Be Not A-Mused. I’m Not Either.

– by Albert Berkshire

I get hung up on things. It’s a curse. Or perhaps just a quirk. It can be overwhelming in person, and exhausting in the written sense, but when I get high-centered on a subject, I have trouble letting it go until I either rant, vent, or fall asleep.

We creatives are a tiring lot.

Recently, a person who, knowingly or not, often helps fuel my creativity directed my attention to an article in the Harvard Business Review. Despite being in the advertising and marketing business – and knowing full well that I should be in touch with all and anything written about business – I tend to shy away from some publications do to an apprehension of drowning my creativity with fact and fear…

…or stupidity and disrespect.

In general, I have a few simple rules. I’ve written in the past that I don’t discuss religion or politics. This Albert Rule is more about respecting the lifestyle and ideologies of others than it is keeping my blood pressure in check (117 over 69, usually. I’m pretty relaxed and not easily excited – unless there’s Vodka). My rules work for me. They keep me safe and serve to not offend most people. I like it that way. See? Simple man. Simple rules.

The article that forces me to break my rules and will now send me into a spin can be found at the Harvard Business Review website. I am not responsible for anything on that external site, nor will I offer a link for the foolishness I read, but I will tell you it was titled “To Inspire Innovation, Get a Muse”. It was written by Michael Schrage.

Sidebar: The word “rage” appears in his last name. How appropriate, ‘cause I’m about to rage against his machine.

The article, in short, suggests that a company should budget to hire a Muse. He wrote, “After all, executives hire coaches, why shouldn’t creative innovators budget time and resources for a muse or two?”

A “muse or two”?

The fact that he wrote this should have made him stop dead in his tracks and say, “Do I really want to go down this road?” Or better yet, “Where did I leave my brain last night?”

I’m sure that Albert Berkshire spiking the sphygmomanometer to about 190 over 85 matters little to him. Or maybe you. But there is something fundamentally wrong with that suggestion. And if you’ll humour me, I’ll explain why this is a bad thing to suggest to desperate-for-a-profit companies and individuals.

First, it is the religious factor. A muse is a sanctity. In Greek Mythology, a Muse was regarded as the inspirer of learning and the arts, especially of poetry and music. Such an influence was considered a goddess or adored woman. A muse is so very special and rare to a Creative (innovator or otherwise) that is cannot simply be categorized as a line item on an expense report. To do so is to invite the ire of many, the understanding of few, and to have your board of directors ask you, “Is that what you call your hooker these days?”

It’s wrong. It is disrespectful. It is an abomination of the value and importance, actual and historical, of the Muse.

Secondly, a Muse is not a profit centre. This premise (in the article) is a feeble attempt to take a valued and admired individual – the Muse – and turn he or she into a profit centre. It is a silly juxtaposition for the purpose of creating a catchy name for an age old thing – a mentor. Neither, in my mind, are remotely close in description or purpose.

A mentor leads and teaches in a formulated way based on rationale and experience. And any company or business professional would be well advised to seek out the advice, guidance, influence, and expertise of a mentor, business coach, or consultant. These individuals are the Sean Luces and the Jeffery Gitomers of the world. They are the mentors and advisors who analyze, dissect, and focus your company with a plan specific to your goals and needs. They, in effect, lead you in a specific direction.

A Muse inspires in ways that cannot be rightly explained – nor should they have to be explained. They just “do”. And they just “are”. A Muse is in the mind and heart of the Creative. There is no logical road map. There is no schedule or format for their contribution – it is always there.

Unlike a mentor, or a consultant, whom you choose; a Muse chooses you. No one looks at a person and says, “I like this one. This one will be my muse.”  That’s just not how it happens.  A connection, an understanding, a spark ignites the Creative-Muse relationship.  And this isn’t something that is sexual or romantic. I suppose it could be, and certainly has been portrayed that was in mythical, fictional, or historical accounts of creative greats like Monet, Mozart, Shakespeare, Alobar, or countless others who have been romanticized by Hollywood and or literature, but there simply aren’t any parameters for this type of connection.

A muse is a very sacred individual. And I say individual in an effort to exhort my belief that it is a person who is a Muse. My cat does things that makes me laugh, perhaps because I anthropomorphize all animals for the humour of it, but the old girl doesn’t inspire me to write. She simply sits here looking cute…or asleep. A landscape might evoke a specific emotion or sentimentality for me, but it does not fuel my creativity. A person, with whom I have an unexplainable connection – who understands me in a way that no other could possibly understand my mind, or my heart, or both – inspires me. That person is a Muse in its most pure fashion and definition. And male or female or somewhere in between is neither relevant nor open to disclosure, because a Muse is a private part of the Creative.

In fact, now that I think more about it, I would suggest a Muse may not even know this is who they have become to the Creative. Perhaps explaining to a Muse his or her role and value might put undue pressure on the individual, causing the person to act out of character, or feel the need to do something special or specific in an effort to assist the Creative. That, in itself, would defeat the purpose…and circumvent the connection that joined the two in the first place. It may even irreparably damage the bond. For while a Muse may unknowingly imprint oneself onto the Creative, the Creative would be best served not to cloud the mind of the Muse for fear of forcing a change in the naturally occurring inspirational behavior. (There’s an annoying acronym in there somewhere.)

In other words, you were given a gift. Shhhhhh…shut up and tell no one.

The author in the article that drove my blood pressure through the roof, and oddly left me speechless on the topic for more than a week (no easy feat), is effectively suggesting that I can walk down the hall, grab a person who fits in my budget, and bring he or she or shim home so that my buddies to can look the individual over in hopes of finding some inspiration.

That’s a HOOKER.  I’ll pass.

You can’t hire someone to inspire you any more than you can hire someone to love you.  It either happens or it does not. There is no middle ground. The Creative-Muse connection is as rare as a soulmate, as precious as a non-conflict diamond, and should a Creative be so fortunate as to be found by their Muse, the Creative (innovator or otherwise) is among the fortunate few to enjoy by default the one thing that separates the great from the forgotten.

Get a Muse? Get a clue!

When it becomes a job about profit, it is no longer about a passion for creativity.  To me, the article represented the author’s terrible misunderstanding of the value of a Muse to a Creative.  He should stick to 1s and 0s. The tangibles for which a company can actually pay, and see some measurable return on investment.

The influence of a Muse, is priceless, immeasurable…and precious.

And I know this for a fact…because I have listened to Mozart’s Divertimento in D countless times.

The Muse shows up at the most important twists in the road of life. A welcome influence, always.








Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. He lives, writes, plays, and consults for clients on Canada’s West Coast. In his lifetime, he’s explained to only two people when and how he does his best writing – a fellow writer; and a person who should not feel undue pressure to act out of character. He also believes the word Muse is rightly deserving of a capital “M”. Finding the right words to express the right message has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.  


Smoked Gouda & Curry

This is not the cooking channel.

I’m not a fan of predictability.  I don’t know many who are fans.  In fact, predictable equals boring in my world.  I can’t watch a murder mystery with my mother because she has it solved before the murder is committed.  That’s not the experience I want.  I want to be pleasantly surprised.  Even taken aback.  I appreciate that which is somewhat out of character.  I like things to be unexpected.  Those are the best outcomes.  And I am certain this Notion Locomotive runs contrary to the standard business world.

If you like to know how a movie will end, before you watch it, you may not be comfortable with the cubicle in which my brain is presently parked.

In the advertising world, the one from which you are bombarded with 5000-plus messages a day (I’d apologize, but it’s a living), we play around with a little thing called Broca. It’s the area of the human brain that anticipates and ignores the predictable.

Sidebar Quickie: I know someone who would argue, possibly quite successfully, that men have a more developed Broca area than women because we are able to tune out predictable messages like, “You left the toilet seat up again!” – and so forth. 


In the process of delivering advertising messages – be that audible, visual, or neither – the latter being a long stare into the eyes completed with a “blink blink” (ask me something truly ridiculous and that will be my response) – we strive to create a message that will hold your attention beyond your natural urge to change the channel, continue with your conversation, or pay attention to the road.  Fell free to offer the “blink blink” for the latter. While it may be absurd to read, I have, in the past, worked with clients who couldn’t care less if you crash, as long as their message compels you to buy their product after you finish your post-accident interview and sign off on the police report. (Do we sign off on police reports, or is that just fiction on the instruction box in the living room?)

Broca comes into play when we creatives secure a client who is capable of thinking outside the box, and allows us to use word combinations and/or phrases that defy predictability.

Without going into the whole Wikiscience of it all (yawn), I consider it a valid and necessary point to make that the whole purpose of advertising is to influence the grey matter in the prefrontal cortex (oddly named considering it is at the back of the brain). That’s where you find all the buttons and control knobs for emotion, planning and judgment (and likely poor judgment, lack of judgment and the increasingly popular complete lack of judgment).  To get there visually, you have to pass through Broca’s territory. Even more frustrating is that the ear is parked next to the Broca region…so there are essentially no shortcuts around Mr. Broca to the “I gotta own that now” planning centre.

So you have to do a little dance, ante up some foreplay, or at least buy Mr. Broca a drink or six.  And it works when you do it right.  When I look back at my favourite campaigns (my campaigns) it was the application of the Broca Method (for want of a better descriptor) that made it so memorable.  I once sang (quite terribly, I might add) about “Sheepskin Boutique” – that campaign ran every Christmas for seven years.  I’ve done commercials for liquor stores that convinced me to go buy wine. (Okay, that’s not a stretch.)  And still to this day, my favourite of all time was a commercial that talked little about product, and mostly about love.  Actually, two of those campaigns were narrated by the Canadian actor Michael Richard Dobson which confirms that a great message requires a brilliant delivery…and Michael, being a master of timing (and a great voice & character actor) created a turnpike bypass that cut through the centre of Broca-ville.

These creative moments of delivery come from the most unexpected places.  And maybe that’s the beauty of Broca.  My favourite recent example is the famous Washington State Lottery commercial called “Every Bird Should Fly” – created by Publicis Seattle.  And even though I’ve seen it 20 or 30 times, and can now predict the ending, it never gets old, because it is art.  It entertains.  It says something other than, “Buy a ticket. Never work again.”  It says something my brain doesn’t want to turn off, and it offers something for which we all yearn – hope.

Much like my commercial campaign selling “love”.

I never saw the message coming.  The truest form of Broca I’ve seen in years.   And then on Sunday I was riding up the chairlift at Big White Ski Resort.  On the six-pack were a mom, four kids and me (not my kids – mine have fur, sleep a lot, and don’t like snow).  These kids were all talking about skiing, and snow, and video games, and playing – as, I assume, all eight or nine year olds do – and then one girl looked up into the sky and said to no one in particular:

“I always thought the mountains were ice cream cones. And the snow on them was vanilla ice cream. And I thought I would have a different birthday every year…and that the moon was staring back at me.”

Art Linkletter, RIP.

The little girl sold me on rediscovering the innocence of my long past childhood without ever mentioning childhood.  In exactly the same way, Jeff Siegel of Publicis Seattle sold me on winning the lottery without ever suggesting I buy a ticket.  They bypassed the Hominid Objection Centre, passed go, and collected two hundred dollars…or at least peaked my interest enough that I felt compelled to learn more.

They did what every advertiser should do.  Make me, the consumer, think about how their product fits into my life, and convince me I can’t live without it.

I want that shiny thing of great value in my life.

On the other hand, sometimes the most straightforward message using simple words is all you need.

“Our shit is cheap. Come and get it.”

There, you’ve just trained your client to wait for you to discount your stuff, completely removing any value from its existence and thusly dooming your business to the perpetual cycle of “Sale”, followed by another “Sale”…and then another “Sale”.

Blink Blink.

The smoked gouda was melted over curry-sprinkled free-range, vegetarian-fed eggs. Cracked black pepper danced across the heaving yolks. On lightly toasted flax flour bread sat perfectly ripe and thinly-sliced avocado. The strangers, who all lived in different neighbourhoods in Kitchenland, came together as a community in concert to create a brilliant breakfast sandwich.  The flavour combinations were completely … unexpected.

If only my taste buds were clients.

If only my childhood never ended.

If only Michael Richard Dobson narrated recipes.

Waterfront Wines – A Meal

Waterfront Wines – A Bottle

Jason Goldsmiths – Reliability

Jason Goldsmiths – Quality

Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. He lives, writes, plays, and consults with his clients around North America from Canada’s West Coast. And while he rarely shares his work, because unoriginal people steal, he does like to dig through the memory vault from time to time. It reminds him that the things from then, are still important now. It also helps keep him motivated, further helping to continue the success of his company, GreatCreative.Com. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.