Your Creative Path Forward: A Poet, a Powerful Ad Campaign, and a Call to Renew

Your Creative Path Forward: A Poet, a Powerful Ad Campaign, and a Call to Renew

Create January 22, 2021 / By Larry Robertson
Your Creative Path Forward: A Poet, a Powerful Ad Campaign, and a Call to Renew

The challenges of an uncertain world can be daunting. Rather than begin with the solutions, begin with the spark that ignites them.

On Wednesday January 20, a brilliant golden light appeared before the microphones at the inaugural podium and proceeded to call us forward to a new creative and necessarily bold future ahead. Wrapped in an equally dazzling golden yellow coat, that bright light was 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, the first National Youth Poet Laureate in our nation’s history. Her words, her delivery, her call to action were important, electric, and hopeful, in many ways more and beyond her elder peers who spoke that day. The level of her understanding, the depth of her challenge and invitation to us all was at once inspiring and yet daunting. How? How, in other words, can each of us rise to that level? The level of her skill, poise, and power at a tender twenty-two, and the level of the task ahead of us all she so commandingly outlined? The answer is simple: Each of us, each by our own path, must find our own verse.

Not all of us are or even aspire to be poets, or for that matter, leaders of the free world. Yet there is something every one of us is called to do. That call isn’t what you think. The call isn’t to a thing or a specific act, but instead to discover that spark within—the source, the catalyst, behind the thing, the act, the everything. It is an idea captured brilliantly and, in some ways, more accessibly by a simple advertisement.

In early 2014, Apple Inc. launched an ad campaign fittingly called “Your Verse,” the hub of which was a ninety second video spot infused with the voice of actor and comedian Robin Williams. William’s distinct, soothing baritone stitches together a breathtaking album of images: a busy marketplace; a cathedral-like entryway; skaters at a hockey rink; kids walking in the woods; a deep-sea diver below the sea’s surface; an offshore wind turbine above the surface; a marching band warming up; a rock concert seen from the first row; the cockpit of a rescue helicopter; a woman dancing; storm chasers beneath a developing tornado. In total, the Apple spot provides a Technicolor sampler of the human fabric.

Once the images have unfolded and your mind has begun to fathom what you see, Williams’ voice warmly oozes in to guide you deeper. “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute,” Williams said. “We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion.” He pauses, deliberately, and then continues at a swift pace. “Medicine, law, business, engineering—these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry… beauty… romance, love—these are what we stay alive for.” And in a short twenty-eight seconds and only fifty-five words, you feel your pulse quicken. He’s already got you.

Williams’ siren-like voice hums like a vibration deep inside. And there’s something more you’re hearing—something with a familiar ring. It’s the sound of a question forming, one that Apple knows each of us identify with: What does it mean to be human? The visual feast offered is so rich, it would be hard to come up with a single answer to this question. And Williams has made the option for answering richer still—pointing us to something deeper (poetry, passion, beauty)—things we might not have brought to mind as our first thoughts, but once he’s said it, we find ourselves saying, “Yes.”

As the ad continues, Williams quotes a Walt Whitman poem that ponders human existence and worth. “O me! O life! Of the questions of these recurring,” Williams breathes. “What good amid these, O me, o life?” he asks. Now the questions aren’t simply implied; they’re at the forefront. And they’re big. Why am I here? Why do I exist? Why bother? They seem unanswerable. But Whitman has an answer, and the creatives at Apple know the power behind the answer to any questions lies within it.

His answer: “That you are here—that life exists and identity. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” Translation: Each of us, each living being, is a statement of existence and more. There’s identity—not simply existence, but expression. And it’s not one line, one act, one performance that defines our identity or completes our expression of it. It’s the rippling of many expressions, ours and those of others, across a powerful play. For Whitman, every individual represents a matchless statement of being. And each life is part of a powerful play that goes on becauseof us—magically, masterfully, confusingly, rapidly, perpetually.

You are here and play a part, passively or actively. But the true wonder is that you can contribute a verse—a powerful, creativity-laden verse. And when you do, life exists. So does identity. Yours.

Even without Whitman and Williams and Apple, you know this to be true: Your thoughts, your actions, and your creations matter. They matter for what they can do and for what they might manifest, yes, but also for the expression they give to who you are and to what it means to be human. Those thoughts, those potential creations—they do not come with a script or recipe. We add that later. They come with a potentiality and a promise, one we choose to make to ourselves.

As Gorman did in her inaugural poem brilliantly, Apple too calls forth what you know and feel deep within you, even if you don’t often stop to consider it. Williams repeats Whitman’s answer a second time—“that the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse”—to signal you, to reignite you, to push the cycle forward once again. And then, he pushes you forward directly into this question: “What will your verse be?”

Step back. Think about it for a moment. Why would Apple put out such a big question in a ninety-second spot ultimately meant to sell iPads? Within the context of the hundreds of messages bombarding us each day, this appears to be unnecessarily risky. Most ads tell us; this one asks us. Here’s what’s brilliant about the Your Verse spot: Apple knows that you not only can handle thinking bigger, going deeper even, but you’re also drawn to it. The company isn’t afraid of what this big question might negatively do to iPad sales, even though this question resides in the deep end of our cerebral sea. Apple isn’t worried because the question also dwells in the shallow end of our thoughts and actions. It lingers in our day-to-day activities and the in-between depths as well. It may perhaps go unnoticed, but it’s undeniably there because humans are on earth to contribute a verse—and we know it, consciously or not. What that is, what we make it, it’s all part and parcel of what I’ve come to call the human question. In conveying this simple truth, I plant this thought: Being consciously aware of the human questions may be the most potently effective means you have for maximizing your creative potential. As this new year rises, take Gorman’s challenge: Be brave enough to see it; be brave enough to be it. Then ask: What will your verse be?

Note: Portions of this article were borrowed and modified from Larry Robertson's book The Language of Man. Learning to Speak Creativity Chapter 8, "Simple Truth: The Human Question Drives Us."

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