Let’s be kids

Posted on April 17, 2007

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So we were having lunch with a client of ours, a lovely one at that I should add. It was Tuesday. In true industry style we enjoyed a multiple course meal in a poncey place. Expensive alcohol served both as a catalyst to the digestive process, and as a gap-remover as regards the distance between what one thinks and what one speaks. Frankly, I didn’t object to any of this. The food and drinks were great and so was the company.

Whilst our conversation unsurprisingly dealt with work issues, it developed to stretch well beyond the realm of business into the area of our personal lives, our perspectives, beliefs, emotions, and experiences. You know, the sort of things conversations between human beings really should be about.

We talked about food, children, family and football. We discussed life, basically. We talked about places such as les châteaux en Provence, the walled city of Toledo in Spain and medieval villages in Tuscany. Places where, unlike Singapore or any other major city, the pace of life is unarguably slow, or at least much, much slower. Places where, provided your brain is allowed to adapt to this pace, you can hear the birds singing, feel the wind in your face, and discover the breathtaking beauty of Mother Nature. The things that make you feel truly alive.

When you’re able to achieve this state of mind, your brain is operating in ‘present mode’, which means that your conscious mind is allowed to directly receive, process and interpret the information your senses are supplying it. Your focus is neither on the past nor on the future. It’s on the here and now, completely and utterly undistracted. I think that having this ability, which requires momentary detachment from all rat race aspects of life, is key if you don’t want to miss out on it (life that is). John Lennon summed up what I’m talking about by saying “Life’s what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans”. In today’s ultra-commercialized, increasingly materialistic, rat race world, I feel it takes quite an effort to prevent this from a becoming a prophesy for all of us.

I’ve lived long enough to learn to understand that the ability to truly live in the moment, to appreciate the here and now, is a form of art. I consider myself reasonably good at it, mostly because I acknowledge its importance, but there are people far more skilled in this art than me. My Father, to name one, is a real expert at it and I’m still very fortunate to be able to learn from him.

When you’re truly able to experience the here and now in the truest sense, which I wish I could do more often, life feels just the way it should feel. The best way I can describe this is that it’s like experiencing the world the way you used to when you were a child. Having children has significantly helped me rediscover many of the little things in life that makes all the difference in the way I feel, think and live. (No, I’m not referring to living without sleep.)

If you’re spending a lot of time with kids it almost forces you to try to approach things the way they do. You actually need to become a child again. It is fundamental if you want to be able to connect with them and have a meaningful relationship with them.

We should all spend more time with children, learning from them. I’m absolutely convinced that if we had the capacity, if only for a moment, to see the world through the eyes of a child again, it would be a truly astonishing experience. Most of us would be amazed by what we would discover. I am convinced it would make us reprioritise many of the choices we make on a daily basis. It certainly has in my life.

So what’s the point here, can we learn anything from this? Has this guy been popping pills?

Regarding the second question the answer is yes, but not the kind of pills you’re probably thinking about, only Aspirin. Don’t jump to massive conclusions because I quoted John Lennon just now.

As regards the first question, I think I am really talking about something that on a basic level relates to how we look at the purpose of life. Sort of. Or more precisely how we achieve fulfillment in life, how we achieve happiness. This in turn involves such things as how we define success, how we become winners. In our constant and often blind quest for success, most often the material kind, I can’t help but feel that a vast majority of people are too busy living other people’s lives, rather than their own. And I doubt this will ever generate a true sense of fulfillment for anyone.

Are we too focused on chasing recognition of others when it would serve us better to hunt for fulfillment of self?

‘Are you living your own life?’ I ask myself this question quite often. Especially at times when life is spinning at speeds in excess of 1200 miles per hour. And most often, I come to the conclusion that it’s my own life I’m living, thankfully. But there are certain aspects about life and moments where I have to be continually mindful of my direction and not losing my grip on the rudder.

As a human being working in advertising (contrary to popular beliefs, this isn’t always an oxymoron) I think experiencing the here and now in a childlike kind of way is important for a number of reasons. If we can learn to slow down a bit and live more in the moment – in the here and now –  like oversized and painfully ‘uncute’ children, we would all be better off.

From a somewhat myopic advertising perspective, here are three (out of the many) reasons why.

1. The Ad Industry – In order to address business issues with resonant communication that motivates human behaviour – the industry’s reason for existence – people in our industry must be given time both to feel and think, preferably simultaneously. For this, they need to feel inspired. As a means to this end, slowing down, allowing ourselves to switch into “present mode” and experiencing the world like children again is important. Because children are more curious, more honest, more spontaneous, more creative and definitely more courageous than old farts such us ourselves.

2…the individuals in it – Individuals as in ‘people’ are what makes or breaks the industry. Being more child-like in our perspective and living in the moment allows as to experience life and truly feel alive in it. If we want to be happy in life, we need a life to begin with. Remember John’s words.

3…the brands it serves – With people in touch with themselves, their emotions their lives, brands stand to benefit from this in every conceivable way. But brands can also help people connect with life. I think putting people in touch with the here and now should be part of the strategy for any brand, wherever possible.

For iPod this means slowing people down, separating them from what’s around them, lifting them out of the daily grind and into a moment of musical emotion, a moment that makes them feel  alive. Sure, it’s what the product does, but brand communication can help augment this notion as well.

By democratising the right to live in a home with stylish, contemporary furniture through its affordable prices, IKEA makes a lot of people feel good about their homes, which helps put them into a state of mind in which they are able to tune into the moment. They can leverage this aspect in their communication as well.

Now brands can’t perform psychological restoration to destabilised, emotionally confined and blindly focused rat race minds. Of course not. But they can, however, try to help people connect to life by a better experience of the here and now beyond their functional, logically sound benefits. After all, there’s only one brand strategy, really. That of a better life. It’s just that there are different routes towards that same goal.

Now forget all that bullshit about brands and focus on becoming a child again. Ironically, you may have to grow up in order to achieve this. Best of luck!   

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