A few years ago, I went back to Barking, in East London, to visit my mum.
While we were having a cup of tea she said to me, “Isn’t it a shame, that nice young boy over the road’s been locked up for robbery?”
I said, what did he do Mum?
She showed me the local paper.
She said, “It’s in here. It says he robbed a bank. I don’t know about that. He was always very nice and polite to me. Always said “Hello Mrs Trott” and helped me across the road with my shopping.”
I read the report of the trial in the paper and sure enough he’d stuck up a bank with a sawn off shotgun.
But the part that interested me was what his dad had to say.
He told the reporter “They’d better lock the little sod up, if I get hold of him I’ll kill him. That shotgun cost me nearly a grand and he’s sawn the bleeding barrels off.”
I found that fascinating.
Someone found great beauty and value in something.
But to someone else it was just an object to be used.
No big deal.
To his dad it was finely engraved, beautifully balanced piece of craftsmanship to be lovingly polished and oiled.
To the son it was a tool to do a job.
But it wasn’t quite right for the job he wanted, so he fixed it.
The barrels were getting in the way, so he cut them off.
There that’s better.
Now he could carry it under his coat.
In his terms he fixed it, in his dad’s terms he ruined it.
The beautifully engraved barrels were lying on the floor of the shed in a pile of metal filings.
It reminded me of something I read a couple of years back.
Someone bought a house in East Yorkshire and they were renovating it, clearing out the old junk.
There was a tatty old roller blind over the kitchen window, covered in grease.
As they were chucking it in the skip they noticed it had something scrawled all over it.
They unrolled it and found five original David Hockney drawings on it.
The blind was eventually sold for a fortune at an auction.
It will form the centre piece of The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Cumbria.
Thousands of people will pay to come and stand in front of it and look at it.
They won’t be able to touch it because it’s too precious.
But to someone else, all it was good for was to make a blind for the kitchen window.
Do you ever get that feeling about your work?
People don’t appreciate what you’re trying to do.
The job you’re doing isn’t the job they want?
Jim Kelly (founder of RKCR, Y&R) once told me about what he called ‘The Proctor & Gamble Triangle’.
It goes like this.
The account man shows the P&G client the idea: a triangle.
The client says “That’s great we like the triangle idea. But we think it could be better.”
Then they cut the triangle in half down the middle.
They say “We like the left hand side just where it is. But we think the right hand side would be better upside down and moved to the left, like this.”
Then they move the other half across so the two halves now form a square.
The account man says “But that’s not a triangle anymore, now it’s a square.”
They say “What do you mean we haven’t taken anything away. We haven’t added anything. We’ve just rearranged it. It’s still the basic triangle idea you showed us.”
The account man says “But it isn’t a triangle anymore, it’s a square now.”
They say, “Don’t be silly. It’s still exactly the same idea you showed us, a triangle. It’s still got all the elements. All we’ve done is made it better.”
The truth is, no one’s really happy.
Neither side has got what they really want.
Because either the brief has changed, or it’s the wrong solution.
That’s why they’re adapting something to do a job it was never intended for.
They should have started off with a brief for as a square.
Then the client would have been shown a square.
Rather than try to adapt a triangle to be a square.
I went to a Bauhaus art school, in New York.
So the mantra was ‘Form Follows Function’.
Get the brief for the function right in the first place.
Then the form comes out of the function.
Don’t change the form to suit a different function.
Don’t go to Purdey’s for a sawn-off shotgun.
Don’t use a Hockney for a roller blind.