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“Expectations are resentments under construction,” wrote Bay Area author Anne Lamott. There is much wisdom in her statement, but for most of us it takes a lifetime to learn. Or unlearn. It boils down to this: Every time we enter into a conversation, meeting or transaction we bring with us a set of expectations. When positive expectations are unmet or negative ones confirmed the interaction falters.

Face it. We all have expectations about how other people will or should behave. They are like prejudices, creating barriers between the people holding onto them. Invariably, the interaction is crippled before it even begins. In politics, we see this all the time: when each party assumes the how the other will behave, regardless of the situation.

In dysfunctional families, each member has drop-dead certainty how the other sibling will behave, shaping all intercourse. Dad believes his son will be a defensive contrarian. The son expects his father will be an inflexible brute. And so on. Every fruit on the family tree is spoiled this way.

What does this look like in business, and in particular Adland? Well, I’ll tell you. And once you recognize it you’ll see how commonplace and destructive these forces can be.

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Illustrating bad blood with even worse stock photography!

Jack in an Associate Creative Director. Jill is a Senior Account Executive. Jack and Jill have some history. They’ve worked on a few projects together. Perhaps not all of them went smoothly. And even if they did, both individuals quickly developed a read on one another, and now base all interactions upon it. To an extent, this is normal and healthy. Yet, in the crucible of business it quickly becomes a defect and sometimes a serious one. If Jack expects Jill to only see his work through fearful and conservative eyes, he will soon dread showing it to her. Why bother, right? She’s only going to throw shade…like she always does.

Jill is no innocent, either. However reasonable she fancies herself, Jill expects Jack will be defensive and obstinate. A typical creative. Ergo, she enters into every meeting with Jack bracing for a fight.

You know where this is going. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Both parties have expectations (fomenting into resentments) and, as soon as they spot anything confirming said expectations, they lock into patterned behaviors, souring the meeting and insuring the next interaction will be even worse.

In some ways, having locked-in negative expectations is no different than racial profiling. Though obviously less despicable, the office variety is still quite destructive. Especially in front of creativity. Looking at new ideas, let alone brave and unusual ones, is deeply difficult when everyone involved has negative expectations about the other. These prejudices can become so ingrained they close minds, hindering the ability to appreciate creative. Often, the room divides into fronts, inducing an unstable even volatile climate. Debates become rife with arguments ad homonym. The creative product is ruined in the deluge.

The solution is obvious but not easy. Against our own defective natures, we must let go these leaden bags of expectations, lest they crush our ideas and us.

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Ambition does funny things to a man. It really is like blinders put on a horse to make him go. The creature does not see anything but the track ahead. He is oblivious to the horses on either side of him. For him the path is clear. Nothing can stop him now!

Blindly ambitious a man becomes arrogant.  He forgets. He ignores. He wants only to move ahead. Promises to others are swept away. Commitments are eliminated. Partnerships dissolved. At this point perspective becomes a nuisance. The man calls it “destiny.” Perceives himself to be on a “journey.” He accepts that there are supposed to be losers and he creates them. He is self will run riot.

In Adland:

He is the new boss who fires his agency merely to assert himself. He is the partner who balks at his comrade to take another job. (I have been both.) He is the scammer looking for praise. He is the hack undermining his way to the top.

He is any one of us if we don’t take stock.

Don’t get me wrong. In moderation ambition is most desirable. Yet unbridled it can be devastating.

Ambition is a colt born of pride. You may very well win a few races but one fine day you will be put down.

Wanting drives every advertisement ever made. Sometimes, it passes as “need” but let’s call a spade a spade. We want. And we want a lot. Whether it’s a new car or world peace human beings are defined by this unnatural urge. I say unnatural because wanting is not an impetus for survival. Animals need sustenance and they take what they can get. A Bear eats salmon when they’re running. Berries when they bloom. It does not crave one for the other.

When born, we are much like other animals. Helpless. Dependent on our parents. A baby needs food and it is given to him. Oddly, an infant remains this way far longer than any other creature. It takes an inordinate amount of time for us to become self-serving. But when we get there we arrive in style.

By the time we’re children, the wanting mechanism is in full flower. We want more than sustenance. We want Cheetos and iPads and Sour patch Kids. Our crying out of need becomes warped, narcissistic. As we get older we crave an ever larger, more expensive and baseless array of things. Want has taken over for need.

So utterly commonplace, the only time we hear about of want is when we are in church, listening to a dusty sermon on greed and gluttony or faced with those who are seemingly without it. Like the Amish. Buddhists. Or Sinead O’connor.

Which begs the question: Is ‘wanting’ a bad thing?

It’s tricky. Unraveling the ball of yarn to get from ‘want’ back to ‘need’ is no easy feat. Does one have what he needs in order to survive? If yes, then it’s everything after that that is in question. The defect (if it is a defect) becomes pronounced when we want better versions of what we already have (car, house, boobs) or when we want what we don’t have (two cars, Cartier watch, mistress) or what someone else has (all of the above).

Keeping up with the Joneses is nothing new. This is the ‘longing’ all of us in Adland cultivate and exploit every day. For without it what would be the point of marketing? Does advertising create it? I think so. Like the header on my blog reads: We make you want what you don’t need.

I’m no socialist. I’m not even Alex Bogusky. And I’m as culpable (if that’s the right word) as any of you. Likely more so. But when I observe my young daughters pining for all the stuff they see on TV, the Internet and, most poignantly, when visiting their rich friends I am forced to wonder about wanting.


Tears of joy…or relief?

Over the years, I watched Jerry Rice catch an awful lot of touchdowns and so on Saturday night I watched him give his induction speech at the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton Ohio. Many people consider Jerry Rice to be the best who ever played the game. I wanted to hear what motivated the best of the best.

Like a short screen pass, Jerry got right to it. He said it was “fear” that got him where he is today. “Fear of failure,” to be exact. He was scared to let his father down. He was scared to let his coaches, teammates and fans down. Not the fastest guy in the NFL, Rice claimed no one could catch him because he “ran scared.” The remark got laughs but they were nervous ones. He correctly added that this fear factor flew in the face of most sports psychologists’ theories of winning strategy. So be it. Rice understood the idea of letting go one’s fears but, apparently, he just couldn’t do it. Or wouldn’t do it? Hard to tell from the speech he gave.

I worry and wonder about that. Typically, I find fear to be a defect of character, maybe the worst one there is. Yes, fear is what keeps us from bodily harm. It’s what makes us get off the subway when a bunch of gang bangers get on it. Fear also prevents us from doing stupid things, like jumping out of airplanes or swimming in shark-infested waters.


Jerry Rice & Eddie Dibartolo -NFL Hall of Fame ceremony, Canton, Ohio.

But obviously that’s not the fear Jerry Rice was talking about. His fear was more interesting and, frankly, worrisome. By his own admission his fears kept him from enjoying himself. It was like living with a gun to his head 24/7/365. Yes, he went on to become perhaps the greatest NFL player in the world but instead of exultant tears of joy, he stood before his peers, on national television, looking more relieved than anything else.

So, was it worth it? Was Jerry’s fear-driven path to greatness a good one to take? If we take him at his word, the best answer is… maybe. For how can it be anything more definitive? Fear of failure is strong coffee. I think too much and you become miserable. And chances are you make those around you miserable. People driven by fear are sad spectacles and worse. They can infect their families with it, causing loved ones to cower or eventually resort to the only reactions possible: fighting or fleeing.

The same thing happens in companies, ad agencies being no exception. I’ve known several people whose fear of failure drove their every move at work. God forbid we shared meetings. Evaluating creative in an environment of fear is awful. Risk taking goes out the window. Creative recipes quickly become mashed potatoes. The only thing worse is trying to create something when one is scared. Frankly, I’m not sure good creative, let alone great, is even possible if and when the creators are scared.

That said we are all driven to some extent by fear. As it was for Jerry Rice, it can be ambition’s coal. While I loathe the fear Jerry spoke of I cannot deny how ever-present it is –in my business, in my life, in me.

I admire Jerry Rice for his many, many honors but I also can’t help but feel sorry for him. His candid speech made me sad. Every morning and night when I say my all-to brief prayers I almost never fail to ask God to take away my fear and anxiety. Unlike Jerry Rice, I’m no good to anyone, especially me, when I’m scared.

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bad and loving it…

I don’t like Charlie Sheen. I never have and I probably never will. And I’m guessing he’s okay with that. Actually, I’m not guessing. I’m certain of it. Because Charlie Sheen has built a masterful brand for himself based on being unequivocally un-likeable, playing “cocky screw-ups with a dark side.”

Writing for Entertainment Weekly, Jennifer Armstrong wonders and answers why Sheen, for all his uncouth and downright harmful behavior (to himself and others), manages not only to be “scandal-proof” but “TV’s highest-paid actor on a No. 1 sitcom.”

The answer is obvious but none-the-less fascinating, especially in light of other fallen celebrities who are struggling to get up. Can you say Tiger Woods? A long time ago, Armstrong points out, Sheen made a decision to take on roles that favor his natural tendencies as a white, male, American fuck-up. Unlike Woods, who aspired to be the great American role model, Sheen wisely chose characters that suited him: a skirt-chasing mayor on Spin City and jerk womanizer on Two and a Half Men. Fittingly, both these characters are named Charlie.

In advertising parlance we label this brand authenticity. By being a dirty, rotten scoundrel, the brand, Charlie Sheen is staying true to himself. His brand equity grows with each malfeasance.

Therefore, when Charlie is outed as Heidi Fleiss’ best customer or, worse yet, goes fight club on his soon-to-be ex-wife Brooke Mueller (on Christmas Day no less), his vast array of fans merely chalk it up to bad behavior. If anything, his men behaving badly routine has become an expectation of his public, like when rock stars do drugs, get busted, over and over and over again. We still buy the music. We still watch the shows.

Fact is, when cultivated properly, dark sides make for enduring and lucrative brands. Charlie Sheen is a perfect example. He’ll probably go to jail this summer but you’ll be watching him in the fall.

Thankfully, bad guys can become good guys and stay popular as well. And not just in pro wrestling. Robert Downey Jr. did it. And penchant for smoking dope aside, so did Snoop Dog.

There is no lesson here, no moral to this story. Good and not so good are fraternal, existing side by side, gleefully and lucratively in Hollywood, on Madison Avenue and in real life.

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Modern fable about good and evil

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