The fluidity and longevity of obsession

I think you could make a case for the fact that one’s drive and interest in any area can grow and wane depending on all sorts of extraneous circumstances.

I had a bit of an advertising obsession in my youth: I bought old D&AD annuals when I had very little spare cash, I knew all the greats and was able to to surprise certain creatives by explaining how much I liked old, obscure ads of theirs. I don’t know if it was a conscious thing, but I think that in the back of my mind I believed that a lot of effort in the early days would set me up for an accelerated career. That knowledge also came in handy when I needed reference or proof that a certain path of creativity might lead to success: ‘Look, this team did something along similar lines ten years ago and it worked out great!’ (I don’t mean nicking old stuff, but perhaps a line construction or editing style was then proven to work.)

Then, with that knowledge safely tucked away, there was less need to continue poring over those books. My attention turned more fully to current work, or to more lateral areas of inspiration that could be combined with the good old stuff to make unusual combinations: Italian art galleries, David Bowie’s Hunky Dory, Carl Dreyer movies, Cuba, the sports section of The Sun etc.

Was my obsession waning, or was I just looking for other ingredients?

Then my job changed, requiring more management and less actual creativity. That meant I needed to fill up the tank with an entirely different fuel: advice from other CDs, books and memoirs from great creative people, mentors both inside and outside the industry etc. Obviously, continuing to read old D&AD annuals at the rate I used to would have been a less efficient use of my time, so it might have felt like the obsession was declining further still, but it was really just continuing to move elsewhere.

Later still, my job changed again, and the need to evaluate new creative ideas became reduced as I worked even further up the management ladder. Finding, hiring and nurturing new people was more important than knowing who won the 40-second TV Pencil in 1987. Again, it might have been subconscious, but I actually sold my annuals in 2011 (remember, I still had my interpretation of their contents sloshing about in my cerebral cortex).

Many times since, I’ve had to return to evaluating, improving and even creating new work, and I’ve happily found that the older muscle needs only the slightest of jump starts to fire on all cylinders. It’s as if the early foundation is strong enough to allow it to last for decades.

But do I feel obsessed as I once did? Well yes I do; just about different things: what are the needs of the bigger picture or the long-term vision? How can I make a deeper, more substantial difference? How can I best use my experience to inspire others?

That place is where the blog and the podcasts come from. They take a lot of time and dedication – far more than I spent reading old annuals. But the old curiosity still exists. It has to, otherwise my creativity would be like a slowly drying leaf, ready to collapse at the slightest sign of stress. And if I didn’t care about improving the industry and its output I’d have stopped typing long ago.

But I’d love to know your own point of view: do you find a previous obsession in a certain area of advertising has now changed direction? Has that change come from you or the industry? Or is it still the ads alone that scratch that itch?

Answers on a postcard/comment section.