The Amazing Life of Jim Riswold

I got into advertising because of Jim Riswold. I didn’t know who he was at the time. But I’d see Nike’s “Bo Knows” commercials and their “Mars Blackmon” spots and think, that’s exactly what I want to do.

Riswold was recently inducted into the One Club Creative Hall of Fame, and Dan Wieden wrote a piece about him in the recent issue of one. a magazine. I knew Riswold had left W+K, and I’d heard a little bit about his controversial art work featuring Hitler. But I didn’t really know his story until I watched Riswold’s TED talk. It might be a little disturbing at times. But that’s what makes it amazing.

Here are some of the things I take away from Riswold:

  1. He’s still a writer. Listen to how he crafted his talk. It’s like copy from a Nike print ad.
  2. He’s not a very good presenter. You can have loads of talent as a writer and a CD, and still be a bad presenter. That’s not a reason to practice presenting. But it’s a good thing to recognize and not beat yourself up over.
  3. This guy has guts. And I have to think his courage is one of the reasons he was such a great creative. Not only is speaking to an audience when it clearly makes him uncomfortable, he shows himself at his most vulnerable to a live audience. As Dan Wieden says in his article, “The ability to remain vulnerable is the ability to remain creative.”

Why the best job won’t be the perfect job

So Todd Waterbury is leaving his job as co-ECD of Wieden New York. Crazy, right? Because everyone knows that being ECD at Wieden is pretty much a first-round pick for creative fantasy league.

But it’s worth remembering Todd and his departure when you’re looking for your next job. Because even people at great agencies in great positions doing great work are willing to walk away. Because no one has the perfect job.

I’ve met a lot of students who confuse getting a great job with finding Shangri-La. They turn down offer after offer because of some small chink in the agency’s armor. A challenging client. The city. Something they read on agencyspy.com. They become like Mike Meyers in So I Married An Axe Murderer who dumped his girlfriend because she smelled like soup.

Know what you’re looking for, and get the best job you can, not the best job someone else can.

5 Rules from Wieden + Kennedy

Jelly Helm’s advice, as it appeared in Men’s Health a few years ago:

Act Stupid. “Our philosophy is to come in ignorant every day. The idea of retaining ignorance is sort of counterintuitive, but it subverts a lot of [problems] that come from absolute mastery. If you think you know the answer better than somebody else does, you become closed to being fresh.” states Jelly Helm, creative director.

Shut up. “The first thing we do when we meet with clients is listen. We try to figure out what their problems are. Then we come back with questions, not solutions. We write these out and put them on the wall. And then we circle the ones that we think are interesting. More often than not, the questions hold the answer.”
Always say yes. “What I’ve learned from improvisation is to let go of outcome and just say yes to whatever the situation is. If you say an idea is bad, you’re creating conflict–you’re breaking an improv rule. You want an energy flow that moves you forward, as opposed to a creative stasis.”
Chase Talent. “Find people who make you better. It’s best to be the least talented person in the room. It’s reciprocal. It challenges you to keep up.”

Be Fearless. “Do anything, say anything. In the worlds of our president, Dan Wieden, ‘You’re not useful to me until you’ve made three momentous mistakes.’ He knows that if you try not to make mistakes, you miss out on the value of learning from them.”