Set the scene:
It is the first weekend of April. I am on Flight 1240 – Miami to Charlotte with service to Pittsburgh. It’s mid-flight somewhere above the Eastern Seaboard, speeding in and out of cloud cover, waning daylight shining off the plane’s exposed steel frame.
I’m fighting off sleep like a high school student sitting in the back row of first period History; the dull whirring of the plane’s engine a reminder of so many monotone teachers. I pose the question of whether or not one practices bland vocal techniques to my cocktail napkin.
This proved to be fruitless discourse.
It was my first true weekend off for a few months and my head was spinning with vacation-ready anticipation. I was in need of a refresher – something to keep my head on straight.
I needed some damn good advice.
Luckily – for the sake of that last sentence – the aptly-titled Damn Good Advice (For People With Talent!) was quietly resting in my carry-on.
Damn Good Advice is an account of the legendary communicator behind campaigns for MTV, Tommy Hilfiger and ESPN, Mr. George Lois. With this paperback, the outspoken Lois picks up his pencil to outline 120 pieces of guidance – stitched together from a half-century in the advertising industry.
It’s insightful, crass and by far the best airplane book I’ve read recently.
I have held a suspicion – since watching the film Art & Copy, in which Lois appears (and reaffirmed by this paperback) – that it’s damn hard to ignore Lois’ work when you see it.
The work becomes impossible to ignore when Lois himself describes it:
From his iconic Esquire covers of the 60′s – one famously depicting Muhammad Ali as the martyr St. Sebastian (below) – to “I want my MTV”, Lois chose to pummel you with each piece of advertising.
This pointed style fused well with Lois’ inventive combination of well-worn, cultural language and identifiable visual cues. Lois unapologetically showcased just how he perfected the art of advertising, with each ad serving as another validation to his claim of founding the “second creative advertising agency in the world” – the first being DDB (where Lois himself once worked).
Takeaways abound throughout this short, passionate account – but one stands above the fray:
Have an opinion and stick to it.
There is no self-compromise.
The sheer number of times this maxim is repackaged punches you in the face page after page. It’s as if every autobiography of a prizefighter were a pop-up book.
Lois re-signed accounts and created work based on intuition and personal belief. It’s a humbling lesson for those of us who so often almost refuse to trust our own instincts.
It cannot be stressed enough:
Your gut can always take a punch – literally and figuratively.
You won’t lose too many fights sticking to it. However, the second it does fail you, you’ve invariably learned something and can walk away knowing:
At the time, it was exactly what you wanted to do.
After those battles that you do lose – the very second after you drop to your knees – you can pick yourself back up knowing that you’ve stayed true to yourself and your work.
Which is likely the most important piece of advice you’re ever going to receive.
Damn good, indeed.