Ben Franklin once famously said that ignorance is the beginning of wisdom.
I remember having my first Franklinian dose of wisdom-acquiring ignorance around the age of seventeen or so.
This feeling hit me most in the art & culture department, rather than, say, science or politics or business.
I suddenly realized how little I knew about “High Culture”, how little I knew about the works of Beethoven or Duke Ellington or TS Eliot or Matisse or Dostoyevsky or Sylvia Plath or Sam Peckinpah.
So began my path to becoming cultured. I started reading books, going to museums and art-house cinema, buying records, all that good stuff.
This process was accelerated when I got into the advertising business, where having all these cultural references in the back of your head made your job as an idea-scavenger much more interesting, and was encouraged by one’s bosses.
It was accelerated even more when I became a professional artist, ‘natch.
So after a couple of decades later, what do I think?
Hard to say. Though I’m glad I did it, I’m not sure if all that effort was worth it, frankly. Sure, it enriched my life, but at what price? Can you actually put a price on it, anyway? Had I had the same level of interest in say, financial markets, I’d probably now be living in a much bigger house. Like I said, hard to say.
[More thoughts on The Ignored Series.]
DON’T SPEND TOO MUCH TIME WORRYING ABOUT THE HIGHLIGHT REEL.
We like to think that it’s our life’s highlights (our “highlight reel”, as it were) that make us happy.
That time we walked the red carpet. That time we stood in front of the Grand Canyon and took a selfie. That time we had dinner with the famous person. That time we gave a big talk at SXSW.
But it turns out it’s the little stuff we do daily that actually makes us happy long term.
That first cup of coffee in the morning. That bagel every Saturday morning on Lexington Avenue and 41st. That last whisky before bedtime. That half hour of reading before lights out. Sunday dinner after church. Tennis with Marcio after work on Tuesdays. Hanging out at the comic book shop with Phil. Walking around downtown taking photographs.
The highlight reel is all about what motivates you extrinsically. And the little stuff is about what motivates you intrinsically.
And “intrinsic” is where actually happiness- the kind that lasts- is found. Sure, you can build the “extrinsic” stuff into the mix as you go along, but to sacrifice the former just to have a wee bit more of the latter is a fool’s errand.
INTRODUCTION: AN OPEN LETTER TO THE IGNORED
I call you that because you’re like me, you see.
Your movie will never be bought by Hollywood. Washington will never elect you to the Senate. The New York Times will never review your book. Columbia will never offer you a record deal. Google will never buy your startup. You will never be a guest on The Tonight Show. Your paintings will never hang in the MoMA.
Like me, you will be permanently ignored by the big fish. You will never be a “Name”. You will be one of those people that the “Names” are completely oblivious to.
But that’s OK. By being “Ignored”, that means nobody is watching you. That means you can do what you want, with the people you want, making a difference on your own terms. By being “Ignored”, you are forced to discover your own “intrinsic” meaning behind your work, because the “Names” and their “”extrinsic” acolytes aren’t there to help you.
And with the Internet, all that is easier than ever. Just start. Today. Find your tribe online and give them a reason to be excited. Make it matter. Make it count. Like Seth Godin says, don’t wait to be picked, pick yourself.
Just don’t waste a second ever again, waiting for the phone to ring. The phone isn’t going to ring. This is our fate. We are The Ignored. We’re going to change the world on our terms, not theirs.
And “The Book of The Ignored” will show you how, or at least, help you get there a little faster.
Let me know how you get on,
Lots of Love,
FURTHER READING FROM “THE BOOK OF THE IGNORED”:
- DON’T SPEND TOO MUCH TIME WORRYING ABOUT THE HIGHLIGHT REEL.
- NEVER PLAY DICE WITH THE UNIVERSE.
- HOW TO BE A SELL-OUT.
- DO IT WITH REVERENCE.
- SPEND MORE TIME WITH THE LORD
- FIND THAT MOMENT OF TRUTH
- NOBODY KEEPS THEIR SOULD FOR FREE.
- “THIS IS WHAT I DO”
- IT’S NOT HOW MUCH, BUT HOW OFTEN.
- TIME IS ALWAYS THE ENEMY
- FAME IS OVERRATED.
- THE DAY I REALIZED I WAS IN THE WRONG BUSINESS
- AND PREPARE FOR DEATH.
- ART IS CAPITAL, NOT INCOME
- PLUS CA CHANGE, PLUS C’EST LA MEME CHOSE
[SPOILER ALERT] Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is known as one of the greatest movies of all time. It’s certainly one of my top favorites. Three and a half hours of pure poetry.
And yet for all that artistic mastery, the great message of the movie is not revealed until the final minute of the final scene: Which is, that the real victor of a battle is not the heroes who fight it, but the people they serve. The three surviving samurai walk away with nothing, with four of the seven comrades dead, meanwhile the village peasants they saved from the bandits are alive with song and joy from the victory.
The samurai leader says: “In the end, we lost this battle too. The victory belongs to the peasants, not to us.”
And then we see a final shot of their four dead comrades’ graves (the latter who we got really emotionally attached to in the last few hours), and we roll credits.
It’s heartbreaking, yet so utterly poignant.
Why? Because anyone who’s ever done anything worth a damn, knows that they probably weren’t the main beneficiaries of their efforts. This seems to be especially true in the art & creative worlds I’ve dwelled in. Our work may have lit up the world, but we still remain down in the mud, somehow.
St. Paul would’ve called this you being “a living sacrifice unto God”, emulating Jesus’ example.
In other words, doing something meaningful- in business, in art, in war, in life- will probably pay off in the end, it just might not pay off for you. Anyone who’s ever been a parent will know exactly what I’m talking about.
But all that is still our own choice. Hopefully we’ll make the right one when the time comes.
THE HUGHTRAIN: “THE MARKET FOR SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN IS INFINITE.”
1. We are here to find meaning. We are here to help other people do the same. Everything else is secondary.
2. We humans want to believe in our own species. And we want people, companies and products in our lives that make it easier to do so. That is human nature.
3. Product benefit doesn’t excite us. Belief in humanity and human potential excites us.
Think less about what your product does, and think more about human potential.
What statement about humanity does your product make?
The bigger the statement, the bigger the idea, the bigger your brand will become.
4. It’s no longer just enough for people to believe that your product does what it says on the label.
They want to believe in you and what you do. And they’ll go elsewhere if they don’t.
It’s not enough for the customer to love your product. They have to love your process as well.
People are not just getting more demanding as consumers, they are getting more demanding as spiritual entities. Branding is a spiritual exercise.
These are The New Realities, this is the Spiritual Republic we now live in.
5. The soul cannot be outsourced. Either get with the program or hire a consultant in Extinction Management. No vision, no business. Your life from now on pivots squarely on your vision of human potential.
6. The primary job of an advertiser is not to communicate benefit, but to communicate conviction.
Benefit is secondary. Benefit is a product of conviction, not vice versa.
Whatever you manufacture, somebody can make it better, faster and cheaper than you.
You do not own the molecules. They are stardust. They belong to God. What you do own is your soul. Nobody can take that away from you. And it is your soul that informs the brand.
It is your soul, and the purpose and beliefs that embodies, that people will buy into.
7. Why is your brand great? Why does your brand matter?
Seriously. If you don’t know, then nobody else can- no advertiser, no buyer, and certainly no customer.
It’s not about merit. It’s about faith. Belief. Conviction. Courage.
It’s about why you’re on this planet. To make a dent in the universe.
8. I don’t want to know why your brand is good, or very good, or even great. I want to know why your brand is totally frickin’ amazing.
Once you tell me, I can tell the world.
And then they will know.
2018 HUGHTRAIN INTRODUCTION
This Manifesto (which was more of a short rant than anything else, to be honest) came in Summer, 2004 after I had drawn a series of what are now 7 seminal marketing cartoons, that I had created in my usual “back of business card” format. Here they are (PS None of the original seven are for sale, by the way):
At the time, social media was just starting to take off, and I was predicting that it would have a massive effect on the advertising business (I turned out to be right about that, although I had no way of predicting Facebook, Google et al). My own career as an advertising copywriter was floundering at the time, I knew social media was my future but my future had not arrived yet.
But in the meantime, I was asking myself, what’s the point of it all, anyway? Why do people care about ads? Why do they care about brands? What is it that my clients are really selling?
“You can’t drink any more bottled water than you already do. Or buy more wine. Or more tea. You can’t wear more than one pair of shoes at a time. You can’t get two massages at once…
“So, what grows? What do marketers sell that scales?
“I’ll tell you what: Belief. Belonging. Mattering. Making a difference. Tribes. We have an unlimited need for this.”
And this was precisely what these earlier 2004 cartoons were aiming at. I guess great minds think alike etc.
Though it sounds a rather cheesy thing to say, there is a direct link between our spiritual selves and our marketing selves, just as there’s a link between our spiritual selves and every other realm that our consciousness inhabits.
And I thought if I could bring that link to light, I could create a lot of value there, and that would be a interesting and rewarding way to spend one’s career.
But where to begin?
It turns out I was wrong in the end. The future of advertising WASN’T the Hughtrain, wasn’t all that touchy-feely, marketing-as-soul-food stuff.
The future turned out to be in fact the exact opposite, something far more cold and dead (See ‘sweatshop’ cartoon above). It turned out to be all about algorithms and bots and Facebook and Google and… a lot of stuff very few people actually care about. You can read all about the great, fraudulent dumpster fire that it became over on Bob Hoffman’s blog.
So what’s left?
The same thing that’s always left, the stuff that never goes away. Quoting Seth one more time: “Belief. Belonging. Mattering. Making a difference. Tribes. We have an unlimited need for this.”
So instead of asking yourself what the next big trend is, the next big thing coming down the ‘pike, ask yourself instead, what DOESN’T change? What will ALWAYS matter to people? And how do I get my product or service to be a part of that equation?
Think about it.
[TO BE CONTINUED…]
In 2004, I wrote a blog post about how artists and creative types should hang on to their day job:
The post was titled, “The Sex & Cash Theory”:
THE SEX & CASH THEORY: “The creative person basically has two kinds of jobs: One is the sexy, creative kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills. Sometimes the task in hand covers both bases, but not often. This tense duality will always play center stage. It will never be transcended.”
The blog post ended up being read by literally millions of people (six million, the last time anyone counted); it ended up being a chapter in my 2009 bestseller, “Ignore Everybody”.
Looking back, it’s probably the passage in the book that people mention the most, when they send me fan mail. I guess it really hit a nerve.
Here’s the rest of it it. It’s thankfully not very long:
A good example is Phil, a NY photographer friend of mine. He does really wild stuff for the indie magazines- it pays nothing, but it allows him to build his portfolio. Then he’ll go off and shoot some catalogues for a while. Nothing too exciting, but it pays the bills.
Another example is somebody like Martin Amis. He writes “serious” novels, but he has to supplement his income by writing the occasional newspaper article for the London papers (novel royalties are bloody pathetic- even bestsellers like Amis aren’t immune).
Or actors. One year John Travolta will be in an ultra-hip flick like Pulp Fiction (“Sex”), the next he’ll be in some dumb spy thriller (“Cash”).
Or painters. You spend one month painting blue pictures because that’s the color the celebrity collectors are buying this season (“Cash”), you spend the next month painting red pictures because secretly you despise the color blue and love the color red (“Sex”).
Or geeks. You spend your weekdays writing code for a faceless corporation (“Cash”), then you spend your evening and weekends writing anarchic, weird computer games to amuse your techie friends with (“Sex”).
It’s balancing the need to make a good living while still maintaining one’s creative sovereignty. My M.O. is my cartooning (“Sex”), coupled with my day job (“Cash”).
I’m thinking about the young writer who has to wait tables to pay the bills, in spite of her writing appearing in all the cool and hip magazines…. who dreams of one day of not having her life divided so harshly.
Well, over time the ‘harshly’ bit might go away, but not the ‘divided’.
“This tense duality will always play center stage. It will never be transcended.”
As soon as you accept this, I mean really accept this, for some reason your career starts moving ahead faster. I don’t know why this happens. It’s the people who refuse to cleave their lives this way- who just want to start Day One by quitting their current crappy day job and moving straight on over to best-selling author… Well, they never make it.
Anyway, it’s called “The Sex & Cash Theory”. Keep it under your pillow.
Considering it’s almost 15 years old, the post hasn’t dated too badly. Martin Amis and John Travolta may have greyed a little, but the points made are still perfectly valid. The “tense duality” between art and commerce still remains and, like I said, it will never be transcended.
Looking back on three decades in the Creative game (Cartooning, fine art, advertising, film, TV, book authoring, marketing, publishing, corporate consulting… you name it, I’ve done it), it seems to me that managing The Sex & Cash Theory is the hardest part of the game.
The external stuff- making the work, finding collaborators, raising the production funds, learning how to market oneself, finding customers, learning about running the business- that’s all pretty easy in comparison.
Embracing The Sex & Cash Theory, managing the “tense duality” is the real killer…