I spend an inordinate amount of my time saying “No”. “No” to copy lines, no to layouts, no to strategies, no to photography, no to concepts. No to copywriters and art directors and other creative directors and every manner of account person. No to bosses and subordinates and outsiders and insiders. And most of all, no to clients, who want to do what someone else did, or who wants me to believe that people really are waiting to hear about their product, or who want a big idea to execute for a small price.
This special relationship with “No”, however, doesn’t make me a bad person, per se. It just makes me a Creative Director.
Or as Gideon Amichay might say in his wonderful little book, it just makes me a creative person generally.
For Amichay, the former CCO & Joint Managing Partner of Israel’s Salmor Avnon Amichay/Y&R, knows something about “no”. Not only has he experienced his fair share of it in the industry (while winning a roomful of awards and international acclaim), but he also enjoyed it while trying to achieve his dream – of creating a cartoon that would appear in The New Yorker. Indeed, the title of the book comes from, in part, the story of trying to achieve that goal, over many years and many hundreds of attempts.
But the book is more than simply a memoir. It is an exploration into the idea of rejection – both by outsiders and by one’s self – on the way to great work. An investigation into how “No” functions as a tool – perhaps the most valuable tool – in the creative process, in an effort to uncover its strength, value and meaning. Along the way, Amichay looks for it everywhere, in big ideas, in his parents, even in something as seemingly innocuous as a comma.
Thus, No, No, No… is an absolute necessity for anyone who spends their time being creative. Or anyone who hopes to. Or anyone who is around people who are creative and can’t understand why they do what they do, let alone how.
And it must be admitted that the book comes at a curious time for this industry. For on the one hand, one cannot look at the vast majority of what passes for, or at least is called, “advertising”, and believe that anyone told anyone “no, let’s see if we can do better” or “no, I don’t think that’s the target” or even “No, this is a stupid and wildly infantile idea that will not do anything for the client.”
And yet, on the other hand, one feels that the only thing clients are comfortable saying is “no” – but not a “no” that is useful (“no’s that are useful” is central to Amichay’s thinking). Their “no’s” are born from panic, from fear, from a sense that to tread water is far more politically sound than to plant a stake in the ground and make a decision. So they say “no, I’m just not feeling it” or “no, the target has changed, didn’t you get my email?” or “no, the budget has been slashed, please rethink the entire project.” A veritable avalanche of “no”.
And on the other, other hand, both agencies and clients are finding themselves functioning – or trying to – in a universe in which each day brings us new media, new ways to communicate, new platforms that connect, divide, lift and separate us, all of which we must use because our consumers are (or worse, because our competitors are, and god forbid we let them get the jump on us). New forms and devices that we barely understand, and thus have no idea how to use, let alone what “no” means when we try to create compelling advertising with or for them.
These are, of course, heavy and weighty things to consider, and yet I would be remiss if I didn’t explain that No, No, No… has a curious – and refreshing – “children’s book” feel to it. Partly this is a result of the design – there is a lot of white space artfully filled with image and copy. And partly this is due to the way Amichay directly addresses the reader throughout. And partly, I am sure, is due to the book’s brevity.
But mostly I think it’s because of the way the book is uplifting at the end – not uplifting in a “everything’s gonna be all right” way, however. More like uplifting in a “here we go” way, in a “promise of the future” way, in a “what’s next? I don’t know, let’s see” way that the best children’s books have. And when was the last time a business book ended on that note?
Know what I mean? No?
Well, that’s a good place to start.