Saturday, January 7, 2012

What I Learned This Year 2011 #45: Jennifer Hohn

For my contribution to The Denver Egotist's "What I Learned This Year 2011" series, I realized that learning is never really finished. Sometimes a contradiction leads to a revelation. In fact, opposition can drive innovation. You can change things. The overall concept of my post was inspired by this insight. And thanks to everyone out there who also inspired me. Here's the post, in its entirety:

What would happen if everything we’ve learned needs to be unlearned? (Within reason, of course. Put down the pitchforks and come out of your bomb shelters. If you want to light something on fire, that’s your call. I’m not condoning it.)

In advertising, this rethinking challenge has been wildly successful. Bernbach went big and thought small for Volkswagen. Then he unthinkably owned second place for Avis. Steve Jobs activated his reality distortion field at will and really got things done.

Suppose the opposed:

1. There are no rules, but there are rules. I don’t know anyone in this business who doesn’t seek parameters when approaching a creative brief. Though awesome, the thought of limitless possibilities induces nausea. We want to know the rules so we can break some of them. For a reason.

2. Common sense isn’t common. (And, it’s kind of boring anyway.) Aside from basic survival and navigation skills, see what happens when you react counter intuitively. Then realize everyone sees things differently. We can’t always make group assumptions.

3. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Everyone is uneasy with the ever-changing technological landscape. Get comfortable with that. Stay agile and be creatively agnostic.

4. The future is the past. Albeit a never-ending, future-feeling remix of the past. Acceptance of the new is linked to previous behavior. For instance, the Google Chrome campaign doesn’t tell us about new technology. It shows us, like it has always been there.

5. Useless information can be useful. Or distracting. Or hilarious. Surface fascination is ironically deep among creatives. For us, disenchantment is in the details. (That’s right, constructive shallowness is encouraged.) Creativity is the combination of sometimes-unrelated yet related things. So, the more you know, the more likely you’ll come up with an original combination. (And then, really blow people’s minds by relating that to a cat video.)

6. Contributing is selling. I have to credit this one to our senior writer, Patrick Hunt. He tells me there are babies in Egypt named Facebook. The influence and reach of social media is undeniable. He said, “In 2011 and beyond, hell will have no fury like a citizen scorned. It’s no longer what we sell. It’s what we’re contributing to the global good that really matters.”

7. Affluence has nothing to do with money. “We are all born wealthy. We’re alive. Anything beyond that should be considered wealth enhancement.” I learned that from Bernard Amadei, founder of Engineers Without Borders.

8. Humility is loud. Our work can always be better. Always. Own what you’ve done, but build your potential.

9. Trust enables risk. As Wieden + Kennedy pointed out, "Trust is the secret sauce if you want to do groundbreaking work." If you have a team and clients who truly trust you, consider yourself lucky. Continue to earn that trust.

10. Fate is choice. It isn’t something that just happens. Life depends on decision and thrives on opportunity. We can choose to embrace the things we cannot change, and affect the things we can.

In 2011, I was fortunate enough to learn from and work with unbelievably talented people. Thanks to everyone for the inspiration. Let’s do great things in 2012.

[This piece is cross-posted on Uprising and The Denver Egotist.]

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