I often get asked for advice by students and young people in the industry who are curious about breaking into strategy/planning. One of the things I nearly always say to them is to study great ideas and learn what makes them great. Over the past few weeks, I've come across two interviews which touch upon this thought.
The first, and furthest back, was a segment on ESPN with LaDainian Tomlinson. The interview centered on his admiration and respect for Vince Lombardi. In explaining his interest in Lombardi, Tomlinson said:
"For somebody who wants to be great,you must first study greatness."
Immediately this statement struck me for both its truth and simplicity. To be the best at something, you have to work at it. Part of that work includes studying what has made others great in this same area.
I was reminded of this quote while watching Anderson Cooper's interview with Lady GaGa on 60 Minutes. Not only does she want to be great and believes that she is supposed to be great, but she has also put a lot of time towards studying "the art of fame" in addition to years of training in music.
Aside from the simplicity and truth in the idea of studying the best to be the best, there is another reason the pieces on GaGa and Tomlinson stood out to me.
The idea of studying the past runs counter to a growing sentiment in the advertising industry. In the recently popular post, "'future of advertisng' is utterly depressing," Amelia stated that one of the keys to the future of advertising is,"People who don't know (or dare I say, care) about Snow Plough or Saatchi & Saatchi in the 80s."
Now, I'm not sure if Amelia means this statement the way that I'm applying it here, but there are several people who feel this way. They believe that there is no use in looking at, or caring about, the great people and/or agencies of the past because the new era of advertising will look nothing like the old. While I agree that there is a bit of truth in the end of that statement, I think that ignoring the past is a mistake, as I've shared before.
If you want to be great at something, you have to know what greatness means and what it takes to get there. By studying past greats, you can learn a lot about both of those things. Not only how they rose to greatness, but also what led to their fall.
Yes, we're living in a time of massive change. There's no debating that fact. But that doesn't mean we can't learn from the era before us. The core of what we do hasn't changed. It's the means by which we do it that are shifting. If you don't understand that core and how others applied it before you to become great, you're only going to lengthen the time it takes you to get to being great.
Do yourself a favor; if you want to be the greatest at something, study the past greats.
I'm sure many of you have come across this presentation numerous times since it was originally posted, but if not, well, here you go! The reason I'm sharing it now is that there are are a few posts in the draft stage that relate to points in it and I wanted to have it here as an easy point of reference.
Yesterday I read a post on HBR that takes a look into what happens to us as we start to live our lives more and more online, specific to the economy and our personal spending habits. One of the paragraphs in it stood out in particular:
They call it "real" estate for a reason, yet many of us approached first, second, and vacation homes as though they were virtual property, castles we built in the sky. Debt stopped scaring us because money had stopped being real. The "correction" that has followed is surely very painful, but only as painful as the buying binge that preceded it was unhinged from reality.
I think the author has a good point here. When we don't feel that things are real, or are immediate and close, we're not as afraid of them.
Over time, we've pushed our relationship with managing our finances further and further away from us. We've moved from spending cash to writing checks to using plastic to clicking a mouse or touching a screen. We used to have to record our own deposits and transactions as they happened, but now we turn to online banking to take care of these things for us.
When you take cash out of your wallet and hand it to someone, you physically see and feel your money leaving your hands. When you had to write checks, you saw how much money left your account immediately as you recorded the transaction in the register and subtracted it from the account's total.
With the move to using credit and debit cards for most of our purchases and now paying by clicking a mouse or touching a screen, we don't have that immediate sense of how much we're spending. We want or need what's in front of us and our mind is in a million different places so we just swipe/click/touch and move on.
Through the combination of these things, our relationship with money has changed. It's not as real and immediate as it once was. If you're not diligent about watching your finances, it is far too easy to spend all that you have and then some.
As I thought about this more, I see this being a reality in other parts of our lives too.
I think a large part of the problem with obesity and several of the health issues facing the U.S. population has to do with our disconnection from our food. We don't make as much of what we eat as we used to and because of this, we don't see exactly what ingredients are going into it.
If we had to watch some of the things we eat being prepared, or even further, were given a precise recipe and told to make them as they're sold to us, I bet we'd have a lot different feeling about wanting to eat them.
I think this stuff is why there is a resurgance of interest in making things. There is something in us that wants to be more connected to the world around us and to each other. The more we put electronic and virtual things in between us and that innate part of us, the stronger the call is to do something to break it.
I think this also points to a way to fix parts of our lives that we want to improve. We need to start making things more real. If you want to get out of debt, start using cash instead of plastic. If you want to lose weight or imporove your health, start making more of what you eat. If you want to improve your relationships, starting spending more time with people in person. Of course there is a bit more to it than this, but the idea of making things more real is a strong move in the right direction.
Anyway... I'll stop there. Just wanted to share a train of thought that made me pause and wonder if we are creating too much fiction in our own lives...
Heidi Hackemer (@uberblond) generously shared the presentation she delivered to Miami Ad School students on what strategy/being a strategist is today. I think she's got a lot of good stuff in here. For aspiring strategists or junior strategists, I would recommend you give this a good read and think. It's a solid overview of the job we are tasked with now.
It was fun to see someone else share a similar view to the "Stop Campaigning. Start Committing." idea I shared at one point (slide 32). I would argue though that the long-term commitment needs to be to the purpose, beliefs and values of the brand and that the platforms can last as long or as short as they need to, depending on their relevance to the culture they desire to be a part of. The key thing that defines a platform for me is whether or not it inspires a lot of great ideas, and if it has the potential to live beyond the first wave of ideas that spring from it.
Curious, what do some of you think?
Thanks for sharing this, Heidi.