal thing to me. It was like launching your own diary to music." – Steven Morrissey

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

The blank page: Hero and nemisis.

There you are, face to face with the abominable snowman in a blizzard. Again.

Though teeming with possibility, the blank page is daunting. Horrifying, yet exhilarating. Omnipresent, but absent.

As far as the overall idea for the blank page goes, the shotgun approach works. Generate as many ideas as possible, until something stands out. Your first idea is generally not your best. 

The visual manifestation of the idea is another story. Everyone achieves this differently. My sister Janelle, who is also an art director, likes to mentally visualize a solution before anything goes on paper. We rarely sketch. More often jotting down reminders for what we were thinking or need to figure out. Our 'sketchbooks' are filled with illegible notes, clouds of symbols, and walls of words. If it were an idea-execution instruction manual, it would be highly ineffective for anyone else.

Her company project status meetings go something like this, "So-and-so is finishing up this logo, what's-his-name is starting on a campaign, and Janelle has a bunch of 'Janelle-things' going on." They usually have a general idea of what she's doing, but they let her have free reign on the details.

She is the visionary behind the ever-award-winning Petunia Pickle Bottom catalog and the Meyer May House anniversary campaign presented by Steelcase. I wanted to give her some credit since names were missing from the 2010 ADCD award book and she couldn't make the dinner.

Whether we do what we do to win awards, to deliver results, or simply to appease our inner muse – we must continue to face the blank page. It's an unrealized dream. The seed of a movement. The beginning of a revolution. Or maybe just a really cool failed-idea paper airplane en route to the recycling bin.

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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Light bulb installation: How many creatives does it take?

How many people does it really take to come up with the big idea?
(Or just to make sense of the collective small ideas.)

A.) A lone rockstar
B.) A writer/art director team
C.) A select collaboration
D.) A and B with support from C
A.) There's still no "i" in team, but there is in creative.

You have to respect Leo Burnett's 1967 speech, 'When to take my name off the door.' Especially, his tribute to the solitary creative:
"Finally, when you lose your respect for the lonely man – the man at his typewriter or his drawing board or behind his camera or just scribbling notes with one of our big pencils – or working all night on a media plan. When you forget that the lonely man – and thank God for him – has made the agency we now have – possible. When you forget he’s the man who, because he is reaching harder, sometimes actually gets hold of for a moment - one of those hot, unreachable stars."
Along with the Burnett quote, this Gods of Advertising post uncovers some creative reality. Unquestionably, the transmedia revolution requires larger, more responsive core teams. However, there is an overlooked issue in this scenario – creatives are often introverts at heart. They may be masquerading as extroverts, but they still find essential inspiration from within. Usually alone, in solitude.
"Obviously, producing music, films and other forms requires collaboration but chances are the essence of the product belongs to one creator. And chances are that person was or is an introvert." – Steffan Postaer
B.) Two minds are better than one. Even better if they work as one. 

Bernbach's writer and art director team is still effective. Regardless of media execution, the idea needs to be expressed visually and verbally. Consequently, each team member is able to share idea ownership. Pushing the other, igniting new thoughts, and driving project passion. It's more exciting when a shared idea comes to life. Sure, the idea is executed by a larger team of experts, but it usually thrives within the original two people.

C.) With the right mix, group cooperation can trump solo cognition.

A new study co-authored by MIT, Carnegie Mellon University, and Union College researchers shows that collective intelligence within a group can surpass the individual intelligence of its members. But, the success of this idea depends on the group's social sensitivity. The better they collaborate and sense other team members' emotions, the better the result. And, if one person dominates the group, the collective intelligence goes down.
"Having a bunch of smart people in a group doesn't necessarily make the group smart," concludes Thomas Malone.
Get the right team together for a project and you can exceed an individual's capabilities. The new agency, co:, recently launched their flexible coalition. An impressive stable of thought-leaders and doers at the ready. I imagine they will still have core idea originators and protectors.

D.) My personal choice.

It's a mix between extended team collaboration, writer/art director idea development, and further personal creative thinking time. No matter how big a campaign or collaboration gets, there will always be limited idea ownership. It has to be that way. Without owners, the idea gets diluted or left for dead and chaos ensues.

The idea owners take primary responsibility. They flip the switch and bring the idea to life. Acquainting themselves with the essential details necessary to illuminate the idea as it grows and develops. Vowing to care for its well-being and ensuring it reaches its full, brilliant potential. Until it eventually fades out and gets replaced.

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