Frieda Hughes was studying for her English Literature GCSE.

On the syllabus were two poets.

One was Sylvia Plath: the first person to win the Pulitzer Prize posthumously.

The other was Ted Hughes: the Poet Laureate.

Coincidentally they were both also her parents.

Frieda had to write about the real meaning behind their poems.

Her father said that was great, because he could tell her what he actually meant when he wrote his poems.

He could also tell her what her mother had meant in her poetry.

But Frieda said it would do more harm than good.

The issue was not to find out what her father or mother really meant.

The issue was to find out what the examiner thought they meant.

If she didn’t come to the same conclusion as the examiner she wouldn’t pass her GCSE.

So his opinion was more important than her parents’ opinion.

Not the truth, but what she needed to learn in order to pass the exam.

And strangely, those two things are not the same.

I had a similar experience.

Both my children were at art school studying advertising.

I thought this meant I could help them.

I’m a creative director, I could point them in the right direction.

Eventually, both my children told me the same thing.

“Dad, everything you’re telling us is exactly the opposite of what we’re learning. We’re never going to pass and get our degree if we do what you tell us.”

So I shut up.

Because I realised exams have nothing to do with the real world.

The academic world is about the world of passing exams.

Nothing wrong with that.

But it isn’t the same as the real world.

Every day I work in the real world of advertising.

So I know about real advertising. In the real world. To real people.

And I know the real problem.

I know £18.3 billion is spent every year in the UK.

I know 4% is remembered positively, 7% is remembered negatively, 89% isn’t noticed or remembered.

So nine out of ten ads are invisible.

That’s the real world.

To compete in that world I need to be creative, and you can’t find that in textbooks and exams.

I don’t know anything about the academic world of passing exams in advertising.

If I tried to pass those exams I’d probably fail.

Just the way the teachers would probably fail in my world.

You need a teacher to teach you how to pass exams.

Just like Sylvia Plath’s and Ted Hughes’s daughter did.

But the real world isn’t about learning answers in order to pass exams.

It’s simply and purely about getting a result against massively overwhelming competition.

There’s a verse in The Bible (Corinthians 13) that sums up the difference for me.


“When I was a child I spoke as a child, I thought as a child, and I understood as a child.

But when I became a man I put away childish things.”