Recently, Lynn Lester asked me if I’d be on her podcast.
Lynn’s podcast was specifically for working class youngsters who felt they had no chance of getting into the creative industries.
She wanted me to talk about how I’d done it and how they could do it.
What I had to say to them was that, contrary to everything they’d been told, working class wasn’t a hindrance in fact it was their secret weapon.
What you learn growing up on the wrong side of a big city, is street smarts.
It’s a tough environment and people are constantly looking to take advantage of you.
So you’re constantly thinking, it’s second nature, you don’t even notice you’re doing it.
Street smarts is another name for entrepreneurial thinking, and entrepreneurial thinking is another name for creativity; you already have creativity whether you know it or not.
Middle class kids don’t have that, they never needed it, so that’s your secret weapon.
I see working class kids trying to copy what they think advertising wants: posh accent, smartly dressed, articulate, knowledge of wine and food.
And all they become is second-best versions of the middle class, and they throw away their point-of-difference, their advantage.
Street-smarts is about out-thinking other people, which is exactly what entrepreneurs do, they out-think other people; in advertising, as in most jobs, that’s exactly what the best people do, they out-think other people.
Of course, we don’t like to put it like that because it’s not the fashionable pose, but the fact remains people always pick what’s better by comparison.
And in the case of wanting to work in advertising, your competitive set will be middle-class, you’ll need to be better than them so you’ll need to be different.
You’ll need to out-think them which is where street-smarts is your advantage.
Creativity isn’t what you see in art galleries or films or music, it isn’t about style, creativity is about out-thinking the competition.
I learned that in east London, and I learned it again in Brooklyn, it’s in the working-class DNA, just learn how to put it to work for you in advertising.
Most people you’ll meet won’t appreciate it, that’s okay you don’t need most people to like you, you only need one person, the right person, and the right person will appreciate it.
For me it was John Webster.
I sent out 50 copies of my portfolio, 49 people weren’t interested because it didn’t look like a conventional portfolio and sending it via the post wasn’t the ‘proper’ way of doing it.
49 people were looking for someone conventional, lucky for me John Webster didn’t want the same as everyone else, he wanted something different.
He gave me a job just because I was different, the exact same reason the other 49 people turned me down.
I didn’t know at the time that John Webster was the most creative person in advertising, and that I’d learn more from him than the other 49 all put together.
My attitude was just to shake things up and see what happens.
As they used to say in physics class at school, “Water will find its own level”.
All it takes is energy, if you’ve got enough energy to keep going it will eventually happen, all it takes is enough energy.
So that was my message to those working-class kids.
- Don’t try to be liked by everyone
- Energy beats talent.
Of course it won’t work for all of them, but that’s okay.
Most of them may well be happy going the conventional route, lots of people are.
I was just talking to the ones that weren’t.