People say “I did my best” only when what they did sucks.

Whenever students argue their grade with me they always end their spiel with the same line:

“But I did my best.”

When they do work that earns huzzahs and hoorays, however, they never say “I did my best.”

They look down at their feet and say “We didn’t even think it was our best idea.”

Dear Students,

Don’t ever say “I did my best.”

“I did my best” is for children.


The words used to describe great work– Disruptive, Unexpected, Eccentric, Subversive, Bold, Funny, Emotional, Frank, Unusual –are the same words folks use to describe those people they wish to fire, detain at airports, kick off teams, deny access to, etc.

Dear Students,

It is human, natural and satisfying to create.

As it is an imitation of the first act of God, I believe it a high calling.

But don’t be fooled into believing creative thinking is going to make you popular.

The opposite.

Rather than applauded for seeing the world differently and making something new in response, you’ll be avoided, distrusted, unheard, misunderstood, insulted, and, then, after a time, as if to show that justice has no place at all in the world, you will see people who earlier mocked your ideas stand up and wave them as their own and make profit from them.

This is not news.

It has been so from the start of the world.

A union leader in America in 1918, Nicholas Klein,  described the process by which upstart, disruptive ideas come into the world:

“First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.” (Something like this statement is usually attributed to Mahatma Gandhi but according to several sources –besides Wikipedia–there’s no record Gandhi ever said it, while Klein got it into print)

The world gets used to a new thing, but it loathes the person who first brought it to life

A genuinely new thought in the moment of its arrival in the lives of normal people is like a boulder arriving from space. It bangs the sound barrier, sets fire to the sky and scuds up dirt like a 30,000 mph snowplow.

People hate the new.

And they’re going to hate you if you’re a creative thinker, because you’re in favor of finding as much new as you can to toss in their face.

It’s a dilemma.

You want to think up new things. And you know there’s money in new things. Eventually. But you don’t want to be hated, pelted with vegetables, ostracized, etc.

What to do?

Pretend you aren’t creative.

Yes. I’m serious.

Disguise the fire.

Give no suggestion you see differently, think differently, desire differently.

Walk around like you haven’t got a clue.

The novelist and teacher Gustave Flaubert said “Be quiet and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

I used to think what he meant was that by being quiet and orderly in life one would save up one’s energy so that one could use it in one’s work.

But experience has changed what I think.

Fool them is what I now think Flaubert was advocating. Trick them into not seeing your true self, or they’ll take all the power and originality out of what you do.

See, he knew what most people don’t ever say about creating.

It destroys.

There is violence.

There has to be.

To create something new something else has to become undone.

Knowing you’re going to do this, Flaubert gives the creative thinker practical advice:

Hide the gift.

If you make noise they’ll stop listening to you before you even talk. Go under the radar. Let silence prevail. Behave as if you are in line and happy to be there.

So that the world isn’t prejudiced against your work before you show it.

I’m guessing Flaubert got burned a few times and figured out that if you make new things and think new thoughts the destruction that goes along with them might get your work –or maybe even you–killed before it starts.

Better to live ordinary.



Give no sense that you’re capable of Disruptive, Bold, Unexpected.

If you’ve got it, respect it.

Don’t invite extra scrutiny.

Don’t let them know you’re coming.



If You Can’t Afford to Come to VCU Brandcenter Here’s a Way to Learn How to Make Great Ads at Home.

It’s not as hard to put together a portfolio of good advertising as people think it is.

Here’s a trick that might help you.

Go home and watch the commercials that come on TV.

Study what happens in each ad.

What’s said, what’s shown, what the song is, who the star is they get to talk in it.

Then do the exact opposite of what you see.

If a commercial comes on saying something inanely stupid about a product you write a script in which something not inanely stupid is said about the product.

If a commercial comes on that takes 30 seconds to say something everybody already knows, you write a script that says something nobody knows about the product.

Something this simple might not work in every field.

I’m doubtful you can get a job as a plumber by making what’s in the toilet shoot up in the air from the bowl when you press a lever.

But it works in advertising.

With 99 out of every hundred ads being a certifiable piece of crap you’ll have enough material after just a couple nights to put together a pretty thick portfolio.

Just do the opposite of everything you see.

Later dudes.

Catch you in the award books.

The Number One Most Important Secret Trick to Making Great Ads Can Be Learned by Cooking Catfish for Breakfast.

Dear Students,

To make ads is boring silly work.

I won’t teach it.

If you want to make great ads.

That’s different.

Here’s what you do.


Get a cast iron skillet.

The one I use is nearly as old as I am. (we pass along cooking instruments in our family, not art or real estate)

Heat the shit out of the skillet.

Put two catfish fillets in. (marinate them in something that has the words Cajun and spicy on the label first)

You’ll hear a popping sound when they hit the hot metal because you took my advice on how hot to let the skillet get.

Now, here comes the secret number one most important trick that you’ve endured the reading of this recipe for:

Forget that you’re cooking.

Go into another room. Read the paper. Do the crossword.

The amount of smoke created in blackening catfish will tempt you, if you stand there watching it, to pull the pan off the fire before perfection has been created because you will think Gadzooks, this is not what a kitchen should look like, this is not what cooking looks like on tv.

In the same way, when you are making a great ad, the distance your mind will deviate from what seems like advertising will scare you.

Don’t give in.

Erase from your mind the thought that you are making an ad.

Even when the smoke alarm goes off don’t pull your pan from the fire.

Great ads are like great breakfasts.

They’re different from what normal people make.

Every Company Has a Problem They Are Pretending Isn’t a Problem. That’s the Problem to Go After.

Aim at that problem with the advertising you create.
The client will fight you. He wants a problem addressed that he thinks is not his fault or a weakness in his product.
The agency planners will fight you. They want the problem addressed that the client told them was the problem.
The sales managers will fight you. They have taught themselves that the words “sale” and “lowest price anywhere” must figure prominently in everything.
The audience will say (but not out loud) “finally”.


Sleep is the Most Intelligent Act a Student Can Perform After Midnight.

Dear Students,

It’s considered macho to stay up all night to finish a project.

I’ve done it.

And stood there first in line at the coffee shop at dawn certain that I’d done something cooler & harder & more valuable than what regular people had done that night.

But now I see it differently.

Now I have enough distance from the work and the situations they arose from.

To tell you it’s false.

Yes, staying up all night to work can result in your having something to turn in if you didn’t do any work up till that point.

But that’s not a victory.

It’s a defeat.

Because the goal of a superlative ad maker isn’t to get ads done.

It’s to get great ads done.

Staying awake when you need sleep makes your brain slow down.

Causing it to not make as many connections as it would at full power.

Or to access as many or widely separated cells as it would have if rested.

Which means you think s l o w e r.

About less.

And perceive its value through the gauze of “decreased bandwidth”.

It’s hard to be great.

Don’t go about trying to get there with only half a brain.


When you wake up, 10 minutes of the real you will get you further than hours spent with the gerbil cages of your mind only pretending to whirl.




In an Age of Puffery the Pinprick is King.

Dear Students,

Boil everything down.

When you have removed every impurity from the client’s product claims and research insights and social media hoopla and sales manager excitedness what you have may be small. Infinitesimal even.

Let it be. The size of truth is no predictor of its power.

Make that truth your client’s story.

Build your campaign on nothing else.

We live inside a hurricane of promotion and flimflam.

Something to hold on to that is immovable need not be large to be potent.

A short sermon can carry a lot of God.

Don’t work late at the office.

Dear Graduates,
Working late makes it look like you’re trying.
You don’t want to look like you’re trying.
Trying counts against you, not for you.
When you look like you’re trying it suggests to those watching that what you’re doing may be as much as you can handle.
It takes a lot of work to be great.
But don’t let people see you do it.
Go home.
Go to a diner.
Get out of the office.