When I graduated art school, I wanted to work on a tramp steamer.
After 4 years in college I liked the idea of manual labour while seeing the world.
So I went to the Brooklyn docks and signed on a Danish freighter.
I was only a deckhand, but in the Gulf of Mexico they asked me to steer the ship.
This is done from a big wheel in the centre of the bridge.
The ship weighed 10,000 tons and was travelling at sixteen knots (about 20 mph).
They told me to concentrate on the vertical crane in front of the bridge.
Turn the wheel towards the direction I wanted to go.
As soon as I saw the crane begin to move that way, start turning the wheel back.
Don’t wait for the ship to get to the setting I wanted, by that time it would be too late, the ship would just carry on turning straight past it.
It isn’t like a car where you turn the wheel and the car immediately turns.
Everything on a big ship happens with a time lag.
You turn the wheel and it takes ten seconds for the rudder to even respond.
You’ve got 10,000 tons of water moving past at 20 mph, trying to stop the rudder moving, so you need a massively powerful servo-mechanism to turn it.
Once the rudder’s moved, it needs to bite into the water, that takes another ten seconds.
When it bites, 10,000 tons of ship begins to gradually turn.
That’s when you have to start turning the whole thing back the other way, twenty seconds before the ship gets pointed in the direction you wanted.
The whole process is like a huge factory skidding across the ocean.
Steer…then correct….then correct again…. and (hopefully) one final correction.
To a landlubber (like me) it felt like constantly over-correcting, there was no accuracy just big wallowing movements.
Every movement was bigger and slower than you intended, every movement was large and crude, the ship acted like it couldn’t care less.
Which, coincidentally, I later found was exactly the way the general public responds to advertising.
Just like a massive ship, the public ploughs on through their life, they couldn’t care less what we’re doing.
If we want to get them to pay any attention at all, we have to over-compensate, we have to do much more than we think necessary.
We turn the wheel that will turn the rudder that will turn the ship, and it will always take more than we think we need.
Because, just like the ocean, the public doesn’t give a shit what we’re up to.
Just like a ship, we need a sledgehammer not a rapier, rapiers are for awards juries: little clever ads for people whose lives revolve around advertising.
People who inspect advertising under a magnifying glass.
Paul Arden once told me the most important thing he learned from Charles Saatchi was: “Think bigger. However big you’re thinking, it isn’t big enough, think bigger.”
Later on, I read Damien Hirst saying the most important thing he learned from Charles Saatchi was: “Think big, if you’re not embarrassed by how big you’re thinking, you’re not thinking big enough.”
That’s how he trained two of the boldest creative thinkers of our time.
Always assume that whatever we do no one is going to notice it.
It has to be more shocking, more outrageous, much bigger to even begin to make a dent in the real world.
The real world where, unlike the jeweller’s eyepiece that is Cannes, no one gives a shit about advertising.