Albert Einstein Would Have Been a Stellar Agency Creative

Undying Curiosity Is One of the Secrets to Success in Advertising

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I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that one of the very best advertising people, ever, was Albert Einstein.

Bill Bernbach, Dan Wieden, Mary Wells Lawrence, Jay Chiat, David Ogilvy, the list of legendary ad men and women goes on. But, sorry, everybody, I think you're going to have to ride in the backseat. Albert Einstein may be the very best creative, strategic planner, account person, technologies (you name it, and I'll put his name on that business card) that ever was.

I know, I know, he was a theoretical physicist, not an ad guy. But before anyone shoves me off the end of this limb, let me explain.

Albert Einstein once said, "Creativity is intelligence having fun." Now I don't know about you, but that 's one of the best descriptions of advertising that I've ever heard -- and he wasn't even describing advertising.

If you ever stop and read any Einstein quotes, you will hear, repeatedly, the most insightful and inspirational things about advertising. The guy, a physicist who most likely never gave advertising a moment's thought because, well, he had other things to think about, understood this business far better than most people who currently operate in this business.

Take, for example, this idea: "We should take care not to make intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality." Bingo. The man best known for his mass-energy equivalence formula and his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect said what many people who spend all day living the creativity of advertising have never even thought, let alone practiced.

Mr. Einstein understood the basics of how the world works. And I don't mean at the molecular level but at the human level. And that , I believe, is what advertising needs to occasionally remind itself of . We're humans talking to humans. Not theoretical physicists talking to theoretical physicists.

Another Einstein gem, "Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand."

And then there's this one: "I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking."

Of course there's a role and need for knowledge in advertising, but it's not a replacement for the instinct and experience and imagination that accompany it.

We're in the creative-ideas business. It might be nice if advertising was more like mathematics and there was a simple and predictable flow to it. It'd be wonderful if, after a couple of multiplication signs and the occasional square root, you came to the absolute answer on the other side of an equals sign. But that just isn't the way it works.

"A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So is a lot." So finding that balance is more important than overthinking and overcomplicating the simplicity of most human communication.

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius -- and a lot of courage -- to move in the opposite direction."

Remember, this is Albert Einstein talking; the man who won the Nobel Prize in physics, the man who investigated the thermal properties of light that led to the photon theory of light, and the man who articulated the principle of relativity. He's not a dumb guy, nor could you ever call him a slacker; remember, he also said, "Genius is 1% talent and 99% percent hard work."

And finally, there's this, the most important lesson, in my book: "I am neither especially clever nor especially gifted. I am only very, very curious."

To me, that 's the description of a great advertising person. Someone who has a lot of questions rather than thinking they have all the answers. Because curious people are the people who find the things the people who have the answers miss.

Every time I read a quote from Albert Einstein, I'm reminded not of how much of a scientific and mathematical genius he was but how much he understood creativity. I would like to suggest that those of us in advertising might learn the most about our business and how to do it exceptionally well from a physicist who simply saw the way the world works. Not relying solely on spreadsheets and research studies and quantitative day-after-recall reports, he shows us how to look at success. Whether he knew it or not, he saw the way the advertising business works at its very best.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kevin Roddy is the chairman and chief creative officer at Publicis & Hal Riney in San Francisco.
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