how do you continue to learn?

I was listening to some podcast the other day where a famous person (can’t recall who) pointed out that no one teaches you how to be famous. The way she put it was that other famous people don’t just turn up at your door one day and give you the manual; you have to work out every aspect of it yourself. Everyone is different, so every situation is different and no single set of rules can apply to everything.

Which made me think about how advertising creatives learn their craft.

Let’s assume you went to college first. Watford, St Martins, Ad Center and the other ones all give you some level of education which you then take on and hopefully use to get a job in an agency.

Then what?

Then it’s up to you. In my personal experience there are four main sources of further education:

  1. Other, better creatives. Maybe they’re in your agency, maybe they work elsewhere but you hear snippets about how they go about their thing. I was lucky enough to work in the same department as many of the copywriters from The Copy Book, but it also took a willingness to learn from them. Being able to show my copy to Mary Wear, Nigel Roberts, Tim Riley, Peter Souter and, of course, David Abbott was an immense privilege. Maybe your department isn’t quite as star-packed. If not, perhaps it’d be worth moving to somewhere that is.
  2. Other, better people in general. I had a staff meeting recently where we each had to bring along an inspirational book, which would then be given to someone else at the meeting. I chose the Hamiltome because Lin-Manuel Miranda has smashed through so many doors that were bolted shut, and if you’re going to be any good at anything you’ll have to do the same. But there are thousands of examples to choose from. For a more original perspective it might be a good idea to look outside your own field.
  3. Books. I know people say you shouldn’t try to learn from old award books because the work in them is already a year or two old, but I still think you can gain a lot by looking at the rhythms and cadences that often show up in good copy (no idea about art direction, sorry). As far as concepts go, I always preferred the pop promos section to the advertising pages; the work seemed fresher and further away from the beaten track. There are also overall guidebooks, such as Hey Whipple, Squeeze This!, that certainly won’t do you any harm.
  4. Everything in the whole world. Surprising one, this: literally anything can help you make your work better. Whether it’s good ads that make you jealous, shit ads that boost your confidence, a certain colour of green jelly, the clothing of Steven Seagal, a trip to Gravesend, a trip to Guadalajara, cattle, teeth, treehouses, jam, a rectal prolapse, a duck, a duck down duvet, the logo on your hoover… You get the picture. Clearly, the more you stuff into your brain, the more chances you’ll have of making some kind of conceptual connection.

Have you learned a bunch of excellent shiz from an unexpected place? Have you bothered to continue your education? Does this all sound too much like school, which gives you the shivers because school was really horrible, especially when Darren Witherspoon pulled down your pants in front of the football team, earning you the nickname ‘peanut’?