Space Is the Place: Nostalgia for the Future

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'Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.' 

I know exactly where I was just before 4-00AM on the morning of July 21, 1969. I was in the sitting room of 125 Heath Park Road watching TV. My parents had got Martin and me out of bed to see Neil Armstrong become the first person to set foot on the moon. I was 5 years old.

To be honest I’m not sure I recall the experience. Perhaps I just remember being told that I was there. But certainly rockets, space exploration and moon landings played an important part in my childhood. Back then we dreamed of astronauts, aliens and asteroids. We watched Star Trek, the Clangers and Thunderbirds on TV. We created space suits out of boxes and Bacofoil. And one summer Sister Mary Stephen helped me make a lunar landscape out of papier mache.

Armstrong: 'The surface is fine and powdery. I can kick it up loosely with my toe. It does adhere in fine layers, like powdered charcoal, to the sole and sides of my boots.’

Over the last few weeks there have been numerous documentaries and dramas commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the first lunar landing. I was particularly struck by the film ‘Apollo 11’, which edited together original footage from NASA and the National Archives. 

The crowd at Cape Canaveral wait expectantly in sun visors and straw trilbies. The women sport cat-eye shades. Families in striped summer shirts camp out on the parking lot at JC Penney’s. Wide-angled lenses are trained and at the ready. At Mission Control Center in Houston banks of clean-cut men in headsets attend to their monitors. They wear white short-sleeved shirts, thin ties and have pens in pocket protectors. Their desks are cluttered with coffee cups and ashtrays. After a steak-and-egg breakfast, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins complete their final checks and wave goodbye. Then the unbearable tension of the countdown...

‘12, 11, 10, 9, ignition sequence start.’ 

Time slows to a crawl…

‘6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, zero, all engines running.’ 

The thunderous roar, the fearsome commotion, as the Saturn V rocket escapes its umbilical tower, and takes off… 

‘Liftoff! We have a liftoff, 32 minutes past the hour. Liftoff on Apollo 11.'

It’s a familiar drama now, but it still sends a chill down my spine.

Collins: 'Well, I promise to let you know if I stop breathing.’

As the adventure continues, I can’t help being struck by the dry, understated humour of these brave, intelligent men. I fell in love with the United States in 1969, with this casual heroism, this easygoing informality.

Aldrin: 'Now I want to back up and partially close the hatch... Making sure not to lock it on my way out.’

For me as a child the space program was entirely optimistic, inspiring, euphoric. It was a compelling tale of vision, ambition, ingenuity and courage. The stainless steel plaque attached to the ladders of the lunar module stated: ‘We came in peace for all mankind.' And President Nixon, speaking on the phone to Armstrong and Aldrin while they were on the moon surface, intoned in his rich, gravelly voice:

'For one priceless moment in the whole history of man all the people on this Earth are truly one.'

There seemed something noble and uplifting about the whole endeavour.

Of course, looking at the flickering footage now, one can’t help noticing the shadow that the Eagle module cast over the moon’s surface. And there was a shadow over the space program too. 

There were protests about the US Government’s priorities at a time when the country was facing incredible poverty and inequality. At its peak in 1966, NASA accounted for roughly 4.4% of the federal budget. The resonance of Nixon’s words now seems tarnished by Vietnam and Watergate, and there’s a suspicion that we were simply witnessing another chapter of the Cold War. We also feel uncomfortable about the low representation of female and black faces at Mission Control; and the debris left on the lunar surface.

Armstrong: 'Isn’t that something! Magnificent sight out here.'
Aldrin: 'Magnificent desolation.’ 

Nowadays the future has lost some of its lustre. Although we’ve witnessed the most dramatic transformation since the Industrial Revolution, we have become concerned that the same technology that spreads knowledge and understanding can also intensify hate and bigotry; that a new corporate oligarchy threatens our privacy and security; that the freedoms of empowerment also carry the responsibilities of self-control. Inevitably we’re suffering change fatigue. 

Aldrin: 'We feel that this stands as a symbol of the insatiable curiosity of all mankind to explore the unknown.'

Despite the reservations, the Apollo 11 story prompts nostalgia for the future. It suggests that hope and optimism are the first steps to progress. It reminds us of the power of wide-eyed anticipation. We should not deny ourselves the chance to dream.

'I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.'
President Kennedy, May 25, 1961

The US space program remains the definitive example of the motivational power of a clear and ambitious goal. It indicates that we can achieve great things if we channel talent and resource towards a unitary mission, if we commit to the principles of focus and weight.

Imagine reconvening those dudes in their thin ties and short-sleeved shirts. What if we could create the contemporary equivalent of Mission Control? What if we summoned a more diverse cross-section of the finest minds in the world, allocated proper investment, and set them a singular task? What if we asked them to save this planet rather than to visit some other celestial body?

Aldrin: 'There it is, it’s coming up!'
Collins: ‘What?'
Aldrin: 'The earth. See it?'
Collins: 'Yes. Beautiful.’


'Space is the place where I will go when I'm all alone 
Space is the place, 
Space is the place.’

Sun Ra, ’Space is the Place' 

No. 240

Not Copying, But Translating: Vincent Van Gogh and the Love of Many Things

Vincent van Gogh’s Prisoners Exercising, 1890 © The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow

Vincent van Gogh’s Prisoners Exercising, 1890 © The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow

‘The best way to know God is to love many things.’
Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother Theo, 1880

I recently attended an exhibition exploring Vincent Van Gogh’s relationship with Britain (‘Van Gogh and Britain,’ at Tate Britain until 11 August). 

In the spring of 1873, aged 20, Van Gogh travelled to London to work in the Covent Garden branch of the art dealers Goupil et Fils, and he stayed in England until the winter of 1876. He was not yet an artist at that time and he didn’t paint any pictures here. So the exhibition is really an exploration of the impact his British experiences had on him, and the impact he had on subsequent British artists.

‘Always continue walking a lot and loving nature, for that’s the real way to learn to understand art better and better.’

Van Gogh loved strolling around London. He took a daily walk from his lodgings in Brixton, across Westminster Bridge, to his office in Covent Garden. He visited museums, art dealers and the National Gallery. He rowed on the Thames and tried out the new underground railways. He also fell in love with his landlady’s daughter. He was dismissed from his job, briefly taught at a school in Ramsgate, and then served as a Methodist preacher in Richmond. 

‘My whole life is aimed at making the things from everyday life that Dickens describes.’

What makes a real impression is how much Van Gogh was soaking up stimulus during his time in England. English was one of his four languages and he loved reading Victorian novels. He admired the wood engravings of modern urban scenes that he found in journals like The Graphic. He was swept up by the growing enthusiasm for social reform. In later life he explored themes he had first encountered in the works of Dickens or in paintings at the National Gallery: lonely figures walk along a road through an autumn landscape; prison inmates troop around a high-walled yard; a man sits in despair, resting his face in his hands; an empty chair suggests a deceased former occupant. 

'Admire as much as you can. Most people do not admire enough.’

Vincent van Gogh’s painting Starry Night Over the Rhône. Photograph: Hervé Lewandowski/RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay)

Vincent van Gogh’s painting Starry Night Over the Rhône. Photograph: Hervé Lewandowski/RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay)

I had always imagined Van Gogh as the epitome of the artistic loner, ploughing his own furrow, blinkered to outside perspectives, rebelling against everything that has gone before. But in fact he was an avid consumer of culture, alert to fresh ideas, always out to learn and understand.

'I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it.’

Van Gogh had catholic tastes. Indeed he developed the view that a plurality of interests and affections creates strength of character, contentedness and a reservoir of inspiration.

'It is good to love many things, for therein lies true strength. And whoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done!'

Professionally many of us are cautious about external influences, concerned that we will be tempted to reproduce and replicate, copy and counterfeit. But Van Gogh was so confident in his own unique perspective that he didn’t worry about drawing on other artists’ work.

‘It is not copying… It is rather translating into another language, one of colours.’

So perhaps we should all take a tip from Van Gogh. Pop out for a walk, visit a gallery, collect images, read. Go to the movies, listen to a lecture, take in a podcast on the way. Open yourself up to stimulus, inspiration, learning. Discuss your response, debate your reaction, write down what you think. Embrace a love of many things.

And whatever your current status, be determined to pursue your own path.

'What am I in the eyes of most people? A nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person - somebody who has no position in society and will never have. In short, the lowest of the low. All right, then - even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart.'

 

'Now I understand
What you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity,
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they did not know how.
Perhaps they'll listen now.’

Don McLean, 'Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)'


 

No. 239

Interesting v Important: How to Deceive Sherlock Holmes

Basil Rathbone (left) as Sherlock Holmes, with Ida Lupino and Nigel Bruce c/o  The Arts Desk

Basil Rathbone (left) as Sherlock Holmes, with Ida Lupino and Nigel Bruce c/o The Arts Desk

‘My whole success depends upon a peculiarity of Holmes’ brain – its perpetual restlessness, its constant struggle to escape boredom.’
Professor Moriarty, ‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’

Of course, the definitive screen interpretation of Sherlock Holmes was provided by Basil Rathbone, who starred as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s private detective in a series of fourteen films between 1939 and 1946.

Tall, thin, angular and aristocratic, with an aquiline nose, Rathbone was once described as 'two profiles pasted together.' For the role of Holmes he donned a tweed deerstalker hat and Inverness cape, smoked a calabash pipe and pursued a cold deductive logic.

Holmes was assisted by his trusty companion, Watson - brilliantly played by Nigel Bruce as a bumbling, pompous but well-meaning fool. Together they navigated perplexing puzzles, pedestrian policing, suspects with dubious motives and nefarious villains. It was a world of red herrings, MacGuffins, false endings and parallel intertwined plots.

1939’s ‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ begins with Holmes’ arch-enemy Professor Moriarty escaping a court conviction. Moriarty, sharing a taxi back from the trial with a frustrated Holmes, vows to commit a sensational crime, and to discredit Holmes in the process.

'I'm going to break you, Holmes. I'm going to bring off right under your nose the most incredible crime of the century, and you'll never suspect it until it's too late. That will be the end of you, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.' 

Subsequently we learn that Moriarty plans to distract Holmes from a really serious felony by setting him a more intricate and intriguing puzzle.

‘He’s like a spoiled child who picks watches to pieces, but loses interest in one toy as soon as he’s given another. So I’m presenting the ingenious but fickle Mr Holmes with two toys… I’ll give him a toy to delight his heart, so full of bizarre complications that he’ll forget all about the first toy.’

And so we embark on a plot that involves a damsel in distress, a chinchilla charm and a cryptic drawing of a man with an albatross round his neck. There’s also a club-footed criminal leaving marks in the ground and a murderous flute-playing gaucho on the prowl.

While Holmes concerns himself with solving this absorbing riddle, he disregards a routine request to protect the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London.

This storyline resonated with me. Many’s the time in business that we find ourselves chasing the small but seductive, in preference to the boring but important. We readily tire of the familiar and frustrating aspects of incumbent accounts, the tedious day-to-day annoyances. We find ourselves instinctively drawn to the shiny and new, the challenging and thought provoking; to the prospect of developing fresh solutions and pioneering relationships. We channel time and resource into the thrilling pitch and the cool account, while leaving the big corporate Clients unloved and under-resourced. We prioritise the interesting ahead of the important.

220px-The_Adventures_of_Sherlock_Holmes_-_1939-_Poster.png

Of course, creative opportunities can translate into profile-building campaigns and successful brands. ‘Great oaks from mighty acorns grow.’ But there is a balance to be struck. Smart Agency leaders know how to direct the enthusiasms of their teams across a variety of tasks, satisfying their natural appetite for stimulation and provocation, while at the same time addressing the commercial imperative. Indeed the truest test of a great Agency is its ability to find creative and compelling solutions to big, intractable corporate problems.

‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ concludes with a victorious Holmes saying ‘Elementary, my dear Watson.’ It was the first use of a phrase that did not appear in Conan Doyle’s original canon of Holmes stories.

‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ was the second Rathbone-Bruce movie produced by 20th Century Fox, and more were planned. However, with the onset of the Second World War, the studio became concerned that dramas set in the Victorian era would be less relevant. Surely thrillers featuring foreign agents and spies would make for better box office. And so they determined to shelve any future Holmes pictures.

Universal Studios took a different view. They stepped in, negotiated the rights with the Conan Doyle Estate, signed contracts with Rathbone and Bruce, and updated the stories to contemporary settings. This enabled Sherlock Holmes to take on the Nazis and the studio to make twelve more films.

‘Elementary, my dear Watson.’


'My mind's distracted and diffused.
My thoughts are many miles away.
They lie with you when you're asleep,
And kiss you when you start your day.’

Simon & Garfunkel,'Kathy’s Song' (P Simon)

 

No. 238

 

 

Lee Krasner: Listening To Your Inner Rhythm

Lee Krasner,  The Eye is the First Circle is

Lee Krasner, The Eye is the First Circleis

‘I was a woman, Jewish, a widow, a damn good painter, thank you, and a little too independent.’
Lee Krasner

I recently attended an exhibition of the American abstract expressionist painter Lee Krasner (‘Living Colour’ at the Barbican, London, until 1 September).

Krasner was born in Brooklyn in 1908 to Jewish parents from the Ukraine. There were no artists in her family, but at 14 she determined that she wanted to become a painter, applying to the only school in New York that offered an art major for girls. She went on to learn classical drawing techniques at the National Academy of Design and cubism at the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts.

Early in her career Krasner created murals for public buildings and during the war she designed collages for the windows of New York department stores. She became part of the vibrant New York art scene, hanging out with fellow abstract painters like de Kooning, Rothko, Newman and Still.

On meeting one of her heroes, Piet Mondrian, Krasner discovered he was a fellow jazz fan and took him dancing at a Greenwich Village nightclub. Mondrian was impressed by her work, saying it had ‘a very strong inner rhythm.’ This thought must have resonated with Krasner, as she subsequently spoke of her art in similar terms.

‘I never violate an inner rhythm. I loathe to force anything… I know it is essential for me. I listen to it and I stay with it. I have always been this way. I have regards for the inner voice.’

Krasner’s inner rhythm took her on an extraordinary creative journey.

Lee Krasner, ‘Desert Moon’

Lee Krasner, ‘Desert Moon’

In 1945 she married another talented artist on the New York scene, Jackson Pollack, and together they moved to a farmhouse in Springs, Long Island. She responded to the vibrant blossoms of her new surroundings by producing bright colourful abstractions, canvases and mosaics that teemed with life. She painted these ‘Little Images' in her small studio space in an upstairs bedroom. The constraint gave her work a compelling intensity.

When in the early ‘50s Krasner ran out of inspiration, she found herself ripping up the black-and-white drawings that were pinned to her studio walls. Returning a few weeks later, she decided that the torn debris looked interesting, and so embarked on a series of ‘collage paintings’ that incorporated the shredded drawings along with torn canvases and newspapers.

'I painted before Pollock, during Pollock, after Pollock.'

After Pollack died in a car accident in 1956, Krasner took over his larger studio in the barn at Springs. Scale produced a new freedom. Suffering from insomnia, she worked through the night, and as she was reluctant to use colour in unnatural light, she turned to raw and burnt umber. She created her ‘Night Journeys’ series, huge canvases, with fluid, swirling, mournful organic patterns, pulsing with emotion. 

In the early ‘60s Krasner welcomed colour back to her work, employing bright crimson, exuberant yellows, vivid blues and greens. Her ‘Primary Series’ was full of boundless energy, suggestive of exotic flowers and oriental calligraphy.

Krasner did indeed have a strong inner rhythm. She had a remarkable ability to respond to that rhythm with total commitment, following it wherever it took her. She endeavoured to merge the organic with the abstract, the material with the spiritual. She gave us pure emotion, unedited and unfiltered, dynamic and ever changing.

Lee Krasner shot by Irving Penn, Springs, New York, 1972. ©THE IRVING PENN FOUNDATION

Lee Krasner shot by Irving Penn, Springs, New York, 1972. ©THE IRVING PENN FOUNDATION

Krasner teaches us a number of lessons.

1. Follow Your Instincts

‘I insist on letting it go the way it’s going to go rather than forcing it.’

Looking at Krasner’s paintings and listening to her talk on film, we realise that so often in life we over-ride our natural, instinctive feelings. She made a conscious effort to follow her impulses, to go with the flow.

2. Get Stuck In 

‘You just take a deep breath and hope for the best and get into it. And sometimes it comes through miraculously.’

Krasner comes across as a practical person. We often hesitate because we have not entirely thought through an idea. She believed that if you get stuck in, your instincts will take over. 

3. Embrace Change

‘I have never been able to understand the artist whose image never changes.’

Many artists seem to be in search of a consistent approach or signature style. Krasner actively embraced change, as a fundamental part of her identity. If she felt she was stuck in a rut, she would change the medium she was working in, change the context, change the materials.

‘I think every once in a while I feel the need to break my medium... If I have been doing a very large painting, I like to drop into something in small scale. It is a challenge to go into this size. It is just to hold my own interest, and then each media has its own conditions.’

4. Revisit Your Past

‘I am never free of the past. I believe in continuity.’

Having cannibalised her past in order to revitalise her present once in the mid-‘50s, Krasner did it again in the mid-‘70s. Coming across an old portfolio of her drawings from the Hofmann School, this time she set about cutting not tearing, arranging the angular shapes into dynamic patterns on the canvas, creating images that explode with shards of electricity.

Most artists would claim never to look back. Others preserve their past with reverence. Krasner demonstrated that your creative history can be a source of fresh inspiration.

‘This seems to be a work process of mine. I’m constantly going back to something I did earlier, remaking it, doing something else with it, and coming forth with another more clarified image possibly.’

5. Be Resilient

‘This student is always a bother… insists upon having own way, despite school rules.’
National Academy of Design Report Card

From an early age Krasner was strong willed and independent spirited. She had to be to navigate the sexism of the art world in her era. On one occasion her tutor Hans Hofmann, renowned for his harsh criticism, finally offered her a compliment:

'This is so good that you would not know it was done by a woman’. 

Krasner subsequently spent a lifetime fielding questions about her husband. In one interview she was asked: ‘What was Pollack working on during that period?’

‘I don’t know. I had my own problems.’

I left the Barbican admiring the artist as much as her art. Lee Krasner was certainly tough and serious minded. But she communicated a tremendous intimacy, opening a window to her soul. She didn’t receive the credit she was due in her day. It’s good to see the art establishment making amends.

‘Don’t tamper with that, don’t will it, don’t force it. Let it come through in its own terms.’

'Breathe to the rhythm,
Dance to the rhythm,
Work to the rhythm,
Live to the rhythm,
Love to the rhythm,
Slave to the rhythm.’

Grace Jones, ’Slave to the Rhythm’ (B Woolley/ S Darlow/ S Lipson /T Horn)

 

No. 237

‘Do It First, Do It Yourself, and Keep on Doing It’: A Leadership Lesson from Scarface

Scarface

Scarface

‘Anything he starts, we’ll finish.’
Tony ‘Scarface’ Camonte

The 1932 gangster classic ‘Scarface’ stars Paul Muni as Tony ‘Scarface’ Camonte.

Though poorly educated, Camonte is charismatic, industrious and dedicated. He works his way up through the ranks of the Chicago mob during the Prohibition era, extorting money from saloons and terrorizing bar owners. He has a passion for violence, success and power, ruthlessly pursuing his objectives with little regard for the law or human life. His progress is achieved by savage assaults, brutal murders, drive-by shootings and the liberal use of pineapple bombs.

Mid-way through the drama Camonte celebrates the arrival on his turf of the Tommy Gun, sometimes nicknamed ’the Chicago typewriter.’

'There's only one thing that gets orders and gives orders. And this is it… It's a typewriter. I'm gonna write my name all over this town with it, in big letters!’

Director Howard Hawks and scriptwriter Ben Hecht were clearly both fascinated and repelled by the amorality of the mob. Camonte is no two-dimensional villain. He has charm and style. He commands loyalty from his colleagues and is protective of his family. With growing success, he develops a taste for fine living and takes a shine to his employer’s girlfriend, Poppy. She, however, is initially sceptical of both his advances and his expensive tailoring.

Poppy: 'Kind of gaudy, isn't it?'
Tony Camonte: 'Ain't it though? Glad you like it.’

For all his obvious shortcomings, I was quite struck by Camonte’s personal business mantra:

'Listen, Little Boy, in this business there's only one law you gotta follow to keep out of trouble: Do it first, do it yourself, and keep on doing it.'

Camonte is a driven man. His gangster bosses, with time and achievement, get complacent and comfortable, and set limits to their ambition. But, regardless of his wealth and accomplishments, Camonte stays actively involved in the brutality and bloodshed. He maintains an insatiable appetite for more. 

We’re all nowadays familiar with the commercial imperative of speed and agility; with the contemporary benefits of first mover advantage. But how committed are we to the concept of sustaining direct personal involvement as we progress through the ranks? How much do we subscribe to Camonte’s dictum to ‘do it yourself and keep on doing it’?

In my own experience people often see promotion as a licence to take their foot off the gas, to step back and empower. They have earned the right to withdraw from the front line; to marshal resources from 50,000 feet; to develop long-term plans and strategic visions; to mentor and train. They regard leadership as a hands-off task.

Of course, we need our most senior and experienced minds to be thinking about the future. And a primary responsibility of leadership is to equip teams with capabilities and confidence so that that they can do the job themselves. But at the same time, if you want to retain a cutting edge, to stay abreast of change, to remain relevant, you have to sustain active involvement with Clients, consumers, brands and business. However tempting it is to coach from the sidelines, you have to stay match-fit.

I once approached my boss Simon Sherwood with a proposal to take a broader, more strategic role in the Agency. I’d had my fill of troublesome Clients and tiresome pitches. I wanted to apply myself to more cerebral activity.

Simon, sitting at a desk that was empty but for a small stack of yachting magazines, leaned back in his Eames aluminium chair and regarded me with cool-eyed detachment:

‘Always remember, Jim, if you’re not facing income, you’re entirely expendable.’

I gave up on my proposal and returned to my desk.

 

'Can't fight corruption with con tricks.
They use the law to commit crime.
And I dread to think what the future will bring
When we're living in gangster time.
Don't call me Scarface.’

The Specials, ‘Gangsters' (Crispin Macmichael Sandys Hunt)

 

No. 236

 

 

‘The Idea and Taste Machine’: Inside the Mind of Stanley Kubrick

‘The Shining’

‘The Shining’

'If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed.’
Stanley Kubrick

I recently attended an exhibition about the work of film director, Stanley Kubrick (The Design Museum, London, until 15 September 2019).

Born in 1928 to a Jewish family, Kubrick was raised in the Bronx, New York. His father was a doctor. He loved reading, playing chess, listening to jazz and watching the New York Yankees. He was intelligent, introverted, quiet and shy. He skipped school to see movies and achieved only moderate grades.

At the age of 13 Kubrick's father bought him a camera. He took to roaming the streets in search of interesting subjects and briefly attended evening classes. In 1946 he got a job as a photographer for Look magazine, and by the early 1950s he was making short films on modest budgets.

In 1956 Kubrick made his first major Hollywood movie, the classic film noir, ‘The Killing.’ He went on to direct a definitive anti-war movie, 'Paths of Glory.’ He shot the sword-and-sandals blockbuster, ‘Spartacus’. He addressed issues of sex and violence in 'Lolita' and 'A Clockwork Orange.’ And with 'Dr. Strangelove’ he found comedy in the threat of nuclear apocalypse. 

Kubrick was enormously versatile, leaping comfortably from one genre to the next. He created a seminal science fiction movie, '2001: A Space Odyssey'; a classic horror film, 'The Shining'; a definitive Vietnam War picture, 'Full Metal Jacket.' And he set new standards for aesthetic naturalism in the historical drama, 'Barry Lyndon.' 

'He is incapable of repeating a subject, as it would mean repeating himself.’
Film critic Alexander Walker (1971)

2001: A    Space    Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey

At the exhibition we get a glimpse inside the mind of Kubrick. Through his lenses, cameras and dollies, his Steenbeck 6-plate 35mm editing table, we can appreciate his fascination with technology. Through his card index, numbered shooting schedules and exhaustive location shots, we understand he was a perfectionist with an eye for detail. Through his memoranda, letters and production notes, we comprehend his insistence on complete creative control. We see his scribbles, sketches and scripts, his props, faxes and call sheets. Everything is highlighted, annotated, underlined and colour coded. 

There’s a piece of writing paper that he was testing. At the top he has typed: ‘This is how it types.’ Below that in red script he has written: 'This is how it takes ink.'

Let’s consider the lessons that Kubrick suggests for people working in the creative industry.

1. Be inspired

Kubrick was well versed in the grammar of film and he read extensively for inspiration. He preferred to adapt a book rather than write an original screenplay.

There seems to be a theme running through his work: a concern with dehumanization, the struggle of the individual against the system – the state, the empire, the military machine; technology, convention and the evil within us all. 

'When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man.'
Anthony Burgess, ‘A Clockwork Orange’

There are also strong consistencies of style: symmetrical compositions and one-point perspectives, extreme close-ups of distraught faces, voice-over narratives and pivotal bathroom scenes.

This is a film-maker with a strong vision of what he wants to create. And yet Kubrick was reluctant to decode his work and preferred that it should speak for itself. 

'There's something in the human personality which resents things that are clear, and conversely, something which is attracted to puzzles, enigmas, and allegories.’

2. Be prepared

When Kubrick was 12, his father taught him chess. He played the game on set with his actors, and it featured in many of his films. 

'You sit at the [chess] board and suddenly your heart leaps. Your hand trembles to pick up the piece and move it. But what chess teaches you is that you must sit there calmly and think about whether it's really a good idea and whether there are other, better ideas.’ 

Script, soundtrack and set design; cast, costume and cameras. Everything Kubrick did was planned meticulously, plotted fastidiously. He calculated many moves in advance. 

After he had decamped to England in 1969 Kubrick was unwilling to travel. So for ‘Full Metal Jacket’, he transformed Beckton Gas Works in London into the Vietnamese city of Huế, using 200 living palm trees flown in from Spain and 100,000 plastic tropical plants from Hong Kong. 

3. Be equipped

Kubrick was always alert to the possibilities afforded by new technology.

For ‘2001’ he employed a Slitscan machine to create a psychedelic flow of colours. He commissioned a groundbreaking gravitation drum, a 12m-high wheel that created the impression of weightlessness. It took six months to build and cost more than £580,000.

For ‘Barry Lyndon’ Kubrick was determined to capture the atmosphere of eighteenth century paintings, and so for many of the indoor scenes he eschewed artificial light. He shot with triple wicked candles and employed a Zeiss f0.17 highspeed lens that had only recently been developed for NASA.

In ‘The Shining’ Kubrick used the newly invented Garrett Brown Steadicam to glide through the halls of the Overlook Hotel as if on ‘a magic carpet.’

4. Be in control

'One man writes a novel. One man writes a symphony. It is essential that one man make a film.’

Kubrick was frustrated by his experiences on the 1960 movie ‘Spartacus’ when he didn’t have full creative control. He had rows with the studio, his lead actor and the chief cinematographer. He vowed never to compromise again. 

More than any other modern film-maker Kubrick wrote, directed and edited his own material.

'Nothing is cut without me. I'm in there every second, and for all practical purposes I cut my own film. I mark every frame, select each segment, and have everything done exactly the way I want it.’

5. Collaborate

Despite his obsessive commitment to control, Kubrick worked with people he admired that could bring something unique to his films.

On the screenplay for ‘2001’ he collaborated with science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke. Architect Arne Jacobsen designed the cutlery. Hardy Amies created the costumes.

He also worked extensively with costume designer Milena Canonero. He commissioned set designer Ken Adam to create Dr Strangelove’s War Room. And graphic artist Philip Castle designed the posters for 'A Clockwork Orange’ and 'Full Metal Jacket.’

And yet Kubrick’s tendency to micro-manage could extend to his collaborations. It is estimated that the legendary Saul Bass had to show Kubrick 300 different versions of the poster for ‘The Shining’ before the director was satisfied. 

6. Manage the mood

Kubrick didn’t regard music as a secondary or supportive element of film-making. For him it was a critical part of communication. 

‘Music is one of the most effective ways of preparing an audience and reinforcing points that you wish to impose. The correct use of music, and this includes the non-use of music, is one of the great weapons that the filmmaker has at his disposal.’

And so Vera Lynn’s ‘We’ll Meet Again’ played over a ninety-second montage of nuclear explosions at the end of Dr. Strangelove. Strauss waltzes accompanied the docking sequence in ‘2001.’ And Wendy Carlos’ version of the thirteenth century Latin hymn ‘Dies Irae’ introduced us to ‘The Shining.’

On set Kubrick listened constantly to music until he discovered something he felt was right. For the duel scene in 'Barry Lyndon’ he sampled every available recording of seventeenth and eighteenth century compositions before he arrived at Handel’s Sarabande.

7. Edit ruthlessly

Kubrick reportedly exposed 1.3 million feet of film while shooting ‘The Shining’, the release print of which runs for 142 minutes. Thus his shooting ratio was over 100:1 when a ratio of 5 or 10:1 is considered the norm.

This didn’t trouble Kubrick. Indeed he regarded editing as absolutely critical to his creative process.

'When I'm editing, I'm only concerned with the questions of 'Is it good or bad?' 'Is it necessary?' 'Can I get rid of it ?' 'Does it work ?' I am never concerned with how much difficulty there was to shoot something, how much it cost, and so forth. I'm never troubled losing material. I cut everything to the bone. When you're shooting, you want to make sure you don't miss anything and you cover it as fully as time and budget allow. When you're editing, you want to get rid of everything that isn't essential.’

8. Leave space for magic

Kubrick was notorious for demanding multiple takes, often shooting up to fifty for any one scene. Shelley Duvall was asked to perform the baseball bat sequence in ‘The Shining’ 127 times. 

On the one hand this may be because he had a very precise idea of what he wanted. But it may also be because he was waiting for the indefinable magic of film.

‘You cannot go very far without the magic. Great performances come from the magical talent of the actor plus the ideas of the director.’

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Of course, Kubrick was a flawed genius. Sometimes his films seem somewhat emotionally cold. It’s hard to watch ‘Lolita’ and ‘A Clockwork Orange’ now. And I’m not sure there was ever a good time to see ‘Eyes Wide Shut.’ 

Kubrick could also fall victim of his own fastidiousness. He spent years planning a film about Napoleon, accumulating 25,000 index cards, 18,000 photographs and countless books. But the studio was spooked by the failure at the box office of another Napoleon movie, and the project never came to fruition.

Nonetheless I left the Kubrick exhibition with a strong sense of what it takes to be a truly great director: the vision and passion; the research, plans and preparation; the robust sense of self and the enduring commitment to maintain authorial control.

Indeed Kubrick gave us a compelling definition of the role of a director in any creative enterprise:

‘A director is a kind of idea and taste machine; a movie is a series of creative and technical decisions; and it’s the director’s job to make the right decisions as frequently as possible.'

No. 235

‘Sunshine on a Brush’: Can You Convey Happiness?

Joaquin Sorolla, Sewing the Sail (1896)

Joaquin Sorolla, Sewing the Sail (1896)

I recently attended a fine exhibition of the work of Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla (The National Gallery, London, until 7 July).

Born in Valencia in 1863, Sorolla was orphaned at two. Raised by an aunt, who got him work as an assistant to a local photographer, he studied art in his hometown, and then in Madrid, Rome and Paris. He married the photographer’s daughter, Clotilde, and together they had three children.

Sorolla created portraits of his family, and of the great and the good. He addressed social concerns: the exploitation of workers, the effects of disease, the plight of a mother who had killed her child. He painted Spanish landscapes - the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, the Alcazar in winter, Burgos Cathedral in the snow. He was commissioned to capture the rich variety of regional Spanish dress.

Joaquín Sorolla, Mother, 1895–1900

Joaquín Sorolla, Mother, 1895–1900

But Sorolla is best remembered for his paintings of sunlight and sea, of people at work and play around the beaches of Valencia and nearby Javea. The French critic Henri Rochefort observed: 'I do not know any brush that contains as much sun.' 

Sorolla liked to work outside. He set up his easel behind the protection of large parasols and windbreaks. By necessity he painted quickly, with confident sweeping brushstrokes. His style was free, spontaneous, natural. His art was colourful, vibrant, joyous.

A woman swathed from head to toe in fashionable linen adjusts her camera on a Biarritz beach. Toddlers paddle in the afternoon heat. A mother shields her son from the bright sunlight with a towel. A couple of boys strain to keep a boat under control, their image reflected in the dappled blue water. Three children sprint across the orange sand, beaming with glee. A lady holds her daughter’s hand as she steps carefully across the rocks. Four women take a siesta in the shaded grass. A skipping girl in a blue-striped dress casts a shadow by the pond in the garden. A mother tenderly regards her sleeping baby as they lie together in a big white bed.

I left the exhibition buoyed up by the sheer vitality of it all. I also reflected on the fact that we in the marketing and communications industry are in the business of selling happiness in one way or another. And yet sometimes we struggle to convey it with any naturalness or authenticity. Indeed we often resort to familiar clichés and tired stereotypes.

Sorolla teaches us that happiness can be captured in a simple gesture: a backward glance, a tilt of the head, a youthful leap. Happiness is a hand held on a park bench, a shimmering reflection in the summer heat. It is a neat white bonnet, a casually dropped parasol, red ribbons in a child’s hair. It is a brief moment in time, a fleeting memory, an echo.

Joaquín Sorolla, Walk On The Beach,  1909

Joaquín Sorolla, Walk On The Beach, 1909

As James Joyce once remarked:

‘In the particular is contained the universal.’ 

Success came easily to Sorolla. He was exhibited across Europe, in the United States, and as far away as Buenos Aires. He enjoyed commissions, honours and extensive travel. By 1900 he was considered the most famous of all living Spanish artists.

You can visit Sorolla’s rather splendid house in Madrid. It combines a well-lit, high-roofed studio space, with plush rooms for meeting clients, comfortable living quarters and a peaceful shaded garden. Clotilde is a constant presence, looking out at us with elegance and authority from portraits and family beach scenes. Theirs was a long and happy marriage. When travelling, Sorolla would write to her every day – often sending flowers inside the letters.

'All my love is focused on you. Despite my great love for our children, you are more, much more than them for so many reasons that there is no need to mention. You are my body, my life, my mind, my perpetual ideal.'

Sorolla’s general cheerfulness is at odds with what we have come to expect from the tortured artist. Perhaps someone who is supremely happy is better qualified to convey contentment. A lesson for us all.

In 1920 Sorolla suffered a stroke while painting in the garden. He died three years later. Soon after, his work fell out of fashion. His relaxed luminous naturalism was at odds with the more anxious, cerebral output of the avant-garde. It’s good to welcome him back to the bright sunshine.

 

'You're mine, you're mine, you're
Walking on sunshine.
I got to tell you that you're doing fine,
Walking on sunshine.’
Rockers Revenge, ‘Walking on Sunshine’ (E Grant)

No. 234

 

‘Maximum Meaning, Minimum Means’: Abram Games and the Craft of Poster Design

Abram Games/The Jewish Museum

'I wind the spring and the public, in looking at the poster, will have that spring released in its mind.' 
Abram Games

I recently visited a fascinating exhibition of the wartime work of graphic designer Abram Games. (‘The Art of Persuasion: Wartime Posters by Abram Games’, The National Army Museum in Chelsea, until 24 November 2019)

Abraham Gamse’s 1925 Lower 3A report was not very encouraging. He was 11 years old and had recently enrolled at Hackney Downs School. 

‘Work much too careless and untidy; lazy and indifferent.’

The report also mentioned that his drawing skills were weak. This seems a little harsh as Gamse went on to become one of the finest graphic designers of the twentieth century.

Estate of Abram Games

Estate of Abram Games

Gamse was born in Whitechapel in 1914, the son of a Jewish photographer and seamstress. His father anglicised the family name to Games in 1926. The young Games learned how to use an airbrush in his father’s photography studio. Having studied briefly at Saint Martin's School of Art, he worked for a while at a commercial design firm and attended night classes in life drawing. Soon he had established himself as a freelance poster artist. 

At the start of World War Two, Games was conscripted into the British Army, and in 1941 he was transferred to the Public Relations Department of the War Office. 

‘There is no propaganda. I conceived them as instructional and training posters. It was a job that had to be done, like cleaning the floors and keeping your rifle clean.’

Many of Games’ wartime posters addressed necessary but prosaic tasks. They warned of the safety risks relating to indiscretion and live ammunition (‘Talk kills.’ ‘Damp ruins ammunition.’). They prompted servicemen to ventilate their quarters, brush their teeth and keep their feet clean. They recruited women for the Auxiliary Territorial Service and troops for the Airborne Divisions. And they urged the public to economise, contribute money, give blood, grow their own food and knit socks for jungle fighters.

Games’ posters also sought to encourage and inspire British troops: this was a war worth fighting and there were better times ahead; clean modern schools, hospitals and housing would rise up from the rubble; you could sign on for an army education scheme to prepare for a return to civvy street. Towards the end of the war Games designed some compelling posters seeking aid for displaced Jews.

Working in a protective smock that his mother had made for him, Games combined strong silhouettes, geometric shapes, stylised illustration and photographic images. He had been inspired by the Surrealist movement, and he magically turned a ship’s hull into a shovel, a mosquito into a death mask, the Houses of Parliament into a hand poised over a ballot paper (‘Serve as a soldier, vote as a citizen.’). A master of the airbrush, he tended to use just four bold colours. He reduced verbal messaging to a minimum, integrating succinct, authoritative type with his eye-catching imagery. 

‘I am not an artist, I am a graphic thinker.’

Games’ posters elegantly illustrated cause and effect, before and after, risk and reward. Sometimes they simply celebrated an aspiration or stated the raw facts. Often they used humour. He was clearly passionate about his chosen medium and his work provided a master class in poster communication. 

‘They are after all but printed paper, transient and impermanent. But if they convey to you the message I have been asked to transmit, they may succeed in living a while longer in your minds, and surely that is the job of the poster. If they do that then I shall be deeply satisfied.’

Games recognised that the craft of poster design is all about sacrifice and reduction, concentration and precision. It requires that you compress, condense and clarify. He would first produce an image in thumbnail to test whether his idea could communicate at distance. His motto was ‘Maximum Meaning, Minimum Means.’

‘To get it down to its simplicity, so that it talked from 50 yards, that was the difficulty.’

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Games also understood that successful poster communication requires imagination as much as distillation.

‘An idea has to be implanted in the audience, but it has to be implanted imaginatively, in such a way as to fire the interest and kindle a response to new thinking.’

Critically, he believed that you need to earn people’s immediate attention and enduring recollection. Great posters must involve the viewer.

‘I want to involve the mind as well as the eye of the viewer in my work. I want them to think, because what they are seeing is intriguing. Once you can get them to look at it, that’s fine, they are co-operating and the design is doing its job.’

Having served as an infantry private, Games was keen to bring colour and vibrancy to the barrack room’s creosote-covered brown wooden walls. As a committed socialist, he believed that posters had a civic function. 

‘The hoarding is ‘the art gallery of the man in the street.’ Posters should be selected like pictures in a gallery.’

After the war Games worked for commercial clients like Shell, the FT, Guinness, British Airways and London Transport. As well as posters, he designed stamps, book jackets and logos, including the emblem for the 1951 Festival of Britain. He died in 1996. 

It seems to me that Games’ principles are as relevant today as they ever were. He teaches us to think hard about the mechanics of the medium we’re employing; to be clear and concise, so that the message can be understood at distance and at speed; and to be insightful and imaginative, so that viewers are inclined to digest and retain that message.

Most of all I was struck by Games’ social conscience. So often nowadays communication pollutes the environment. He demonstrates that it can enrich it.

No. 232 

The Enchanted Brand: What Can Magic Teach Marketing?

German magician Jacoby-Harms in an 1866 photograph by FA Dahlstrom using double exposure to create the illusion of objects floating in the air

German magician Jacoby-Harms in an 1866 photograph by FA Dahlstrom using double exposure to create the illusion of objects floating in the air

‘Magic is the only honest profession. A magician promises to deceive you and he does.’
Karl Germain, Magician (1878-1959)

I recently attended an excellent exhibition about the psychology of magic (’Smoke and Mirrors’ at the Wellcome Collection, London, until 15 September), and read a fine accompanying book (The Spectacle of Illusion’ by Matthew L Tompkins).

Spiritualism gripped nineteenth and early twentieth century society. Celebrated mesmerists could manipulate magnetic life forces. Hypnotists could put people in a trance. Mediums could make the dead speak. Ghostly presences would rap out messages via dedicated wands. They would speak through spirit trumpets, write on slates, ring bells and play musical instruments. They made furniture float, supernatural limbs appear and ectoplasm ooze from random orifices.

The public fascination with the paranormal was enhanced by the ubiquity of disease and the escalating numbers of casualties created by modern warfare. Many attended séances in the hope of making contact with departed loved ones. Ouija boards became a popular parlour activity.

Spiritualism also spread to the new technology of photography. Deceased relatives appeared as ghostly presences on photographic slides. Mysterious body parts were observed alongside sitters. Phantoms could be seen haunting medieval churches and stately homes.

Commercial magicians, alert to the phenomenon, adopted and adapted the techniques of spiritualism and created hugely successful stage acts. Posters proclaimed that Mrs Daffodil Downey would perform public séances at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly; Harry Keller would make Princess Karnac levitate; and the automaton Psycho would play whist with audience members.

Inevitably scientists were keen to establish whether spiritualists were genuine, and in 1882 the Society for Psychical Research was set up specifically to examine the area. They constructed dedicated laboratories, designed special apparatus and organised complex experiments.

Often results were inconclusive, and expert opinion was divided. Some respected figures remained convinced of spiritualism’s authenticity.

‘The author has seen numerous photographs of the ectoplasmic flow from ’Margery’ [the medium Mina Crandon] and has no hesitation in saying that it is genuine.’
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1926

The problem for the more sceptical scientists was that their measurements and machines were often outwitted by the spiritualists’ tricks and techniques.

‘While scientists are trained in gathering evidence based on empirical observations, they are not necessarily trained in deception.’
Matthew L Tompkins, ‘The Spectacle of Illusion’

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Consequently the scientists turned to commercial magicians for help. Magicians could draw on their knowledge of conjuring tricks and illusions to test the claims of the mediums and debunk the fraudulent. In one celebrated incident magician Harry Houdini prevented the medium Mina Crandon from collecting a reward by exposing her deceptions. It was an early success for interdisciplinary research.

‘[Spiritualism’s] worst evil has been the fostering of the unscientific spirit, the attempting to seek truth through the emotions rather than through the intellect.’
George Beard, Neurologist, 1879

What are we to make of the spiritualist phenomenon?

Well, it may all seem like distant history. But despite the advances of science since the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there remain huge gaps in most people’s understanding of the physical world; and like our forefathers we tend to fill these gaps with assumptions and suppositions. We may insist that we are rational beings. But we are prone to believe what we feel, what we want, what we hope. And our senses are still not as reliable as we might imagine.

As marketers and communicators we should be ever mindful of the emotional component of decision-making. Indeed we should embrace the potential of the Enchanted Brand: a brand that beguiles, bewitches, charms and inspires; that is comfortable filling the space between the real and the imaginary.

We should also, like the sceptical scientists before us, learn to enlist expert witnesses from other disciplines to illuminate a category we do not fully understand.

There’s a compelling section of the exhibition that explains how the most important skill a magician has to learn is misdirection: drawing attention to one thing so that we are unaware of something else.

‘This idea of the hand being faster than the eye is completely wrong…Speed has nothing to do with it. It’s all attention control.’
Professor Ron Rensink, University of British Columbia, 2009

In a demonstration of ‘misdirection of perception’ (set up by psychologists from Goldsmiths, University of London), we watch a conjuror perform a trick with the trace from an eye tracker superimposed on the film. We see that the viewer’s gaze consistently fixes on the spot the magician wants, rather than the area where the deception is taking place. In a second demonstration, we see a conjuror employing ‘misdirection of memory’: we are encouraged to remember one card in a hand, and in so doing we fail to remember the others. Another demonstration illustrates ‘misdirection of reasoning’: we project from repeated similar experiences that that same experience will happen again, and therefore we imagine events that in fact never occur.

Of course, in the marketing and communications industry we would not subscribe to misdirection as a technique. We are, on the contrary, seeking to reveal truth and enhance it. However, in order to achieve enhanced truth, we often have to focus consumers’ minds. Indeed a strong brand actively endeavours to direct attention, reasoning and memory. It channels attention towards its greatest virtues; it establishes a narrative about its past that supports and sustains those virtues; it creates expectations of the future that become self-fulfilling. There are strong parallels between the disciplines.

There is one compelling theme that runs throughout the exhibition. Consistently we discover that believers are more open to suggestion than sceptics. They are more eager to please, more keen to have their convictions confirmed.

‘As a magician, I was able to see two things very clearly: a) how people can be fooled, and b) how they fooled themselves…The second is far more important.’
James Randi, Magician, 2007

Whilst not seeking to fool consumers, surely a primary responsibility of marketing is to build belief: to create a positive predisposition towards a brand such that claims are more favourably received and criticisms are more immediately rejected. Positive predisposition creates the context for a successful sale.

In a 1944 performance ‘the Amazing Dunninger, the Greatest Mental Marvel of the Age’ began with an announcement:

’I cannot invade against opposition. You must want me to get into your thoughts before I can. Do you want me in there?’

'If you believe in magic, come along with me.
We'll dance until morning 'til there's just you and me.
And maybe, if the music is right,
I'll meet you tomorrow, sort of late at night.
And we'll go dancing, baby, then you'll see,
How the magic's in the music and the music's in me.'

The Lovin’ Spoonful, 'Do You Believe in Magic' (John Sebastian)

No. 231

The Zero-Sum Game: Are Life and Love Played Out on a Balance Sheet?

Portrait of Strindberg by Edvard Munch, 1892

Portrait of Strindberg by Edvard Munch, 1892

‘They sense someone watching them – a creditor has come to call, the spectre of their guilt.’
Gustaf, ‘Creditors’

I recently saw a fine production of August Strindberg’s 1889 play ‘Creditors.’ (Jermyn Street Theatre, London, until 1 June)

Young artist Adolf is deeply in love with his new wife, successful novelist Tekla. Adolf is introverted, impressionable, prone to paranoia and illness. Tekla is confident, free-spirited and outgoing.

‘I don’t ‘know’ anything. I simply feel.’

While Tekla is away on a trip, Adolf meets a suave stranger who, Iago-like, pours poison into his ears: Is Tekla too flighty? Can she really be trusted? Did she exploit Adolf’s patronage to start her career?

‘You do know what this is – cannibalism! Savages eat their enemies to assimilate their virtues! This woman’s eaten your courage, your knowledge, your soul.’

Adolf is easily convinced.

‘A man’s love is all about giving, a woman’s love is all about taking! And I’ve given and given and given.’

When Tekla returns, inevitably she and Adolf have a row. He pursues the thought that somehow she owes him for her success.

‘I was desperate to remind you of your debt to me. I became the kind of vile creditor you want to keep far away from.’

Then Tekla’s first husband, Gustaf, arrives on the scene. On encountering Tekla, he suggests their relationship may not be quite over.

‘You’re still mine. There’s a marriage debt.’

Throughout ‘Creditors’ Strindberg explores the idea that romantic attachment is a matter of winners and losers, creditors and debtors; an engagement played out on a balance sheet. He implies that love is a zero-sum game: a relationship where each partner's gain or loss is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the other partner.

Is this sincerely held cynicism on Strindberg’s part? Is it just a vehicle for his misogyny? Or is it a provocation to make us think?

Certainly the central theme of ‘Creditors’ can strike audiences as somewhat perverse. Of course, relationships entail a good deal of compromise and concession, of give-and-take and trade-offs. But surely love is a matter of mutual benefit, common goals and shared growth. Surely love is beyond accountancy.

And yet we often approach other areas of life as if they are a zero-sum game.

Many people regard business as an enterprise in which the total gains and losses of the participants will always add up to zero. Markets are fought over as if the sales success for one brand inevitably entails an equal and opposite decline for another. Negotiations are conducted as if one party can only prosper at the expense of the other. Careers are plotted as if colleagues are rivals in a contest.

Of course, commerce revolves around competition. And there are indeed winners and losers. But it’s not really that simple.

In business as in love, playing the zero-sum game is counterproductive. It precludes partnership and team-work, collaboration and alliance, deals and bargains. It denies the opportunity for innovation and change, for premiumisation and category growth. It turns participants in on themselves; makes them secretive and suspicious, self-seeking and aggressive.

Success in the modern world is more often achieved by seeking mutual gain, not mutual destruction. And progressive businesses increasingly concern themselves with value creation and interdependence, with finding solutions where all parties can profit. 1+ 1 can equal 3.

So don’t pursue zero-sum thinking, in life, love or business. It’s a trap.

I suspect Strindberg would not agree. Things don’t end well for Tekla and Adolf. And Gustaf rejoices at their pain.

‘Your creditors get you in the end… Innocent in the eyes of the Lord maybe, but accountable to men and women.’

 

'I've played all my cards
And that's what you've done too.
Nothing more to say.
No more ace to play.

The winner takes it all.
The loser has to fall.
It's simple and it's plain.
Why should I complain?’

Abba, ‘The Winner Takes It All’  (B Ulvaeus, B Andersson)

 

No. 230