Dan Wieden and The Imitation Game.

You never think you will meet your heroes. And when you are a creative at the bottom of Africa far from everywhere, you really don’t think you will meet your heroes. But then you do. You meet one of those people that makes you believe. One of those special humans who does work that makes you know it’s possible. They take away your excuses and give you hope at the same time. They make you back yourself because of what they have done. That might be the greatest gift one person can give to another. Their example shows you the way forward.

One thing I never wrote back in 2015 (When I originally wrote this blog) was about me being a weird, embarrassing fanboy and following Dan Wieden out of the hall after he finished his talk. So, this is my 7 seconds with Dan Wieden. I don’t know why, but I had to shake his hand. I just did. And, anybody who knows me, will know I am very bad at this kind of stuff. Dan Wieden was standing on George Street in Sydney and I gingerly walked up to him. I said thanks for the talk, it was bloody great. Not fantastic, but a solid opening. He shook my hand. Probably one of many that day. Then he said the part I really remember. He didn’t say thanks and turn to get back to the hotel to get over his jet-lag as quickly as possible.

He said, what’s your name? I stumbled. I wasn’t expecting him to ask me a question. I eventually said Damon. He smiled. He looked straight at me. And then he said thanks very much Damon. Nice of you to say that. Good to meet you.

Maybe, it’s nothing. I am sure it sounds like nothing. Definitely nothing. You kind of had to be there. Maybe, it’s just how he spoke. But, he gave me a little of his time. He didn’t have to do that. He asked me my name. He treated me like a person. And I still think about that tiny moment today. The idea that a leader can be a leader by being extremely human. By giving you their time when they don’t have to give you anything. I am really glad I shook his hand and jealous of those that got to work with him.  

 This is the blog I wrote 7 years ago.  

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.

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 about what we do.

So far, so good. Then we have question time. 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 Wieden’s own words.

Just Do It.


Published by dbs81270

Chief Creative Officer The Monkeys New Zealand

3 thoughts on “Dan Wieden and The Imitation Game.

  1. So much of an agency’s output relies on belief. It’s something everyone can share. When it’s there you’re all on the one team trying to get somewhere, when it’s not there it’s an absolute shit fight.

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