“The creative person wants to be a know-it-all. He wants to know about all kinds of things — ancient history, 19th century mathematics, current manufacturing techniques, hog futures. Because he never knows when these ideas might come together to form a new idea. It may happen six minutes later, or six months, or six years. But he has faith that it will happen.”
That’s a quote from advertising great Carl Ally that hangs on my office wall. It’s a nice reminder that being curious isn’t just relevant; it’s vital to our work and to better understanding our world.
“We’ll have to fly the boards to Stockholm in the morning.” I remember hearing the words and hoping it would be me. The color printer had gone down in the studio hours before the senior presentation team was leaving for the airport. Someone would have to follow on the next flight with a few portfolio cases holding the finished boards. In the morning, that someone turned out to be me.
It was December 2004. The year I learned the Swedish word for bubble wrap while packaging up those boards for their return transport to New York: bubbelplast. That trip didn’t make me a know-it-all, but I came home knowing bubbelplast and where you can buy it in Stockholm. I learned to say, “I don’t speak Swedish” in Swedish and what a reindeer steak tastes like. And I learned about the sunless days of a Scandinavian winter.
I like learning new things, seeing new places and gathering new experiences. From the start, advertising appealed to me as a profession because I’m curious about things (and perhaps too restless to sit at a desk for long). The creative side of our business is a place where exploration of ideas is rewarded. Our field exposes us to a broad range of clients—their marketing challenges and the nuances of their specific products or services—and to the process of discovering the best creative idea to answer their unique needs.
But in addition to the creativity in our ideas, there’s also a lot of creativity in how we make them. Each production holds its own challenges, parameters and its own opportunities to learn some truly amazing things. Like the green mambo snake is too poisonous and too aggressive to make a good model. Go with the green tree snake instead. Or that a splash of liquid can be captured on film if you’re fast enough and the room is dark enough, but it can also be made in CGI. Or that a shark-fin cookie made of resin will hold up a lot better in a sea of milk than a real one.
I’ve travelled on production to South Africa in January the last two years, when our winter is their summer. It’s a fantastic place to shoot outdoors when the northern hemisphere is grey, overcast and cold. The country has a thriving production community and offers incredible options in casting and locations. In addition to its abundant sunshine and high production values, South Africa is also a remarkable place to learn things. About culture, languages, politics and history. About sharks (real, not cookie). About wine making. And also about penguins (it’s best not to touch them). South Africa offers a chance to step outside our own culture and look back in on what makes us the same, and what makes us different. The country seems to encourage new thoughts, about our world and ourselves, and continues to inspire them long after you’ve left there. At least it’s been this way for me.
I’m amazed that compared to most countries, relatively few American citizens actually have passports. One estimate puts the number at around 114.5 million. With the U.S. Census projecting our current population at 313,273,722 people, that means two thirds of U.S. citizens have not experienced the world beyond our borders first-hand.
It’s my belief that the combination of new ideas, new challenges in making them, visiting new places and learning new things, brings about the inception of fresh ideas all over again. That being outside our own experiences leads to powerful new learnings and what we learn along the way—whether in concepting, producing or traveling there to do it—is precisely what inspires the next great idea.