There are layers to a top-class game of football:
People who don’t really care for the sport just see 22 men kicking a ball around on some grass. They have no interest in, or comprehension of, the intricacies of the game.
Then you have people who follow the game a bit. They know that there are four defenders who cover different parts of the pitch even though they work together in a unit. They’ll understand wingers and strikers and stuff like the offside trap.
Beyond that would be people who have perhaps followed the game since they were kids. They know the context, they read the sports pages, they understand whether a game really matters and why. They’ll also be aware of the positions with a bit more sophistication: is a team playing 4-4-2 or flooding the midfield? Perhaps the inferior team is having to ‘park the bus’ against a more skilful group of attackers.
But then there are people who understand the whole thing: they see who’s moving where and why; they understand how a false nine drops deep or why a number 10 plays in the hole. Essentially, stuff like this.
So different people watch the same thing but see completely different things. It’s the same with movies: if you were a top-class cinematographer you would appreciate nuances and achievements with the lighting and framing that an average punter might not. And in music someone might catch all the obscure references David Bowie has jammed into a track, while someone else might just sing along to the catchy melody.
In advertising I find it fascinating to look at situations that I experienced as a junior from an entirely new perspective. Back then I just saw what I believed to be a good idea without the wealth of experience that allowed my CD to more accurately judge the same idea perhaps to be ‘shite’. That CD might also have the greater context that says going for a crazy triple-pike-with-tuck idea might not be wise considering the current mood of the client, instead plumping for the more direct effectiveness of a swan dive, or indeed a bomb. The CD might also think that an idea from a junior team might indeed be better, but the safer idea from the expensive seniors has a better chance of being executed to a higher level of quality.
The CD is seeing the patterns that the junior cannot see, but equally those patterns may be invisible to the Head of Planning or Account Management. They might not even be that clear to the CD, who could be going on instinct and might not even know exactly why he chooses this photographer over that one, or at least it may be much harder to articulate.
So the better you become, the more of the game you can see. But does that make you better at it? Not necessarily. If it did, all the Bowie nerds and footy geeks could be producing Hunky Dory or sitting in the dugout at Emirates. Having said that, you can’t be Bowie or Wenger without seeing the patterns; you just need the extra bit that then gives you the belief and ambition that makes you think you can apply them successfully.