There's a proverb in the Bible: "Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." That truth fell on me like an avalanche at the One Club's Hall of Fame ceremony last week. The two people who most influenced my career were inductees: Rob Lawton, my college professor, co-founder of Creative Circus and the first educator to be inducted, and Steve Jobs, whom I never met.
Both pushed others to do the impossible. Both influenced some of the most famous work in our industry. Both were never satisfied with the work of those who poured sweat and blood over their altar to please them. Both held a frightening presence, but were personally unassuming. Both had passion that can only be equated to nuclear fusion.
One is among the most famous people in the world. The other, a virtual unknown. But I can say without hesitation that they are the two people most responsible for the betterment of our industry. With Steve Jobs I'm stating the obvious. Rob Lawton takes more explanation.
The ceremony included a showing of the work of another inductee, Joe Pytka. This included a commercial for the American Indian College Fund that ends with a logo -- a simple flame with a feather enclosed. That memorable symbol was designed by one of Lawton's students at East Texas State University, John Norman, now chief creative officer of The Martin Agency. The connection underscores how Lawton's teaching has touched the industry. The list of famous work created by his students is astounding -- not just in advertising, but in design, photography and even fashion. Google the names John Norman, Mark Seliger, Michael Schwab, Kevin Flatt and Jeff Weithman, and see if you recognize some of their work. They will tell you it never could have been created if not for the influence of Rob Lawton.
Yes, Steve Jobs changed the world. He also changed advertising. From a distance, he had the same effect on my career as did Lawton. The example of his tenacity kept me going at times when I wanted to give up. The advertising he incubated at Apple is among the stars I reach for, and the products he built made me better able to reach for them. In fact, my two favorite commercials are "1984" and "Here's to the crazy ones." They represent a bar that no one has yet to scale.
Jobs said, in a commencement address at Stanford that should be food we consume frequently, maybe daily: "Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking that you have something to lose."
In that talk, Jobs shared his college experience after he had dropped out of college. No longer a student, he could drop into classes that interested him. One was a typography class. He said it taught him what made great typography great, and 10 years later he used this knowledge when building the Macintosh. That seemingly worthless information for a computer designer had a profound effect on what computers would become.
Steve Jobs learned typography and changed our world. Rob Lawton taught typography and helped countless others do the same for our industry. Iron sharpens iron. Which begs the question, ladies and gentlemen: Whom are we sharpening?