Whatever you think, think the opposite.






Yves Klein throwing himself into the void. 1960.

I am not a fan of Saatchi & Saatchi, nor of manipulative advertising, galloping consumerism, and the hard sell. But as someone who supports herself through creative work, and guides and encourages similar practice in others, I am a fan of subversive, engaged, imaginative thinking – which is why this (very) quick read by the former executive creative director at Saatchi ended up on my blog.

Paul Arden’s ‘Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite’ is certainly not recommended reading, and I’m not trying to get artists to think like businesspeople. The contents are largely commonsensical and things we know already (‘If You Want To Be Interesting, Be Interested’), homespun philosophy (‘It Is Better To Regret What You Have Done Than What You Haven’t’) and gung-ho go-get-’em triumphalism (‘Fired? It’s The Best Thing That Can Happen To You.’).

What it does do, which I find interesting, is give examples of ‘thinking out of the box’ (by the man who, arguably, created that phrase),  of innovators and pioneers who made the world perceive things differently by not doing things as they are ‘supposed’ to be done.

So Dick Fosbury and his revolutionary high jump technique opens the book – an example of how a ‘flop’ became a success, and changed the Olympic high jump record from 5’8″ to 7’4″ in 1968. This alarming and revolutionary feat came about by Fosbury thinking – and doing – the opposite of everyone else. Prior to the Mexico Olympics in 1968, the customary way of jumping was crossing the bar with the athlete’s body parallel to it. Fosbury inverted this. Rather than turning his body towards the bar, he turned his back to it and flopped over, setting a new world record.

A third of the way into the book, the iconic image of artist Yves Kline throwing himself into the void appears under the title ‘The Case For Being Reckless.’ Arden claims as we mature, we lose our edge, our freshness, and our fearlessness – we become grown up. Throughout the book he argues for considered recklessness, for a different angle or path to the usual. I was reminded of Beckett’s phrase about routine being ‘the great deadener.’

I particularly enjoyed Arden’s advice to ‘Do It, Then Fix It As You Go.’ This had resonance for me, and my often quoted phrase to playwrights ‘Don’t get it right, get it written.’

‘Too many people spend too much time trying to perfect something before they actually do it.‘ Arden writes. ‘Instead of waiting for perfection, run with what you’ve got, and fix it as you go.’

Perfect advice for writing, I think… Writing is all about re-writing. Too often I have seen writers get stuck in the quagmire of the opening chapter, refusing to move on until it is polished to perfection, getting the opening ‘right’ whilst the rest of the work isn’t even sketched in.

Likewise, with plays. From working as a script doctor and dramaturg, I’ve seen playwrights get stuck in the middle of a play – and are unable to move forward, or complete the draft. ‘Leap over it,’ I always say, ‘Start a scene somewhere else. Just by-pass this hole/pile-up/traffic jam/desert by turning your attention elsewhere. Don’t work in a linear chronology if it traps you when you reach an impasse. Continue developing the script elsewhere in the story and you’ll invariably find what you learn from that will ‘fix’ the earlier problem.’

This book is short, and can be read in twenty minutes. Many of the maxims are obvious, even irritating, but as a prompt tool to the writer, as an aid to those mired in the usual same-as-it-ever-was, or deadening ‘safeness’, it may be a window opening admitting some fresh air.

One response to “Whatever you think, think the opposite.

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