A Short Lesson in Perspective

Many years ago, when I first started to work in the advertising industry, we used to have this thing called The Overnight Test. It worked like this: My creative partner Laurence and I would spend the day covering A2 sheets torn from layout pads with ideas for whatever project we were currently engaged upon – an ad for a new gas oven, tennis racket or whatever. Scribbled headlines. Bad puns. Stick-men drawings crudely rendered in fat black Magic Marker. It was a kind of brain dump I suppose. Everything that tumbled out of our heads and mouths was committed to paper. Anything completely ridiculous, irrelevant or otherwise unworkable was filtered out as we worked, and by beer ‘o’ clock there would be an impressive avalanche of screwed-up paper filling the corner of the room where our comically undersized waste-bin resided.

On a productive day, aside from the mountain of dead trees (recycling hadn’t been invented in 1982), stacked polystyrene coffee cups and an overflowing ash-tray, there would also be a satisfying thick sheaf of “concepts.” Some almost fully formed and self-contained ideas. Others misshapen and graceless fragments, but harbouring perhaps the glimmer of a smile or a grain of human truth which had won it’s temporary reprieve from the reject pile. Before trotting off to Clarks Bar to blow the froth of a pint of Eighty-Bob, our last task was to pin everything up on the walls of our office.

Hangovers not withstanding, the next morning at the crack of ten ‘o’ clock we’d reconvene in our work-room and sit quietly surveying the fruits of our labour. Usually about a third of the ‘ideas’ came down straight away, before anyone else wandered past. It’s remarkable how something that seems either arse-breakingly funny, or cosmically profound in the white heat of it’s inception, can mean absolutely nothing in the cold light of morning. By mid-morning coffee, the creative department was coming back to life, and we participated in the daily ritual of wandering around the airy Georgian splendour of our Edinburgh offices and critiquing each teams crumpled creations. It wasn’t brutal or destructive. Creative people are on the whole fragile beings, and letting each other down gently and quietly was the unwritten rule. Sometimes just a blank look or a scratched head was enough to see a candidate quietly pulled down and consigned to the bin. Something considered particularly “strong,” witty or clever would elicit cries of “Hey, come and see what the boys have come up with!”  Our compadres would pile into our cramped room to offer praise or constructive criticism. That was always a good feeling.
This human powered bullshit filter was a handy and powerful tool. Inexpensive, and practically foolproof. Not much slipped through the net. I’m quite sure architects, musicians, mathematicians and cake decorators all have an equivalent time-honed protocol.

But here’s the thing.

The Overnight Test only works if you can afford to wait overnight. To sleep on it. Time moved on, and during the nineties technology overran, and transformed the creative industry like it did most others. Exciting new tools. Endless new possibilities. Pressing new deadlines. With the new digital tools at our disposal we could romp over the creative landscape at full tilt. Have an idea, execute it and deliver it in a matter of a few short hours. Or at least a long night. At first it was a great luxury. We could cover so much more ground. Explore all the angles. And having exhausted all the available possibilities, craft a solution we could have complete faith in.

Or as the bean counters upstairs quickly realized, we could just do three times as many jobs in the same amount of time, and make them three times as much money. For the same reason that Jumbo Jets don’t have the grand pianos and palm-court cocktail bars we were originally promised in the brochures, the accountants naturally won the day.

Pretty soon, The Overnight Test became the Over Lunch Test. Then before we knew it, we were eating Pot-Noodles at our desks, and taking it in turns to go home and see our kids before they went to bed. As fast as we could pin an idea on the wall, some red-faced account manager in a bad suit would run away with it. Where we used to rely on taking a break and “stretching the eyes’ to allow us to see the wood from the trees (too many idioms and similes? Probably.) We now fell back on experience and gut-feel. It worked most of the time, but nobody is infallible. Some howlers and growlers definitely made it through, and generally standards plummeted.
The other consequence, with the benefit of hindsight, is that we became more conservative. Less likely to take creative risks and rely on the tried and trusted. The familiar is always going to research better than the truly novel. An research was the new god. The trick to being truly creative, I’ve always maintained, is to be completely unselfconscious. To resist the urge to self-censor. To not-give-a-shit what anybody thinks. That’s why children are so good at it. And why people with Volkswagens, and mortgages, Personal Equity Plans and matching Lois Vutton luggage are not.

It takes a certain amount of courage, thinking out loud. And is best done in a safe and nurturing environment. Creative Departments and design studios used to be such places, where you could say and do just about anything creatively speaking, without fear of ridicule or judgement. It has to be this way, or you will just close up like a clamshell. It’s like trying to have sex, with your mum listening outside the bedroom door. Can’t be done. Then some bright spark had the idea of setting everyone up in competition. It became a contest. A race. Winner gets to keep his job.

Now of course we are all suffering from the same affliction. Our technology whizzes along at the velocity of a speeding electron, and our poor overtaxed neurons struggle to keep up. Everything has become a split-second decision. Find something you like. Share it. Have a half-baked thought. Tweet it. Don’t wait. Don’t hesitate. Seize the moment. Keep up. There will be plenty of time to repent later. Oh, and just to cover your ass, don’t forget to stick a smiley :) on the end just in case you’ve overstepped the mark.

So. To recap, The Overnight Test is a good thing. And sadly missed. A weekend is even better, and as they fell by the wayside, they were missed too. “If you don’t come in on Saturday, don’t bother turning up on Sunday!” as the old advertising joke goes.

A week would be nice. A month would be an unreasonable luxury. I’ve now ‘enjoyed’ the better part of six months of enforced detachment from my old reality. When your used to turning on a sixpence, shooting from the hip, dancing on a pin-head (too many again?), the view back down from six months is quite giddying. And sobering.

My old life looks, and feels, very different from the outside.

And here’s the thing.

It turns out I didn’t actually like my old life nearly as much as I thought I did. I know this now because I occasionally catch up with my old colleagues and work-mates. They fall over each other to  enthusiastically show me the latest project they’re working on. Ask my opinion. Proudly show off their technical prowess (which is not inconsiderable.) I find myself glazing over but politely listen as they brag about who’s had the least sleep and the most takaway food. “I haven’t seen my wife since January, I can’t feel my legs any more and I think I have scurvy but another three weeks and we’ll be done. It’s got to be done by then The client’s going on holiday. What do I think?”

What do I think?

I think you’re all fucking mad. Deranged. So disengaged from reality it’s not even funny. It’s a fucking TV commercial. Nobody give a shit.

This has come as quite a shock I can tell you. I think, I’ve come to the conclusion that the whole thing was a bit of a con. A scam. An elaborate hoax.

The scam works like this:

1. The creative industry operates largely by holding ‘creative’ people ransom to their own self-image, precarious sense of self-worth, and fragile – if occasionally out of control ego. We tend to set ourselves impossibly high standards, and are invariably our own toughest critics. Satisfying our own lofty demands is usually a lot harder than appeasing any client, who in my experience tend to have disappointingly low expectations. Most artists and designers I know would rather work all night than turn in a sub-standard job. It is a universal truth that all artists think they a frauds and charlatans, and live in constant fear of being exposed. We believe by working harder than anyone else we can evaded detection. The bean-counters rumbled this centuries ago and have been profitably exploiting this weakness ever since. You don’t have to drive creative folk like most workers. They drive themselves. Just wind ‘em up and let ‘em go.

2. Truly creative people tend not to be motivated by money. That’s why so few of us have any. The riches we crave are acknowledgment and appreciation of the ideas that we have and the things that we make. A simple but sincere “That’s quite good.” from someone who’s opinion we respect (usually a fellow artisan) is worth infinitely more than any pay-rise or bonus. Again, our industry masters cleverly exploit this insecurity and vanity by offering glamorous but worthless trinkets and elaborately staged award schemes to keep the artists focused and motivated. Like so many demented magpies we flock around the shiny things and would peck each others eyes out to have more than anyone else. Handing out the odd gold statuette is a whole lot cheaper than dishing out stock certificates or board seats.

3. The compulsion to create is unstoppable. It’s a need that has to be filled. I’ve barely ‘worked’ in any meaningful way for half a year, but every day I find myself driven to ‘make’ something. Take photographs. Draw. Write. Make bad music. It’s just an itch than needs to be scratched. Apart from the occasional severed ear or descent into fecal-eating dementia the creative impulse is mostly little more than a quaint eccentricity. But introduce this mostly benign neurosis into a commercial context.. well that way, my friends lies misery and madness.

This hybridisation of the arts and business is nothing new of course – it’s been going on for centuries – but they have always been uncomfortable bed-fellows. But even artists have to eat, and the fuel of commerce and industry is innovation and novelty. Hey! Let’s trade. “Will work for food!” as the street-beggars sign says.

This Faustian pact has been the undoing of many great artists, many more journeymen and more than a few of my good friends. Add to this volatile mixture the powerful accelerant of emerging digital technology and all hell breaks loose. What I have witnessed happening in the last twenty years is the aesthetic equivalent of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. The wholesale industrialization and mechanistation of the creative process. Our ad agencies, design groups, film and music studios have gone from being cottage industries and guilds of craftsmen and women, essentially unchanged from the middle-ages, to dark sattanic mills of mass production. Ideas themselves have become just another disposable commodity to be supplied to order by the lowest bidder. As soon as they figure out a way of outsourcing thinking to China they won’t think twice. Believe me.

So where does that leave the artists and artisans? Well, up a watercolour of shit creek without a painbrush. That one thing that we prize and value above all else – the idea –  turns out to be just another plastic gizmo or widget to be touted and traded. And to add insult to injury we now have to create them not in our own tine, but according to the quota and the production schedule. “We need six concepts to show the client first thing in the morning, he’s going on holiday. Don’t waste too much time on them though, it’s only meeting-fodder. He’s only paying for one so they don’t all have to be good, just knock something up. You know the drill. Oh, and one more thing. His favourite color is green. Rightho! See you in the morning then… I’m off to the Groucho Club.”

Have you ever tried to have an idea. Any idea at all, with a gun to your head? This is the daily reality for the creative drone. And when he’s done, sometime in the wee small hours, he then has to face his two harshest critics. Himself, and everyone else. “Ah. Sorry. Client couldn’t make the meeting. I faxed your layouts to him at his squash club. He quite liked the green one. Apart from the typeface, the words, the picture and the idea. Oh, and could the logo be bigger? Hope it wasn’t a late night. Thank god for computers eh? Rightho! I’m off to lunch.”

Alright, it’s not bomb disposal. But in it’s own way it’s dangerous and demanding work. And as I’ve said, the rewards tend to be vanishingly small. Plastic gold statuette anyone? I’ve seen quite a few creative drones fall by the wayside over the years. Booze mostly. Drugs occasionally. Anxiety. Stress. Broken marriages. Lots of those. Even a couple of suicides. But mostly just people temperamentally and emotionally ill-equipped for such a hostile and toxic environment. Curiously, there never seems to be any shortage of eager young worker drones queuing up to try their luck, although I detect that even their bright-eyed enthusiasm is staring to wane. Advertising was the sexy place to be in the eighties. The zeitgeist has move on. And so have most of the bright-young-things.

So how did I survive for thirty years? Well it was a close shave. Very close. And while on the inside I am indeed a ‘delicate flower’ as some Creative Director once wryly observed, I have enjoyed until recently, the outward physical constitution and rude heath of an ox. I mostly hid my insecurity and fear from everyone but those closest to me, and ran fast enough that I would never be found out. The other thing I did, I now discover, was to convince myself that there was nothing else, absolutely nothing, I would rather be doing. That I had found my true calling in life, and that I was unbelievably lucky to be getting paid – most of the time – for something that I was passionate about, and would probably be doing in some form or other anyway.

It turns out that my training and experience had equipped me perfectly for this epic act of self-deceit. This was my gig. My schtick. Constructing a compelling and convincing argument to buy, from the thinnest of evidence was what we did. “Don’t sell the sausage. Sell the sizzle” as we were taught at ad school.

Countless late nights and weekends, holidays, birthdays, school recitals and anniversary dinners were willingly sacrificed at the altar of some intangible but infinitely worthy higher cause. It would all be worth it in the long run…

This was the con. Convincing myself that there was nowhere I’d rather be was just a coping mechanism. I can see that now. It was’nt really important. Or of any consequence at all really. How could it be. We were just shifting product. Our product, and the clients. Just meeting the quota. Feeding the beast as I called it on my more cynical days.

So was it worth it?

Well of course not. It turns out it was just advertising. There was no higher calling. No ultimate prize. Just a lot of faded, yellowing newsprint, and old video cassettes in an obsolete format I can’t even play any more even if I was interested. Oh yes, and a lot of framed certificates and little gold statuettes. A shit-load of empty Prozac boxes, wine bottles, a lot of grey hair and a tumor of indeterminate dimensions.

It sounds like I’m feeling sorry for myself again. I’m not. It was fun for quite a lot of the time. I was pretty good at it. I met a lot of funny, talented and clever people, got to become an overnight expert in everything from shower-heads to sheep-dip, got to scratch my creative itch on a daily basis, and earned enough money to raise the family which I love, and even see them occasionally.

But what I didn’t do, with the benefit of perspective, is anything of any lasting importance. At least creatively speaking. Economically I probably helped shift some merchandise. Enhanced a few companies bottom lines. Helped make one or two wealthy men a bit wealthier than they already were.

As a life, it all seemed like such a good idea at the time.

But I’m not really sure it passes The Overnight Test.

Pity.

Oh. And if your reading this while sitting in some darkened studio or edit suite agonizing over whether housewife A should pick up the soap powder with her left hand or her right, do yourself a favour. Power down. Lock up and go home and kiss your wife and kids.

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  1. Glenn Wood says:

    Bang on Linds. Advertising uses you so you have to use it right back. Personally the industry has been very good to me but only because it supports the other creative work I do. All creative work needs to be kept in perspective, we’re not saving lives here. My mantra is – if it’s fun keep doing it, if it’s not, do something else.

  2. Jake Morrison says:

    Nodded. Smiled. Grimaced.

    Great stuff. And a great reminder of why I couldn’t do ads for a day longer than I did.

    Cheers and thanks for writing this.

    PS: “It’s like trying to have sex with your mum outside the bedroom door” could probably do with a strategically placed comma. (Sorry, can’t help it; I was a copywriter for sixteen years)

    *Smiley face*

  3. Dag Young says:

    Linds, I think you speak for a hell of a lot of people in adland with this one. Thanks for making us feel a little less alone.

  4. Boris Sokratov says:

    Hey Linds,

    You don’t know me from a bar of soap. I started following your blog when my mad mate David McGregor posted a link to your blog a wee while back.

    Laughed my nuts off when I read this…

    ‎”I think you’re all fucking mad. Deranged. So disengaged from reality it’s not even funny. It’s a fucking TV commercial. Nobody give a shit.”

    I remember the day the lightbulb went on and I had this exact same realisation, many moons ago. I pissed myself laughing then and you just made me do it again. On that day I began to put everything back in perspective, just as you have Linds.

    I genuinely enjoy reading the wisdom you share with your blog. All power to ya Linds as you walk the road we must all one day journey.

    :) Kindest,

    Boris (the Bulgarian Maori) Sokratov

    PS: the smiley’s just for you

  5. Is it not also true to say, however, that in most lines of endeavour the real worth is in what we extract for ourselves while appearing to do whatever it is? Thus… your perspective, outlook and courage are in some part the product of what might look, at first glance, to have been a lot of days and nights spent in pursuit of something of little worth.

    I think for most people doing most jobs, if you scrutinise the prima facie value of the work, you’d rapidly despair of it. But doing it as well as it can possibly be done, applying craft to it and growing personally from it… now that’s a worthy challenge for a lifetime.

    And one that, as this post evidences, you are far from done with meeting.

    Great work, mate.

  6. Eugene Ruane says:

    Fantastic!

    As good a piece as I’ve ever read on ‘the business’ of creativity and how it has changed (and how those changes have changed those who produce it).

    One tiny thing though – in the line “It’s like trying to have sex with your mum outside the bedroom door”, I would possibly put the word ‘listening’ after the word ‘mum’.

  7. Well I’ve always thought it was great fun. But whenever there was that occasional crap meeting – the client with the creative ambition of a goldfish – I used to look at a photograph I had pinned to the wall above my desk. It was a shot of my grandfather at work, lying on his side in a 15inch seam digging out coal. He did it for 51 years. If ever I wanted a lesson in perspective it was always there. I’m still creating ads and probably will do for a couple of years. As long as people want me to do it. And as long as I enjoy doing it. Great article you wrote though.

  8. Avowkind says:

    Excellent writing lins. I suspect however that many people looking at their ‘profession’ feel similarly (mine is software and I’ve also done 30 years).

    Most of what all of any of us do is neither long lasting or particularly meaningful. but we do it because its what we are good at and really what else would we do, and don’t pretend that some of it isn’t fun.

    Andrew

  9. simon says:

    This is great, but it’s probably good that having sex with your mum is difficult though, right? especially in a hallway…

  10. Mike Sparks says:

    Linds,

    I’ve been lurking around here for a month or so, not knowing what to write that wasn’t blindingly obvious or written already by someone better at it than me.

    On this occasion however, I feel I must congratulate you on the most concise wrap-up of the state of advertising (and post production) I have read.

    I’m 53 and have been making TV commercials for 26 years.

    Time to head your advice.

    Mike

    • Linds says:

      Glad you’re following allong Mike. For what it’s worth, you’re who inspired my to move into production in the first place. Thaks for nothing!

  11. Sigi says:

    Awesome Lindsay,
    now was that arial grey on white ?
    s

  12. Vegas says:

    Nothing wrong with stickmen drawings mate :)

  13. Linds says:

    Thanks to everyone who took the time to read and leave comments. I would just like to formaly state for the record, that I have never had sex with my mum. Linds. (The unfortunate sentence in question has been edited acording to your excelent sugestions.)

  14. Wayne says:

    Nice work Linds – it’s a sad fact that many creatives and studios fall into this archetype.

    Thankfully some realise that when creative endeavours and ‘led’ they cease being a profession and become a commodity. As such their value is determined by the market.

    Knowing you have something valuable to offer differentiates professions from commodities.

    Thank you for the insight – we have all been there. Not staying there is a critical for your sanity and wellbeing.

  15. Peter Elliott says:

    Hey Linds.
    Great piece, interesting that we can all feel the same way about the pointlessness of what we did for love, and money.
    It has been my job to turn many of those mad brainfarts and rescrutinised flashes of genius into real and believable words and actions. Many times it has left me in the depths of despair; as we too labour over learning and delivering the best we possibly can in a staggeringly proscriptive time and creative frame.
    I will never change the world, and neither will you – in all probability – but we can say with hand on heart that we genuinely delivered the best we possibly could have, every single time.
    It appears we have all stuck to the edict that ‘if a jobs worth doing, its worth doing well’.
    There is wealth and worth and weight in that.
    What is it the zen folk say? You can be a street sweeper and still gain great satisfaction from doing it with all your heart and being. Perhaps ultimately, when facing the difficulty you are, it is hard to be positive about your contribution, but sincerely, you can be. And this is no gold statuette, a plaque, or a bonus, but I and those who work with creatives applaud your efforts loud and long. Many thanks from us actors and voices. Bless.

    • Linds says:

      Yes, it probably sounds like I am pleading a special case for advertising and design, which is not my intention. There is creativity in every sphere of human endevour – it’s what makes us unique as a species. It just saddens me to see the thinkers and the dreamers marginalised and what they contribute trivialised. To start the day with nothing, and to end it with something that didn’t exist yeaterday is a wonderous and magical thing. It never gets old. Making shit. That’s where the fun is. And the wonder. And the glory. (and when I seay glory, I mean it in a spirtual sense, not a gold plated statuette.)

  16. Mario McMillan says:

    Brilliant stuff Linds. All of it so very true.

    I think we need to coin an equivalent word to ‘unputdownable’ relating to blogs.

  17. Mario McMillan says:

    Linds – I like those. Maybe also ‘Diggable’, ‘Tweetastic’ and even
    ‘Sharemungous’.

  18. Hey Linds, we’d love to repost this as a feature article on our advertising and creativity website – The San Francisco Egotist. Get a hold of us if you’re interested. It’s an awesome article.

  19. Gena Tuffery says:

    “I’m an Art Director. Punctuation (or spelling) is just not my thing…” Writing is though. Your copywriters must’ve suffered rampant job insecurity.

    • Linds says:

      Strangely enough, I never tried writing seriouisly untill I gave up work. I have been lucky to work with some first rate writers over the years, and I guess I picked up a bit from them. (Lawrence, Steve, Sion, Dave, Philip, Adrian, Conan, thanks a LOT fellas!). I was always the insecure one ;)

  20. Ex art director says:

    Great insight into what a creatives goes through. If I can add my 2 cents worth to someone wanting to get a creative job in advertising. Work in advertising for a bit. How long is up to you. But I suggest the moment you start feeling bitter get out. Now hopefully in the time you spent in advertising you soaked up a great many things. In fact enough stuff to discover what you really want to do in life. Treat advertising as a stepping stone to a life of creative freedom and fulfilment. My other piece of advice is don’t get into debt while you work in advertising. Debt is the enemy of leading a creative life..

  21. Andy Purnell says:

    I read this whilst i was having ‘Idea Meltdown’ (on a Sunday!) and wondering where my creative mojo had gone. Then remembered it was just a DM piece for the Baking industry. So I went to the pub instead. Marvelous. Thanks Linds.

    • Linds says:

      Very happy to be of service Andy. Going to the pub is never a bad idea. I have all my best ideas there. Remembering the bastards, that’s the tricky thing…

  22. Or how about ‘required Redding’ ?

  23. will atkinson says:

    Lawrence, I’ve always believed if you’re going to pun, pun big. That one’s worthy of Attilla the …,And just when I was going to write Redding required.

    Linds, you already know what i think about the tyranny of creativity. I suppose the great thing is going freelance – and promise yourself you’ll only work on what you want to work on. And be prepared to walk away if it fucks your life.

    Anyway, keep on.
    Will

    • Well I take that as a ****ing huge compliment coming from the man who, 31 years ago repenned and improved the Righteous Brothers into the version I still hum of a sunny morning: “You don’t close your eyes any more when I give you chi-i-i-i-ips…” leading into…..“You’ve lost that oven feeling… whoa oh that oven feeling…”

  24. What a load of sentimental tosh.
    I love it.
    (Used to love ads and stay late – or not go home at all – I had a business to run – a name to make – an ego, thirsty like a TVR to fuel.)
    Meanwhile I had a beautiful wife and son to love.
    She wished I would be there more.
    She didn’t care about money or stupid little gongs (I have a stupid little gong).
    She died from cancer – aged 29, and I realised, too late, that David Ogilvy was correct (and not in the least bit ironic) when he wrote something about a fellow who worked for him who, every day at 5 o’clock, would stand, put on his coat and hat and go home. To wit Ogilvy parsed – “Imagine the discipline that must take.”
    Go home.
    You’re a lege Linds.
    It still irks me that you’re a better writer than ad writers. Or would be – if there were any writers left in advertising.

  25. Right with you, Linds. What had consumed me with a passion, my ‘life’ in advertising, became as instantly abject and insignificant as a clipped fingernail the day I walked away. But it wasn’t all in vain, was it? Your article reminds me of the character, Frank Towns, in Flight of the Phoenix (1965 original, of course!). He’s disillusioned with the job, after years watching ‘the little men with their slide-rules and computers inherit the earth’. Then, when his plane crashes in the desert and he faces death, he builds an entirely different and new plane out of the wrecked parts of the old, and he flies away, loving it.
    This blog of yours is flying, Linds. You’re touching people’s lives with your words, not least of all my own. Surely the time spent getting here supplies the parts that make this ‘work’ so brilliant!

  26. Andrew Lindsay says:

    Being a typical Libran I’ve have the classic ‘on the one side’ followed quickly by my ‘on the other side’ view of creative life…
    On one side I find myself and the poor sods who work for me running faster and faster to keep up with the avalanche of shit that hits the desk every day. We also have to fight harder than ever to sell a good idea – fewer clients, account people and sometimes even our own seem to give a jot.
    On the other side I’ve had some of the best fun, worked with some of the most talented people I have ever met (including yourself) done the occasional piece of work that I have genuinely felt proud of whether it became a wrapper for the next evening’s fish and chips, no matter. And best of all it has allowed me the luxury of never having had to grow up.
    So all in all it beats the shit out of being an accountant.
    All the best Linds.

  27. originaljoe says:

    Great article.

    Although from a planner’s perspective, I can’t think of another profession that would allow me to spend time thinking, writing and talking about interesting things. Psychology, YouTube, mobile phones, cars, problem-solving, nostalgia, music, economics, guerilla stunts, augmented reality and margarine.

    Yes, the work we’re doing doesn’t really matter. It sometimes sells more products that people don’t really need. Our work is often met with annoyance, turning the page and changing the channel. And advertising has been dragged kicking and screaming into the real world of business, with deadlines and budgets and lunches that last 30 minutes instead of all afternoon. Boo hoo. Get over it.

    It’s still a lot of fun. We can leave whenever we want and write that book that probably won’t be as good as we’ve been telling ourselves it will be. We can get a ‘real’ job, if there are any left.

    I suspect most of us won’t.

  28. John Kooy says:

    Creativity and modern technology iswhat makes life worth living.
    Where would we be without all the wonderful inventions that have been made in the last 150 years ?
    We would pretty much live life like animals,we just suffer more for we are intelligent beings.
    Where would we be without creativity?
    Without Movies,theatre,theme parks;and the list goes on and on.
    Thank you scientists and artists for you make life worth living for big masses of the human race.
    Problem is you are contolled by bean counters and slave drivers with dollar signs in their eyes.
    It is up to you to stop and think and put things into perspective and do not wait 30 years to do this!

  29. Tony Reardon says:

    Three times during the course of my time – spent firstly writing copy, then in account ‘direction’, then senior agency management – have I got up, put on my hat and coat, and walked (or been marched on one occasion) away not to return ‘ever again’ to the creative field of endeavour. But here I am. It’s the people you see. Where else am I going to find people who relate to what rubbish falls out of my mouth, laugh when I do, like talking about utter nonsense as much as me? I have also worked in very professional service-related companies and, while I have met great people ‘client-side’ there are far more people on the dark side who I can have a laugh with while putting in the long hours. I guess I am lucky I have found like minds (like mine) to spend time with – good and bad. Great perspective Linds. Its important we remember we’re not saving any lives on a daily basis. Now get home and kiss the dog.

  30. David says:

    I’m far from the same career but what you describe is all too familiar to me. I have spent countless hours toiling over projects that mean not a jot in the scheme of things, working for people who have an inate ability to crush one’s soul. The pointlessness of it can only be counterbalanced by the relentless need to keep paying those bills for crap you don’t need. We’ve just finished the first stage of a big reno at home and among the rubble I think we threw out a good two skips of that crap we didn’t need. I just wish it were as easy to change jobs!

    It’s like stepping onto one of those moving walkways gently moving you forward then stepping onto another that’s a bit faster and then another and another until you realize it’s going too fast to get off. Sadly, even with perspective it’s a fearsome jump for most of us to make regardless of our occupation

  31. will atkinson says:

    You’ve lost that oven feeling was penned by Pete Tiownsend – now retired and living somewhere near Brisbane Australia I think.

  32. Paul Catmur says:

    Linds,

    I love your writing and I think it’s great that you have got so many people thinking. However I’m not sure that in this instance you’re completely right.

    For example, had I not consistently stayed beyond 5pm I very much doubt that I could have kept myself employed in advertising.

    Had I not kept myself employed in advertising it is very doubtful that I would have:

    -Been intellectually challenged on almost every day at work.
    -Lived and worked in London, Auckland and Melbourne.
    -Won the London Time Out travel writing competition.
    -Spent 2 months writing in the Cook Islands.
    -Made countless commercials, some of which have had a mild cultural effect on their audience.
    -Worked with Harry Enfield, one of the funniest men of his time.
    -Worked with Peter Cook, the funniest man of his time.
    -Spent two weeks in Florida filming with every African animal you can think of.
    -Filmed at Wembley Stadium with Kevin Keegan.
    -Had two film scripts and one novel in various stages of rejection.
    -Had a regular (if sporadically watched) segment on TV.
    -Travelled at someone else’s cost to Paris, Berlin, Thailand, Las Vegas, Bali, New York, Cannes, Phoenix, Cancun, Turin, Fiji, Los Angeles, Queenstown, Hong Kong, Singapore, Beijing and the Falkland Islands.
    -Met a slab of interesting, creative and stimulating people (yourself included).
    -Been pretty bloody happy for the last twenty-two years (despite appearances to the contrary).

    Yes, I would rather be a rock star, a professional sportsman or someone big in Hollywood, but other than that how else could I have had so much fun?

    • Linds says:

      You’re quite right Paul, if you have the right attitude and mental fortitude, the benefits are probably worth the pain. It’s ultimately down to how well you can cope with the rough and tumble of agency life. To some people, criticism and rejection is just water off a ducks back. All part of the game. To others it has a cumulative effect and wears you down. Some folk thrive and survive in that environment, others struggle. It’s all about temperament. You and I survived, maybe for you it was easy, you certainly made it look that way. For me it was always a battle. I’m relieved it’s over. As others here have said, I probably would never have had the courage to call it a day of my own accord. Fortunately that decision was made for me.

  33. Emma says:

    This is ****ing great! Laughed out loud and nodded a lot while reading.

    Pity you ad men can’t have the babies, cos that is what cured me of much derangement about design and advertising – and how Important My Work Is.

    Came back after second child and 8 pretty wonderful months of domesticity (only the fiscal situation gets one down) to fold myself back into the tight frame of work. I couldn’t understand all the fuss anymore. Got delayed post-natal depression as a result….which according to my reading of your post, may have actually been an intense few months (a year and a half) of Getting A Grip On What Life Is Actually About. That shift in perspective has been pretty permanent, for me, I do very much enjoy this work, but it’s not everything.

    To be the best human we can is to be generous in our thinking and our efforts in all aspects of our lives, not just the paying bit.

    • Linds says:

      You’re right. Nothing like parenthood to snap things sharply back into focus. I get out-witted and out-maneuvered by daughter all the time. I love that. Someone one told me that the secret of success is to surround yourself with people smarter than you are. Good advice, but I didn’t expect it to be my children. Bugger. I have a fantastic relationship with my daughter Becca, but I do wish I’d spent less time working on whatever seemed so important at the time, and a bit more time a at home with my family.

  34. Emma says:

    Oh god. I do not mean to sound like a preachy ‘look at me, I can make babies and get life in order!’ f**kwit woman.

    Trust that you get what I mean.

    Argh.

  35. Helen says:

    I just wanted to challenge something you wrote.
    Your blog, and your concept of lifes’s choices needing to pass the ‘Overnight Test’ have been read by so many people.
    You say that, creatively speaking, you didn’t do anything of any lasting importance.
    The strange thing is, in the act of writing that line, you may have done so, after all.
    Thank you

  36. Alan Orpin says:

    I’ve been in this business man and boy and still love being a part of it.

    The frisson that comes with genuinely believing that in 5 minutes time you may have come up with another ‘VW snowplough’ idea makes it too edgy and too dangerous to walk away from.

    Great article though.

    And BEAUTIFUULY written.

    Bravo.

    • Linds says:

      I suggest that if you came up with the VW “snowplow” ad now (and I agree it’s an all time great), some cretin in the planing department would run it past a focus group and decide it “just wasn’t working hard enough.” Or, “What about the people who live in warm climates? They just won’t get it.”

  37. Fitzgeraldina says:

    Hi Linds,

    Just discovered your blog from a friend’s posting of a link to this story on FB. I absolutely relate to everything you say (and might I add, you say it very well). I’ve never been in advertising per se; I make the channel filler that goes between the ads – reality TV.

    After working myself to the brink of a nervous breakdown, I too suffered quite a shock when I realized that I’d sacrificed my mental and physical health to the God of Who Gives a Shit?

    We reality TV drones were also given less and less time and money to take on more and more roles. Oh, can you, you know shoot as well as produce and direct? I mean, you’re there anyway, you may as well roll your own camera.

    Obviously, we TV types CAN do most of the things it takes to make a show – most of us came out of the documentary world, and we know what we’re doing. It’s just really hard to squeeze what used to take a dedicated filmmaker months, if not years, is expected of us in 8 weeks, and it’s not just one 60-minute film, it’s 10 episodes. No wonder reality TV is so effing crap.

    I’m sort of back in the game, but my willingness to push myself to the brink of madness/alcoholism/suicide over (8x) 22 minutes of TV nobody really watches anyway has put a bit of a damper on my career.

    • Linds says:

      I feel your pain Fitzgeraldina whoever you are. As far as I can determine, making TV or film of any kind in NZ is largely an act of love. It’s done on the smell of an oily rag by a lot of insanely committed and motivated people who I guess all live in hope of making THE BIG TIME one day. It’s the same elusive goal that motivates most people in advertising. I watch people all the time pushing themselves so hard I fear for them. Perhaps that’s what it takes. But it takes a lot in return…

  38. Paul Catmur says:

    Linds,
    Aren’t you putting mine up?
    Cheers
    Paul

    • Linds says:

      Sorry Paul, I need to check in from time to time to ‘clear’ comments for publication – just to keep the insane amount of spam down. It wasn’t that your comment was in any way sub-standard or anything…

  39. Mark gorman says:

    Fuck me Lindsey. A truly inspiring read. I only hope you are regain ing health. Would be great to catch up. I think you now have my email adress. Let’s do the penpal thing.

    Brilliant, astonishing, insightful post.

  40. Did you climb in my head and extract these thoughts? Insightful, beautiful and moving.
    From the guy who puts his hat on every day and leaves at 5.50pm on the dot. Funny how i never made CD.

    • Linds says:

      We all think we’re special and different. Living in our own private little hell. I think if we all ‘fessed up and compared notes, we’d discover were all much the same, and all suffering from the same “madness”. I’m starting to see that much as we like to think we are, we “creatives” really aren’t any different to everyone else. Everyone is scared. Everyone is insecure. Everyone wants to be loved and appreciated. But at least we have a means of expressing it.

  41. Adi Staite says:

    Fantastic stuff, Linds,
    Rarely have I read anything on our industry that has struck with such clarity, passion and truth. Thanks for laying it out, just like it is. It’s certainly true that things just ain’t what they used to be in agency land. One of the biggest impacts of the new ‘urgency’ stemming from the commercialisation of, well, making commercials, is the demise of that collaborative spirit – that openness and sense that we were all in this together, trying to do something of which we could all be proud. Creatives, planners (guilty), studio and production – hell, even the suits shared in the journey – with all disagreements being accepted as part of the communal effort to ‘get it right’. Little preciousness; lots of honesty and mutual support. Now, we’ve become departmentalised and lined up against each other, as internal foes. We sometimes find ourselves fighting for ideas – and each other – for the sake of it, or perhaps just because we don’t have the time or sheer energy left to rework things for the better. Everyone’s marginalised as bag-carriers, prima-donnas or creative stiflers – with mistrust, dread and confrontation all too evident between the Xbox and the Fussball table. I joined advertising to work in a creative environment – with all that suggests – not to endure a daily, overly aggressive debating competition. Perhaps I’m just getting too old, but it just doesn’t seem like that much fun anymore, does it? Bah humbug…
    Why can’t we just all be friends again…?
    Love your words, Linds. I share your Scotland / NZ background and you’ve often been mentioned to me by the old Faulds crowd (Downie, Mawhinney, McGregor etc), but our paths have never crossed. After reading your thoughts – courtesy of a Facebook link from Pete Bastiman – I only wish they’d done so sooner.
    All power to you, mate.

  42. Lance Hodgson says:

    Never a wasted word! Thank you for a perceptive, insightful and very funny read.

  43. Ed Hamilton says:

    At least you got the sexy eighties bit. The difference between the sizzle of a job in advertising and the limp, wrinkly sausage of reality is bigger than ever.

  44. jim downie says:

    “…and that’s why they call us Mad Men.”
    Beautifully observed. Eloquently written. Full off truism after truism.
    Thanks for the memories.
    How else would I have experienced sleeping under my desk and snacking on cold chips and pizza crusts at 5am?
    That book is getting better and better.

  45. josh says:

    Perfect.

  46. Pete B says:

    Hey Linds.

    I couldn’t bloody agree more. I smiled a lot and nodded away like the Churchill dog. I read it Saturday morning after another week away from my family. Every Monday at 05.30 I board a train at Waverley and off I go to Manchester, until Friday when I return, usually at 21.30. Been doing it for nearly four years now and I miss Gill and the children terribly. I’ve missed birthdays and anniversary dinners and the odd school play (not recital). So when I read this unbelievably eloquent summation of yours, mine and every creatives life, lot’s of thoughts went through my head.

    But here’s the thing, Linds.

    While everything you said made absolute sense, I love what I do. It’s the best place I’ve worked at since Faulds. The people are great, my department loyal and I have a top, top art director/co-creative director in Tom Richards. We keep each other sane at times and more often than not we get lucky, like you said. We’d rather work late than churn out a shit job and we’ve won a few gold statuettes along the way, all of which I’d swap for one of your Yellow Pencils. Yes, the overnight test is long gone and the over lunch test left shortly after. We debate more things than ever before, clients demand more things than ever before and we’re working harder than I ever remember.

    But when students ask me “Is it as good now as it used to be?” I reply “No. It’s better”. This is usually followed by aghast looks. But then I explain that I only had TV (if I could wrestle a brief off you and Adrian), press and posters (again, you two were master at the outdoor medium too) to work with, and maybe a bit of radio if Adrian couldn’t be arsed. Now you can do absolutely anything you want. You can strike up a conversation with consumers instead of talking at them. Have lots of little small ideas instead of one big one on one medium. You can put work out there, live, within an hour of coming up with the concept. It’s exiting and it keeps me going.

    I only wish BJL would open an Edinburgh office. Until then I will rely on Facetime. Thanks Mr Jobs for making my job down in Manchester a little easier to cope with.

    Linds, you are an absolute legend and talked fondly of in many circles.

    Pete

    • Linds says:

      Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts Pete, and for all the kind words. It sounds like you have a good gig in Manchester – I used to freelance there many years ago – good people, and GREAT curry! All I’m saying, I think, is as long as you’re enjoying yourself and being productive, carry on. BUT, when you stop enjoying it, don’t just carry on because the money’s good – which it undeniably is – have the courage to stop and do something else before you are consumed. It’s too easy to get bitter and resentful, I’ve seen it happen to to many good people. In the words of The Cowboy in The Great Lebowski (the nearest thing I have to a religion) “Some-days you eat the bear. Some-days the bear eats you.”

      • Pete B says:

        I couldn’t agree more, Linds.
        Believe you and I, there have been a couple of times, before my Manchester gig, where I’ve though ‘Fuck it’ and wanted to go off to be a chef or landscape gardener.

        And I meant it when I said it is an astonishing piece of writing. One of the best blogs/articles I’ve read for a long time, hence me passing it around…and around the office yesterday – I made people read it, I stood over their shoulder just to make sure because there is a hell of a lot of sense in there.

        Take care.

        Pete

  47. Sion says:

    Linds, spot on. And beautifully put. I really wish I’d known that you could write so incredibly well. I’d have done far less and taken much more credit. Love to have a chat, the time difference is a bit tricky but I’m confident that you’ll be thrilled to hear my dulcet tones at 3 a.m. one of these mornings.

    Love to you, Jo and Becks.
    xxx

  48. Sarah Hart says:

    AMAZINGLY put!

    I quit not long ago and couldn’t agree more with your perspective, even after just 6 years in the biz.

    Guess I was lucky to come to my senses early.

    Now what to do? Hell if I know :)

  49. Jam Jimenez says:

    Great read and I couldn’t agree more. Now imagine what it’s all like for us, in post-production, down here at the bottom of the food chain. We have the most tech and thus the least luxury of time to be creative. While agency types live their lives chasing daily deadlines, we live ours in real-time. “Move the cut about a frame and a half (huh?!?) and make the supers bigge… are you done yet? No? Now, gimme 6 different versio… ok let me see version thre… wait was that really a frame and a half? Looks like two fram… what do you mean you’re not done yet?!?”

    Shit flows downstream. Tight deadlines get tighter as you get towards the end of the line – the edit suite.

    Agency creatives take their clients’ crap and turn it into shit. Us post guys have to be the toilet and everyone expects us to swirl all the shit around and flush out rainbows!

    I FIX IT IN POST! And I love every minute of my job.

    Cheers!

  50. The Account Guy says:

    Finally, something that explains all those tantrums. Oh, wait, we put up with those before the computers arrived, too.

    A great piece of writing about the business I had a love/hate relationship with for so long. Thanks for reminding me why I haven’t returned. That’s no small trick–sometimes the nostalgia gets the best of me.

  51. Peter Barker says:

    Thanks for the great article Linds.. as one still stuck in production hell I couldn’t agree more… I could say so much more, but others have pretty much covered it… this completely justifies my fishing obsession.
    carry on keeping on

    Pete

  52. Darren says:

    Thank you for writing this. Though I’m not specifically in advertising, It sums up the majority of my 11 years in the animation industry. Especially my last 6 months in production hell. All the best sir!

  53. KRose says:

    I’m not in a creative industry… though I still found this applicable.

    I can’t help but feel (and I say this all the time, sometimes to people I don’t know very much) that I should be raising goats. Talking to goats. Petting them. Milking them. I just wait for someone to tell me that I can.

  54. Elaine Butler says:

    Spot on. I closed my own practice 5 years ago precisely for the reasons you mentioned above. I got into the design business because I love design but I ended up spending all my time justifying why we couldn’t knock up a few concepts by lunch time. It drained me.

    The recession has given me pause and made me refocus. Now i’m involved in brainstorming of a different kind. I look after my kids full time now and on the side I use my skills to help volunteer and non-profit organisations re-evaluate their brand and PR strategies.

    There is life after the treadmill! Thanks for a great article.

    E

  55. Angus says:

    An amazing post.

    Which inadvertently led me to the rest of your amazing journey.

    I hope today’s a good day.

  56. Greg Canty says:

    What a great , well written thought provoking piece !!

    Time to get back in the game with “your” own set of rules!!

    Thanks for the inspiration ….

  57. Joseph says:

    Wonderful article. Nicely summed up life in adland.
    A bit of Lind-sanity i reckon.

  58. Eric Prunier says:

    There’s a nice thought in there, but the whole piece goes on a bit. Needs editing down to about a quarter of the length.
    In other words, you should have given it the overnight test.

  59. Former Art Director now freelancer says:

    Amazing article, I saw this link on my former London colleague’s FB and now your wonderful piece of writing is being shared by creatives (or former ad creatives) here in Hong Kong. Warmest regards.

  60. Nicole says:

    This post really touched me. You have a gift.

  61. Trang says:

    As a marketing student close to graduating college, I am so glad you posted this article. It is a very truthful and fresh perspective on the advertising industry. In college, we are always pressured to do more to impress everyone so we can get awards and make lots of money. Your post reminded me that this is not what it is all about. A creative person achieves goals for themselves and has fun in the process. This is just another great confirmation of why I am still in school for advertising and why I love being on the creative side so much.

    Cheers!



Pings to this post

  1. […] Linds Redding’s funny, heartbreaking and truth-talking blog. Here is a brief excerpt from A Short Lesson In Perspective, but I encourage you to read the entire post and then go spend some time with the people you love. […]

  2. […] By Nicholas Nelson • March 24, 2012 • Articles, Blog reposts, creative ideas, Creativity, Design Thinking • Leave a comment I came across this article via twitter and was deeply moved by it. A must read for anyone in the creative industry. Here is an excerpt of an amazing piece artfully crafted by Linds Redding. […]

  3. […] read this article in the calm few minutes before my daughter woke up this morning and we had the mad rush to get […]

  4. […] PLEASE READ THIS POST: http://www.lindsredding.com/2012/03/11/a-overdue-lesson-in-perspective/ […]


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