A few weeks ago, my wife and I went to Santa Fe to take in the museums and galleries. We stopped in a bookstore where she found a book of recipes from the New York City restaurant Serendipity. You may remember a few years back, this restaurant was featured in a movie of the same name starring John Cusack. It was a chick-flick about finding love. My daughter and wife loved the movie so much that on our next visit to New York, we scheduled a lunch at the famous restaurant.
Browsing the recipe book, I learned that when my family and I dined at Serendipity we had been seated at Andy Warhol's favorite table. Ironically, I had just seen a showing of Mr. Warhol’s work at one of the Santa Fe museums we visited earlier that day. All of these weird coincidences made me think about Warhol’s famous quote about 15 minutes of fame. I'm sure Warhol believed in serendipity because, while viewing his work, I noticed a quote about why he thought he was famous. He felt his fame happened because of the particular circumstances in society at the time. Warhol was experimenting with the traditional graphic arts techniques in fine art. He saw this experimentation, and the experimentation of American society in the 50’s and 60’s, as being necessary for him to be deemed a genius. If things had been different in America, Warhol believed he wouldn't have even been noticed.
This is something to ponder as opportunities come your way. I remember many years ago I worked with a young junior art director who was handed a job by one of our other, more senior, art directors. I think the senior AD felt the job was not worth his time. There was no chance for greatness in a little trade ad with no budget. The young art director was delighted at the opportunity and turned that pathetic little opportunity into a national show winner. I often wonder if that senior art director ever regretted giving up that job? I doubt it. The opportunity wasn’t there for him because he didn’t see it. The young art director who did that ad went on to great success becoming a founding member of an agency well respected for its creative. He saw everything as an opportunity because he was hungry for the chance to do great things. Serendipity rides again.
Serendipity is not destiny or fate, as in the Cusack movie. It's the daily opportunities many pass on because they don't look like winners. It doesn't fit the mold. Most success stories looked pretty pathetic on the job bag. Bob Barrie gives a great talk about his famed Time Magazine work. He goes through a myriad of solutions they showed to their client only to have to start over. They finally arrived at the campaign that garnered a stack of pencils for Fallon. This wouldn’t have happened if Bob and his partner, Dean Buckhorn, had been so in love with their first idea that they couldn’t see the next round as an opportunity to beat the previous one.
How do you know whether your big shot is staring you in the face? Frankly, you don't. You just have to believe that serendipity is waiting for you because you want to do great work more than anything in the world. Serendipity is going to come your way because you have a passion for doing one of those ads that we all wish we had done. Then, when a seemingly odd circumstance comes your way, roll the dice and see what happens.
Case in point. I never thought I'd be in Albuquerque. But after nine months, I can tell you it was the opportunity I've worked my entire career to have. I'm working with people that could work at big name agencies but they love Albuquerque, so here they are. I remember my partner, Steve McKee, telling me he knew after our first conversation that I was exactly what he had been looking for in a CD when he started his agency. Steve's a great planner as well as a talented account person. Now he believes that the pieces are in place to have an agency that anyone who loves to do great work would die to get into. I agree.
This situation was not planned. I came from an agency that could not have been more committed to great work. When our time was up, I felt that I'd had my shot and whatever we had accomplished was probably my apex. Now, I look back and see that it was my boot camp. I was training for an even better opportunity. I know most would not look at this opportunity as I do. But, that is what makes serendipity so sweet. It is possible that I'm wrong because my destiny is not completely in my hands. However, my own passion and effort are in my control and I will never give up on doing something that leaves a mark.
I've got a couple of young people working for me that were here when I arrived. They're really growing and they've got great attitudes. One of them came to me after the first few months and told me that he was pretty scared at first. He had never heard "keep going" so many times. He said at times he wasn't sure if there was anything left to keep going to. But he kept going and now he's one happy camper. He can’t wait to enter his work in the national shows. He really feels he has a shot. I agree. If not this year, it won’t be long for him and his creative partner. They believe in serendipity. Sadly, they have told me of many of their friends who no longer believe. There are several of their old school mates who are working inhuman hours at agencies for someone else's glory. They have no one looking out for them. They are completely burned out and they've only been in the business a couple of years. Don’t let this happen to you. If you are in this position, begin looking for some serendipity. It may not be in the agency you think. It probably won't be. So, open your mind and stop following the crowd. Your real opportunity may be in a smaller market at a little agency with big dreams and a big belief in serendipity. Wherever it is, find it before you stop believing.