Revisiting Mad Men – insights from our favorite anti-hero ad man.

He was a complicated man, with very few traits that I’d hope to see in my children. And his antics will forever require me to explain myself at parties. “Oh, you work in advertising, are you like Don Draper?” — “Yeah, just like that, but without the smoking, womanizing, and only some of the day-drinking.”

Mad Men was a fantastic show. Simply as a period piece of the era, I love the stylings, sets and costumes. For it’s characterization of the advertising industry, I’ll never know for myself how accurate it was, but it certainly was entertaining.

While he wasn’t role model we were hoping for, Don Draper had some pretty deep thoughts throughout the show. And some of the best insights offered more than just words on the industry, but thoughts on life as well.

Here I’ve pulled together a handful of my personal favorites.

1) “The day you sign a client is the day you start to lose them.”

Easily my favorite Draper quote. In my career, I’ve lost clients for all of the reasons. In some cases I could have done better. In other cases it was truly out of my hands. In some cases we really just had outgrown each other.

Regardless, change is inevitable. And for all the good times, when change meant a client was going my way, that may have been the breakup for someone else.

It’s an ebb and flow in the industry. No different than our lives too. Nothing lasts forever, except the necessity to adapt. More on that in the 5th quote.

2) “I don’t believe in fate. You make your own opportunities.”

Early in my career and often reminded myself, ‘you make your own luck,’ — a phrase with essentially the same to me, as Don’s line to him. As a young whipper-snapper in sales, it was one of many mantras that helped me keep my head up when the going got tough.

I believe you make your own luck in two ways. First is the effort that leads to opportunity. In sales, success doesn’t come to you. You visit the client, you pick up the phone, you ask for the referral — whatever it is, you do it. And in doing so you create the opportunity.

The second is in the mindset. Sometimes it’s not that the effort itself directly ‘created’ an opportunity. But when you put a high level of energy into something, it changes your outlook too. You see things differently, you see opportunities that you would have never seen before, opportunities you would have never considered before. But it was your efforts that allowed you to see differently.

3) “Think about it deeply, then forget it, and an idea will jump up in your face.”

I actually posted something about this one just a week or so back. Having poured my brain into a branding project with the team during the week, I found myself watching ‘Shrek’ with my boys and getting slapped in the face with an idea.

I actually paused the show, jumped up and told the kids I had to do something real quick. At first their curiosity peaked, but then realizing I wasn’t running to grab ice cream, rather just writing down an idea, they quickly were over it.

The best part of this whole experience was sharing what inspired ‘my idea,’ and comparing it to the actual idea I brought back. There was no discernible connection, haha. But hey, who knows where ideas come from anyway!?

PS… after sharing ‘my concept’ with the designers, it took them down another path that brought back an all new concept that was even more exciting than the first — funny how all that works.

4) “I’m glad this is an environment where you feel free to fail.”

This one is interesting, because in the context of the show, Don was not pleased at all when he spoke these words. But taken out of his context, I actually do appreciate creating an environment when my team can accept failure.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re not excited about it. And note the difference, accepting failure vs ‘free to fail.’ As I see it, if we’re not failing at something — we’re probably not pushing ourselves hard enough.

At the company, we value growth, we value challenge, and with that comes failure at times, and when it’s in the proper context, I’m ok with that.

5) “Change is neither good nor bad. It simply is.”

My fondness for this quote might say more about my outlook on life than anything about my thoughts as a marketer. There is a Chinese parable, The Old Man Lost His Horse — the details may change from telling to telling, but the bones are always the same.

A series of events happen to the farmer, and each time those around him suggest either — ‘wow, that’s great news’ or ‘I’m sorry, that’s so unfortunate.’ The old man however always responds, ‘maybe.’

As the events unfold, what seemed to be a ‘good thing,’ turns out to be ‘bad.’ And then that thing that was ‘bad,’ turns out to be ‘good.’ The moral being, we really don’t know what the future holds.

Next time change occurs, consider that. Is it good? Maybe. Is it bad? Maybe. It simply is.