Talking with Allison Arden

Talking with Allison Arden

Episode #175

Today I talk with Allison Arden, publisher of Advertising Age and author of a new book called; The Book of Doing

You will love to hear what she learned about staying in the creative flow!

Also, the latest news here from the studio and some favorite new apps, books, and video viewing to chat about.

Laura Stevenson/ I See Dark


Brendon Bruchard/ Charge

United States of Tara / Showtime

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Interview transcript

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.

Alison: OK.

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.

What people are saying

  • Your classes are just amazing and I have learned sooo much from Cindy Pope’s classes on the Silhouette machines. She breaks it down so any beginner can learn. I didn’t take my Curio out of the box for a year until I watched her class. Now I’m addicted

    Beth B
  • Thank you for the informational class last night, and for the notes, it looks like a great product to work with. Best Wishes,

  • You are a truly generous soul to share so much with the community. I am constantly impressed by the extra effort you put into everything you do. A true inspiration. 

    Bridget D.