Baseball, Stoicism & Being a Professional

One of my favorite classes in college was “Design Philosophy”. It was a mishmash of history, typography, production and techniques. It was not a portfolio class, but more like an art class, where we made more design that was like art.

The funny thing about Design Philosophy is that I was never quite sure what I was supposed to have taken away from it. Even 25+ years later, I’m still not sure.

But philosophy has never left my mind.

Life is hard and without getting to gooey, studying philosophy can help you find your way. A couple of years ago I read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. I thought Isaacson was a little too close to his subject and a bit too much of a fanboy. But there were plenty of excellent take-aways with a surprisingly large number that are of a philosophical nature.

After reading the book, I immediately went out and picked up one of Job’s favorite books, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, a book that had been recommended to me years ago but I had never broken down to read it. Finally did.

Although a beautiful, thoughtful book, Buddhist philosophy is not for me. I do meditate on occasion, but just cannot wrap my head around Eastern thought.

The Western equivalent, Stoicism, I do practice. Daily in fact. Of late, it has become the trendy thing to do largely in part to Ryan Holiday’s book The Obstacle is the Way and it’s subsequent adoption by the NFL as a manual for success. Hey, whatever works.

Sports offer such a great metaphors for life. Especially baseball.

My all-time favorite player has been and will always be the Astros’ first baseman throughout the 90s, Jeff Bagwell. He epitomizes Stoic philosophy.

I’ll never forget a post-game interview he gave. He just came off a monster game — a home run, stolen bases, great defense and base running. An All-Star caliber performance. A reporter comes up to him in the locker room afterwards and starts rattling off everything he had done. Bags just looks at him and says “You know they pay me to hit home runs, steal bases and field the ball. I was just doing my job.” Not an ounce of sarcasm, just pure Stoicism.

I’ve always tried my best to carry myself with a similar stance. Put your head down and do the work. That’s what being a professional is all about.  Don’t go out looking for glory, do the work and let it find you.

I know many writers use a prompt to get going. Although I hardly qualify myself as a writer, I always use a prompt, even if it is something as simple as a reaction to something I heard somewhere.

Does coffee count as a prompt?

Lately, I have found that all my writing comes from articles I read and the authors get me to thinking. This is good, right?

So I’ve coined a term for this style of writing: Riffing off. This word accurately describes of how I write. It’s kind of like ripping off, but more than that – I take what someone starts, expound upon it, and maybe make a little headway on furthering the issue.

There is no copyright or legality here. Just like Shakespeare, my made-up words are a gift to the world. Feel free to riff off at will.

David v. Dave

I’ve stumbled on to Dave Trott’s blog and nowadays I read it several times a week. I’m too cheap to buy a subscription to Campaign Live, otherwise I’d be reading him just about every day.

Left: Ogilvy, Right: Trott. What do you suppose they’re looking at?

I remember picking up a copy of Dave’s “Creative Mischief” a number of years ago but quickly put it back on the shelf. Thumbing through the pages, it looked more like a book of poetry rather than a proper book on advertising. “I won’t get anything out of that” was my first thought. Big mistake.

To me, Dave’s take on subjects is the verbal equivalent to Alan Fletcher’s visual explorations. Little vignettes of oddities from anywhere. The only difference being Trott’s essays end with a valuable lesson for advertising creative folks.

Trott’s writing is good design. It follows the basic principle of design as laid out by Milton Glaser – “Design should inform & delight”. Dave’s essays do that in spades.

Then there’s David. Mr Ogilvy. I’m a big fan of his, too, but for other reasons. He’s all business. Practical. Informative. Earlier this year I reread “Confessions of an Advertising Man”. Although some of the chapters are quite dated, it is surprising how many of the principles are still relevant 50 years after the first run of the book.

So here I have David & Dave. Both I admire. Learned from both, yet in strikingly different ways. It got me to thinking about voice and tone.

Here’s a comparison not meant to offend, but drive the point home: David is like the Old Testament and Dave is like the New Testament. David gives you Commandments to follow, laws to obey, while Dave teaches in parables. Pay attention and you are likely to learn from both. And that’s where the metaphor ends. Although I do have thoughts on Paul’s letters to the Romans being the world’s first PR campaign. For other such interesting thoughts, check out another David’s blog.

Is one better than the other? Not a chance. After all, there would be no Dave without David.