On principles and creativity

I recently heard a quote that resonated with me:


I grapple with this sentiment whenever I feel the selfish twinge of hesitation to donate money to Wikipedia or QGIS, or pay page fees for open access to an article, or otherwise cough up for my convictions.

Curious about who had uttered this wisdom, I looked it up. Turns out it was Bill Bernbach, celebrated advertiser, and supposedly an inspiration for the Don Draper character in Mad Men.


One of the founders of Doyle Dane Bernbach, now known as DDB, he brought bare-faced truth to the forefront in advertising, calling VW Beetles 'small', and proudly declaring Avis 'number 2'. He basically invented Apple's entire aesthetic in the late 50's , about four decades before Apple started to 'Think Different'.

He said some other true things. This could be about scientific communication:

The truth isn't the truth until people believe you, and they can't believe you if they don't know what you're saying, and they can't know what you're saying if they don't listen to you, and they won't listen to you if you're not interesting, and you won't be interesting unless you say things imaginatively, originally, freshly.

Now 'science' and 'truth' are not the same thing, so I don't want to try to claim that this sums things up perfectly, but I think the general point is important and we'll be better scientists if we live by it.

And I like this one too:


Too many organizations, and individuals, think their advantage must come from money, or secrecy, or patents, or other obvious, easily copied, things. But thinking about your creative edge first makes you take care of important things, and stop worrying about unimportant things.

I think this is an important idea, because creativity is, almost by definition, uncopyable. It feels like a slippery thing to build a company on or strategize about because while there's a limitless supply of the stuff, it's hard to maintain — and exploit. Creativity for its own sake is almost useless, but combined with a "Just ship it!" mentality, it's an unstoppable force.

The image of Bill Bernbach and the VW Beetle ad are both copyright of DDB Worldwide Communications Group and low-res images are used here in accordance with fair use rules.