Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"You don't have enough talent to win on talent alone"

Posting about Miracle last week got me to thinking about my single favorite Herb Brooks quote from the movie. "You think you can win on talent alone? Gentlemen, you don't have enough talent to win on talent alone"--as he runs them through interminable, brutal drills immediately after a distracted pre-Olympics effort against Norway.

The point obviously applies as well to business as it does to sports, maybe even more so, because sports is more meritocratic. It's generally easier to judge athletic performance in terms of scoring, defense, and times than it is to measure business outcomes at a personal level. In the corporate world, there are usually too many variables (unless you are a front-line salesperson), and that dynamic compounds for creatives, because we're usually several steps removed from the sale.

So, what lies in the abyss beyond pure talent? Here are two thoughts...

Measure what you can, when you can: Marketing master Denny Hatch always talks about how direct mail is the acid test of creative skills. It is nothing if brutally honest, because it proves whether something got read and provoked an action. Even if you're not working on a direct-response project, is there something about your project you can measure? Can you test Sample A against Sample B? Did you create a more-efficient process that saved a quantifiable amount of money? (For the love of all that's holy, no focus groups, please.)

Augment your talent with superior internal or external customer service: Let's face it, creative brains come preinstalled with a hypercritical streak; some of us just do a better job of hiding it. A crabby SOB like baseball pitcher Randy Johnson can get away with it because he throws 100 mph, and people indulge photographer Annie Leibovitz's tantrums because of her skill behind the lens. I don't have that option. Whether you're a solo act or in an agency or corporate creative department, you can set yourself apart by developing a reputation for being easy to work with in addition to being talented. Take criticism objectively. Be flexible and come up with alternatives pre-emptively. Chant "Serenity now" until you've chased away the demons.


Follow up: Some interesting background about Friday's video in this article, How 4-year-old boy mastered 'Miracle' speech in YouTube hit.


  1. Reminds me of Avis' "We try harder". Excellent bit of insight that showed just how they're not afraid to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

    And ditto about being creative and nice. I've only worked with one really tantrum-prone creative, and always wondered who they eventually pissed off enough to lose their reputation...

  2. Only one? Maybe the magazine biz is more volatile, but it sure seems like a fair share of editors and art directors have short fuses along with talent. I've never worked in an agency, only as an indy contractor.

  3. Apparently I'm not the norm--most creatives I work with now have a ton of stories about prima donnas. I guess I've been very lucky...

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.