My dad was a big, tough east London copper.

In the days when most coppers were straight.

But when I was at art school, we were hippies and the police were pigs.

So I was confused.

Especially as I was reading George Orwell, writing about his time in the police.

He said “In order for you to sleep soundly in your bed at night, strong men stand ready to do violence on your behalf.”

I thought I should talk it over with Dad.

So I asked him how he felt about arresting people.

Did he have any moral conflicts, any moments of doubt?

Dad said he lived by a simple rule “The spirit of the law, not the letter of the law.”

That’s so good I’ll repeat it.

“The spirit of the law, not the letter of the law.”

I asked Dad what he meant by that.

He said you have to think about the purpose of what you’re doing, not just blindly follow the rules.

Go back to the purpose of having laws in the first place.

What’s the reason for having a police force?

The reason is that we don’t just have the law of the jungle.

So we’ve got a decent civilised society.

Where the strong protect the weak, instead of just preying on them.

So you have to keep that in mind every time before you enforce the law.

Dad said “For instance, if I catch a bloke in the act of stealing from a baker’s, I have to find out why he’s stealing first.

If he’s stealing to feed his family I turn a blind eye.

A man should look after his family, that’s right and proper.

You can’t nick a bloke for that.

But if he’s just stealing for personal gain, of course I’ll lock him up.”

That stayed with me my whole life.

Don’t blindly follow anything anyone tells you, unless it makes sense.

Use your brain.

Think about what you’re doing.

Get upstream and work out the proper thing to do.

Don’t just parrot back some rules you learned by heart.

Bill Bernbach put it differently “Principals endure, formulas don’t.”

It’s the same thing.


Or, as Buddha said “Act, don’t react.”


Picasso expressed it another way “What good are computers? All they can do is give you answers.”

Exactly, even computers can’t do your thinking for you.

They can tell you 2+2=4, but not what you ought to do about it.

Quentin Tarrantino said “A movie should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. But not necessarily in that order.”


Don’t just blindly follow the same rules as everyone else.

Get upstream and look at the purpose of what we’re doing.

Then we can come up with a better answer.

We can’t be creative by doing the same old thing as everyone else.

Following the same rules.

Buckminster Fuller said “If we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always got.”

It seems obvious.

But if it’s so obvious how come everyone still lives that way?

Bill Bernbach also said “The same tools, the same statistics, are available to us all. If we use them in the same way we’ll end up with the same solutions.”

Of course.

As Edward de Bono said  “If we don’t change direction, we’re likely to end up where we’re headed.”

Again, obvious.

So how come everyone still does it?

If we want to be creative, if we want to change things, we need to get upstream and ask questions about why we’re doing what we’re doing.


We need to change our focus.

Away from the letter of the law, towards the spirit of the law.