ADD-friendly reading: Hog-isms 002

November 8th, 2009  Posted by: Sally Hogshead

Our second issue, for your media-snacking pleasure. Filled with tweets, quips, other tidbits of innovation goodness. Oh, a splash of bacon-infused vodka.

Bon appétit.


Hog-isms, Issue 001

September 28th, 2009  Posted by: Sally Hogshead

Introducing Hog-isms, Issue 001. A collection of recent tweets, online posts, random mumblings, little ditties. That sort of thing.

We might create issues weekly. Or we might not. It’s an experiment, ya’ll. Let us know what you think, won’t you please? We love your feedback.

It’s all original content. So in the meantime, feel free to print, post, or plagiarize to your heart’s content.

Hogisms Issue 01 thumbnail

Recession karma: What goes around, comes around, during a downturn.

March 13th, 2009  Posted by: Sally Hogshead

The word “karma” gets breezily tossed about in pop culture. However if we go back a few millennia, things were different. The word karma wasn’t followed by “is a bitch” on bumper stickers.

Before karma showed up in trendy yoga shops, it showed up in ancient religious texts. Here’s an excerpt. (In case you haven’t brushed up on your sanskrit, I’ll translate.)

Harm we cause in this life will come back to us in the next. The universe is relentless. It will not let us get away with anything.

That’s some pretty righteous mojo. 

My 13 principles aren’t quite so extreme, but no less important in the workplace.

1) In the long run it, a trusted reputation is your career’s greatest achievement– and the one over which you have the most control. 

2) Be nice. Play fair. Do what you say you’re going to do. Being a good person matters. A lot. 

3) In most industries, everyone knows everyone else by .5 degrees of separation. Burn bridges, and you’re toast. 

4) Trust your gut. It’s smarter than you are.

5) Think carefully before you complain about anything right now. Many people are fearfully hunkered down in survival mode, more concerned about their own employment than others’ wishes.

6) There is no shame in failure. The same cannot be said for lack of effort.

7) Don’t aim to avoid negative feedback. Disapproval is inherent for anyone involved with new thinking. Unless you’re creating spreadsheets, your work won’t always add up in neat columns. Learn as much you can from negative feedback, and move on.

8) Likewise, don’t base your self-image on positive feedback, because no matter how good you are, you can’t count on it. Find other sources of confidence.

9) Your work can have attitude. You, on the other hand, cannot.  Step it down a notch (or three), and leave your prima donna feathered headdress at home. At every opportunity, make others feel better about themselves than before they encountered you.

10)  Go to great lengths to be stress-free and pleasurable to work with. This is true at any time, but even more so during a recession, or any time of great uncertainty. Clients and employers have an extremely low tolerance for moodiness or impetuousness.  

11) Don’t allow your ego to get in your way. People will see through the pretense and figure out your motivations pretty quickly.

12) Competitive is okay. Cut-throat is not.

13) Integrity is unsexy. It can also be difficult, painful, and even expensive. So is dental care. Neither are wise to shortcut.

So, what about your karma? How do you bring good karma into your work? Where are you seeing the most damaging breaks in respect and ethics at the workplace?  

(Of course, if you don’t comment, that’s okay too. No bad karma from me.)

Put down the beer bong, and read this blog post.

March 11th, 2009  Posted by: Sally Hogshead

Welcome to day three of “A dozen things I wish someone had told me.” Today’s topic is, appropriately, about being in school. (Of course, as always, this applies to those of us who graduated long, long ago.)

1) Your taste will change. Several times. Enjoy that evolution and stay open-minded. (And don’t get stuck in a rut.) Look back upon these changes with appreciation and humbleness of knowing that one day, you’ll look back upon your opinions today with quaint affection.

2) Don’t get preoccupied with what you think others want you to do with your work. At least, not in school. Obsessing about what others want only takes your attention from meaningful progress. There will be plenty of time to worry about the opinion of others (client, boss, partner, focus groups, etc. etc. etc.) down the road.

3) It takes a while to find your voice and get into a groove. It’s a frustrating process until that happens. It requires work and time.

4)  You will learn more in your first couple of jobs than you did in school.

5) Trying to recreate yourself in only a few months of school is like trying to go to med school in one year. It take a long time to learn, attempt, and produce. If you shortchange the process you shortchange the result.

6) Classmates are, literally and figuratively, your future co-workers. Treat them accordingly.

7) If you want to change your focus or style during school, do it.

8) Actually in reference to #7, the same can be said of ANY time in your career. It’s okay to change. It’s crucial, in fact. I’ve changed my career direction half a dozen times.

9) Every step along the way is cumulative learning, and every step builds upon the last.

8) Be certain that your resume (or final portfolio) accurately represents the type of work you want to do, because it will determine where you’re hired.

10) Being in school is a window of opportunity to recreate yourself. Use it wisely. Use every possible resource, conversation, teacher. Fail within this safety net.

11) Surpass your school’s expectations. Surpass your parents’ expectations. Surpass your own.

12) In the future, when youre the boss, meet with ten students for every one person who meets with you now.

…Okay, so, what about you? What do you wish someone had told you while you were in school? 

Oh, and for those of you who didn’t learn what a “beer bong” is in college… now’s your chance.

Every day of your career is a job interview: A dozen(ish) points for every type of job interview.

March 10th, 2009  Posted by: Sally Hogshead

Welcome to our second installment of “Things I wish someone had told me earlier in my career.” Today’s topic: Interviewing.

All of us, no matter what our employment status, are interviewing every single day of our careers. Especially now. Every day is an opportunity to demonstrate your value.

Below, a collection of points about interviews and introductions. Many I learned over the course of interviewing hundreds of people. However, most I’ve learned in my own everyday work in marketing: meetings, presentations, introductions, and all the other daily “job interviews.”

A dozen-ish things I wish someone had told me when I started interviewing:

1) Working around smart people makes YOU smarter, especially at the beginning of your career. (As I wrote in my book, “Aspire to be the dumbest person in the room.”) That’s really important.

2) Which company you work for matters less than which clients and which boss you work for. You can find brilliant bosses in crap companies, and vice versa, but earlier in your career, your boss will play a more significant role in the final quality of your work.

3) The questions you ask in the interview are often more important than the answers you give. Think ahead to topics specific points that will not only give you valuable insight into the company, but will also reveal your own discerning observations. (For example, don’t focus on “What’s your vacation plan?” Instead ask, “What’s your company’s culture of work/life balance?”)

4) Treat the assistant as respectfully as the bigwig. Not only is this common courtesy, but theres usually an instant line of communication between the two. 

5) Try not to limit yourself to one city or part of the country. If possible, go wherever the best job is at the start of your career. Then, after you’ve proven yourself, you’ll have earned far greater control over lifestyle choices for the long-term.

6) If your body of work or experience isn’t substantial enough to sell you yet, consider writing a couple of simple paragraphs about yourself. It could be anything: a remarkable experience, or something unusual that you’re really passionate about. Don’t get cutesy or “TMI”– rather, give people a more dimensional sense of what you offer.

7) For any materials– in an interview or otherwise– a quick bit of background or explanation can help convey the power of your thinking. In your resume (or portfolio), for any experience that’s not immediately obvious to the viewer, include a brief explanation such as an overview of the big-picture assignment, strategy, results, etc. Whatever will fill in the missing pieces.

8) Write very short cover letters, without rambling stories and requests for help. Craft a simple, clear resume. No wacky fonts. No goofy illustrations. Please.

9) Make sure your name, phone number, and email address are very clearly indicated on every single thing you send.

10) Avoid showing half-assed work to a potential employer. Better to show nothing at all.

11) You could be unemployed for six months, then get three offers in a week. It happens. You just never know. Your next job might be waiting just around the corner. And sometimes, the most talent people are the slowest to get a job. If youre one of them, have faith that if you keep dedicating yourself, your talent will get recognized. You need to find the right opportunity to blossom… or more specifically, that opportunity needs to find you.

12) Once you get past the initial stages and snag that golden interview, spend time getting to know the company’s past and present. Also research every person you’ll interview with, if at all possible, including their background, role, and hopefully get a sense their personality. In my own career, this simple tip has helped me enormously, because it develops immediate rapport in an interview.

13) When a prospective employer makes all sorts of promises, remember that your salary agreement is the only promise they cant flake out on.


Geez, I wish someone had told me this while I was still in school.

March 9th, 2009  Posted by: Sally Hogshead

Hindsight is 20/20, sure. But foresight is even better. 

To that end,  I’ll be blogging each day this week with one dozen pieces of “foresight” that I wish someone had told me when I was in school. A few of these points reference advertising, but most apply to anyone in business. (Most are probably good for us all to keep in mind, especially in this economy.)

The good news is, we’re all students, and it’s never too late to renew your studies. Ready? Let’s go.

The first dozen things I wish someone had told me while I was still in school:

1) There are no right answers. Including these.

2) Simple, brilliant ideas kick ass over fancy execution. 

3) Instead of promoting yourself by talking about YOU, try to get involved in what OTHERS are doing and saying and thinking about. Participate in a way that’s smart and engaging. That says more about you than any slick promo ever could.

4) The difference between A- and A+ is all the difference in the world.

5) Most of us are not in the business of “crowd-pleasing.” Don’t try to make everyone happy. Focus on your target, and getting them excited about your message. As a student, that target is your potential employer. As a marketer, that target is your consumer. As a professional, that target is your co-workers, your boss, your clients, your industry leaders, and, your next employer. 

6) To reach a potential employer, especially an executive, email is more likely to get a response than writing a letter. Contacting them via LinkedIn or Facebook is even more likely to get a response. An exception: if you already met with someone, send a handwritten note.

7) Often, the more concepts you come up, the better they get. At least, that’s usually the case for me. I write a hundred headlines for every one I end up with. Here is a sample list from my blog about Luke Sullivan:

8)  If you admire someone or want to contact them, get involved in their conversations. Follow them on Twitter and respond to their commentary. Participate on their blog. Request to friend them on Facebook. Sincerely congratulate them on personal successes, such as publishing an article or winning an award.

9) Smart beats clever.

10) When you’re thinking about a certain topic, feed your brain with inspiration– from the mainstream to the highly specific. It will help you get into the mindset and give you data to toy with and expand upon. 

11) Anyone can come up with a great idea. The question is, can you do it consistently. Actually getting those ideas produced is important too.

12) Any revolutionary message feels uncomfortable at first. Some people won’t like it. Some people will hate it. Accept that and stay focused.

These points are culled from a list I wrote years ago, originally published in a book named Pick Me: Breaking Into Advertising and Staying There by two fabulous creative directors named Nancy Vonk and Janet Kestin. This was years ago, back in the days of traditional media, pre-Twitter and pre-Facebook. Then, yesterday, J.D. Humphreys posted the list on the VCU Brandcenter student blog. I pulled out the original complete version, and I was surprised at how many of the basic still hold true. 

It got me thinking… oh, how the world has changed since then. Yet how many of the old principles still fit!

So what do you with someone had told YOU while you were still in school? What piece of advice would have made the difference to know at the start of your career, or even today? Do share.

How to Recession-Proof Your Career

September 22nd, 2008  Posted by: Sally Hogshead

The worst thing you can do right now is freak out and hide. Here’s how to stop acting scared and start making progress.

Yes, unquestionably, the rules of work have changed. We’re in an angst-ridden environment now. Planned layoffs in July rose 26% compared with June, according to consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. But don’t let that anxiety stop you from moving forward. Learn the new rules and get on with rocking the house.

1. Don’t jump into a fulltime position just because it’s supposedly safer.

Working for a big company slows your ability to achieve a lot quickly. It usually takes at least six months to ramp up, develop relationships and become entrenched in juicy projects. When layoffs come, the newest employees are the most vulnerable because of lack of tenure and track demonstrable record. Freelance/consulting, on the other hand, provides new-client experience and more exposure to more people.

2. Warm and fuzzy are no match for cold hard revenue.
Bosses may love you and you may be a hit at the office cocktail parties, but layoffs happen to the best of us. No one can take away your professional wins, experience, and knowledge.

3. Don’t assume you’re safe because of political ties or a winning personality.
In a recession, political ties can quickly go south. Make sure you’re connecting to others in your company and industry, and keep gathering the experience to stay valuable. If you work someplace where the ax is about to fall, don’t get so wrapped up in politics of sucking up. Focus on building your own brand, so that you’re armed to stay in the game.

4. Be a team player, yeah– but not at the expense of investing in yourself.
Supporting the company’s goals is important, absolutely. But remember that ultimately, your company won’t save you– your own resume will! For example, instead of designing the office holiday card, find a new way to design new business materials. Learn a new skill like writing an RFP. Find ways to contribute to the financial viability of a company, even if it’s outside of your existing scope.

5. Bring more to the party.
Constantly find new ways to add value. Every single interaction with your boss or client should reinforce your contribution. In meetings, bring more than a smile.

6. Button-up the details.
In cushier times, people might not care if you breeze into a meeting 20 minutes late or turn in your project behind schedule. When stress goes up, however, don’t draw any negative attention.

7. Cut the drama.
Moodiness and personal issues are deal-killers in this environment. There’s already too much angst and too much competition to indulge any personality issues. Don’t bitch about your personal life. On a related note …

8. The whole I’m too cool attitude just got a lot less cool.
Same with acting bored in meetings or world-weary on conference calls. Prove you’re ready to deliver, now, here. Coasting is death.

9. Invest more in yourself.
Don’t wait for your organization to offer a class; spend your own time and resources on independent study. Focus on results with that will add a new line to your resume, rather than merely pleasing your boss.

10. Overdeliver to the hilt.

Inject urgency into all you say and do. Deliver exceptionally within the scope of work, and, provide additional solutions outside of what you were asked to do (and don’t bill for those ideas).

11. Spread your bets.
Create new revenue streams. In a recession, laurels count for less; your last accomplishment drives market value. Often you can earn more interesting exposure on a solo basis. One advantage of freelance/consulting is that companies will more likely invest in part-timers during a recession, and you can bring your work to more people.

12. Make yourself indispensable.
What can you do that no one else knows how to do? What jobs or relationships can you handle in a way that no one else can? Become so entrenched that it’s too difficult to replace you.

13. Get tactical, executional, and specific.
Solve immediate needs. Shift your mind-set away from big and general and more to the immediate bottom line. Your client and your boss want results that show up now. What can you do to increase revenue today? How can you shorten timelines?

14. Don’t hide.
You know how toddlers cover their eyes and think they’re invisible? People do the same thing during a recession: make themselves invisible to avoid getting axed. Don’t cower under your desk. Get out and prove yourself daily.

15. Attach yourself to revenue-generating projects.
When budgets are being cut, align yourself with people and projects that actually make real revenue. If you’re assigned to a client that’s tanking, or spending time on feel-good initiatives, be careful. Find where the growth is.

16. Instead of just soliciting, make yourself worth talking to.
Reach out to old clients, current clients and potential partners with meaningful contact. But don’t just solicit for business; provide them value. For example, research articles that may be beneficial to their business and forward with communication.

Bottom line?

Don’t kiss ass. Save your own.

Originally published in Advertising Age, Sept. 22, 2008

Congratulations, you’ve been fired!

September 17th, 2008  Posted by: Sally Hogshead

Haven’t been fired or laid off yet? It’ll happen. Here’s your dose of career Prozac so you can be prepared for the big day.

Getting fired hurts. A lot. It’s a deeply, deeply personal experience. Sort of like being dumped by a lover (”You don’t love me any more??”), but also comes with all kinds of unpleasant financial and professional implications. Unfortunately, there’s huge turnover within agencies, so in the game of advertising roulette, one day it’ll be your turn.

Since writing a book on careers, I’ve talked to hundreds of people about firings and layoffs; even extremely successful executives still look a little wounded when they recount losing their job. Even if it’s done “nicely”, even if you see it coming, even if you get a generous severance package and letter of recommendation, it’ll probably take a good chunk out of your confidence. (”Look on the bright side… you haven’t lost a job, you’ve gained a newfound sense of desperation and despair!)

Below, a few things I want you to remember.

1) Getting fired is life’s way of telling you to move on.

Assuming you didn’t get fired for shtupping the boss’ wife in the mailroom, if you’re fired, something wasn’t working. Maybe it was the wrong agency for you, or maybe you had an unsupportive boss or a lame job. In any case, learn every possible lesson from your mistakes, but redirect your energy toward what’s next. The next job, the next career move, the next version of yourself.

Channel “The Jeffersons.” You’re movin’ on up.

2) Fear of being fired makes you more likely to get fired.

Obsessing over whether you’ll get the ax can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, because it usually causes weak decision-making. You simply cannot be your most successful in a job in which you’re nervous. Focus yourself on the elements you can control– seeking honest feedback, making real changes as needed, and focusing on performance rather than job security. (That said, go ahead and update your resume.)

3) If you’re less-than-thrilled with your employer, odds are, it’s mutual.

Don’t cling to a boss, a job, or a client if you’re miserable. They can smell it. Find the smartest exit plan, and transition ASAFP.

It’s human nature to want to remain in a stable employment, enjoying a cushy vacation policy and free leftover bagels. But in order to truly rock the house in any job, you have to be working at your fullest potential, and that requires that you feel completely engaged and while not necessarily overjoyed with your job, at least dedicated.

4) Once fired, your suddenly-former job will start looking a lot better in retrospect.

Even if you loathed your job, even if you dreaded Monday mornings, even if you had a voodoo doll of your boss in your desk drawer, that all changes the moment you’re carrying the entire contents of your office in a box out the door. But if you were miserable, don’t second-guess yourself. Deposit the severance check and consider it cushioned landing for that friendly push out of the nest.

5) Stop worrying about whether you’ll have to start eating catfood out of dumpsters.

For most people, self-appraisal plummets the moment they see the letter of termination. This is one of those times when perception and reality probably don’t match. Just because you feel vulnerable, just because your confidence, that doesn’t mean you won’t get another job. actually just took a step backwards.

6) Being fired is not the kiss of death. Crappy work, however, is.

In advertising, employers understand that things can sour for any number of reasons. Great people get canned in every agency, every department, for any number of reasons. In terms of your next job, the firing won’t be an issue as much as WHY it happened. If you’re pounding the pavement with a lame portfolio or weak references, yeah, that’s a bit of a problem.

7) Avoid this whole unpleasantness by making yourself “fire-proof.”

There’s no better protection against unemployment than a brilliant track record, reputation, network of supporters, and an unshakable ability to get up off the floor and get back in the game. The best job security you can have for the future is concrete proof of what you’ve accomplished in the job you have today.

8) One day, you might actually look back and thank the schmuck who fired you. (No, really!)

Over and over, people tell me that getting fired was the best thing that could happen to them. Yeah, it probably messed with their head at the time, but it allowed them to figure out what wasn’t working so that they could get on with the rest of their career and the business of kicking ass.

Bottom line: You always can’t control whether or not you’re let go. You CAN, however, control the quality of your work.
Remember. Steve-frikkin-Jobs was fired from his job at Apple, years ago. And things have turned out pretty okay for him, wouldn’t you say?

originally published in Advertising Age, Aug 4, 2008

How to survive open heart surgery (while sitting in the waiting room).

July 9th, 2008  Posted by: Sally Hogshead

My husband’s family history of heart disease reads like a funeral requiem: his father had a heart attack at age 35; his mother, multiple cardiac surgeries; his brother, two stents by age 40; his uncle and cousin both died of heart attacks by 55. And so on and so forth throughout the branches and leaves of his family tree. Only Rich had escaped the cardiac firing line. But one afternoon this February, I finally heard the words I’d been dreading in our eleven years of marriage: Honey, take me to the emergency room.

Rich’s first EKG was normal. So was his second one. Still, the doctors wanted to give him a more conclusive test, just in case. Worst case scenario, he’d get a relatively minor procedure to open an artery. Rich blew me kisses as the nurses wheeled him away to his test.

Rich and I had recently moved back to my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. If I’d ever regretted trading fabulous LA for a life with my family nearby, this moment put any doubts to rest. My father sat with me at the hospital, holding my hand, awaiting the results of the test.

As we waited, a doctor walked over and greeted my father warmly. Dad is retired surgeon, and for 30 years he practiced in the same hospital where we now sat in the waiting room. As my father introduced me to Dr. Still, he explained that they’d operated together years ago and that tonight Dr. Still was on call for cardiac emergencies. My dad quipped, Great to see you hope we don’t see you later in surgery! We all smiled.

But a few minutes later, Dr. Still returned with a very different look on his face. We would be seeing him later for surgery.

My father asked the question I could not: How bad is it? The surgeon blinked a millisecond too long for my comfort and replied, All five. I had no idea what that meant. All five? Five what? I looked from one man to the other, trying to interpret their expressions to figure out if that was good or bad.

Well, yeah, that’s bad. The worst. His heart was shutting down and they needed replacements on all five arteries in the next 12 hours. Trying to understand what was happening, I stammered, Is this like a bypass? My dad said gently, Rich is getting a quintuple bypass. Not double, not triple. Quintuple. My first thought was of our two small children, Quinton and Azalea, at home asleep. Then I wondered if we’d paid his life insurance premium.

I immediately peppered my dad with questions What were Rich’s chances of survival? What would his life be like after the surgery? Would he be an invalid? Would he be the same person? My father answered every question academically, until at one point he stared down at his shoes and broke down into tears.

Not me. I refused to go to the bad place. At least, not yet. I play a little game when bad things happen: I ask myself, How can I turn this into the best thing that could possibly happen? I’ve played this game during all kinds of cloudy situations, and found that sometimes, silver linings can stretch across the horizon.

It was getting late, but I called our best friends, Chris and Rona, to join me at Rich’s bedside to celebrate. Together we laughed and told stories, giving his old heart a going-away party. Rich was all doped up on truth serum-like drugs, so we asked personal questions and giggling until the night nurse shooed us out.

I drove home by myself, and this fact struck me as totally bizarre. It was a sort of evil-twin opposite of the last time I’d left a hospital: after having a baby. When having a baby, Rich and I drove to the hospital as two, and left as three. Today we drove as two, and I left by myself.

Seeing the kids asleep at home was the hardest part. I kissed them each twice: once for me, once for Rich.

A few hours later, before sunrise the next morning, Rich’s operation began. Sitting in the waiting room, I realized I had no idea what exactly was going on in the surgery being performed in real time on the other side of the wall. I Googled quintuple bypass. This is insane, I thought: I’ve researched car seats and blenders more extensively than the consent forms to have my husband’s ribcage cracked open, his heart pulled out from his chest, and the five lifelines of his body cut and replaced.

At last, many hours later, Dr. Still came out from surgery. He smiled. I burst into tears.

The novelist Anna Quindlen once wrote, Think of life as a terminal illness, because if you do, you will live it with joy and passion, as it ought to be lived. Rich had a terminal illness, heart disease, ticking down towards detonation. We feared it. It was the worst that could happen, and it happened.

But really, it was the best thing that could have possibly happened.

The man I’m married to today is very different than the one who went into surgery. He’s stronger, healthier, and more alive than ever. He is, quite literally, a new man. His skin is brighter, his laugh is bubblier, and his eyes sparklier. Unbeknownst to us, for several years, his heart had been deprived of blood and that showed up in his behavior and activity level.

This blog post is far more personal than my others, I realize. I share this story because it’s a parallel to all the other things I write about… surviving a chaotic situation, consciously creating a new point of view, andchanging your life (by choice or otherwise).

We all walk around with a few worst fears. Some are logical, others, entirely unfounded. But sometimes, the (supposedly) worst thing that could happen turns out to be the absolute best. Sometimes, we have to go through what we dread in order to live our best life. That mean be getting fired, or losing a cherished relationship, or not getting something you passionately hoped and prayed for.

When you don’t have control over a certain situation or result, focus on the pieces within your grasp. If you’re laid off from a job, you can’t necessarily get that same job back, but what can you do? What knowledge or experiences or relationships will you take and use to your advantage?What opportunities could arise from getting laid off, which might not have been possible before? What actions can you take that will use this layoff as a stepping stone to your next success?

In my book, I wrote about experiencing the most scary, and difficult, and painful moments in life. These words, which I wrote in 2005, I now believe more profoundly than ever:

The scary and difficult and painful don’t have to stop you. The scary and difficult and painful are the very things that transform you into your best self.

One last thought. Is it just me, or is it news that the heart has five arteries? Who knew??

In Mexico, three months after surgery.

500,000,000 sperm can’t be wrong.

May 18th, 2008  Posted by: Sally Hogshead

Six Tips to Help Develop and Sell Your Best Ideas

At one point in your life, many years ago– approximately nine months before you were born, in fact– you competed in your very first new-business pitch. You were competing against a few hundred million others, but apparently you won, because you’re reading this today.

The principles of fertilization offer a handy reminder that in chaotic or competitive situations, many must die in order for one to live. So it goes for spawning ideas.

It wasn’t always this way. I remember watching a famous, award-winning creative director describe his philosophy on idea development. His agency would present only one idea — the big idea — and if the client didn’t buy it, the agency would go into hiding for two weeks before returning with another (single) idea.

That agency has, regrettably, since closed… surprise surprise. In the hope of avoiding the same fate, I’ve spent the past few years trying to get the idea of THE idea out of my head.

As time goes on, I realize that successful careers, like successful agencies, are built upon the rules we learned back when we were swimming upstream with a few hundred million of our would-be siblings:

1. There is no such thing as THE idea.

If you can break out of the mind-set that you have to create that one almighty concept, you can stay more open to client feedback, integrate other media platforms and forage outside of your comfort zone for creative thinking.

2. Beware your ‘brilliant’ ideas.

Truly brilliant ideas are dangerous. They can quickly become the idea. They let people off the hook to beat those ideas with something fresher, smarter. Instead of clinging to your most brilliant idea, keep yourself open to the possibility that there’s a better one.

3. Spread your bets around.

Think like the movie-studio executives, who have stopped putting all their bets on one or two blockbusters, and instead back a multitude of movies that are all little bets. Many will fail, a few will break even and one or two will become massive hits.

4. Start profusely and finish brutally.

At the beginning of a process, stay open to everyone’s comments and all possibilities. But as time goes on, focus on your winning ideas and kill the rest without sorrow or sentiment. Why? See rule No. 5.

5. Ideas are not precious; opportunities, very much so.

There is no limit to the number of ideas you could potentially generate, but there is a definite limit to the number of opportunities you can take on and succeed with. Focus your resources on winning ideas.

6. Fight to the death for your ideas.

This might sound counterintuitive to the above. Here’s the difference.

Ideas are our raison d’etre. Yet once you’re willing to create more of those ideas — and watch more of those ideas die — your career will survive and thrive.

This article was published in Ad Age May 12, 2008 (and amended with a wussy title): Sacrifice Many for the Sake of One Brilliant Idea – Advertising Age – Hogshead On Six Tips to Help Develop the Right One