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February 15, 2010
Being on Fire

No one else will ever invest as much passion and energy in your ideas as you.

No one will sell your ideas as hard as you.

No one will care about the arc of your career as much as you.

The time to be on fire is right now.

Being on fire eclipses chaos, complexity, and mediocrity

Passion has a funny way of synthesizing and illuminating core truths. The bureaucracies, the lifeless traditions, and the status quo pale in the face of intense objectivity -- witness Ferdinand Piech, Phil Knight, or Steve Jobs. There’s a reason the person leading the way out of darkness is usually pictured holding a torch.

In his book “How to Get Ideas,” the great teacher Jack Foster challenges us: “Do you really believe in your idea? Then why let people who haven’t thought about it and worked on it a tenth as much as you have put the kibosh on it? Attack.”

The torch is rarely held aloft to save mediocrity. As Seth Godin pointed out recently, “We need to get past this idea of saving, because the status quo is leaving the building, and quickly. Not just in print of course, but in your industry too.”

We’ll see who has the inspiration and the guts to fight for ideas that reinvent the ailing U.S. automotive industry. We’re beginning to see the early torch bearers of digital ascend and mutate the marketing industry at the top.

Being on fire increases the likelihood those around you will catch fire, too

In 1997, Michael Jordan had the flu. The Chicago Bulls were tied with the Utah Jazz entering Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Jordan could easily have taken the day off. The guy had a fever over 100°, and the series was tied. Who knows, maybe the Bulls would have been inspired to overcome his absence and won without him. 

At the very worst, the Bulls would just have had to endure through Game 7, but he didn’t take the day off. Jordan played four quarters, scored 38 points, and sunk the game-winning three-pointer, with the flu. The Bulls went on to win the series in six games.

Being on fire is more interesting than just staying warm. Being on fire attracts warmth seekers, and it builds necessary momentum. Agencies like CP+B manage to ignite and continually celebrate and fuel similar commitment. How might you inspire the same in your own agency?

We’re starting to see who’s truly able to sustain the fire to reform health care in Congress, and who isn't.

We’ll see if the world can sustain its fire to rebuild Haiti.

Being on fire isn’t easy or comfortable, but it is essential

People around you might get burned. You might make a mess. It is likely you won’t get much sleep. This is what the folks in HR refer to as “work/life balance.” The folks at VH1 called it “Behind the Music.” Without intensity, VH1 wouldn’t have had anything to get “behind.”

The final question is: Does whatever it is you’re working on truly matter to you?

If it does, do not accept 99 percent.

If it does, do not fail to inspire and welcome others to the cause.

If it does, be comfortable with uncomfortable situations for as long as it takes.

Our industry (and many others) will not sustain without fire that both irradiates and burns, that advances and risks. There really is no other way to create ideas that transform business, culture, and history.

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As a writer, creative director and drummer, Tim Brunelle started in advertising in 1993 after receiving a B.A. in Jazz from the University of Cincinnati. Since then, he's worked with TBWA/Chiat Day, Heater/Easdon, McKinney & Silver, Arnold Worldwide, OgilvyOne, Mullen and Carmichael Lynch. Tim now works for his own entity, Hello Viking.

Tim has provided strategic and creative leadership to A.G. Edwards, Anheuser-Busch, Brown Forman, Goodyear, Harley-Davidson, Porsche, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Volkswagen.

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