When I was a kid, we lived next door to a family of hoarders.
Everybody in the neighborhood hated those people. And who could blame them? The place was overflowing with every imaginable kind of junk. Old magazines. Hubcaps. Rusty birdcages. Rags. Plastic flowers. Little green army men. Plumbing fixtures. A ukulele. A Boston Red Sox hat with beer stains all over it. I tell you, if the show Hoarders had been around back then, our neighbors would have surely won an Emmy or something for their episode. That’s how godawful horrific their house was.
It wasn’t until I got into advertising that I came to see that, in fact, not all hoarding was bad. On the contrary, hoarding ideas was one of the smartest ways to create great work.
There are reasons for this. For one thing, we hate being bored. And the younger we are, the more we can’t deal with even short stretches of time with nothing to do. But it’s during those unencumbered stretches that ideas are more likely to come bubbling up out of nowhere.
Our creative diurnal rhythm is messed up, too. The fact is that creativity loves the night. Which makes sense: There’s a lot less noise at night. Fewer distractions. By all rights, agency business hours ought to be from dusk to dawn. Calling all vampire creative teams!
Bottom line: big ideas don’t always show up when you need them to. Which is why if you’re smart, you become an idea collector. You pluck them out of whatever creative tree you happen to find them in. Museums. Concerts. Movies. An overheard conversation on the subway. Novels. Comic books. A hike in the woods. High school reunions. Funerals. YouTube. Instagram. Cat videos. Midjourney.
And you drop them all into The Someday Vault. Could be a digital folder. An old shoebox. A back room in your mind. Doesn’t matter. Inside The Someday Vault lie thoughts, maybes, what ifs, why nots and how comes. Orphans without a home, each and every one, but that might one day bail you out of a jam when you really need them.
Jim Weedon was Ridley Scott’s editor on Hennessy’s “The Seven Worlds” film, which visualized the seven tasting notes in Hennessy X.O. “What I love most when working with the maestro,” Weedon says, “is [that] his references can come from anywhere, such as a historical work of art or an unexpected piece of music from the 15th century; in fact, his unyielding data bank of references helped shape the wood golem. A painting by William Blake called The Ghost of a Flea, currently hanging in the Tate Britain, was his reference to help visualize this strange woodland entity to the post house.” I can only imagine what other wonders in Ridley’s someday vault might have found their way into Alien or Blade Runner or Raised by Wolves.
An idea for The Someday Vault can come from anywhere, including dreams.
Seinfeld. Season two, episode eight. While watching a crappy science fiction movie, The Flaming Globes of Sigmund, Jerry falls asleep. He wakes up from a dream in the middle of the night. Half awake, he scrawls down a joke for his stand-up comedy act. But the next day, he can’t for the life of him read what he wrote down. And neither can anyone else.
Like Jerry Seinfeld, James Cameron had a dream one night, too. In 1981, in a hotel in Rome, Cameron dreamt of a chrome skeleton emerging from a fire. Unlike Jerry, Cameron woke up wide awake and wrote about the skeleton. If anything, he remembered that thing walking out of the flames even more clearly. Into The Someday Vault it went, only to be pulled out and turned into The Terminator a few years later.
Wieden+Kennedy’s “Cog” spot for Honda is regarded as one of the most groundbreaking and influential commercials of all time, thanks in no small part, say Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss, to a film they created, “The Way Things Go.” Never mind that the inspiration for the spot could have just as easily come from Mouse Trap, the kids’ board game; Caractacus Pott’s breakfast-making machine in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; or any number of Rube Goldberg’s chain-reaction master-pieces. Did “Cog” begin life as a result of something in someone’s Someday Vault? Possibly.
Not everyone subscribes to the idea of The Someday Vault. It’s our job, some will tell you, to come up with ideas on demand, that it’s this ability to conjure up greatness at the snap of a finger that makes us what we are. How could some random idea that has nothing to do with selling a tennis shoe or a week in the Maldives or an electric pickup truck have any relevance at all?
But if one day the snap of a finger should fail us, if the clock is ticking down and brilliance eludes us, we might discover just how brilliant being a hoarder can be.
Not of hubcaps and rusty birdcages, of course.
Then again… ca