Just a little candor

Seventeen years ago Jurassic Park was released to the world in video form (don’t worry, this is not a fan post about Jurassic Park). Easily the most made fun-of/irksome character was Dr. Ian Malcolm. No one wanted to talk about chaos theory, they just wanted to see some dinosaurs, twisted steel, and screaming tweens. I don’t want to talk about chaos theory either, but let me pull something totally out of context that he says and put in in a new one, so long as I am clear with my intent.

When the group sits down and talks about the marketing possibilities of the Park, Ian interjects with some principled objections. Party killer, right? Obviously he was ignored at the time, but two scream-heavy sequels later we find out he was right.

I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here: it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility… for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could and before you even knew what you had you patented it and packaged it and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now…
[pounds table with fists]
you’re selling it,
[pounds table again]
you want to sell it!

Or, if you don’t like reading entire paragraphs set in italic, in video form (though applied to the context of Alice in Wonderland 3D, which is also appropriate):

So what is this?
Yah, a principle post. But from ground level. No tall (high) horses allowed, just the stuff that used to kill parties. That was 1993, we can talk about this now.

So shall I call it out? I won’t use names, I promise, but the principle should apply to every field. That’s where we’re going, right? That’s why flight attendants won’t take your crap anymore, right? They’ll push back against unprincipled entitlements, and being treated like under-humans. That’s why girls quit their jobs when CEO’s sexually demoralize them, and post it all online. It’s why we brands are getting rewarded more handsomely than me brands. It’s why cold corporatism has jumped the shark. We’re barrel racing towards principle, but guess what, the old system is pushing back just as hard.

Alright, back to Dr. Malcolm. Now back to me (that was an accident, but fits in so perfectly) – don’t you wish those commercials were for more than an armpit deodorizer? Imagine the power of Mr. Mustafa if, say, it was an ad for TEDxChange. Yeah, Aaron, shut up and just enjoy the creativity of it.
Ok, ok, see I promised no tall horses.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy the creativity of something marketed to sell me useless plastic crap shipped from more than 3,000 miles away. It’s that it’s crazy not to talk about principle in our field. To sit down and make the decision to design something over and over again but not be able to say wether or not it nourishes the world in any way, shape, or form, sounds crazy to me. As an industry, let’s talk about it.

We need jobs, it’s hard for a first-year graduate struggling to find work to even think about not taking a job on principle. But if there were more principled firms & clients out there, then we’d probably be talking about it.

If creativity is a gift, then lets re-gift it. Don’t reduce George Washington & the idea of freedom to an ephemeral Dodge commercial. Don’t steal Terrence Malick’s screenplay and slap your logo on it, touting American workers while manufacturing your products in factories overseas. Don’t think it’s crazy to want more from the ads that try to manipulate you. Demand more, and by more I mean value. Basically, find your principle. Interestingly, originality & a flourish of fresh, creative content will likely follow, because principle compliments discipline, and discipline is honest. As is work.

Dr. Malcolm said that it was a lack of discipline that lead to the catastrophe of Jurassic Park because they didn’t take responsibility for the work they’d appropriated. In the same way, our field will be less if we don’t apply principle to our discipline. Ask of the nature of the value of the thing before you make the thing. Here we are, saying beauty is not enough. Nor is simply lining the pockets of the people who pay us. Big tasks here, and likely impossible for many. It seems worth the tackle.

4 Responses to “Just a little candor”
  1. Thank you for writing this.

    The big question I’ve been asking myself when trying to make decisions as to which projects to accept is this: “Does this help us to live better?”

    I don’t think many people ask themselves that question. And, yes, I understand that to be able to do so could be considered a financial privilege, but I don’t think it should be. I’d rather change what I’m doing and be useful than to work at producing papier-mâché versions of something good. Otherwise, you’re just enslaving yourself to inconsequential things needlessly to be “creative.” To work so hard to provide false differences between similar things seems awful. To take two of the same thing and to invest so much creativity to just talk about one of them slightly differently to sell it? No thanks.

    And I’m not villainising advertising here. I took on a job a couple weeks ago for an ad firm to illustrate a branding guide for small businesses that was produced by AMEX. I thought there was true, long-lasting, thick value there because the document was insightful and well-written. But, I also turned down a job producing work for Las Vegas because doing that didn’t feel valuable in the grand scheme of things. The idea here is to actually BE different rather than to just speak differently.

    Because if you ARE different, you don’t have to stand on the shoulders of geniuses.

    And, sorry to brain dump on two of your posts in one day.

  2. Aaron says:

    Brain dumps are as welcome as Bourbon in my glass.

    Your transparency is good here. I think it makes things more comfortable to talk about.

    The struggle to find it (principle in our work) seems like something new to talk about. It’s so not a new conversation though, we just forgot how to talk about it during the 20th century. I’m happy to engage in anything of the sort, especially if someone thinks I’m 100% a-hole for even bringing it up.

    “Enslaving yourself to inconsequential things” – basically the job requirement of any huge firm. Seems like only the individuals/small shops are bold enough to eschew that crap, with very few exceptions.

    Creativity isn’t enough.
    “Does this help us to live better?”
    Just vague enough to not sound like a moral treatise, forward enough to easily answer. Good on you.

  3. Jack says:

    Great post.

    Another recent example that comes to mind is AT&T ripping off Christo and Jeanne Claude:


    *note the “we acknowledge that we cheated” text that appears around :27

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Benjamin Friesen, Fort Port Blog. Fort Port Blog said: principle and discipline. Ian Malcolm, turns out he's still 85% irritating. http://www.fortport.com/?p=2154 […]

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