“As far as you can possibly go, +1”: On reading and imagination with Terry O’Reilly

During the past busy year, filled with training, teaching and writing, I haven’t often managed to tune in to hear Canadian ad-man, Terry O’Reilly, on his great show, “Under the Influence.” Thankfully, through the great podcasts that he produces for the award-winning (CBC) radio show, one can always catch up later. 

It’s been my intention to do so for some weeks. And then last Sunday, my friend Martha Fergusson observed that Terry’s “Bookmarks 2019” episode was especially “wonderful.” It is his annual show that collects the “outtakes” and extras that didn’t fit into earlier episodes of the season—not because they were weak or had errors, but because they came from books and sources that simply didn’t fit the topics of earlier shows.

And was Martha right!

When I listened to the episode today, I realized why O’Reilly is my kind of marketer. He celebrates reading by saying that “books are barbells for the mind. The best kind of books on marketing are the ones that aren’t books about marketing. Marketing is the study of what makes us tick.” . . . . Such books are about “authors sharing insights about the human condition.”

Marketing, entrepreneurship, writing and the Arts can’t get any better than that.

“Bookmarks 2019” spans a gamut of O’Reilly (and his team’s) reading, all of which vivifies the human condition.  He lists a catalog on unconventional book clubs from around the world that get people reading and meeting; he describes the surprisingly tense core casting of the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird that made its success; we hear from a biography of Beatles’ producer George Martin that only a chance moment of conversation caused him to produce “The Fab Four,” against the odds; and we watch a clip of the “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” directed by the gutsy Joan Darling on the taboo topic of morbidity (“Chuckles [the Clown] Bites the Dust”)—now immortalized as a classic of television.

Citing Dave Trott’s book, Predatory Thinking, O’Reilly observes that in marketing and other creative activity, we tend to make decisions based on our limited experience and knowledge which shut down imagination. He notes that “in business it’s often seen as a sign of strength to have an immediate opinion on everything. But the problem with that is that it shuts down exploration. We all have blindspots” that limit our capacity to see creatively. “Quick opinions too easily slam the door on potential.”

He says: “It can be much more powerful sometimes to say ‘I don’t know.’ ” As the old adage has it, “We don’t know what we don’t know” (an expression recapitulated in the theme song of the community, “Happy Place,” of another classic sit-com,“Corner Gas,” as “I don’t know the same things you don’t know”).

O’Reilly insists that “ ‘I don’t know’ opens a door.” That door can trigger imagination.

“Imagination is always as far as you can possibly go, +1.” And “that +1 can change the world.”

He concludes that “when judging creativity, you have to keep your antennae fully tuned for the smallest indication of massive potential.”

There is risk involved in engaging imagination, but “risks become calculated risks when experienced hands are on the steering wheel.” And by reading and reading even more, the application of what we read spawns precisely that experience.

So whether you read on the beach or in your office this summer, consider that in the crucibles of our creative work, we need to imagine options “as far as we can possibly go, +1.”


Check out Terry’s “Bookmarks 2019” episode, for yourself:



And now it’s your turn: What does it mean for you to do work that goes “as far as you can possibly go, + 1?”   Please write in below, or on my “contact” page.  I’d be delighted to hear from you.