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October 16, 2002
A Letter to Talent, That You Should Discover Your Place in the Zoo
 

Dear Talent,

You bitch. You unfair, undiscerning, promiscuous, teasing, capricious asshole. You are like the God of Job, doling out extravagant fortune and appalling catastrophe based on the inscrutable logic of some cosmic inside joke.

You are undemocratic. You are amoral. You are unpredictable. You are barely educable. You are not nice. You are not mass producible. Or scalable. Or transferable. You are the chaos all our management seeks to defuse.

You are the reality that bites.

You are the heart of our business, our very reason for being, our core, our seed. You are to communications what beauty is to fashion, the bitch goddess that must be served. (Oh, we still hear the occasional feminist tirade against "the beauty myth," but...there she is, unmoved, offering her silent, mocking reply from a thousand magazine covers.)

We too may tell you that you are not as important as you think, not so meaningful in the big picture, not so relevant to the objective. We may use focus groups and copytesting and standards and committees to curtail your sway. We may proffer money and offices and titles and contracts and awards and praise (and the raised eyebrow of threatened disapproval) to buy your docility. We may even dance for a while a manic, macho ritual of success without you.

But in the end, we always come back to you. Because, the hard fact is, we are nothing without you. Without you, we are but a hierarchy of celibate priests. Without you, we have no future. Without you, we can't conceive.

In this business, the incontrovertible fact is, we all serve the Bitch Goddess Talent, we all work to seduce her, to bind her, to bed her and to hold her.

However, if you happen to be talented, don't let this go to your head!

The world is full of beautiful, but empty heads, and of angelic exteriors cloaking petty, sulphurous interiors. At 20, you look as you were born to look; at 40, you look as you deserve to look.

The same goes for talent.

As a 40 year old who did not start out a supermodel, but lucked to arrive at the dawn of my fifth decade not so much worse for the wear, allow me to offer a few words of advice to the younger and more talented:

1. Find more talented people than yourself to work with. The saddest person in the world is the most talented person in the room.

2. Protect your enthusiasm. Fake it and you lose it. Lose your enthusiasm and you soon lose all else.

3. Seek brains. The best client is someone smarter than you are (said Tibor Kalman). The best partner is someone smarter than you are. The best ( ) is someone smarter than you are.

4. Seek truth. If you use your talent to surround yourself with people who kiss your ass and tell you what you want to hear, that's the only thing you'll ever get from it. Sooner or later, you'll crash, and those people will be nowhere around.

5. Seek a standard. One that's hard to reach. If you're at a place where they love everything you do -- get out of that place! Go work someplace where they reject most of what you do. Where your work has to exceed your talent. You'll not only produce better work, you'll be happier.

6. Seek respecters of talent.Some places are at war with talent, some are in a terminal tailspin of denial about talent, and some places have a healthy respect and even love for talent. Find the third kind of place. Sacrifice -- money, pride, convenience -- to be there.

7. Don't confuse your talent with your life. Commit. To your standards. To your team. To your family. Talent isn't the be all and end all any more than beauty is. If you've been gifted, give back. Collaborate. Develop compassion. Learn humility by putting your talent and effort at the service of someone else's great cause. And don't sacrifice your life to your work. Better to have been untalented and happy.

Oh, and one of these days, maybe you'll send me your book.


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When it comes to New York agencies, Mark DiMassimo doesn't run the biggest, but he certainly runs one of the best. Mark founded DiMassimo nine years ago, and he has done award-winning work for local, regional, and global brands. 

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