Getting a Life

The two people outside my family who read my blog regularly know that occasionally I find lessons for marketers from pop culture, especially music and books. I don’t read books or listen to music in order to become a better marketer; rather, the learnings just come to me from what I naturally read, watch, or hear.

Lately I’ve been plowing through the sprawling Keith Richards autobiography Life, which is a droll and sometimes surprising reflection on the journey of a confirmed rebel, libertine, and one of the greatest guitarists ever. Among the surprises: as a youth, Richards was fond of the Boy Scouts. He credits the Scouts for helping him learn how to organize a band (although he did get kicked out of the Boy Scouts eventually).

Along with the amusing anecdotes come moments of insight that inspire me. For instance, there’s this passage explaining how he became well known as something of a fashion icon in the late 1960s for his eclectic and unpredictable clothing style:

  • “Anita [Pallenberg — his one-time lover] had a huge influence on the style of the times. She could put anything together and look good. I was beginning to wear her clothes most of the time. I would wake up and put on what was lying around . . . Otherwise, it was plunder, loot that I wore — whatever was thrown at me onstage or what I picked up off stage and happened to fit. I would say to somebody, I like that shirt, and for some reason they felt obliged to give it to me. I used to dress myself by taking clothes off other people.”

I love that: a guy becomes a fashion icon by wearing whatever is lying around or whatever anyone gives him. So why do I care? Because I think you can become a better writer, creative thinker, and marketer if you adopt just a bit of Keith’s open-mindedness in the way you go about your job — not necessarily in the way you dress (unless your sartorial choice is a legitimate part of your job) but in how you formulate ideas.

Fashion icons

Here’s an exercise in taking suggestions and running with them, Keith Richards-style. Next time you’re stumped for a blog post idea or are trying to figure out a theme for a special event you might be planning, visit the largest news stand you can find, or if you don’t have access to one, go to a library. Then start walking up and down the aisle where the magazines are located and visit every type of magazine you can. Take care to find titles that you normally don’t read, especially anything outside your comfort zone. If you hate mechanical things, seek out Popular Mechanics. If you don’t have any children, find magazines for kids like Kiki or Muse. If you’re a guy, grab a copy of O. Thumb through them all. Don’t feel like you must read the articles very closely. Just get main themes.

Required reading for guys

Don’t worry about what may or may not be resonating with you, but if you are so inspired, jot down the name of an idea or a theme that sticks with you. Then clear your head, get back to your work assignment, and just let the ideas work through you. Run with the ideas that stick. (Later you can always vet them with someone else if you need to do so.)

Grown-ups should read this

Sometimes you’ll find this process of collecting ideas to be a waste of time. But there will also be times when you’ll be glad you did.

Even asleep he looks cool

What have you heard, read, or seen lately that surprised and inspired you? Do you find ideas lying around like Keith Richards finds his clothing? If not, what works for you? I would love to know.