Jerry Della Femina was a top creative in New York when they were the best in the world.
In those days, nearly all great creatives came from the rough part of Brooklyn.
They were Jewish and Italian kids, street-smart and always thinking competitively.
Before them the business was full of posh, white university graduates.
You would have thought the rich, spoilt kids would have had an advantage, but it was the other way round.
The rich kids had grown up protected and polished, but their education was academic.
The kids from Brooklyn didn’t have an academic education, their education was street-smarts.
They didn’t learn history, and latin, and calculus, and politics, and economics.
They learned how real life works.
They had to learn to think from the minute they woke up until they went to bed.
So they were always looking for an angle, a different way to come at things.
Della Femina puts it like this:
“Let me point out the lesson in analytics you learn by going to the track for the last race.
They let you in free for the last race and the track is filled with people who have lost all day long and are betting longshots in the last race to try to get even.
Meanwhile, you bet the horse who was going to be the favourite (and he has a 60% chance of winning), on the last race, since everyone is betting on the long shots, the favourite goes off at the best odds, 3 to 1 instead of even money.”
That’s a very creative (unexpected) use of logic.
Most people judge their bet by the odds they see on the board before the race.
He’s suggesting you don’t do that.
The odds are determined by the amount of money going down.
Longshots pay better odds, so the people trying to get even will be putting their money on the longshots.
The favourite would normally get low odds just because it’s the favourite.
So don’t bet the favourites in the earlier races when the odds will be evens or lower.
Wait until the last race when the odds will be artificially inflated to 3 to 1.
This is understanding human nature (how people bet) plus understanding how statistics work (odds betting) plus understanding there’s more to betting than just picking a horse.
That’s not a class they teach posh kids at posh schools, that’s street smarts.
Another name for it is entrepreneurialism, another name is creativity.
Where I grew up the most common mantra was “Use your loaf” (loaf of bread = head).
You’d hear it every time you did something without thinking, my dad or one of my mates would shake their head and say “Use your loaf”.
That phrase sticks in your head and governs your behaviour, it forces you to think.
I was talking to a group of black kids from Lewisham who wanted to get into advertising.
They were wearing suits and taking elocution lessons.
I told them the worst thing they could do was to try to copy the middle-class kids they saw already in advertising.
All you can ever be is a second-best version of whatever you’re trying to copy.
But they had a massive advantage, growing up working class in a poor part of town: they had street smarts.
The middle class kids didn’t have that.
So don’t play their game, change the game.
Concentrate on using street-smarts, it means you won’t rest on your laurels like they will, so you’ll always be thinking several steps ahead of them.
We’ve already got more than enough conventional thinkers, the real opportunity is for people who don’t think like everyone else.
Make the most of your advantage: use your loaf.