Many years ago I was at a seminar.
It wasn’t an advertising seminar, but it was one of the most useful seminars I ever attended.
The main point was that to be successful at anything you need to reduce your focus to one thing.
That doesn’t mean you can’t do other things.
But it does mean you prioritise one thing.
Something we are all terrible at.
To demonstrate, the speaker asked if anyone was ready to make a declaration about their future.
One young man stood up straight away.
He said “I’m going to be the best actor in the world”.
Everyone cheered and he sat down.
The seminar leader asked him to stand up again.
He said “That’s two things, which one do you want?”
The young man said “Pardon, that’s only one thing”.
The seminar leader said “No, that’s two things, which do you want?”
The young man said “I want to be the best actor. That’s one thing”.
The seminar leader said “That’s why you won’t get what you want. You can’t see that’s two things”.
The young man said “How is that two things?”
The seminar leader said “Being an actor is one thing. Being ‘the best’ is another thing.
They are separate targets.
If you want to be an actor you may have to accept that you are not the best at it.
But if you love acting that won’t matter, because you will have spent your life doing what you love.
However, if you want to be ‘the best’ then you need to find out what you are the best at.
The world will tell you that.
It may not be acting.
But if you want to be ‘the best’ that won’t matter.”
We were all very quiet.
The seminar leader said “Now your job is to sort out your priority, work out which you want to be.
Do you want to do a particular thing, a craft?
Or do you simply want to be the best?
When you’ve reduced it to one simple, powerful, unarguable target you will have a lot more chance of achieving it.
Because all your energy will be focused on that one thing, rather than split between two goals.”
Up until that point I had always thought I wanted to be an art director.
I trained at art school for it.
Even though I wasn’t great, that was what I wanted to be.
But people were telling me my ideas were much better than my layouts.
I realised I didn’t want to be a second-best anything.
I wanted to be a first-best something.
So rather than being a second-rate art director I switched to being a copywriter.
And it worked.
I got a job at BMP and worked my way up to deputy creative director.
Eventually I wanted to be an ECD.
But everyone said I was a much better teacher.
But I didn’t want to be a teacher.
So I opened an agency, GGT, with an entire creative department of youngsters.
That way I could call myself ECD, but be a teacher.
And it worked.
That laser-like clarity of prioritising what I wanted really worked for me.
It also worked in all the ads we subsequently did.
Every brief we received.
Every media plan.
Every client conversation.
It wasn’t always comfortable, some suits, planners, clients hated it.
But usually it resulted in simple, powerful communication.
Instead of trying to cram several things into the brief.
It’s better to succeed at one thing than fail at several.