you have to be able to tolerate weirdness


I recently picked up a copy of this book, Imagine. How creativity works, by Jonah Lehrer.

The blurb on Amazon says:

The profound mysteries of creative thought have long intimidated the world's finest brains. How do you measure the imagination? How do you quantify an epiphany? These daunting questions led researchers to neglect the subject for hundreds of years. In Jonah Lehrer's ambitious and enthralling new book, we go in search of the epiphany. Shattering the myth of creative 'types', Lehrer shows how new research is deepening our understanding of the human imagination. Creativity is not a 'gift' that only some possess. It's a term for a variety of distinct thought processes that we can all learn to use more effectively.

It's an entertaining and sometimes enlightening read for anyone interested in the creative industries. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on Bob Dylan's creative process – like writing a "long piece of vomit" – and that of Pixar. "Talent is not enough. Talent fails every day…But no-one ever said making a good movie was easy…If it feels easy then you're doing it wrong…We know that screw-ups are an essential part of what we do here. That's why our goal is simple: we want to screw up as quicky as possible. We want to fail fast. And then we want to fix it. Together."

There's also a section in the book on Wieden + Kennedy. It's always a little weird to read about your own workplace in a book like this. "Can that really be us?" You wonder. Anyway, here's some of what Lehrer says about us:

Dan Wieden is cofounder of Wieden + Kennedy, one of the most innovatve and honoured ad agencies in the world. Wieden's firm has a reputation for designing unconventional campaigns, from the Levi's commercial featuring the voice of Walt Whitman to those yellow rubber bracelets that support Lance Armstrong's foundation.


I met Wieden at the W+K headquarters in the Pearl District of Portland, Oregon. The building is a former cold-storage factory that's been hollowed out. This means that the interior is mostly empty space, a soaring lobby framed by thick concrete walls and weathered pine beams. Wieden gives me a tour of the building as he explains his unorthodox approach to fostering group creativity…

While Dan believes in the virtue of such events (as team building exercises, pie-making competitions and pub crawls) he thinks they only work if the right people are present. For Dan. this is what creativity is all about: putting talented people in a room and letting them freely interact.'It really is that simple,' he says. 'You need to hire the best folks ad then get out of the way… What I've learned to look for is the individual voice. It might be an aesthetic, or a sentence style, or a way of holding the camera. But havung that unique voice is the one thing I can't teach. I can teach someone to write copy. I can show someone how to crop a photo. But I can't teach you how to have a voice. You either have something to say or you don't."

Wieden describes the challenge of advertising as finding a way to stay original in a world of cliches, avoiding the bikinis in beer ads and the racing coupes in car commercials. And that's why he's so insistent on hiring people who don't know anything about advertising. 'You need these weird fucks,' he says. 'You need people who won't make the same boring, predictable mistakes as the rest of us. And when those weirdos learn how things work and become a little less weird, then you need a new class of weird fucks. Of course, you also need some people who know what they're doing. But if you're in the creative business, then you have to be able to tolerate a certain level of, you know, weirdness.'

There's much more in the book.

Update 01/08/12:

I see here that the author has resigned from his job at The New Yorker and that the book is being withdrawn by its publishers following Lehrer's admission that he falsified quotes attributed to Bob Dylan. As far as I know, the quotes attributed to Dan Wieden above are accurate.

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