How To Appear To Know What You’re Doing While Smiling

About the same time Creative Social was born, I set up a blog.

At the time I’d just joined POKE and they did a lot of very clever work with the internets – work about which, at that time, I remained completely clueless. Being clueless, I looked for devious ways to appear knowledgeable about what I was doing.

Fortunately, it quickly became apparent that (as a few other people there had realised) having a ‘blog type thing’, might be a way to appear good at the thing POKE did. Read, edit and post stuff about internets and technology and, over time, you might just start to look like some kind of an “expert” in internets and technology.

And that’s what I did, I set up rubbishcorp® and it sort of worked. Let me be clear, I’m not, and will never be, an expert about internets and technology. But that blog, over time, seemingly made me knowledgeable about them. Or, at the very least appear, to be knowledgeable.

What I realised was that, although writing a blog was something I did in my time and not directly related to my role at POKE, it undoubtedly made me better at my day job. So, after a few years, encouraged by that success, I looked at some other areas in which I could employ this cunning technique.

I work in advertising and, like it or not, the creative part of advertising is largely subjective. There is no right or wrong, no good or bad and certainly no perfect. Yes, it works, but no-one has ever really proved which bit of it works best or why it works. Is it the media, the colour, the horses, the mood, the story, we could go on…

The reality is that there’s very little science to it. We’re all sort of claiming to know what’s good or bad (mostly bad), but usually we do that based solely on our own opinion – or the opinion of a friend, someone we admire or, worse still, an awards’ panel.

What I’m saying is that when push comes to shove, that’s all anyone really has: an opinion. But it follows that if advertising is subjective (which it is), then, as a creative, just knowing lots of stuff about it – and related to it – will make you better at it. Or at least appear to be.

I don’t mean appearing to be better by putting a fancy title by your name and sitting around scratching your chin with other ‘experts’ in tight purple trousers, bestowing your “expertise” on those less oracle-like than yourself.

I mean appearing to be better by being more knowledgeable. Better by rolling up your sleeves and getting stuck into trying things outside your day-job comfort zone.

And the really good thing about doing that, about gathering experience, is that you can do it without relying on anyone (especially the ‘experts’ in your workplace) to give it to you.

It’s pretty basic stuff, but if you want – or feel you need – to be better at your job, then you should just start trying more stuff. As long as it’s vaguely related to what you do, like images, moving images, tech, coding, building, or setting up a meth lab, it will benefit you. (Well, maybe not setting up a meth lab, but who knows?).

It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to do everything as well as you do your day job. You’ll probably feel very uncomfortable (like you would in tight purple trousers) and someone (probably an ‘expert’) may mock your efforts. But fuck ‘em.  Because over time, by consistently trying to do some of these things you will become a little more experienced – without anyone’s sign-off, approval or permission.

Some of the best career decisions I’ve ever made have been those that resulted in a thing that some ‘experts’ have laughed at. Those were the journeys that taught me the most, and that made me try harder, or try things differently, the next time. And those are the things I did because I believed in them, and I wasn’t seeking the approval of someone else.

What’s more, repeatedly doing something teaches you stuff that you don’t even realise you’re learning.

Trying to be a director, going to Adobe lessons, learning what the buttons do on a complicated camera, setting up some lights, making kids’ photo stories, trying to design a website, trying to build an app, whatever it might be, I just go in windmills (a highly unwieldy schoolyard fighting technique which involves closing your eyes and wildly rotating both arms in different directions whilst moving forward into a fight).

And I’ll continue to go in windmills – because that’s how I learn stuff.

True – the stuff I make sometimes turns out really bad. But I’ve learned to get over that, because it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because other than the appearing-to-know-what-you’re-on-about there’s this other benefit – one you don’t think about when you start to try new things.

Over the last 10 years I have come to realise that I actually enjoy the process of doing and learning as much, if not more, than the things I make.

And in the subjective world of advertising – that’s a much happier place for me to be.


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