Goblins & Howard Roark

As a teenager, I loved both The Hobbit and The Fountainhead. But while I never confused Tolkien’s Middle Earth with reality, I did so with Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Perhaps it’s because I’d never held Bilbo’s cowardliness and dislike of travel in such high esteem anyway, but more likely it’s because The Fountainhead — a self-help book disguised as fiction — is set in our own world. And I revered the book for the guidance it brought to me.

In the book, Howard Roark is an uncompromising architect. He won’t allow a single detail to his designs to be changed, because, as he said: “A building has integrity just like a man. And just as seldom.” And the 15-year-old-me took that approach to the websites he was making. Clients were paying pocket money, but I’d treat it like building a skyscraper, the process uncompromisable. If they’d already had an existing website, I’d insist on redoing it from scratch, because I couldn’t permit myself to become what Rand calls ‘second-hand souls’. I did what Howard Roark would do. (I never asked myself what Bilbo Baggings — a far better person — would do.)

I’m ashamed looking back, now knowing I’ve grown and learned, but also knowing I still make this same mistake. Diving into theory and deciding with absolute certainty that Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle is all wrong, that Byron Sharp is right about how brands grow, but that Mark Ritson is right about brand perceptions. And many strategists use or abuse slides from Les Binet & Peter Field to the letter. It’s the same mistake as I keep making.

Richard Huntington pleads for polytheism rather than monotheism, whether it applies to brand strategy, religion or politics: “Why worship one brand god when you can worship many?

A Myers-Briggs personality test can be fun or useful, despite it not being scientific. There is good advice in 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson. In Baby Teeth, Zoje Stage writes about parenting and the theme of not loving your own children, and if you can step over that you may learn something new. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is deeply uncomfortable, but the book did help introduce the idea (and policing) of sex abuse of children in the US. And The Fountainhead is still one of my favorite books. Yet now I try to not let Rand’s ideals become dogma. I’ll sometimes think instead about what Bilbo would do.