Inspired by Irritation

When I was very young, I wanted to be an architect. And then in college, for a while I wanted to pursue materials science. And then I found International Relations, and I wanted to become a diplomat.

Unfortunately none of these things irritated me much.*

And I’m realizing that the things I do, the things I’m really passionate about, are all fueled by a common vein: they piss me off.

I got started in advertising because most advertising is bad. I started this blog because I thought the “marketing blogs” out there seemed a little too declarative, like everyone “knew” the answer. I moved over to interactive stuff because I saw a lot of brands and people fumbling around in the dark.

I don’t have a lot of years of experience in any one particular field, but I’ve been annoyed by things for as long as I can remember.**

Not sure where this is going, but I do know that I like this approach. I like coming into a new discipline without being versed in all the jargon, expectations and norms that come with years of focused practice. Instead, I bring with me the things I don’t like about what I’ve seen and a curiosity for why that might be and what can be done instead.

If you’re looking for inspiration, look for things that suck. You’ll find it there.

* Except for international relations, which irritated me so much, seemed so backward, illogical and downright depressing that by the time I wrote my senior thesis, I wanted nothing more to do with the field.

** I am pretty optimistic, however, about my ability to change these things. It’s blind optimism, really, mixed with egotism. Take that for what it’s worth.


10 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Clay — I hear what you are saying, but I find it a little frustrating to hear you say it. I am in the same industry not because I am pissed off, but because I am truly passionate about this stuff. I don’t see the shortcomings of my peers and their work product as an irritation, but as a welcome challenge.

    Do I get discouraged? Often. Do I complain? Sometimes. But at the end of it all, I think that everyone wants to do great work. Not everyone knows how to make that happen. I think that is where folks like you and I can come to the rescue.

    I guess the difference between you and I is that when you see a challenge, you seem to get irritated and impatient. When I see one, I feel needed – and I like feeling that way.

    Live the dream.


  2. Rich -

    My writing has failed you, and for that I apologize.

    Because you haven’t quite gotten what I’m trying to say. The things I see out there–from a menu with an apostrophe out of place, to a form that doesn’t quite work right, to the dancing mortgage ads, all the way to people standing on the wrong side of the escalator–inspire me to do better.

    The point is that I’m passionate about change, and things that aren’t broken don’t need fixing. It’s those broken things that irritate me and drive me to find a better solution.

    Again, my apologies on my lack of clarity and context surrounding the post.

  3. I believe some of the most revolutionary minds have been those who have hated, or been irritated by the field in which they work. For instance, Frank Lloyd write held contempt for most architecture that existed and most other architects. It was this strong reaction that gave him the passion to create something new and worthwhile. Real change only comes from those who are unsettled, not those who are comfortable.

    Also, W+K London used this general idea in their ad a few years ago for Honda Diesel.

    Honda – Grrr

  4. Mike -

    Excellent point; didn’t know that about FLW, but it makes perfect sense. Most who author–or at least start–critical movements usually do so in response to a norm that doesn’t jive with what they see as correct.

    There’s a great sentence in The Social Origins of Groups that talks about the change that is created by the young and hungry, in particular in the sciences. The funny thing is, most times the dynamic theories of these change agents go unrecognized by their older peers, and basically they’re forced to wait until the old fogies die off.

    Pretty funny.

    And thanks for the vid. Love GRR. Reminds me of when I wanted to be a planner. Those were irritating times indeed.

  5. danielli,

    Not sure if it’s because I’ve been a quiet observer/absorber of your blog for awhile (and therefore have more context than Rich), or because I feel pretty similarly, but I understand exactly what you’re saying. I pursued planning for the same reasons why you do what you do. Most brand communication sucks. And most people feel the same way, but few people are moved enough to actually do something about it. You take action and that’s good thing. And the fact that you want to attempt to change something that’s pretty damn hard to change makes you far from impatient. Crazy, maybe. But definitely not impatient.

    Like you, I get irritated and frustrated. However, there are also the times when I just get downright insulted and offended by what’s going on around me. Yes, it sounds extreme, but strong emotional reactions/connections are at the roots of action and progress. I think we all witnessed that on January 20th.

    I totally feel you on the misplaced apostrophe on the menu thing. I used to feel bad about being judgmental, but then a friend told me, “You’re discerning, and that’s an excellent quality to have.” So I’m just going to roll with that.

  6. Couldn’t agree more. The things I really love are the things that irritate me at all hours of the day.

  7. i got into the ad biz for the money and the glory. ;-) i think that over the years, i’ve become much more critical of communications around me and it’s lit a fire under my ass to want to do something about it. when the store mgr at the local trader joe’s is ambivalent to the typo i pointed out on his freshly, hand-painted sign, that bugs me. or when taco bell ran a winter-themed tv spot in the middle of summer during the X-Games, WTF?!? there’s so much crap and me-too ideas out there, that we should be inspired by it and want to do better, be it for ourselves or for our client’s business. i hope that out of this economic funk that it’ll get agencies and clients to start to question mediocrity and complacency just to save a buck, and instead shoot for inspiring ideas that’ll get ppl to take notice. that’s the glory that i’m gonna strive for.

  8. I’m right there with you. I used to HATE ads on TV, and still hate 99% of them. And I think that, along with a love of being creative, are what compelled me to think about ads as a career. “Let’s try and make things better for people.” That sort of thing. Sometime I’m still a bit of a curmudgeon about things, but I think that it can be helpful to be a curmudgeon in identifying problems and then shifting gears somewhat in a more positive direction in order to help fix whatever it is. It’s worked well for me anyways.

  9. It’s a combination of admiration and frustration that keeps me going – seeing other brands doing awesome stuff, and wanting to figure out how the brands I work on can be awesome, too. I think there is definitely something to be said for irritation as a motivator — it’s pretty easy to admire something passively, but something about getting all annoyed over a problem definitely helps build determination. And makes you want to solve it, to feel like you have helped to clear an irritation. Like the economic crisis: Fix it.

  10. Rich,

    mama always said, “people who spend their life looking for a fence, usually find one.”

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