Once we went to a neurologist for some baseline brain testing just in case anything ever happened to our gray matter. And during it, the neurologist asked about our job. And we described the non-existent briefs and the concepting and the revisions and the moving goalposts, and how most of what we came up with was rejected, but that that was normal because advertising was highly iterative. And how a lot of the time you got no feedback at all, which was also par for the course, so you spent a lot of time sort of “in your own head” figuring things out and hoping you were right, but often you weren’t. Or you were, but it didn’t matter because the client changed everything. And how, in spite of all of that, eventually, somehow, advertising got made.
You know, the normal.
To say that the neurologist was horrified would be putting it mildly. He could not imagine being in a working environment – let alone a career – where you didn’t get answers to your questions, didn’t find out the results of your efforts, didn’t get feedback on your contributions, or got feedback that radically contradicted everything you’d been told. Repeated exposure to such behaviour, he felt, had to inflict significant damage to the psyche, and would undoubtedly have lasting consequences on one’s brain generally.
Which was, you know, good to know, if not exactly what we wanted to hear.
We begin with this anecdote because it occurred to us that the only thing that gets any of us through a career in this literally mind-numbing business (if the neurologist was right) is our attitude. We have to believe, like a shell-shocked goalie whose defense has abandoned him, that things will improve. That all we need is one more kick at the ball and it will all come out right in the end. And If you don’t have that kind of attitude – if you stumble at the first hurdle or throw up your hands at the eighth revision (or maybe just throw up altogether) – then you’re never going to survive. And though we’re not saying this culture is a good thing, nor that the ability to endure any of it beats having actual talent, we do believe it’s a fact of this life, and daresay it always has been.
Which is where Jeffery Gitomer’s Little Gold Book of Yes! Attitude comes in. For while the idea of a “positive attitude” would be anathema to the jaded gentry who generate ads, the resilience, dedication, and commitment they show in the face of all those things that horrified the neurologist are clearly part of their DNA. And this book – which is, we concede, more of a self-help guide than an exploration of that nature – is illuminating for anyone who has to manage them, as well as those of us who might need a boost now and then to stay in the fight a little longer.
For example, there is the observation that a positive attitude is not something that’s natural, but instead the result of hard work, commitment, and, in many cases, education and research. Which is comforting, actually – reminding you as it does that if you’re feeling a bit beaten down by all the negativity you’re encountering, well, that’s normal. What’s abnormal is to be positive, though abnormal is what you’re striving for. (Which also reminds us of what a successful salesperson once remarked – that success is the aberration; failure is the norm. And she was right).
There’s also the insight that a positive attitude comes from the inside out – that it must be something internal you express, rather than accomplish through the achievement or attainment of externalities. As such, it requires one to be constantly on guard against outside stimuli that deteriorate it. People, news, belief systems. And while we believe this is true, we wish it were articulated with a little more nuance than Mr. Gitomer expresses it here. For while we also accept that by and large anyone picking up this book is not reading it for our abstract reasons but instead probably seeking advice that will help turn their circumstances around, (and thus for whom nuance is less important than confidence and rah-rah-rah), this endorsement of a disregard for external insight, this positioning of outside opinions and viewpoints as actually dangerous, is, well, a bit dangerous. Not only because it’s the kind of alienation and tribalism and “other-ism” that’s gotten the planet into much of the trouble it’s in, but because it’s only half the story.
Because yes, of course, having faith in oneself is important. And having faith in oneself when surrounded by friends and family and peers and co-workers and neighbors and even a culture that can’t see what you can, is essential to success. And the stories of every person of accomplishment are rife with examples. Marie Curie. Albert Einstein. John Coltrane. But even they would admit that there’s a fine line between confidence and, well madness.
And that’s exactly our point. Not to just have a positive attitude, but to strike that balance. The internal with the external. The voice inside your head that keeps telling you that you’re right, with ears open to the information that tells you what’s going on around you. The confidence in the ship you’re sailing, but the brains to recognize a god damned iceberg when you see it.
And while that’s not really the message of Mr. Gitomer’s book – as we said, he’s more focused on cheerleading and enthusiasm – it is actually what makes Little Gold Book of Yes! Attitude useful for anyone in this business – or any business – that has a talent for chewing people up and spitting them out. To recognize what it takes to stay positive, to understand why it’s important to, but to be mindful of the need to be aware of the changes happening around you.
Or maybe not. We could be wrong. But we doubt it.
The Little Gold Book of YES! Attitude by Jeffrey Gitomer was published by FT Press on 01/01/2006 – order it from Amazon here or Barnes & Noble here – or pick it up at your local bookseller (find one here).