What I Learned From Damn Good Advice By George Lois

Date Read: 05/31/2018

How strongly I recommend it: 7/10

Here’s passages, quotes, etc. that I found interesting or taught me something new from the book. Some are copied directly, some are reworded.


The Creative Act is the defeat of of habit by originality, which overcomes everything.


To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.


In the act of creativity, being careful guarantees sameness and mediocrity, which means your work will be invisible.


Better to be reckless than careful.

Better to be bold than safe.

Better to have your work seen and remembered or you’ve struck out.

There’s no middle ground.


In our last class, our teacher asked us to create a design on 18×24 illustration board using only rectangles and called it a final exam.


Everyone was working furiously, cutting and pasting, I sat motionless and my teacher got pissed as time ticked down.


He went to grab my paper, but I interrupted him and signed G. Lois in the bottom corner, he was thunderstruck. I created the ultimate 18 by 24 rectangle design.


I had taught myself that my work had to be fresh, different, and seemingly outrageous. From then on, I understood that nothing is as exciting as an idea.


Creating ideas without a work ethic to follow through is inconceivable to me.


If you don’t burn out at the end of the day, you’re a bum! People watching me work ask me all the time why I’m not burn out. I love the feeling of utter depletion each day: it makes me feel ecstatic knowing I committed myself to the absolute limit, but after recharging at night I’m ready to go the next morning. Isn’t that what life is all about?


In advertising, my first commandment; the word comes first, then the visual.


I’m sorry I could not have written a shorter letter, but I didn’t have the time.

-Abraham Lincoln


Keep it short, concise, and literary, where every single word counts. But remember it’s not how short you make it, it’s how you make it short.


Think long, write short.


A trend is always a trap. The solution to each new problem or challenge should begin with a blank canvas and an open mind, not with the nervous borrowings of other people’s mediocrities. That’s precisely what trends are—a search for something “safe” and why a reliance on them leads to oblivion.


Trends can tyrannize; trends are traps. In any creative industry, the fact that others are moving in a certain direction is always proof positive, at least to me, that a new direction is the only direction.


If you’re trying to achieve greatness in any creative industry in any creative industry, go out into the world and sail the ocean blue and live a life of discovery.


If you’re a young person with an entrepreneurial spirit who aspires to succeed, not only in business, but in life, your mission is not to sedate, but to awaken, to disturb, to communicate, to command, to instigate, and even to provoke.



The lesson (which most ad agencies never have understood) is that great advertising can perform a marketing miracle. (I want my MTV)


There’s a great solution, a Big Idea, buried in every assignment, whether for a new ad campaign, poster, brand name, letterhead, matchbook cover, even a number slapped on a building. (20 times square logo)


You can be cautious or creative, but there’s no such thing as a cautious creative.


A creative thinker must be fearless.

If you’re more tentative than decisive, if you’re more cautious than creative, you’ll never be an innovative business leader, and certainly not a great communicator.


People say a failure is supposed to give you pause, shake you up, humble you. But I don’t agree. That would be the end of being a fearless, creative thinker.


Onwards and upwards, and never give your failures a second thought.


Teamwork might work in building an Amish barn but it can’t create a Big Idea. (they’ve done studies people by themselves come up with 4x as much ideas than in a group)


Be confident of your own, edgy, solo talent.


Once you’ve got the big idea, that’s where teamwork comes in—selling the Big Idea, producing the Big Idea, and bringing the Big Idea into fruition.


I spent my life listening to people say “George, be careful.” But being careful in creativity is synonymous with doing uninspired work.


Most people work at keeping their job, rather than doing a good job.

If you’re the former, you’re leading a meaningless life.

If you’re the latter, keep up the good work.

(applies to entrepreneurs too, are you safely trying to keep whatever you already have or heading into new territories like you did in the beginning?)



Even a brilliant idea won’t sell itself.


Always do 3 things when you present a Big Idea:

  1. Tell them what they are going to see
  2. Show it to them
  3. Tell them, dramatically, what they just saw.


Abraham Lincoln said “When I hear a man preach, I like to see him act as if he were fighting bees.”


To be a successful creative, be prepared for a lifetime of fighting bees.


I don’t care how talented you are. If you’re the kind of creative person who gets your best work produced—justifying an selling your work (to those around you, to your boss, to your client, to lawyers, to TV copy clearance, etc.) is what separates the sometimes good creative thinker from the consistently great one.


The creation of a truly great brand name can become a billon dollar idea.


When you present an entrepreneurial idea, if it takes more than three sentences to explain it to the money guy’s its not a Big Idea.


Any great creative idea should stun momentarily; it should seem to be outrageous. Safe, conventional work is a ticket to oblivion. Great creativity should stun, as modern art was supposed to shock, by presenting the viewer with an idea that seemingly suspends conventions of understanding.


In that swift interval between the shock and the realization that what you are presenting is not as outrageous as it sees, you capture your audience.


To constantly inspire breakthrough conceptual thinking, I go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, religiously, every Sunday.

Ex: I transformed the Met’s excruciating image by Francesco Botticini of Saint Sebastian into a 1967 esquire cover depicting Muhammad Ali.


Picasso was right when he said “art is the lie that tells the truth.”


When advertising is great advertising, when it’s inventive, irreverent, audacious, it literally becomes a benefit of the product and Picasso’s “lie” becomes the truth.


If your advertising doesn’t have the power to become a topic of conversation for everyone in the nation, you forfeit the chance for it to be famous.


Sometimes “what if” can become a reality. Admittedly, a great deal of wishful thinking comes into play, but conjuring outlandish “what if’s” and making them come to life…that’s creativity.


“What if” is the seed of breathtaking creative ideas.


Always fight back with velvet gloves, not bare knuckles.


Oak trees don’t produce acorns until they are 50 years old.


Charles Darwin was 50 when he wrote On The Origin of Species


Ray Kroc grew McDonald’s at 52 when he was just a milkshake machine salesman.


Colonel Sanders was 62 when he started KFC.


Swami Prabupada founded the Hare Krishna movement when he was 69 with just $7 in his pocket.


Samuel Beckett “ever tried. Ever failed. No matter.

Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

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