Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite
Logic and common sense have a habit of leading us to the same conclusions. If you are going to make your mark on the world you have to start thinking differently. To think differently you have to think illogically. Whatever You Think Think The Opposite looks at life the wrong way in a bid to explain the benefits of making wrong decisions.
This book explains the benefits of making bad decisions.
It shows how risk is your security in life.
And why unreason is better than reason.
It’s about having the confidence to roll the dice.
I first read this book back in early 2009 and then again now in July 2010. It’s only 140 pages in length and most spreads are of the format content | photo so really there’s only 70 pages of quite large text. It can easily be devoured in 20 minutes.
The author, Paul Arden, was a big wig at advertising giant Saatchi and Saatchi between around 1987-1992. This was at the height of their work on the Silk Cut campaigns that are well known in England.
I enjoy this book. It’s a great reminder of how common sense often isn’t and how random gambles and risks are “safer” than doing things the “boring” way because at least you won’t die with any regrets. I’m not 100% convinced by his thesis, but it makes for interesting reading.
Many examples of difference and boldness in the book do not lend themselves to summary. This is as much as a visual book as a verbal one.
Observations in the Book
Supposedly, until the 1968 Mexico Olympics, high jumpers jumped over the bar with their bodies parallel to the bar. One athlete, though, did a “flop” over the bar (which is now called the Fosbury Flop) and smashed records. Now most athletes supposedly use this technique. This feat reminds me of how Roger Bannister’s 4 minute mile was considered a significant achievement yet was repeated many times thereafter. Sometimes changing the game for yourself changes it for everyone else too.
When George Eastman founded “Kodak”, it was unusual to use a meaningless brand name for a product. He chose the name because it was short, not easily mispronounced, and could not be associated to anything other than what Kodak was/sold.
At the beginning of the 1970s, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren opened a shop in what was the then unfashionable St Christopher’s Place off Oxford Street in London. [..] The clothes were thirty years ahead of their time. They were unwearable and unbuyable. [..] Had they not been spirited and courageous enough to do that, Westwood would not have become our more revered designer, and McLaren would not have formed the Sex Pistols.
- A story is told of an Oxford professor who was swimming naked in the River Cherwell. He was getting out when a boat of undergrads went by. He reached for his towel and wrapped it around his head. (The point being, he was protecting his identity rather than his shame!)
The problem with making sensible decisions is that so is everyone else.
Making the safe decision is dull, predictable and leads nowhere new.
- People like to align themselves with famous “rebels” but the difference is that the famous rebels really took hard and risky decisions and stuck to their guns even if initially unpopular.
You can’t afford the house of your dreams. That’s why it is the house of your dreams.
Above, the artist Yves Klein “throws himself into the void”, 1960.
A typical corporate ladder climber called “Steady Eddie” is compared to a maverick called “Reckless Erica.” His career path is shown on a graph leaping up and down but ultimately up, once she becomes adored by the establishment. Eddie’s is shown climbing for the most part before collapsing shortly before retirement. Arden believes in being bold even if it’s unpopular because that boldness will be celebrated and respected later in life.
Arden notes that, often, equally skilled older people perform worse than younger people because they are less willing to take risks or make stupid shots (as in golf).
A junior Saatchi and Saatchi exec came up with the idea of pasting a Saatchi poster on the Berlin Wall shortly before its fall. When asked how it would be paid for, the exec said he’d saved some money and would take total care of it. He did, and it made worldwide news. The exec eventually left to start his own company. “All the best ones do,” says Arden.
Instead of aiming for perfection, run with what you’ve got and fix it as you go.
- Arden says that if you show someone a piece of work, don’t ask them what they think of it as they will probably not want to offend you. Instead, ask them what’s wrong with it. Give them permission to give you truthful criticism. Not hearing any criticism does not mean there isn’t any to be had.
Be your own worst critic. When things go wrong, it’s tempting to shift the blame. Don’t. Accept responsibility. People will appreciate it, and you will find out what you’re capable of.
If you want to be interesting, be interested in other people.
Arden notes that “how you present yourself is how others will value you.” He uses the example of Ron Mueck, a model maker who made modestly priced models, yet once his work was “discovered” by a famous collector, he went from model maker to “artist” and his fees shot up.
It is fashionable for so-called thinking people to try to lose their ego. [..] Presumably we were given egos for a reason. Great people have great egos; maybe that’s what makes them great.
If you must have a meeting, lose the chairs.
Advances in any field are made by the people with the small or personal point of view.
What is a good idea? One that happens is. If it doesn’t, it isn’t.
Even a bad idea executed is better than a good idea undone. The longer it is used, the better the idea is considered to be. That is why the wheel is reckoned to be the best idea ever.
- Arden notes that having too many ideas is not always good because it is easy to be distracted or to move on to something “better.” He says that those with few ideas work harder to make the most of those they do have.
Think about money. It’s honest.
Being fired is the “best thing that can happen to you.” They literally “let you go.”
Arden recommends starting your own company so you don’t need to spend time thinking about politics or what the people above you think.
Don’t go to university. Go to work.
Good marks will not secure you an interesting life. Your imagination will.
If you want to be in a job where they won’t accept you, just turn up. [..] Eventually they will accept you, because you are a part of their community.
Get the very best company in your chosen field onto your C.V. [..] Work for free, if necessary. Your future employers will be impressed.
Make lots of tea (or coffee) for people.
An interviewer with a wooden leg said to Frank Zappa that his long hair made it seem as if from where he were sitting, “you could be a woman.” Zappa replied that from where he was looking, “you could be a table.”
ASTONISH ME. Bear these words in mind and whatever you do will be creative.
The V&A museum in London needed a slogan. Rather than something boring, it focused on its plus points. Its café. They went with An ace caff with quite a nice museum attached. Brave. They cast dignity aside for something astonishing and noteworthy.
Arden conclude: “The world is what you think of it. So think of it different and your life will change.”