Back in Kuala Lumpur, daily life was actually rather good.
In a lot of ways, I personally had it easy.
Going to the eateries across the road, going past condo security, hitting up the local bar or convenience store always yielded the same results: friendly smiles, excellent service and sometimes a discount.
Why? Well, because basically, I was different.
I stood out.
Not just because I’m white, mind you.
But when you’re a big, bald, bespectacled, benevolent white dude, you get noticed.
I was going against what I was surrounded by.
As they say in advertising circles, I was zagging when everyone else was zigging.
I think it was two or three days after I moved into the Pelangi Condominium that security would wave me past the gate with a smile without having to go through the mandatory ID check.
I began to be greeted by each of the Malay-Indian blokes at the mamak restaurant across the road and it wasn’t long before they started bringing me my usual without question.
I even had one or two pints on the house at the local bar on some occasions.
But why the special treatment? I hear you not actually asking.
I have a theory.
People love it when they remember something. It’s like a trick you got your brain to perform. Most of the time when you recognise something, it makes you happy.
Watch closely someone who you might meet for the second time and they recognise you. There’s always that slight smirk as they mentally connect the pieces and stand back to admire the cerebral jigsaw they completed.
Same with conversations about particular places or things. People like to join in because it’s a place they know or something they’re familiar with.
You can notice the tiny celebration going on behind their eyes that they’ve seen something they recognise and welcome it.
I mean, that’s the truth about people isn’t it? We stick to what we know.
And what’s easy to remember?
That which is distinguished from what we normally see; what stands out; what zags.
In work and in life it’s an important question to ask.
‘Is what I’m doing distinguishable?’
‘Will I get that celebratory smirk when I’m recognised?’
It spans from an art piece you’re planning, to a business model, to the outfit you’ll wear to a fancy party.
My first (creative) partner was a girl in my ad school during my third year doing a Bachelor of Communications at AUT.
She was great, we did a lot of interesting work together.
There was one thing about her that I found odd.
She didn’t watch television.
Her family didn’t have one. She was raised like this. Instead of watching TV, she’d pursue hobbies like dancing, which is all well and good because she was an excellent dancer.
And her parents took her to different countries when she was little, so she was well travelled. Phenomenally so.
But she didn’t watch television.
And to me, this left a gap in her thinking.
Sometimes, I would suggest an angle we could explore or lines we could use based on popular culture originating from a TV show, and she would come back to me; expressionless.
I think there was one time I mentioned a TV character like Captain Planet.
“Captain Planet. You know, the Planeteers? Earth, Fire, Wind, Water, Heart? Go, Planet?”
“Nope. Are you sure people know who that is?”
“Are you serious?!”
Good advertising messages stem from insights. Insights about the product, where it’s made, how to use it, the people that use it, an so on.
The best advertising messages stem from life insights. Aspects of daily living that transcend language, age and gender boundaries.
And the best way to come up with these life insights is to experience life.
If you’re disconnected somehow, you’re not going to reach those crucial truths you need.
In a way, this means to travel; see different people and cultures and view life from a unique perspective.
In a more realistic way, this means to branch out from what you already do.
Just because Ted, Marshall, Lily, Robin and Barney hang out at MacLaren’s Pub all the time, doesn’t mean it’s cool for you to do as well.
Read a book you by an author you don’t normally read; see a movie you wouldn’t see; watch TV, a lot; go to a restaurant you haven’t been to and order something you don’t normally eat.
Every new thing you do gives you a new perspective and broadens your thinking.
You could notice how people who can’t handle spicy food look like they’re taking a Lamaze class when they eat, or how the majority of commuters read books on the train, or all the weird tips and tricks for picking out perfect produce you learn from farmer’s market patrons.
They can all birth interesting ideas that come from simple life insights.
Another thing I would recommend is to watch a lot of stand up comedians. All and any you can. Local ones, international ones, male ones, female ones, transgender ones, old ones, young ones, Irish ones, American ones, Spanish ones, Chinese ones, Nigerian ones, bad ones, really bad ones, all of them.
Especially those who specialise in observational humor.
What these people do for a living is take even the tiniest life insight, like the faces men make when we shave, and turn it into something relatable, funny and entertaining.
Gee, that sounds familiar.
And you can tell they’ve hit the nail on the head with these details of daily life because of the immediate laughter from the audience.
Young creatives could learn a lot from these people. The more you watch, the more perspective you benefit from - it’s simple.
As a creative (especially one working in advertising), you’re not just living life, you’re exploring it. And the best way to do that is just do something different from time to time.
A friend of mine, Iain Nealie, a creative at TBWA\Tequila in Auckland, once did something as simple as using a different mode of transport to go to work each day for a week.
He managed it (walk, run, car, skateboard, bus).
Simple as that.
Or just at least make sure you’re getting enough TV each day.