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Dan Wieden and The Imitation Game by Damon Stapleton

Dan Wieden and The Imitation Game. Photo: The Communications Council

Dan Wieden and The Imitation Game by Damon Stapleton


Original Article

Sometimes the Universe helps you out. I was going to see Dan Wieden speak in Sydney. On the plane, I watched The Imitation Game. it is the story of Alan Turing and how he broke Enigma. It was seen as impossible to break.It had 150 000 000 000 000 possible combinations. Turing did it by building Christopher. A machine that today we would call a computer.

What was fascinating was how Turing, who was clearly a troubled genius was all about doing. The others at Bletchley Park were about talking or career or ego. They wanted to be seen to be doing things, instead of actually doing them. Turing didn’t care about talk and posturing. He succeeded because he had the ability but more importantly had the balls to try and do something impossible. He was not about the wrapping paper. He was all about the gift.

A couple of hours later I am in the presence of Dan Wieden. His speech is inspirational. It is about bravery and caring about creativity. He speaks about his love for chaos and not selling out. In fact, in his will he has inserted the clause that Wieden and Kennedy cannot be sold even when he dies. I would say that is walking the talk.

Great talks in advertising are not always about new ideas. Sometimes they are about the truth. A truth you may have forgotten or have been trying to forget. We all know what we should be doing. Dan Wieden simply reminded us of what that is. He has spent 30 years figuring it out so I would say he is worth listening to.

So far, so good. Then we have question time. And somebody asks what Wieden’s formula for success is. Formula? There were a few bullshit look at me corporate questions like that. Wieden’s answer was something along the lines of there is no fucking formula for chaos. Fantastic.

I suddenly had this strange merging of the film and the speech. In both, people want greatness to be easy. They want the 5 steps to success. They want to appear like they are doing something, when in reality they are not. I have often said our business wants the results of creativity without having to deal with creativity itself. They want it to be neat and tidy.

The problem with that is we are creating a business with very similar perspectives and opinions. We speak about innovation and taking risks constantly at millions of seminars. We talk about how important glitches in the Matrix are. But does advertising still want them? Is it just us bullshitting ourselves?

What I took out of that speech was Dan Wieden is a man who has been passionate about ideas for 30 years. He is comfortable with chaos and risk. He has experienced his fair share of failures and setbacks. Nevertheless, he has always been excited by things that have never been done. He does not have a formula. Because a formula would imply replication. And replication is not what a creative business is about. He also isn’t that interested in the packaging of creativity. He is interested in creativity. And most importantly he has an iron clad belief in the chaotic process of having ideas.

There’s that word again. Belief. It is a word you don’t hear in our industry very much anymore. Dan Wieden was on that stage because he believes in what he is doing. It is that simple. Belief is not a formula, a list or a whole lot of bullet points you put on posters around your agency.

Belief is something, however, that helps you take risks to do something that has not been done.

And there is no formula for that. Or, to put it in Mr Weiden’s own words.

Just Do It.