Brain Pickings

Breaking In: Advice from 100 Advertising Rockstars


Phoenix from the ashes of advertising, or what the big idea has to do with collaboration.

It’s a tumultuous and uncertain age for many industries and cultural facets as we grapple with difficult questions about the future of publishing, education, art and many other aspects of humanity. Media and advertising are among the industries most deeply unsettled by “the digital age” and all the new modalities of social communication. But if the industry itself is shaken by a profound identity crisis, unsure of what creative merit means anymore, what’s left for those hungry and wide-eyed young guns looking for a dream job in that industry? That’s exactly what Breaking In, an ambitious new anthology by William Burks Spencer, explores through over 100 interviews with advertising insiders, who share experience-tested, credibility-stamped insights on building an exceptional portfolio that will get you hired.

The project took over four years to complete and, though certainly a boys’ club, features a formidable roster of agency rockstars the likes of Dan Wieden, Gerry Graf, David Droga, Bob Greenberg, and Ari Merkin.

What a lot of people are looking for these days is 360-degree thinking. So I’m looking for someone who is not bound by medium but bound by the idea, and media is there to support that idea.” ~ Ji Lee, Creative Director, Google Creative Lab, New York

If the writing is absolutely brilliant, people will forgive anything. We all hear stories of this great guy that was discovered by writing concepts on a napkin, and I think that’s awesome. I actually know that great guy. But that’s probably in keeping with the rest of his or her personality, naturally. It can happen, but if you’re one of those people you probably already know it, and you’re not reading this.” ~ Monica Taylor, Creative Director, Wieden+Kennedy, Portland

It’s an interesting time. The industry has changed so much, but clearly, the principles in the industry are still very much the same. But there are so many different influences now. We can influence so many different industries and collaborate with more industries. I think it makes it more exciting.” ~ David Droga, Founder & Creative Chairman, Droga5, New York

Ideas are really important, but the way that the traditional side of the business values “the big idea” is completely out of balance with the way that you actually produce work in the digital space. I say all the time, ‘The Greatest idea in the world, unproduced, has no value whatsoever. A mediocre idea, produced, has some incremental value.’ So why is the value always placed on the big idea when getting this into the world is so important?” ~ Michael Lebowitz, Founder & CEO, Big Spaceship, New York

(Sound familiar?)

These are strange days for our business. Massive shifts are taking place and nobody is entirely sure what the agency of the future will look like. I imagine there’s a ton of pressure on students to demonstrate their ability to keep up with everything new. But proceed with caution here. Sometimes, the best idea isn’t about new media, it’s simply a new idea. There’s no substitute for a smart human insight.” ~ Ari Merkin, Executive Creative Director, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Miami

Breaking In comes with a fantastic companion site, where interview excerpts and award-winning work by the interviewees are being posted daily.

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HyperCities: Every Past is a Place


What 17th-century Manhattan has to do with Peru’s grid and the Renaissance in Berlin.

We love cities, maps and urban storytelling. So we’re all over HyperCities — a digital research and educational platform for exploring the layered histories of cities and public spaces, based on the idea that “every past is a place.”

The fundamental idea behind HyperCities is that all stories take place somewhere and sometime; they become meaningful when they interact and intersect with other stories.”

From a digital recreation of Manahatta in 1609 to an archival print of Berlin’s 1772 geometric grid, the project is absolutely fascinating and a treasure trove of urban time travel.

Most recently, HyperCities mapped real-time voices from Cairo using social media, offering an entirely different way to experience the news, not by digesting static newswires and frontpage headlines but by actively hearing the reality of the people on the ground — something last week’s Tweets from Tahrir tried to capture in a different medium.

The project, which received a Google Digital Humanities Award last year, is the brainchild of Todd Presner, Yoh Kawano, and David Shepard and is a collaboration between UCLA and USC.

HyperCities is currently available for 19 cities, including London, Shanghai, Tel Aviv, Tokyo, Berlin, New York, Los Angeles and Mexico City. You can contribute to the project by adding your own georeferenced map — here’s how.

via @kirstinbutler

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Animated Infographic: Unspilling the Gulf Oil


This week marks the one-year anniversary of the Gulf Oil Spill, one of the largest environmental disasters in history. On Monday, we revisited photographer Edward Burtynsky’s gripping Oil series as a visceral reminder of just how dependent we are on this highly politicized resource. Today, Brooklyn-based animator Chris Harmon approaches the same subject from an entirely different angle: A numbers-driven infographic animation illustrating the exact scale of the spill by exploring what could’ve been done with the 205,000,000 (that’s million) gallons that poured into the Gulf.

The 205 million gallons of oil lost in the Gulf is the same amount the United States consumes in less than 7 hours.”

For a more serious and in-depth look at the oil economy, you won’t go wrong with Pulitzer Prize winner Daniel Yergin’s The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power.

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Tina Fey Makes Google’s Eric Schmidt Really, Really Uncomfortable


What ladyparts have to do with Mark Twain and making Google blush.

We love Tina Fey. (Really, who doesn’t?) It’s been a grand year for her, from becoming the third female and youngest ever recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor — and giving a brilliant acceptance speech that unequivocally validates it — to the publication of Bossypants, her most excellent and impossibly funny new book about modern comedy, that whole gender thing and, well, life.

Once in a generation a woman comes along who changes everything. Tina Fey is not that woman, but she met that woman once and acted weird around her.”

This month, she brings Bossypants to the fantastic Authors@Google. Besides Fey’s characteristically awesome brand of awkward, it’s particularly priceless to watch Google’s Eric Schmidt — who’s had quite a year himself — fumble with various politically incorrect phrases and, you know, “women things.”

via Open Culture

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