I went out to dinner the other night and got food poisoning. Consequently, I spent the remainder of the night in a cold sweat crawling between my bed and my bathroom.
Fortunately there were some moments that were free of both gastric distress and prayers for a quick death. During one of these moments I had a flash of insight.
For years I have been trying to figure out what makes a good ad person better than an average ad person. There are some people who are just better at it than others.
They seem to have an intuitive understanding of what's going to work and what's not going to work. They are not deluded by marketing cliches or expert opinions. They draw their conclusions from a kind of personal understanding rather than conventional wisdom. I've spent a lot of hours trying to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes them exceptional.
My previous theories about this have been too intellectual. I have hypothesized that they have a deeper psychological understanding of human motivation. But I've never really been happy with this explanation. It seems very much like a tautology.
Then the other night, slithering on hands and knees from the bed to the bathroom, it struck me. There's a much simpler and more satisfying explanation. The attribute that makes people exceptional at advertising is that they're better at noticing things. They're good noticers.
They notice what people really do. They notice what people have in their refrigerators. They notice the little lies that people tell themselves and each other. They notice the contradictions between attitudes and behaviors. They notice the small, seemingly irrelevant things that most people don't notice.
Average advertising people are good listeners. Exceptional advertising people are good noticers.
Good musicians have an intuitive quality that is hard to explain. To an average person, a song is a pattern of rhythm and a series of notes. But a good musician can hear and understand the hidden structure of a song. She intuitively understands how the music is built. She can listen to it once and play it.
Good ad people can do the same. They can hear people talk about their buying habits and intuitively understand the hidden structure of their behavior.
I believe this is the result of a heightened ability to notice things.
I now understand the origin of deep insights -- food poisoning. Next time I get the Hershey squirts I'm going to direct my focus toward figuring out where the hell the universe came from and win myself a Nobel Prize.