The Best Piece of Advertising Writing You've Never Read

The Late Linds Redding's "A Short Lesson on Perspective"

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Linds Redding
Linds Redding
Linds Redding has died, according to the San Francisco Egotist. Don't worry if you don't who that is . I didn't either until today, when some creatives I follow began Tweeting and Facebook about him. In fact, I still know very little about him. There are no full-on newspapers obituaries that I can find. Just some biographical fragments from his website and that of the San Francisco Egotist, which had published him. These bits and pieces tell me Redding was a British-born art director who toiled for agencies in London and Edinburgh and, eventually, New Zealand. He left advertising to create an animation studio. About a year ago, he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. That's it -- except for one thing.

Back in March, Redding published one of the best pieces I've ever read on the pressure-cooker of creativity and commerce that is advertising. His "A Short Lesson on Perspective" is a must-read at any time, and all the more so right now when we need reminders not to take ourselves too seriously.

The essay begins in somewhat familiar territory, with Redding recounting the "Overnight Test" that he and his partner used to determine whether anything they'd come up was good. They'd wait until the next day to see what they had. This approach worked pretty well for some time, but then the business began to change and the beancounters realized "we could just do three times as many jobs in the same amount of time, and make them three times as much money."

Writes Redding:

Pretty soon, The Overnight Test became the Over Lunch Test. Then before we knew it, we were eating Pot-Noodles at our desks, and taking it in turns to go home and see our kids before they went to bed. As fast as we could pin an idea on the wall, some red-faced account manager in a bad suit would run away with it. Where we used to rely on taking a break and "stretching the eyes' to allow us to see the wood from the trees (too many idioms and similes? Probably.) We now fell back on experience and gut-feel. It worked most of the time, but nobody is infallible. Some howlers and growlers definitely made it through, and generally standards plummeted.

The other consequence, with the benefit of hindsight, is that we became more conservative. Less likely to take creative risks and rely on the tried and trusted. The familiar is always going to research better than the truly novel. An research was the new god. The trick to being truly creative, I've always maintained, is to be completely unselfconscious. To resist the urge to self-censor. To not-give-a-shit what anybody thinks. That's why children are so good at it. And why people with Volkswagens, and mortgages, Personal Equity Plans and matching Louis Vuitton luggage are not.

It takes a certain amount of courage, thinking out loud. And is best done in a safe and nurturing environment. Creative Departments and design studios used to be such places, where you could say and do just about anything creatively speaking, without fear of ridicule or judgment. It has to be this way, or you will just close up like a clamshell. It's like trying to have sex, with your mum listening outside the bedroom door. Can't be done. Then some bright spark had the idea of setting everyone up in competition. It became a contest. A race. Winner gets to keep his job.

Now of course we are all suffering from the same affliction. Our technology whizzes along at the velocity of a speeding electron, and our poor overtaxed neurons struggle to keep up. Everything has become a split-second decision. Find something you like. Share it. Have a half-baked thought. Tweet it. Don't wait. Don't hesitate. Seize the moment. Keep up. There will be plenty of time to repent later. Oh, and just to cover your ass, don't forget to stick a smiley on the end just in case you've overstepped the mark.

It'd be criminal to summarize the rest of the essay. Rest assured that it is insightful and melancholy and quite beautiful. It embraces both regret and failure and denies self-pity. Just read it.

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