What if we looked to South African Wisdom?


Will 2010 become South Africa’s year?  Starting with the January 13th début of Clint Eastwood’s Invictus (preview below), which tells the story of cultural evolution in the early years of Mandela, all the way up to the World Cup this June, the world has a lot to learn from South Africa!  Especially when it comes to its ideas and the people who are changing the country.

John Hunt is one of the industry’s top creatives.  Today he is the Worldwide Creative Officer of TBWA\, as well as the co-founder of TBWA\Hunt Lascaris in South Africa, an agency that has won its fair share of awards at Cannes (see it’s most recent prize in 2009 for “The Zimbabwean” poster campaign).  John was also directly involved with Nelson Mandela’s historic 1993 presidential campaign.  With a personal motto of “Life is too short to be mediocre”, John truly believes that ideas can change the world.  Now he has written The Art of the Idea, a manifesto published by PowerHouse NY.  Wonderfully written (not surprising, as John is first and foremost a copywriter), and superbly illustrated, he explains with finesse and common sense the way to bring ideas to fruition.  Here are a few passages I found particularly illuminating:

• “Having ideas is being in the pursuit of unexpected relevance…Schools teach us to learn, but not to think” (Intro)

• “Sunrise people, like Mandela, know that if you don’t have all the answers yet, it does not mean the idea is invalid…Sunset people don’t kill ideas, they just take away all the oxygen surrounding them” (Chap1: you get sunrise or sunset people)


• “Habits can become so deeply ingrained that it produces a mental gridlock” (Chap2: Lemmings have plans too)

•”Fear is a lousy motivator for fresh thinking… Most of the world’s greatest ideas were first very fragile thoughts… Very few concepts are born perfectly formed and ready to go… If you allow ideas to germinate a little, you also stand a good chance of them developing their own kinetic energy… The real value of an idea is to see how far you can push it.” (Chap3: Ideas have moods)

• “The most banana of republics intuitively know they are just one brave idea from collapse” (Chap4: we are all equal before the idea)

• “Logic is the status quo’s first line of defence… If logic is introduced too early into an idea, it often kills it…Logic is rarely a catalyst.” (Chap5: Logic is kryptonite)

• “Information is nothing more than the raw stuff… Until it’s seeded with an idea that leads to an action, it’s just a lump of words and figures.” (Chap6: I Google therefore I am (not)

•”Way before a thought can evolve into something we believe in, it floats in the primitive soup of instinct.” (Chap7: Trust your instincts, or they will go away)

•”Big ideas have a “What if” quality about them that initially defies measurement and metrics.” (Chap8: Incremental change is fine if you are glacier)

•”Very few ideas survive the third person trap. If a new idea is worth anything, it should make everyone a little nervous…It means the idea caries change within it… The first test of an idea is the level of commitment to it…If you stands for nothing, then that’s also what you attract.” (Chap9: Expediency is not an idea)

• “If you want something new to emerge, you want people in the room who don’t think like you” (Chap10: Embrace diversity, it’ll hug you back.)


•”Words can be very beautiful or extremely dangerous…Silence is the perfect place for an idea to grow in.” (Chap11: an idea is a paradigm shifting moment )

•”Never put lipstick on a pig” (Chap12: never put lipstick on a pig)

•”Thought police people believe experience has revealed the tablets of the future.” (Chap13 : think about the thought police)

.”Few ideas, like the wheel, change the world… Ideas are Darwinian as life itself – only the strongest survive.” (Chap14: This is just in, we’re mortal)

•”Ideas no longer live solitary existences.” (Chap15 : Idea Apartheid is dead)

•”Change the physical space you’re in and your brain follows suit…A point of view is sometimes just exactly that.” (Chap16 : No one orders a bouquet of beige flowers)

•”A predator politician has no interest in the quality of the idea, other than how it will enhance his personal agenda.” (Chap17 : Enter the politician, exit the idea)

•” In the land of ideas, a comfort zone is not an environmental friendly place to be… By keeping your mind fertile, even the tiniest seed of a thought has a good chance of growing into something extraordinary.” (Chap18 : We don’t know what we don’t know until we do what we don’t usually do)

• “The high mortality rate of ideas often has less to do with their quality and more to do with their mode of transport… If fresh thinking is to stay fresh, it has to be quickly accepted, rejected, or positively modified…A cage thought can’t fly…If, however, ownership can be conferred on everyone, the miraculous begins to happen. The idea turns into a movement.” (Chap19 : Ideas don’t ravel well through a bureaucracy)

•”The big trick is to be relaxed about uncertainty, if possibly, to even enjoy it…It’s difficult to have an epiphany if all you want revealed is what you already know.” (Chap20 : it’s not the circle of life , it’s the circus of life”)


The South African painter Sam Nhlengethwa provides stunning chapter illustrations.  What’s more, if you buy John’s book, you’ll be doing a good deed: all profits from sales will go to Room 13, an organization that develops the creativity of under-privileged school children.  Here is a description of Room 13:

“Room 13 is a unique initiative that provides an environment for underprivileged children to unfurl their imagination. Here they can express themselves in anything from painting and drawing to drama, poetry and storytelling.  Room 13 changes their lives. It’s unique in that the project is essentially run by the children themselves. They are their own management team, they choose their own artist-in-residence. But with this freedom also comes the responsibility of making Room 13 sustainable. So while they explore their creative talents, they also learn about entrepreneurship and leadership skills. There are 33 Room 13’s around the world, of which 13 are in South Africa.”

The Room 13 initiative will be launched in France in 2010, and I will be able to talk about this very soon.  Get to know the children of Room 13 in South Africa by becoming a fan of Emmanuel André’s initiative “SHARP(ER)”, on Facebook.

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