The Great Wide Open

The evils of the open office has been discussed ad nauseam elsewhere so we don’t need to rehash any of that here.

Working in a great big open office with around 200 people in the room, it can be unnerving as to how quiet it is. Other times, it is maddening at how loud it can be. There is rarely a moment where you feel comfortable. There’s always something that does not feel right.

This got me to thinking about Starbucks, the default place to go work when you when to get away from work. Generally speaking it is louder at Starbucks than the average corporate office. They play drippy music held over from the 90’s. There’s always some hipster sitting around annoying you. So why is it people feel more comfortable and at ease at Starbucks than they do in the office?

What can we learn from Starbucks when thinking about office design?

Think I’ll get out of the office, go to Starbucks and think about it.

Paying Attention

God has spoken to me.


The event wasn’t so much like Moses and the burning bush as it was something more like this:

Back in the late 90’s, when I worked at JWT, I had been plugging away on some pitch material for a few weeks. It had been a grind. This was back in the days before we had the luxury of having a color printer in the office, so every time I needed prints I had to run down to the nearest Kinkos. Needless to say, I got to be on a first name basis with those guys.

On this particular morning, I had finished up at the Kinkos far out on Westheimer about mid-morning. I was tired but felt good knowing that I was finished with the comps. Time to get back to the office. I hopped in my car and drove a couple of blocks when I heard this voice:

Michael, turn at the Half-Priced Books.

Who said that? Nobody but me in the car but me.

Coming up quickly was the Half-Priced Books, so I turned, parked and went inside. For the uninitiated, Half-Priced Books can be  hit-or-miss. Sometimes you find treasure troves of goodies but other times it is a barren wasteland of musty smelling books.

On this particular day it was a jackpot.

I walked directly to the section with the art and design books. There, sitting innocuously on a lower shelf was a first edition of George Lois’ The Art of Advertising in excellent condition. I picked up this unbelievable find and promptly bought it.

What a reward after such a long, arduous few weeks.

Had that voice not prompted me to take a break from life, I’d have never uncovered this hidden treasure.

Years later I had the privilege to meet Mr Lois at an Ad Fed luncheon in Houston. To this day I cannot imagine there were ever so many four letter words used in the Junior League presentation. After his talk, I had the opportunity to shake his hand and I told him this story about God talking to me. He was congenial. And a little tipsy.

I’ve been a Catholic my whole life, but I am far from religious. I try to practice what the church preaches but more often than not fall short. But this isn’t a story about church. Or belief in God for that matter. It’s a story about listening and paying attention.

I do believe in God. I do believe He speaks to you, but in ways you have to be willing to accept. You have to be open, ready and aware.

Where creative ideas come from has always been a mystery to me. This is a subject I’ve studied for years as it is my stock and trade. Sure, you can believe all the stuff you hear these days – the books, article on the internet, TED talks – but if you really want to know where good ideas come from, they come from somewhere else.

Maybe even Someone else.

But you have to be paying attention.




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Back Pocket Ideas

Have you ever had a project where ideas poured freely and easily out of that big ol’ brain of yours? The flood gates of your imagination opened and you have more great solutions than you’ll possibly need.

What should you do? Pitch them all?

Absolutely not.

No matter the volume of your great concepts, refrain from showing all your cards.

A CD I worked for years ago implicitly instructed us to always hold back. He said to keep some “back pocket ideas”. Here’s why:

Use this opportunity to cull down the concepts to only the very best, to take a second look and be highly critical of yourself.

Choose to present only the strongest ideas you want to see come to life – the things you want for your book, or more importantly, that you feel certain the client will buy. Choose the ones that you think will not just be clever in the moment, but also stand the test of time.

Back pocket ideas are also useful if all the concepts you initially pitch die. It’s happened to all of us, and when it does it usually means a quick scramble back to the drawing board. Having some good stuff in reserve might just help alleviate the impending all-nighter.

Another some subtle reason for holding onto back pocket ideas is that you never want your job to look easy. If you start tossing around ideas like they are a cheap commodity that anyone can make, then that is exactly how they will be treated.