Staying on top of trends and yet innovating beyond them.
I spend a good chunk of my week reading about all things advertising and marketing.
What the latest campaigns are.
Analyses of what worked and why (as I've written about before).
Best practice case studies.
But ultimately, to paraphrase (and slightly bowdlerize) Karl Marx on Feuerbach, looking at what's been done before only gets you so far.
That's why for me it's so important to go beyond "the industry."
Now I know I easily read as pretentious.
I like museums and the opera. I read books galore, watch foreign and art house films, and (mostly pre-child) went to obscurish theater performances.
But at the same time – I consume "content" (images, words, visuals, experiences) voraciously and indiscriminately. I never want to be that person who says "should I know who that is" (or something similarly dismissive) on hearing a celebrity (and if I don't know who they are, I'll look them up online).
So to me, everything needs to be fair game.
Brands and publishers on Snapchat.
Children's books (I'm a big fan of picture books when they're done well – favorites include Jon Klassen and Mini Grey).
It's because if I don't know what people actually like, I wouldn't be able to do what I do.
I'm not a big fan of Michael Moore (the sensationalism; the lies purporting to be in the service of truth), but his essay back in July 2016 on why Trump would win the election proved correct. In a post-election interview with Vulture he explained:
I think more people on the left should pay attention to what America watches. And sometimes it's entertaining. Kaitlyn [on The Bachelorette], everyone thought she was going to pick Nick. She went with Shawn. And the whole country's coming apart: What the hell is she doing? Clearly Nick was the winner! Shit happens in this country. It's a large country with lots of different kinds of people. And you can choose to live in the country, or live in your bubble.
Now Moore never actually explains how watching popularist shows could give the liberal elite helpful insights into the general American mindset beyond "the bubble." Still, I think his point is similar to what Dave Trott said in his post "The Naked Truth":
Before we start to speak we must find out what our audience needs to hear.
Then we must talk to them in their language.
Otherwise we’re just talking to ourselves.
And it's good for me to go outside my comfort zone. I've watched the odd episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians in the gym and initially, the staged artificiality bored me (why would I care about their manufactured drama). Objectively speaking, shows like X Factor and The Great British Bake Off don't give me much at all.
But from the point of "what appeals to other people about this – why is this so popular? What instincts does this speak to, and what appetites does it sate (or further fuel)" – from that perspective, these shows are fascinating.
So I continue to consume everything, in the hopes that it will inspire something new.
As for how this relates to what I've said before about how knowledge constrains – it still holds true. Because there is always comes a point when you have to cast aside what you've learned and what you already know and move beyond it.