Bill Bernbach was the man who invented good advertising.

He used to say it was his job to go through Helmut Krone’s wastepaper basket.

What did he mean by that?

Helmut Krone was a great, great art director and thinker.

But you can’t be having ideas and at the same time judging those ideas.

You can’t be a writer and an editor simultaneously.

Someone’s got to be listening while someone else is talking.

So what Bernbach meant was that Krone wouldn’t always realise when he’d had a great idea.

He was too busy having ideas.

So it was Bernbach’s job to pick out the good ideas that Krone hadn’t spotted.

That’s something I learned from John Webster.

It’s not who says it, it’s who spots it.

We’re all so attached to having the idea that we think that’s the only true authorship.

But it isn’t.

Not if we don’t know we’ve had it.

If we don’t spot it, it just disappears, it doesn’t happen.

That’s why a great idea needs someone to say it and someone to spot it.

Often, when I’d sit in a room working with John Webster, we’d be throwing ideas back and forth.

Suddenly John would say “That was really good.”

I’d say “What was?”

He’d say “That thing you said a minute ago.”

I’d say “What thing?” I’d forgotten it.

John would say “The thing you said about the really long line for Pepsi.”

And I’d say “Do you mean Lip smacking thirst quenching ace tasting motivating… etc”

He’d say “Yeah that’s it, that’s good, write it down.”

And I’d write it down.

But without John there to spot it, it would never have even got written down.

I wouldn’t have spotted it.

I was just talking.

John was doing the spotting.

And that’s the real skill.

When I was in New York one of the hottest young writers was a guy called Ron Rosenfeld.

He worked at Doyle Dane Bernbach and won award after award.

Rosenfeld was so hot he left to start his own agency, Rosenfeld and Sirowitz.

But that agency didn’t do so well, and after awhile they folded.

How could that be?

George Tannenbaum says that when Rosenfeld was at DDB, Bernbach used to make him write dozens of lines.

Then he’d pick the best two or three and they’d win awards.

When Rosenfeld opened his own agency he didn’t have to do that.

So he just wrote two or three lines, but they weren’t as good.

And he didn’t have anyone to tell him.

It even happened with Helmut Krone himself.

Krone left DDB to open his own agency: Case & Krone.

But the work wasn’t great.

Eventually Krone went back to DDB saying he could only work for Bill Bernbach.

He needed him to go through his wastepaper basket and pick out his best ideas.

Because it’s not who says it, it’s who spots it.

Looked at like that the whole process becomes a lot easier, a lot less stressful.

We don’t have to struggle to create ideas out of thin air.

The real skill is in spotting the ideas that already exist around us.

And that’s where John Webster was a genius.

Great ideas are all around us all the time.

We just have to learn how to spot them, save them, and use them.

I once told John about a dog I’d seen in an old pub in Barking.

The owner would make it lie on the floor with a biscuit on its paw.

On a signal, the dog would flip the biscuit in the air and eat it.

I didn’t think anything of that story but John filed it away.

Years later he wrote it up as Arkwright’s dog that will only perform for a saucer of John Smiths bitter.

That ad won more awards than almost anything else.

John had spotted that story and saved it.

Looked at like that the whole world is full of ideas worth saving, and that’s exactly what John did.

Spotted things no one else noticed, and saved them.


The whole world was his creative partner, all he had to do was spot the good ideas.