Last week I heard an interesting programme on a Chicago radio station.
The famous copywriter Julian Koenig is still very upset that George Lois has take credit for some ads he did in the 1960s.
These are “Think Small” for Volkswagen, and “If your Harvey Probber chair wobbles, straighten your floor”.
Both, really terrific ads.
Personally I’ve never seen George Lois’s name anywhere near the VW ad.
Everyone knows that was Helmut Krone.
(The VW and Avis campaigns being the two most important case histories you learn when you start in advertising.)
But I have read several times George Lois taking credit for the Harvey Probber chair ad.
Lois says it was his idea and Koenig just changed some words.
Koenig, however, says Lois wasn’t even in the room when he wrote the ad.
My attitude to these questions is always that you look at the track records of the people involved.
Who’s done more great work?
For instance, supposing there are two guys.
One has been involved in dozens of great pieces of work with lots of different people.
The other guy has only been involved in one famous piece of work, and that’s the one that’s in dispute.
The weight of credibility has to favour the first guy.
So that has to be the focus of a career in this business.
Do as much great work as you can, with as many different people as you can, on as many different clients as you can, as fast as you can.
That way the weight of credibility is on your side.
You haven’t just proved yourself in one situation, but over and over again.
Of course this means moving a lot faster and only dealing with the big picture.
If you spend your time worrying about details you have to go slower.
Then you get bogged down.
There’s a famous old Zen story about two monks walking alongside a river.
A woman is standing there crying.
The older monk asks what the problem is.
She says, “I need to cross the river, but if I do I’ll ruin my kimono.”
The older monk says, “Hop on my back.”
And he carries her across, and puts her down.
The younger monk is furious, and for hours the two monks walk on in silence.
All day he rages inwardly, until at sunset he can’t stand it anymore.
He turns to the older monk and says, “You broke the rule that says we aren’t supposed to have anything to do with women.”
The older monk says, “I left her at the river, you’re still carrying her.”
So I think the thing is, you might be right but what is it costing you?
While you’re stuck with the detail you can’t move on.
Everyone knows Julian Koenig was the writer on probably the most influential ad ever: Volkswagen’s “Think Small”.
Then he opened an ad agency with George Lois, called Papert, Koenig, Lois.
Then he and Lois split up, no one’s heard much about him since.
After George Lois left that agency he set up another agency, called Lois Holland Callaway.
He did two decades of covers for Esquire that changed magazine covers for ever.
Today all magazine covers are still pale imitations of his originals.
He was involved in so many advertising campaigns, I can’t even list them here.
And he was too full of ideas to be limited to just advertising.
He designed logos, restaurants, books, cars, interiors, anything he could get his hands on.
He’s done at least ten times as much as the entire output of anyone else.
He’s also probably a bully, and certainly an egotist.
So was Picasso.
If you go to the Musee Picasso in Paris, you’ll see paintings by Van Gogh, Gaugin, Lautrec, Manet, Degas.
Except they aren’t.
They’re all by Picasso, while he was young and looking for his own style, he copied everyone.
Later he stole from everyone: Braque, Modigliani, Matisse, African art.
Until eventually it all came together to be Picasso.
One of the most prolific artists ever.
Julian Koenig’s position is that George Lois was a better showman than an art director, and was better at promoting himself than he was at doing ads.
Well the same could be said of Picasso.
It’s a fine line between charlatan and genius, even a blurred one.
You haven’t got time to slow your life down to a speed at which you can gain everyone’s approval for everything you do.
Do it, get on to the next thing.
Do it, get on to the next thing.
Do it, get on to the next thing.
After I’d left BMP someone called me up to say they understood John Webster had stolen some of my ideas, and they were having the same problem.
I said I didn’t think John did any of that on purpose.
John was just so concentrated on whatever he was into he wasn’t worried about details like that.
He was like an absent-minded professor.
He just took anything from anywhere to get the job done.
In fact sometimes he forgot and gave me credit for ideas he’d come up with.
So it worked both ways.
Ideas I’d come up with would never have seen the light of day without John.
I wouldn’t even have recognised them as ideas without John.
So I got back ten times from John whatever he took.
I learned to forget the details and look at the big picture.

I’m not still carrying the woman.
I left her at the river.