Nobody knows anything.

I love this quote from William Goldman who, among other great screenplays, wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

He was referring to Hollywood studios and executives who try to predict the next blockbuster. But nobody knows anything for sure. Not the studios. Not the screenwriters. Not the directors. Not the investors. They make their best guesses based on past formulas, franchises, and bankable stars, but even those fail them.

Nobody sets out to make a one-hundred-million-dollar flop. Nevertheless, Hollywood makes dozens of them every year.

How does this quote about movies relate to your business, your brand, your job, your next career move? Well, if you’re looking for a silver bullet, you won’t find one here. Because in movies as in advertising as in life, there are no silver bullets, no secret formulas, no secret sauce.

Nobody knows anything for sure. All I can offer are a few suggestions that I know helped me.

Suggestion #1. Work with people who are smarter than you are.

I learned my trade mostly through osmosis. Spend enough time working on a variety of different problems with a variety of different people who are smarter than you are, and you’re bound to absorb something. Over time those “somethings” add up, and one day, maybe 50 years in the future, people may call you an expert. That’s okay. Just don’t be fooled by your own PR.

Suggestion #2. Run towards the new.

You see those tiny dots in the distance? They’re not waving for you to catch up. They’re waving goodbye. The world, your world, has moved on. My advice, run towards the new. Who’s that new person who just joined the agency? A CT? What’s a CT? Walk up and introduce yourself. Today. They’re your future.

Suggestion #3. Make stuff.

When I started in the business (yes, the wheel had just been invented) ad agencies made print ads, radio spots, and TV commercials. But the agencies didn’t make those things themselves. They couldn’t. It was not cost efficient to build their own printing presses, recording studios, and film companies. Today’s media (and make no mistake, our business has always been about the media) today’s media not only allows you to make things, it demands it. There’s never been a better time to be your own creator, producer, director, and network executive. What runs where and when is finally in your hands.

Suggestion #4. Try stuff.

You know what I love most about all the new media channels? You know pretty quickly if your idea sucks or not. You’re not waiting weeks or months for a Neilsen Family (no, it’s not a 70’s TV show) to decide your idea’s fate. Clicks, shares, time spent with the brand, purchase intent and even purchases themselves can be tracked in real time. Idea A didn’t work today? Have Idea B ready to go tomorrow. You’ll create better ideas faster which is exactly what today’s clients are paying you for.

Suggestion #5. Embrace diversity.

This is so obvious I don’t have to even say it. But I’m going to say it anyway. Homo sapiens introduced racism roughly 300,000 years ago. People who came from the same place formed a tribe for survival and protection. When they came upon another tribe who didn’t look or think like they did, they jumped to an illogical and dangerous conclusion. “Not only is my tribe different from yours, my tribe is better than yours.” Flash forward to today. Obviously, forget the better part, it’s based on fear and ignorance. But totally embrace the different part. Because, selfishly, the more different life experiences, beliefs, and truths you get into your ideas, the more effective and true they will be. Put another way, your ideas will be less like advertising and more like reality.

Suggestion #6. Be kind.

Okay, here’s my last suggestion, and I have to warn you, it’s mushy. In two words, be kind. I’ve worked for people who weren’t kind, and it’s not a matter of karma. They succeeded regardless of how unfeeling they were. The fact is, it’s just easier to be kind. It’s easier not to always be looking over your shoulder. It’s easier not to always be rooting for somebody else to fail. And finally it’s much, much easier and rewarding when you realize that everybody’s different, everybody’s important, everybody’s valuable. If being unkind works for others, great, that’s for them to decide. Personally, the opposite has always worked better for me.

Now let’s circle back to the title of this blog. Nobody knows anything. I stand by that statement. The truth is, I don’t know any more than you do. In an ideal world there would be no absolutes. There would be me, there would be you, and there would be all the amazing things we would learn and make together.

Published by bassetts49

50 years in advertising, 20 years as the creative lead on Geico. A life in creative thinking.

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