Closers: The Buddhas of our time

Mariano Rivera

How much do I envy the calm and presence of a great baseball closer. Think Mariano Rivera. Think Papa Grande.

These are the guys who step up to the most nerve-wracking situation and deliver with the skills and confidence of a freaking Yoda.

I think about this sometimes when I’m facing crunch time. When it’s time to come up with the big ideas that strategic, executable, and awesome.

Yoda. ERA 0.00001

There’s nothing like facing the big void when the clock is ticking down to client presentation and proceeding as if nothing big is at stake. When something big is, in fact, at stake.

Juniors, do not dismay if you cannot summon your buddha-nature at this moment. This is the stuff that only comes with experience, when you know in your gut that you’ve done it before, so you’ll do it again. Take heart, oh young ones, because you too will eventually channel that Mr. Rogers calm. Someday you’ll know that no matter how tight the sphincter muscles of your account team are getting, it will all work out. You and your partner, or many partners will come through.

Austin Howe

I so clearly remember  starting out in this business and feeling so awed that Austin Howe, my mentor, could fire idea after idea after idea, like one of those long strings of Chinese firecrackers, while I sat there with my mouth open. As I’ve written elsewhere, it’s about having  fat pipes. Pipes that always deliver enough concepts that one or two or three of them are bound to be winners.

There is no shortcut to fat pipes. Just like there is no shortcut to throwing each pitch, time and again, as if it’s the first pitch you’ve thrown, and as if the last pitch, no matter how good or bad, never happened. One of the beauties of our business is that, if you stick with it long enough, you’ll get there.

But it’s also about knowing how to face the ninth inning without clamping up tight.

So I guess I want to encourage those of you who are struggling like a cheese-eating constipated bus driver to produce ideas when you can’t imagine you’ll ever produce again, that you will.

Jose Valverde

I just watched, with great humility, as Valverde got the side out in the ninth by throwing one pitch after another, and realized that this is what I want to be able to do, in my own advertising way. I think it’s good to be humbled on a regular basis. It reminds me of how much I still have to learn, and of what’s possible.


Fat pipes

I’ve talked about this a lot with young creatives. When you first get into this business, you have narrow pipes. In other words, ideas have a hard time coming out and when they do, they’re not always all that big.

But if you keep at it, over time, with a lot of effort, your pipes start to get fatter. Eventually, ideas start to flow a bit better. Until one day you get to the point where you’re like the Catholic mom in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, and a baby plops out while you’re doing the dishes.

By that I mean: all you have to do, it seems, is tip your head over and big fat ideas fall out.

But it takes time to get there. The whole idea is related to one of my new favorite books about mastery, called Talent Is Overrated. It takes hundreds and hundreds of hours of doing it.

So I always tell the young creatives, don’t despair. It’ll happen for you. But not overnight.

On the other hand, when I get together and talk with my friends who’ve been in the business for awhile (or a long time), stories get told of going into big pitches with other teams and the seniors pound out a hundred concepts to the junior’s handful. I’m exaggerating, but only in number, not in proportion.

And yet these senior creatives will overhear one of the juniors saying something like, “Man, he’s so old. He must be, like, 35 or something. I bet he has kids.” As if this were somewhat akin to having a sexual taste for aquatic mammals.

What happens to the really “senior” creatives? The ones who now have the fattest pipes and can conjure an amazing array of ideas before the juniors have emptied their first mason jar of green tea?

Some ossify, declaring that nothing good has happened in music since Van Halen and nothing good in advertising since Got Milk? and Bartles & Jaymes. And then they crawl off to watch their three-quarter-inch reels and reminisce about Syquest tapes and service bureaus.

Others stay extremely nimble and keep up with everything that’s been happening in the biz, are fluent in social media, understand augmented reality, and are fine with the idea that maybe they’ll never do TV again.

I love the thought of these senior people working along side of the next generation of creatives because they each have something to give each other. And they each have something to learn. Having been a part of many larger team concepting sessions, this combination rocks. Because it multiplies strengths and overcomes weaknesses.

[Confessional moment: OK, yes, I’m “over 35,” but that doesn’t mean this post is completely, totally, and unforgivably self-serving. Not completely.]

I guess I’m just lobbying for some love between the generations, rather than thinking that age means old or young means stupid. Management, you guys need to see the value in mixing them up, too, got it?