You don't know Alice. No reason you should. She was an American woman who, if my memory serves me right, came to Japan near the end of the Occupation. She became an English-language copywriter and a close friend of several individuals who wound up on the board of directors of Hakuhodo, the Japanese advertising agency where I was employed for thirteen years. She interviewed me for the job and, after I got the job, took me aside and gave me a memorable piece of advice. "John," she said, "to succeed in this business, you will have to develop a thick skin. You have to realize that at least three out of four of your brilliant ideas are going straight into the trashcan." Alice had noticed, I believe, that, ex-academic that I was, I still had too much ego invested in the ideas that I came up with and would stubbornly defend them long after it was clear that neither client nor colleagues were going to accept them.
I think of Alice as I read a collection of essays on team-building and the role of creative directors in advertising and find that a recurring theme is that creative people have to be wagamamma (egotistic and willing to push their own ideas) but cannot be ganko, so stuck on their own ideas that they cannot recognize when it's time to fold and come up with something else. The highest praise goes to those who, while they may have their own ideas, can look at someone else's idea and, if they see it's a great idea, instantly abandon their own proposals and say, "Let's go with that one."
I want to ask why can't anthropologists be more like that? Yes, I know it's hard, especially when you've set yourself on a risky path in what seems to be an increasingly hostile world, and you have so terribly much invested in the ideas by which you seek to differentiate yourself from your rivals. I've been there. I've done that. I've failed and had to find another path.
What Alice taught me didn't stick right away. It wasn't a vision on a road to Damascus. But it started me thinking and gave me a way to calm down when I was furious at having my ideas (still fallaciously equated with me) rejected. It was, we might say, a gift that kept on giving.
It has been, again my memory is fuzzy, around twenty years since Alice died. But I still think about her.
Thanks, Alice. Great advice.