During World War 2, my mum and sister were evacuated to Wales.
So my dad was living in the house on his own.
Because he was alone, he tended to go to bed early.
One night he was woken, about two in the morning.
By the sound of a piano playing.
Dad laid in bed for a minute, trying to work out what was happening.
Was the noise coming from inside or outside the house?
He knew they had an old upright piano in the front room.
But nobody used it.
And anyway, there wasn’t anyone in the house.
So he got up and went to the top of the stairs and looked over.
He could definitely hear piano sounds coming from the front room, downstairs.
But the piano wasn’t playing a tune.
Just strange collection of weird, discordant notes.
So he started to go downstairs.
As he got closer he could hear a strange wailing noise.
High pitched, like child in pain.
But not quite human.
He got to the bottom of the stairs and looked towards the living room.
Which was pitch black.
He put his head inside.
Except the jangling sounds coming from the piano.
And the high-pitched mournful wailing.
In the empty house.
In the dark.
At two in the morning.
The whole world was dead, except for this noise.
He walked over to the piano, and looked at the keys.
They were moving up and down.
Not in any order, just up and down.
And the echoey notes were playing.
And still, the high-pitched cries.
Then he opened the top of the piano and looked in.
A cat was walking up and down, inside the piano.
Trying to get out.
Crying in high-pitched voice.
So dad reached in, grabbed the cat, and put it outdoors.
Then he went back to bed and fell asleep.
See my dad was a policeman.
So it was his job to be rational in all situations.
Everything always had to have a logical explanation.
Personally, I don’t think I’d even have gotten downstairs.
I’d have been out the window and down the street, as soon as I heard the piano playing inside the empty house at two in the morning.
But then I’ve got a very vivid imagination.
And, luckily, I’ve got a job where that’s a good thing.
My dad trained himself out of having an imagination.
In his job, imagination was hindrance.
Imagination got in the way and clouded your mind.
So you had to learn to control it.
You don’t want to imagine things any other way than the simple facts.
And that’s really good advice for everyday life.
Imagining what your boss thinks of you, worrying what the client’s going to say, fretting over all the problems, all the things that might go wrong.
All of this can stop us doing great and exciting things.
If we don’t imagine things how are we going to do our job?
How can we imagine a more creative kind of advertising?
A more exciting solution to any problem.
How can we imagine new ways to beat the competition?
Things that haven’t been tried yet.
I think we have to have imagination.
But we have to make sure imagination doesn’t have us.
We have to feed it, look after it, develop it.
Just like we would if we lived in Burma and needed an elephant to do our job.
It’s vital to us, but we have to be in control of it.
We have to make sure the elephant does what we tell it to.
We can’t let the elephant tell us to do.
That’s what happens if we let imagination get in control.
The good part of imagination is that you can take something and imagine what it would be like if it was more exciting.
The bad part of imagination is that you can take something and imagine what it would be like if it was more exciting.
In our business we need imagination.
As Rory Sutherland said, “It’s the job of advertising to make the new familiar, and the familiar new.”
And for that you need imagination.
Just remember, imagination makes a great servant and a lousy master.