Corporate twats

I don’t know how many of you saw the 27-metre High Diving competition staged recently in Barcelona. 27 metres is about 10 storeys up, and is so high it feels like a bad dream or the climax to every film which Hollywood now makes.

My admiration for the participants was only minutely diluted by the fact that the event should have been called the 27-metre High Jumping competition, since they all entered the water feet first.

When the first guy  (a stocky, unhappy-looking Mexican)  did that, I thought he’d made a mistake. Perhaps miscounting the number of somersaults and tucks. But when you jump from 10 stories on a professional basis, you get details like that right.

It reminded me of the scene in ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ where the two outlaws leapt off the rocks into the river below. We used to love this clip at HHCL, and in fact considered using it as part of our interview process. The line that always tickled us was when Butch says he can’t swim and the Sundance Kid replies “The fall is going to kill you anyway”.

That’s what risk-taking is all about.

It’s the fall which you need to worry about. It doesn’t really matter if you’ve got a certificate for swimming a width, breast-stroke.

Several centuries ago, when I started this blog, I wrote a piece asking if the ad industry needed more bastards. I was fed up with the pusillanimity, the milk-soppiness, of the industry. It seemed to me that nobody was taking risks.

But actually risk-taking – entrepreneurship – is not the domain of bastards. Most entrepreneurs are quite gentle souls. It’s the people who want to get to the top by counting the pennies and cutting the costs who are the real back-stabbing bastards.

The corporate twats.

Jesus said that the poor will always be with us – but, much more sadly, so will the corporate twats.

After all, you can have a decent conversation with someone who’s poor.

So what I would like to see in the industry is more risk-taking – and more generosity of spirit.

To the latter point, there is a heartbreaking story in the collection “Binocular Vision” by Edith Pearlman – who has been claimed as the greatest short-story writer in American history – which will tell you all you need to know about grace and kindness. It’s called Allog.

It’s set in a country where, as one of the characters says – “People here … mislaid civility a century ago.”

Into this country comes an immigrant who brings a naturally kind spirit, courtesy, and the inner certainty that helping others brings more rewards than trying to beat them up.

Everybody who comes into contact with him, falls in love with him.

So that’s my proposal this week. Let’s get rid of the bastards. And explore the idea of having a bit of a laugh, while pushing the frontiers of great creativity at the same time.

The ad industry used to have that feeling about it. And I don’t believe it damaged many brands when it took this approach. I bet the industry kills a whole lot more brands now with its acres of inefficient research and its agonisingly slow approval processes, which go at the pace of a dressage competition for sloths with hip problems.

Butch and Sundance survived their jump precisely because they didn’t over-analyse it or ask too many damn stupid questions.

They just jumped.

Entrepreneurs do that. Creative people do that.

(West Coast entrepreneurs and developers all over the world call it Prototyping. The former built the biggest companies in the world by doing it.)

Corporate twats stand by the side of the pool in their sad little Speedos, trying to work it all out with a pencil.

Or, as Mike Tyson put it – “Fear is like fire. You can warm your hands on it, cook your food with it, or it can burn down your house.”

  • Paul Simons

    I understand Steve’s remarks, it is however a sign of the times sadly.
    When we worked together at GGT and subsequently became competitors (HHCL and Simons Palmer) we operated with independent spirits and overall I would argue the outcomes were pretty well up the scale on worthy efforts. Standing for something is a polarising position to take, people (clients) for you and against you as Mr. W. Bernbach once said. We could afford to take such a position given our independence.
    In large organisations this is not encouraged, just the opposite. Today we have large organisations dominating the wider advertising world. Even thought this doesn’t sit comfortably with people from a more feisty background it is however understandable.
    And I think the majority of the trail blazers eventually became seen as loose cannons when they were acquired and gobbled up by the mega groups.
    I think the good news is the proposed merger of Omnicom and Publicis will open the door for a new breed of chancers, trying to offer an alternative to the risk averse corporate types.
    The reason is quite clear as more and more brand owners will seek out smart and talented people who can deliver distinctive and talked about creative thinking.
    Steve referred to literature, my contribution is Animal Farm as I have always thought it could have been written about the advertising industry.  

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