Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Russell Davies' Big Idea

One of my secret influences for work on this blog is Russell Davies, head of planning at R/GA. I don't remember how I stumbled on him, but I think it was while searching for models for YouTube videos about PowerPoint presentations. There is something about his style that appeals to me. It reminds me of Frank O'Hara. See, for example, his "Having a Coke With You" and compare Russell's easy manner in this interview.

He says that marketing is dominated by the "myth" of the "big idea" because the big organizations who advertise are at the same time trying deal with their own internal communicative complexity. "So what you really want," he notes, "is one big simple thing that you know you're going to say for five years." Sound familiar, scholars? Just as familiar should be his alternative suggestions. Stop worrying so much about what you are going to say and start doing things. Academics, and especially academic departments, should not worry so much about their "research strategy", and instead just execute one thing at a time. They should especially start writing—every day. Not big things, like articles and books, but little things, like paragraphs.

In 1955, Frank O'Hara and Larry Rivers published a famous little text called "How to Proceed in the Arts". It provides great advice such as, "Do you hear them say painting is action? We say painting is the timid appraisal of yourself by lions." Nice, no? Half a century later, Russell Davies wrote a blog post called "The Tyranny of the Big Idea". His five-point procedure begins:

Start doing stuff. Start executing things which seem right. Do it quickly and do it often. Don’t cling onto anything, good or bad. Don’t repeat much. Take what was good and do it differently.

And ends with: "And something else and something else."

I don't know enough about either man to say for sure that Russell Davies is the Frank O'Hara of advertising. But I know I'd like to have a coke with him.

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