Ranulph Fienes was the first person to circumnavigate the globe by the polar route.
He was the first person to cross Antarctica on foot.
He was the oldest person to climb Everest, at 65.
He’s completed countless endurance expeditions to inaccessible places.
But what impresses me most is his thinking.
He wants all the input he can possibly get, but he wants to take the decisions himself.
Because he’ll be taking responsibility for the consequences.
He attempted to walk alone and unsupported to the North Pole, while dragging a sled with all his provisions.
The weak ice cracked and the sled fell through into the freezing water.
Fienes had to use all his strength to haul the massive thing up out of the water.
The temperature was minus 50 and the fingers on his left hand were frostbitten.
Back home, the fingers turned black and gangrenous.
Fienes asked the surgeon to cut them off, they were already dead.
The surgeon said he wanted to wait as long as possible.
Fienes heard the surgeon’s view but he didn’t agree.
He couldn’t stand the fact that the useless fingers kept knocking against things.
They were like lumps of wood stuck on the end of his hand.
So he went out to his garden shed and put his hand in the vice.
Then he took a saw and one-by-one cut off the fingers and thumb.
First he heard the surgeon’s views, then he made his decision.
Several years later, he had a massive heart attack and needed a double heart bypass.
During his recovery, he became intrigued with the idea of running 7 marathons, on 7 continents, in 7 days, just two months after his operation.
His wife, Jenny, insisted they ask the surgeon that operated on him.
The surgeon said: “I’ve done this operation over two thousand times, but I’ve never been asked if someone can run even one marathon afterwards. So I have no experience.”
But the next thing the doctor said constitutes, for me, the essence of a great brief.
The doctor said: “But whatever you do, do not let your heart rate go above 130 BPM.”
That is a great brief, all the information he needed, without telling him what to do.
His doctor didn’t say: “Under no circumstances run a marathon.”
The doctor just told him what he needed to do in order to stay alive.
So Fienes was able to run the marathons and not let his heart rate get above 130 bpm.
Because he’d had an informative, useful briefing.
Ranulph Fienes had been in the SAS, a special forces unit of the British Army specialising in counter-terrorism, hostage rescue, direct action, and covert reconnaissance.
Members were selected for their ability to use their initiative.
To think for themselves as circumstances changed.
To achieve unexpected results against superior forces.
They were given an objective but not told how to achieve it.
Why can’t we be briefed like that?
Briefs that tell us WHAT to do but not HOW to do it.
But we don’t trust the creative department to use their initiative.
We expect them to meekly take dictation without question.
Which means we hire people who are willing to take dictation without thinking.
Which could explain the results we are currently all complaining about.
Where I grew up there was an expression for not trusting someone to do a job.
I think it sums up marketing’s approach to advertising.
The expression was: “ It’s like having a dog and barking yourself”.