Posted June 3, 2012; 04:17 p.m.
June 3, 2012 — As Prepared
I was doing some research last night into what the ad industry was all about back in the 60s, 70’s and 80s, and I stumbled upon these gems in a book called The Want Makers. The book was published in 1988, a year before I got into advertising, and was meant to be a scathing critique of the industry and its behaviour. I thought it sounded like a great place to spend my life, so it mostly inspired me to join it. Here are some of the paragraphs that made me smile last night.
“This Olive Oil to South Africa, is not possible,” said the lady behind the counter at the Poste Italiane in Ravello, Italy. This was not exactly what I wanted to hear given that I had carted these 6 rather special Extra Virgin Oils halfway across Europe, and which were now starting to weigh heavily on me in more ways than one. One thing I was determined not to do was carry them home on the plane. The excess charge would be a bitch and I have one of those faces that custom officials like to talk to.
“These bottles, they break,” she went on to explain. “But if you write them as books, they will carry them.” she continued.
The two ladies at the other counters nodded their heads in agreement and who was I to argue? I’m a fanatical Olive Oil fan, and if lying to the customs officials of both Italy and South Africa is the best way to get them home, it’s a risk I’m prepared to take. Especially seeing as it was their idea – that would definitely stand up in a court of law. So books they became; big, heavy books, and possible slightly greasy if not handled carefully.
Today I’m thrilled to say they’ve arrived safely, and with no undercover customs officials in tow, as far as I know. Each is a spectacular oil and I can’t wait to pour generous wallops of it all over my food. I thought I’d share them, if only for the benefit of packaging designers and marketers. Each maker has attempted to give its oil a special story. Note the size of this first one, packaged like a fragrance – a 750ml fragrance. It makes quite a statement.
Princeton University’s 2012 Baccalaureate Remarks
Posted June 3, 2012; 04:17 p.m.
by Staff“Don’t Eat Fortune’s Cookie”
June 3, 2012 — As Prepared(NOTE: The video of Lewis’ speech as delivered is available on the Princeton YouTube channel.)Thank you. President Tilghman. Trustees and Friends. Parents of the Class of 2012. Above all, Members of the Princeton Class of 2012. Give yourself a round of applause. The next time you look around a church and see everyone dressed in black it’ll be awkward to cheer. Enjoy the moment.Thirty years ago I sat where you sat. I must have listened to some older person share his life experience. But I don’t remember a word of it. I can’t even tell you who spoke. What I do remember, vividly, is graduation. I’m told you’re meant to be excited, perhaps even relieved, and maybe all of you are. I wasn’t. I was totally outraged. Here I’d gone and given them four of the best years of my life and this is how they thanked me for it. By kicking me out.At that moment I was sure of only one thing: I was of no possible economic value to the outside world. I’d majored in art history, for a start. Even then this was regarded as an act of insanity. I was almost certainly less prepared for the marketplace than most of you. Yet somehow I have wound up rich and famous. Well, sort of. I’m going to explain, briefly, how that happened. I want you to understand just how mysterious careers can be, before you go out and have one yourself.I graduated from Princeton without ever having published a word of anything, anywhere. I didn’t write for the Prince, or for anyone else. But at Princeton, studying art history, I felt the first twinge of literary ambition. It happened while working on my senior thesis. My adviser was a truly gifted professor, an archaeologist named William Childs. The thesis tried to explain how the Italian sculptor Donatello used Greek and Roman sculpture — which is actually totally beside the point, but I’ve always wanted to tell someone. God knows what Professor Childs actually thought of it, but he helped me to become engrossed. More than engrossed: obsessed. When I handed it in I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life: to write senior theses. Or, to put it differently: to write books.Then I went to my thesis defense. It was just a few yards from here, in McCormick Hall. I listened and waited for Professor Childs to say how well written my thesis was. He didn’t. And so after about 45 minutes I finally said, “So. What did you think of the writing?”“Put it this way” he said. “Never try to make a living at it.”And I didn’t — not really. I did what everyone does who has no idea what to do with themselves: I went to graduate school. I wrote at nights, without much effect, mainly because I hadn’t the first clue what I should write about. One night I was invited to a dinner, where I sat next to the wife of a big shot at a giant Wall Street investment bank, called Salomon Brothers. She more or less forced her husband to give me a job. I knew next to nothing about Salomon Brothers. But Salomon Brothers happened to be where Wall Street was being reinvented—into the place we have all come to know and love. When I got there I was assigned, almost arbitrarily, to the very best job in which to observe the growing madness: they turned me into the house expert on derivatives. A year and a half later Salomon Brothers was handing me a check for hundreds of thousands of dollars to give advice about derivatives to professional investors.Now I had something to write about: Salomon Brothers. Wall Street had become so unhinged that it was paying recent Princeton graduates who knew nothing about money small fortunes to pretend to be experts about money. I’d stumbled into my next senior thesis.I called up my father. I told him I was going to quit this job that now promised me millions of dollars to write a book for an advance of 40 grand. There was a long pause on the other end of the line. “You might just want to think about that,” he said.“Why?”“Stay at Salomon Brothers 10 years, make your fortune, and then write your books,” he said.I didn’t need to think about it. I knew what intellectual passion felt like — because I’d felt it here, at Princeton — and I wanted to feel it again. I was 26 years old. Had I waited until I was 36, I would never have done it. I would have forgotten the feeling.The book I wrote was called “Liar’s Poker.” It sold a million copies. I was 28 years old. I had a career, a little fame, a small fortune and a new life narrative. All of a sudden people were telling me I was born to be a writer. This was absurd. Even I could see there was another, truer narrative, with luck as its theme. What were the odds of being seated at that dinner next to that Salomon Brothers lady? Of landing inside the best Wall Street firm from which to write the story of an age? Of landing in the seat with the best view of the business? Of having parents who didn’t disinherit me but instead sighed and said “do it if you must?” Of having had that sense of must kindled inside me by a professor of art history at Princeton? Of having been let into Princeton in the first place?This isn’t just false humility. It’s false humility with a point. My case illustrates how success is always rationalized. People really don’t like to hear success explained away as luck — especially successful people. As they age, and succeed, people feel their success was somehow inevitable. They don’t want to acknowledge the role played by accident in their lives. There is a reason for this: the world does not want to acknowledge it either.I wrote a book about this, called “Moneyball.” It was ostensibly about baseball but was in fact about something else. There are poor teams and rich teams in professional baseball, and they spend radically different sums of money on their players. When I wrote my book the richest team in professional baseball, the New York Yankees, was then spending about $120 million on its 25 players. The poorest team, the Oakland A’s, was spending about $30 million. And yet the Oakland team was winning as many games as the Yankees — and more than all the other richer teams.This isn’t supposed to happen. In theory, the rich teams should buy the best players and win all the time. But the Oakland team had figured something out: the rich teams didn’t really understand who the best baseball players were. The players were misvalued. And the biggest single reason they were misvalued was that the experts did not pay sufficient attention to the role of luck in baseball success. Players got given credit for things they did that depended on the performance of others: pitchers got paid for winning games, hitters got paid for knocking in runners on base. Players got blamed and credited for events beyond their control. Where balls that got hit happened to land on the field, for example.Forget baseball, forget sports. Here you had these corporate employees, paid millions of dollars a year. They were doing exactly the same job that people in their business had been doing forever. In front of millions of people, who evaluate their every move. They had statistics attached to everything they did. And yet they were misvalued — because the wider world was blind to their luck.This had been going on for a century. Right under all of our noses. And no one noticed — until it paid a poor team so well to notice that they could not afford not to notice. And you have to ask: if a professional athlete paid millions of dollars can be misvalued who can’t be? If the supposedly pure meritocracy of professional sports can’t distinguish between lucky and good, who can?The “Moneyball” story has practical implications. If you use better data, you can find better values; there are always market inefficiencies to exploit, and so on. But it has a broader and less practical message: don’t be deceived by life’s outcomes. Life’s outcomes, while not entirely random, have a huge amount of luck baked into them. Above all, recognize that if you have had success, you have also had luck — and with luck comes obligation. You owe a debt, and not just to your Gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky.I make this point because — along with this speech — it is something that will be easy for you to forget.I now live in Berkeley, California. A few years ago, just a few blocks from my home, a pair of researchers in the Cal psychology department staged an experiment. They began by grabbing students, as lab rats. Then they broke the students into teams, segregated by sex. Three men, or three women, per team. Then they put these teams of three into a room, and arbitrarily assigned one of the three to act as leader. Then they gave them some complicated moral problem to solve: say what should be done about academic cheating, or how to regulate drinking on campus.Exactly 30 minutes into the problem-solving the researchers interrupted each group. They entered the room bearing a plate of cookies. Four cookies. The team consisted of three people, but there were these four cookies. Every team member obviously got one cookie, but that left a fourth cookie, just sitting there. It should have been awkward. But it wasn’t. With incredible consistency the person arbitrarily appointed leader of the group grabbed the fourth cookie, and ate it. Not only ate it, but ate it with gusto: lips smacking, mouth open, drool at the corners of their mouths. In the end all that was left of the extra cookie were crumbs on the leader’s shirt.This leader had performed no special task. He had no special virtue. He’d been chosen at random, 30 minutes earlier. His status was nothing but luck. But it still left him with the sense that the cookie should be his.This experiment helps to explain Wall Street bonuses and CEO pay, and I’m sure lots of other human behavior. But it also is relevant to new graduates of Princeton University. In a general sort of way you have been appointed the leader of the group. Your appointment may not be entirely arbitrary. But you must sense its arbitrary aspect: you are the lucky few. Lucky in your parents, lucky in your country, lucky that a place like Princeton exists that can take in lucky people, introduce them to other lucky people, and increase their chances of becoming even luckier. Lucky that you live in the richest society the world has ever seen, in a time when no one actually expects you to sacrifice your interests to anything.All of you have been faced with the extra cookie. All of you will be faced with many more of them. In time you will find it easy to assume that you deserve the extra cookie. For all I know, you may. But you’ll be happier, and the world will be better off, if you at least pretend that you don’t.Never forget: In the nation’s service. In the service of all nations.Thank you.And good luck.
Recently, a small group of King Jamers headed off to Cannes for the ad festival. Rather than stay in individual hotel rooms it was decided to accommodate the five of us boys in a three-roomed apartment on Rue d’ Antibes. Three of us arrived on the Sunday and proceeded straight to a bar just off the Croissette. The other two, Matt Ross and Michael Udell, were due to arrive early the next morning. The afternoon progressed much as it always does in Cannes; one Kronenberg 1664 at a time.
Later that evening, after a significant amount of summer drinking, the three of us arrived back at the apartment all worse for wear but in considerably good spirits. Dev and Biggles headed off to the bedroom they were sharing and I stood admiring Matt and Mike’s room as I brushed my teeth. It was an adequate sized room for two, with two single beds pushed together and lots of natural light. I was sure they would be comfortable in it if we just moved the beds apart. Guys are funny that way.
It was then that I noticed a small walk in cupboard to my left, just outside their room, filled with vacuum cleaners, ironing boards, ladders, spare blankets and clothes hangers of various shapes and sizes.
It occurred to me that if we tried really hard we could move one of their beds into it and pass it off as a desperate attempt by the rental company to make it a bedroom. My thinking was that it would be a good experiment to see who would win the fight for the larger room.
I called Dev and Biggles and without further ado we negotiated the mattress and bed base through the door and squeezed it into the only space it could fit into – under the shelf with all the hangers. It fitted perfectly with no spare room on either end. For special effect Bruce made the bed up and lovingly and invitingly laid out some towels and pretty scented soaps: very classy. He then squashed a side table and a bedside light next to it with the cords running out the door and into the dining area. We looked at it proudly. It looked like the worlds smallest room. But it also still looked like a closet.
Right next door to it was the other bedroom, now more spacious than ever. If the ample space didn’t give it away, the single bed pushed up against the double headboard surely would. Or so we thought.
The next morning Matt and Michael arrived, excited to join us but slightly weary from their early flight. They stumbled into the apartment dragging their suitcases ready to tackle all that Cannes had to offer. Restraining our giggles, Biggles pointed them towards the two rooms and we left them to work it out.
The two of them stood for a moment looking at the rooms on offer. The one room, 16m2 with sunshine streaming in through the open window. The other, 4m2 and not a window or ventilation duct in sight. The course of action was obvious we thought – move the one bed into the larger room. But no. These two rocket scientists, after a nervous chuckle or two decided to flip a coin to see who would take the smaller ‘room’. And so the coin was flipped -an awesome demonstration of problem solving right there.
The coin landed heads up and Michael mentally punched the air, hurriedly dragging his bag into the larger room before Matt could demand best-of-three. With the slightest look of dejection, Matt stepped into his cupboard pulling his bag in after him but realizing very quickly that there was no room for it. He’d sleep in the cupboard, but his clothes would have to be stored in Mike’s room it would seem.
The rest of us sat quietly, barely restraining our laughter, but slightly stunned that Matt was actually going to accept his fate and sleep in there. And sleep in there he did. He dutifully went to his cupboard that night, closed the door and had sweet dreams. The next morning he staggered out of the cupboard at 8am announcing loudly that it was “Fucking hot in there” and it was then that we decided to come clean. To his credit, he laughed heartily for a good 5 minutes, but it still didn’t change things. He slept in there the whole week, obviously deciding that sleeping in a cupboard was better than sharing a well ventilated room with Michael Uddel. Not even quips like “Hey, Matt’s just come out of the closet” or “Why doesn’t the light come on when you open the door?” deterred him. On the last day of Cannes, he packed his bags and headed home as if nothing unusual had happened during his stay. The rest of us however departed having learned a number of lessons.
1) A flip of the coin can solve most problems in a satisfactory manner.
2) Matt can accept his fate without protest.
3) Harry Potter didn’t have it so bad under the stairs.
4) When grown men share an apartment, they become immature little boys.
5) No one minds living in a shit hole in Cannes.
6) What goes on in Cannes doesn’t stay in Cannes.