Interview with Allison Arden
Alison Lee: Ok. So, I sort of love it when I talk to someone who has the same name as I do. And today. I’m doing that. I got this book in the mail. I’m very interested to talk to the author. Her name, Allison Arden, she is the publisher of Advertising Age and she’s author of a new book called The Book of Doing: Everyday Activities to unlock your creativity and Joy. Allison, welcome to the show.
Allison Arden: Thank you very much, Alison.
Alison: Now I have to say the first thing I saw when I saw the name of the title of the book, the Book of Doing I was like I can’t do anything else. I know. Everybody feels that way, right. But then I started reading it, and I am right there 100% behind on the concepts of all that. But now you say that the decision to do this book was it a decision to start living your life rather than going through the motions. You want to explain that to us?
Arden: Absolutely. I never set out to write a book. I literally set out in the midst of the juggling act of life deciding that I was running too fast and not having any time to enjoy it all. And I thought to myself well what am I doing when I’m happiest? And I realized when I was happiest, I was doing arts and crafts which is what makes me talking to you right now so perfect. But that was favorite thing to do as a kid. But in this blur of life that we all live I hadn’t had that much time to do it except when I was doing it with my kids. And I realized that what I love about arts and crafts is that I am just focused on the task at hand. I’m just rolling up my sleeves, I’m engaged, I’m having fun. I don’t care what I’m looking like. Not self-conscious at all. And just enjoying it and creating something. And when I actually thought about those lessons and those feelings, I realized that I could be doing arts and crafts all the time if I treated everything in my life in that way. So, I just started treating everything I did like it was my favorite arts and crafts project.
Alison: How did that go?
Arden: Amazing. It turned everything I did into a fun energizing activity that made me happy and made other people happy. And that was wonderful. So even though I was probably technically doing more, I was doing things that were so much more fulling, so much more enjoyable and so much more fun.
Alison Lee: And then did you walk with a lot more energy because of it?
Arden: Walked away with so much more energy, right? So, when ultimately, I mean a woke up one morning with this idea in my head for the book and then started writing the book which became a whole other thing. But it was because I realized that there was so many books about the art of doing nothing which is this idea of relaxation and laying back and doing nothing and taking a break. But nothing had ever been written to really celebrate the art of doing. Which is all of the wonderful gifts that come from rolling up your sleeves and moving things forward.
Alison: Do you think everyone can be a doer?
Arden: Everyone can be a doer.
Arden: I don’t everyone is a doer. And you know there is a big makers movement. I think everyone can become a maker but first you have to become a doer.
Alison: That’s a very good point. Some people think they just become a maker and not be still doing and not doing.
Arden: I guess that’s true. Making is actually remembering the joy of making things and that’s wonderful if they are kind of in the project kind of way. But just realizing that everybody has the power to do and to create positive change in their life and create things and give their greatest gifts to the world. I think everyone has that ability. You just have to be honest with yourself about what is it that you love to do then allow yourself the time to do it.
Alison: OK, you are my new best friend. I feel the same way. OK, let’s go back because I love what said, you loved arts and crafts when you were little. Do you remember the first thing you were making and what you loved?
Arden: Well, whether I was reading your bio, I loved reading about what you did with your grandmother and that show you watched. I made soap for the first time with my daughter this past week and I’m going to take what you wrote there.
Alison: Oh, we have to tell her and all it is, is you take. You know what do they still make ivory snowflakes?
Arden: I think they do.
Alison: OK. Ivory snowflakes, water and the eggbeater and then just dye. I thought it was pure, I still think it’s sort of pure magic.
Arden: Yes. So, we will absolutely do that. But I do remember that in fact my first acknowledgement in my book is to my first arts and crafts teacher. Her name is Frida Rubin and I remember the moment sitting in her arts and crafts room which was in the day camp that I went to when I was little, and I couldn’t have been more than five. And her teaching us how to do what she called black magic. And you color a rainbow on a piece of paper and then colored over it with black craypas. And then you etched in your beautiful design. So that was the memory that led me to writing this book.
Alison: I love it.
Arden: Because in doing, in kind of etching off that black, you were revealing the inner rainbow and in me spending the time to focus on the things that made me happy and also acknowledging the things that didn’t make me happy, but I was doing them anyway and getting rid of those things, I started revealing my inner rainbow. So, it was like black magic. Pretty fun right?
Alison: You know it was called something too. I mean I love doing that. Then you did it with paint on top of your craypa? No, it was something else you did.
Arden: No. It was craypa. I never did it with paint.
Alison: OK. In the [inaudible] I think we did but then they came out with the game. It was a board that was black, and you used like your finger and when you went through it, it became a rainbow as well. It’s a pretty fabulous thing let’s just face it.
Arden: And they make books of them now too which is part you know where the pages are just there for you to etch into. Which is pretty cool, but I think part of the challenge.
Alison: Was making your own?
Arden: Well, you had to make your own. And so, so many things today are just kind of done for use that we forget that actually applying the time to create and do, what that can make for us rather than everything just being so kind of set the way it is.
Alison: Well, you know what you said before about you have your sleeve rolled up, you’re doing it I think that’s it. You are so in the moment and it causes you to be alive in the moment. There is nothing more rejuvenating than that.
Arden: That’s right and there are new studies that show that if you take the time to do the things that you love, it makes you more, the term is cognitively flexible. Which means that you are more open minded and more creative. So, it just makes you more happier and more open to the possibilities. And so, arts and crafts is a wonderful kind of learning ground for all of those lessons.
Alison: Oh darling, you just gave me permission to have a fabulous afternoon that I wasn’t going to do. I’ve just changed all my plans.
Arden: You will have so much fun. I can’t imagine I have to sell you on that idea.
Alison: No, you don’t I. I am a big believer in that because it just, I know that the energy just pays off. There is nothing like it. But, how did you? I’m quite familiar with your magazine Advertising Age. How did you bring that to work?
Arden: Well in lots of different ways little by little. First of all, I was just so much mor energized and this to me, the whole message of the book and what we are talking about is just being open to the possibilities. And in the current day that we are living in whether you are a person needing to think differently about what your future looks like or your business who’s been defined as something very specific for such a long time, we all the ability to think more broadly about who we are and what we do. So, for Advertising Age, we for a very long time thought of ourselves as a print magazine. And then we evolved to think of ourselves as a multi-platform media company, right. Because we do so many things in so many different ways. But what I realize and what we all realize was that wasn’t enough for all of the opportunities that we could potentially have. So, we started thinking of ourselves more broadly rather than just covering the industry as playing a key role in helping make the industry smarter about advertising, marketing and media. And in broadening out our remit, we started creating so many new products and so many new ideas of what we could do, and some based on advertising and some are based on access. There are different types of products that help people in different ways. So that was how we started looking different at our products. But we also, I encourage creativity in our culture and within all of my colleagues here. So, we infuse that, my first step was I painted a wall in my office as very bright turquoise blue among a grey sea of cubicles. And it made a statement, and it wasn’t about me just wanting to color my own space, it was you know that we have to do things a little bit different and add a splash of color to make things more interesting and more exciting. And nobody really got it until suddenly my graphic designer was redesigning our business cards and he showed me a couple of different designs and of the designs he said, this was inspired by the juxtaposition of the blue and white walls in your office. And I realize that it was opening people up a bit more. And then we had a caricature artist come in and draw a caricature of everyone on our team.
Alison: What a great idea!
Arden: It was a lot of fun, but it made a statement that we A) don’t take ourselves too seriously but B) everybody is a member of the team and we want everybody to take pride in what we do here but also, we celebrate you as the individual. And then we started encouraging people to share different things they were doing. So, we have Ken Wheaton who is an author, we had a woman who was our art director but has now gone off to become the homesick Texan. She’s published a wonderful cookbook on Barbeque down in Texas and she was exploring her own creativity. We have marathon runners; we have cereal makers but they are all part of the Ad Age team but doing the things they love outside of work so they can bring their best energy to our office.
Alison: How fast [inaudible] people, I love it. I get excited just hearing all that. The caricature is a great idea.
Arden: Yes. Very fun.
Alison: Now how fast did people accept it or did people go, what happened to Allison?
Arden: No, you know I think we can only mock our own progress. So, it’s like little-by-little overtime you just star seeing and feeling a difference in the culture. And just last year one of the activities in the book is use a cupcake as your canvas. And that is you know; cupcake is a blank slate. We don’t have to just flop some chocolate frosting on them. You can use each one as a beautiful design. And I had done it with my daughter and we had so much fun designing valentine’s day cupcakes. Well then, I brought some just fresh baked cupcakes to my office, laid them outside my office and put all kinds of toppings there and watched people create their own cupcake canvas. And they didn’t know what I was doing but it was no longer weird for the publisher to have these cupcakes for everyone and to turn them into an art project. It just suddenly became part of our culture and it just kind of lightened everything up. One of the activities in the book is mail something and that was as I started approaching everything as an art project, I heard you could mail fruit without packaging.
Alison: I saw in there something about sending gourds.
Arden: I did. So, somebody told me you can mail oranges and put a stamp on them and just write your address on them and send them. So, I didn’t think it was possible and part of this was about figuring out what was possible and what was impossible. So, I mailed a pumpkin to myself to see if it would work first.
Alison: How did it go?
Arden: I got it the next day. My husband called me and said guess what you got in the mail? And I totally forgotten so I was like, what did I get a bill? Oh, no no. You got a pumpkin. And so, then my kids and I decorated about ten more and we sent them to family and friends. But the best part was you know we got a bunch of calls of thanks for the pumpkin, didn’t you know can mail fruit, who knew? And then six weeks later I got a butternut squash in the mail decorated as Santa Claus. Because one of the women who I sent this to, though that it was fabulous and wanted to see how much further we could push the boundaries of the postal service. And so, she decorated a butternut squash like Santa Claus, stuck five dollars of postage on and sent it to me. It arrived at my office a few days later. So then just how this has infused creativity into our work, I then wrote a column about it for Ad Age about how we should be pushing the envelope at the US Postal Service because if we could start infusing more creativity into the postal service, maybe it wouldn’t be losing so much money. We would have a much stronger foundation for the postal service to operate from.
Alison: But I wanted to be there when you brought the pumpkin because what’s all the questions they ask. Is it perishable?
Arden: No, no. SO I didn’t ask any questions, I just slapped the stamps on, literally snuck into the post office and dropped it in. I didn’t want to know how much. It was a little pumpkin, so I figured I’ll just splurge on the three stamps rather than asking permission. Because in asking them to weigh it and asking them, I was basically asking them if its ok. And I did, when I did finally write the column, I found out that as long as it’s not, you’re mailing it at your own risk. And as long as it doesn’t rot.
Alison: Well, depends on how long it takes for them to deliver it.
Arden: Well, that would be true, and I guess that would be my argument.
Arden: So, it all went fine.
Alison: I love that.
Arden: Yes. And I put a happy autumn message on the too because I was trying to inspire some [inaudible] postal workers.
Alison: Well, they used to have fun with envelopes back when we didn’t have any other way to send anything. There was you know sending.
Arden: You put stickers all over them.
Alison: Stickers and you know, you could like instead of 30 stamps wherever you needed one, 30 single stamps and all kinds of fun stuff.
Arden: Absolutely and I would tell you that my kids still love getting packages in the mail. What’s more exciting?
Alison: Well, that’s pretty darn exciting to get a pumpkin in the mail. I have to tell you that would keep me laughing for a least a full day.
Arden: Yes. And I’m waiting to see how other people kind of push the envelope on this.
Alison: Well just even in hearing this story, I think the reaction is it lightens you up, it makes you happy. I do believe the thing about if you smile, it changes how you feel. It forces different chemistry to go through your body.
Arden: Absolutely and what I think people are embracing about the book to your point on I can’t do anymore, the book is filled with pictures. So, like it’s creative. It’s a kid’s book for adults, so its fully illustrative and interactive and it’s not chapters you could dive in and dive out. So, if you read the first kind of eight pages, you get the kind of where it came from and what its meant to do and then everything else is kind of eat as you go.
Alison: I like, well yes. I was reading through a bunch of them that cracked me up. I like trying pizza every different place. I think I might have done that already actually though.
Arden: It was quite delicious and when we finished the pizza, we’ve now moved on to other types of food.
Alison: Oh. You can definitely do; ice cream is my other favorite. Must taste at every place and you can get taste. You don’t even have to get a full thing, just go around and keep tasting and deciding which is best.
Arden: Yes. We’ve done meatballs, empanadas, macaroons. You name it, we’ve tried it.
Alison: Do you have one of your favorite ones in there?
Arden: No. Well in the book it’s just pizza, but if you, just doing a food tour your own personal food tour of the lower east side of Manhattan is enough to keep you [inaudible] for a day.
Alison: That’s true. I like the activity too. Well one that made an impression on me was the whole flossing thing. Floss gives you years on to your life.
Arden: My dentist was so excited that I was putting that in the book.
Alison: Oh my god. Tell people what that means.
Arden: Well, the activity is floss because flossing to them is, I couldn’t verify the stat, but it adds years to your life and it apparently has a connection to lower birth weight and heart disease and all kinds of things that pass through the blood stream. But what I learnt this, when I was at a business lunch and sometimes you sit at these tables and no one is talking to each other and it’s just like the worst activity ever. Well, we’re all sitting there kind of you can hear like all the forks and knives and then this woman came in and this is like ten years ago, she sat down, and she said ‘Hi everyone, do you know what I learnt today? Flossing adds six years to your life’. And the entire table just erupted in laughter and everyone started talking for the rest of lunch everyone had a delightful experience.
Alison: There you go.
Arden: So, the point of the floss activity was just sharing the story of what other fact do you have that can just spark conversion that you can pass forward that can bring your way to others and also learning in this process, but it was just her way of breaking the ice and making people connect with each other that I found so brilliant. But then my dentist was really thrilled for me to be passing off the flossing activity because it was very important. And he was serious.
Alison: Then you can also make sure you always have like 10 or 12 of those little sample flosses in your bag to hand out when you have that conversation. [Crosstalk]. Yes, just start right there.
Arden: What better gift could I be giving you right now?
Alison: I agree. A little flossing party. Well, the other one that cracked me up was the idea of making a popsicle stick replica of your five-favorite people.
Alison: That put a smile on my face right away.
Arden: My editor actually the first time we got together and talked about this. For whatever reason we were both discussing over popsicle sticks. So that’s the activity that I put in there that is specifically dedicated to her. You can do amazing things with popsicle sticks.
Alison: You can. We’ve had this discussion before. Actually, I ran a class a craft class one night from a brilliant man who showed us how to make tools and 90% were made out of popsicle sticks and it’s just one of those things from your youth that’s pretty genius.
Arden: Yes. But creating replicas of people who you love and then keeping them, either giving it to them as gifts or keeping them around you because they’ll always make you smile.
Arden: Yes, very fun.
Alison: That’s all good. So, what are you onto next?
Arden: Oh, my goodness. You know a whole bunch of things. This book was actually born out of another book that I’ve written that I’m looking forward to publishing and sharing which is a little bit more of the philosophy behind. So, there is definitely another book in the future. We have an app that’s coming out and a couple of different things. So, a lot of very fun things and so very excited about all the things we have to do at Ad Age as well. So, it’s like they say when you have a child and then you have another child you don’t realize how much you, you don’t think you have any more love give? Well, I realized in this whole act of kind of giving birth to the book, when I was doing everything before, I didn’t think I had another ounce of energy. And this has just expanded all the different ways that I’m getting to engage my own creativity and that’s been a wonderful thing.
Alison: Isn’t that fun?
Arden: And sharing with others. It’s the people that I’ve met through this process and the conversations I’ve had and gotten to have, have been just really phenomenal and all through finding [inaudible] the joy of doing.
Alison: Isn’t it great? Great journey there, I bet. Are you the kind that ever gets bored?
Arden: No. I’m better when busy. My husband calls me an addictive creative. But it is. It’s just, there are so many things to do and I do sleep well at night, I do say that. But I don’t get bored.
Alison: And are your kids? I bet; you have children you said?
Arden: I do. I have. They are 7 and 10 about to be 8 and 11.
Alison: Oh, there are almost adults now which is true. They will be adults.
Arden: Oh goodness no.
Alison: Yes, I’m sorry to tell you. That’s going to happen very soon. But are they loving this part?
Arden: They are having so much fun. They are quite proud and also so many of the activities that are in the book we’ve done. They were part of this whole exploration.
Alison: I’m sure they had a blast.
Arden: Whether it was the pizza or the pumpkin or going to the art museum and turning it into a fun interactive activity for them, it’s all part of that. There are only two activities in the book that you can’t do with children and those have alcohol in them. So, you save those for after the kids. Because the book is fun for kids, but it’s also really meant to reawaken the childlike delight in adults.
Alison: Which is so important.
Arden: Yes. Often times we are running so fast that we forget that this is all supposed to be fun and I think my daughter has summed it up best and she was like, you guys are just grown-up kids and she’s right. You know. If we could approach things that way, things do become so much more fun.
Alison: Oh, I agree. I totally agree. It makes and it should be that way. I always like to say at the end of every day, I’d like to do a little standing ovation applause as I look out the window before I go to sleep.
Arden: Oh, love that. Love that. I actually had somebody end a meeting here at Ad Age with a round of applause and I was like, that was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
Alison: Right. It is. It’s a fabulous thing to applause. Well, I knew it would be fun talking to you. I know you have to catch a plane. I knew you’re off to do and have more fun so I’m going to say the book again. The book by Alison Arden is The Book of Doing: Everyday Activities to Unlock your Creativity and Joy. Don’t not pick it up because you went, the book of doing, I can’t do anything else. You are going to love it. It’s going to make you laugh.
Arden: Thank you. What I’ve been hearing is that people having been buying it for themselves and then once they’ve read it, they buy it for a bunch of their friends and that’s been so rewarding.
Alison: Yes. A gift to give.
Arden: Yes, thank you, thank you for your time.
Alison: Thank you. Bye Bye.