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Walt Whitman

When I was a teenager, I worked one summer at my Grandfather’s can factory on the Southside of Chicago. Dominic was not my biological grand parent but I grew up knowing only him on my mother’s side. Dom was fierce, funny and a very loyal man. He treated me like blood.

His can company, called (for a reason I forget) Wisconsin Can was a line factory. Each person occupied a spot along a conveyor and did one menial but critical job. The end product was an aluminum can, usually for cookies or candy.

A log-haired, pot smoking dreamer, this was not my fantasy gig. I wouldn’t have lasted a week if not for Dom’s patience – if that were the right word. He would call me in to his office constantly to reprimand me for doing a half-ass job. During those sessions he’d also throw in various criticisms toward my liberal upbringing, castigating my parents for divorcing and other bon mots.

Yet, I actually preferred his berating me to working on the line. Partly because it took me off the line but also because it made me feel good –somehow- to be in his presence. In his own way, the man loved me.

Once, when I dared question him on the sanctity of factory work he told me something I’ll never forget, even if I don’t agree with it. He said, “Steffan, work isn’t supposed to be fun. Why do you think they call it work?”

Much later, I got into the advertising business. And I had fun. But I also knew I possessed a skill and that I was getting better at it. Unlike sticking a wrapper on a can, writing was (and still is) something I can sink my teeth into.

Yet, as we all know, this business is not always fun. Pressures mount and fears take hold. Work can become a trying experience, like a factory. Or worse. A factory that doesn’t make anything. I think of my grandfather during those times.

I know he had a point. One must earn a living. So, maybe “fun” isn’t the right word. Let’s try some others. If one feels “useful” and “purpose-driven” then that is better than fun. Wouldn’t you agree? Suffice to say, I wasn’t feeling either on the can line.

Give me this. Working in our business should at least aspire to be fun. Data be damned, creativity will always be more art than science. And art is about passion and, yes, having fun! When a creative is feeling it there is no better feeling. It’s like your Walt Whitman singing the Song of (Your)self. It’s glorious.

So, here’s to feeling it and being of maximum usefulness to your company, your clients and, most of all, yourself. May all of you find that happiness. It does exist.

Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”

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Recently, every agency in gyro’s global network convened to watch a live broadcast from our worldwide CEO & CCO, Christoph Becker. It was the anniversary of our company and the man wanted to say a few words.

Our boss is relentless that way. When it comes to driving agency culture, he is a force of nature. Whether speaking about our creative product, various tenants of our philosophy or introducing some new theme (usually all of the above), Christoph is adamant about making it a matter. Whatever anyone thinks about gyro, I can definitively say we are not an agency built on memos and behind closed doors. Gyro wears its heart on its sleeve, and Christoph is both our head coach and number one cheerleader.

God bless him.

After his presentation, I admitted to a colleague that one of the many reasons I mightn’t ever run an agency on a worldwide level is my inability and/or unwillingness to drive culture that way. Don’t get me wrong. I adore making creative presentations. And I love this company. I just am not super comfortable putting the two together on a daily basis.

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Sometimes it just feels like pimping.

Alas, certain days I can’t get it up. Maybe I’m distracted or preoccupied by something at home. Perhaps I am upset with an individual at work. Or is it I’m simply not in the mood. Whatever the issue, I’m not always ready, willing or able to do the deal. I like hearing myself talk but I get sick of me as well.

In the end, I prefer working on ideas. My default mode is to dive into a project. Let someone else coach. Just give me the goddam ball. I like to think of this as leading by example. but I’m not naive. I know one needs to be far more than a worker among workers in order to really lead. Doing the deal 24/7 is a special talent. One needs to be all in. That means celebrating every win, every new person, and every milestone. It also means creating a blueprint for a creative culture and sticking to it through thick and thin, against failure and criticism, versus even crippling self awareness which can make doing all of the above seem like a parody skit from SNL.

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The Age of Real-ish…

San Francisco Chronicle movie critic, Mick LaSalle condemns the new Avenger’s movie, Age of Ultron for bunches of reasons: It’s loud, chaotic and interminable. Read the review yourself. I haven’t seen the film so I have nothing to say.

However, something in LaSalle’s review does beg my attention. He writes:

“The action scenes look fake, yet make you wonder if fake is the new real. It was once a mark of shame to make scenes that reminded audiences of computer screens, but that may be the coming aesthetic.”

Hold that thought.

Last week, at work, a group of us were discussing the use of CGI to create human beings for an advertisement, thereby saving us the trouble of casting as well as our client the costs associated with hiring real actors. Not long ago this conversation would have been a non-starter. Replicating ordinary people for ordinary commercials was just not done. Yet here we were seriously considering it. Sure, most of us were ambivalent about using CGI created people instead of actors, because –duh- they would look “fake.” But that’s when I wondered aloud the very same thing LaSalle wrote in his review. That looking not quite real, or computer generated, “may be the coming aesthetic.” In other words, people would not take note of the difference nor mind it.

Think about that. Popular culture is becoming inundated with CGI people, places and things. From big budget movie franchises like The Avengers (Marvel) and Toy Story (Pixar) to special effects laden TV spectacles “Where are my CGI dragons!” and especially the rise of gaming culture, artificial reality has become the new normal.

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“Don’t be calling me a cartoon.”

When was the last time you heard the phrase “virtual reality” let alone used it? It’s just reality now. The more we live in our screens the more comfortable we are with projections. Content is content. We don’t care anymore. Realish. It’s the visual corollary to truthiness.

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Like anyone, creative people get angry. The competition for ideas and constant criticism of them gets to us. As can a power mad account executive or yet another contrarian for a client. We see it all the time in TV shows but anger at work is seldom a topic discussed in a serious way. We may experience anger as online vitriol or behind closed doors. Occasionally it takes the form of a blow-up during a meeting. I’ve been on both sides of all of the above scenarios.

Anger, as we know, is almost always directed at a person or group of people. We may lose our temper and go off on that person. Or we stew in resentment, grumbling and sulking, remaining silent as a stone. If we are mature, we ask for a meeting with the subject of our anger to clear the air.

Alas, many of us are not reasonable when we’re angry. After all, anger is a volatile emotion and it often interferes with sound thinking. It does to me. I have trouble thinking straight. It’s almost like a bad trip. A strange, primitive rush overtakes me and I become flush. I may say and do regrettable things. I am outside myself looking down upon a beast. Mr. Hyde. The Hulk. God help those in the path of my wrath. Fortunately, for most of us this kind of anger is quite rare. Resentment is far more common. Passive aggressive behavior can spread like weeds in an ad agency –or any company. The petulant child is less overt (obviously) than tantrum maker but just as hurtful in the long run.

We always hear about the negative effects anger has for those on the receiving end of it. But it is also hurts the deliverers. Being in anger might be useful in therapy or righting certain wrongs but by and large it is a negative emotion and a defect/disease for those who are in it.

The angry outburst is ugly. But I feel the aftershocks are even uglier. An emotional hangover is debilitating and often leads to more bad behavior (lying, backstabbing, gossip, etc.), which, in turn, hurts our nestlings and us worse than the initial tantrum. Unless one is a Teflon tyrant these disorders degrade us professionally. But they kill us on a personal level, too.

We will be shunned but deeper down we rot from anger. Enough rot and we become garbage. Even a little rot is intolerable. To be reasonably healthy, as much rot as possible must be excised. All of it to be happy. That is why I would rather have the flu than carry around an emotional hangover. Dr. Bruce Banner aka The Hulk famously said “you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” What the comic book does not tell us is how much you are despised a day later.

Have a nice day. It’s better for all of us.

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