FT review savages new John Hegarty book on creativity

Unknown-2It’s not very often that the sainted Sir John Hegarty, founder and former CCO of BBH, takes a kicking but Financial Times reporter Henry Mance has given him one with a savage review of Hegarty’s new book Hegarty on Creativity: There Are No Rules.

Here’s how Henry kicks off, under the headline ‘The agony of Hegarty on Creativity.’

Welcome back, vanity publishing – we have missed you. For a moment it looked like the concept would die in a digital age that gives everyone a platform for self-promotion. But rest assured, it is back with some new tricks.

First, there was Morrissey, the singer and former frontman of The Smiths, who insisted that his autobiography be published as a Penguin Classic. His showbiz anecdotes thereby joined the same imprint as Aristotle and St Augustine.

Then there was Charles Saatchi, the art collector and former advertising entrepreneur, who was apparently so desperate for his book to become a bestseller that he turned his assistant into a part-time mystery shopper.

“He gave me £200 so I went to different stores like Waterstones and other shops,” (former personal assistant) Elisabetta Grillo told a court in December, as she recounted how she snapped up copies of her boss’s book. “It was like four times a week.”

This month – in a worthy addition to the genre – comes Hegarty on Creativity.

Sir John Hegarty is one of Britain’s greatest advertisers. His agency BBH (the H is not for humility) has done a slick line in commercial creativity.

He has written a well-received book, Hegarty on Advertising. So he is surely capable of writing an interesting guide to the creative process. Isn’t he?

“Creativity isn’t an occupation. It’s a preoccupation.”

The agony begins.

“People often ask me: Do you have a five-year plan? To which I always reply: No, I have a five-minute plan.”

“Do you know what really upsets me? (Apart from peanut butter.)”

“When I’m asked, When do you do your best thinking? My answer is always, When I’m not thinking.”

If platitudes could kill, Sir John would need a lawyer. His book is intended to encourage us to think broadly – but it just serves up shallow slogans.

And there’s much more in the same vein.

I haven’t read the book (although I did read Hegarty on Advertising which was pretty good, although the flashy typography was distracting). But that’s part of the the problem with these adland oeuvres. There’s no mess, no lack of certainty, everything is prettified – even the logic. In terms of a whole book it’s as though Moses came down from Mt Sinai with 350 commandments.

Maurice Saatchi’s Brutal Simplicity of Thought suffered from the same failing, as does some of what Dave Trott writes: namely the attempt to express insights in such a concentrated, pithy way that they sound facile to anyone not brought up in an ad agency.

The upshot is that, although brevity is the aim, it all gets very tiring for the reader.

After saying all that, I’d better go and read it.

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