What is multi-talented?

To be a good ad creative you have to be good at a lot of quite different things: generating ideas; having the tenacity to see them through; selling them in; choosing the talent to work with and getting best out of them; having a good and original aesthetic sense; being cocky enough to believe in your work; knowing how and when to take criticism on board etc…

Then, if you’re chosen to make the step up to CD, there’s all the above (because you don’t get chosen to be a CD unless you’ve had a pretty decent career as a creative first) plus an entirely different set of skills: managing a department; managing an agency; knowing how to select the best work to pursue; giving feedback in a way that empowers; hiring and firing effectively; keeping morale high etc…

Which is interesting because you can be brilliant at several of those things, but if you’re not somewhat proficient at all of them there’s going to be a point where the journey comes to an end.

I mention this because when I was reading American Pastoral by Philip Roth, it occurred to me that being good at lots of different things is also necessary when it comes to being an author. Mr. Roth writes very elegantly but he also knows how to structure a story and he can come up with so many brilliantly perceptive truths that he’s able to pepper them through his novels at the rate of a couple per page.

In all modesty I’m many, many miles away from his brilliance, but unless I work on every single way that I fall short I’ll never get anywhere near where he is.

And you can have authors who are very good at some, but not all of Roth’s list: Michael Crichton can plot well but doesn’t usually turn a beautiful sentence; Will Self can generate ideas but his stories aren’t that compelling. And both of those examples are fine, but they show that there isn’t just a single skill called ‘being an author’ (or copywriter, musician, artist, CD etc.). There are many, and often they are diverse and self-conflicting. If you want to drive a page turning plot you might end up compromising insight. If you want to be single-minded in your focus to make great ads you might annoy people in the process so they don’t want to work with you in future.

Perhaps the real skill is recognising what you you’re best at and juggling or improving everything else to fit in with that.

But of course, that’s just another very particular ability that you might not have.