A Father Teaches His Son the Secret of Creativity

Ogilvy N.A. president and CCO Chris Beresford-Hill travels back to the future

Our parents shape so much of who we become. My Father, Paul Beresford-Hill, gave me my definition of creativity, and I wanted to share it this Father's Day.

My father was born in Ireland in 1949. He dropped out of school when he was still a young boy to join the workforce and support his grandparents, who were raising him. Somehow, he's become a PhD, has been Knighted, and is a Special Ambassador to the United Nations. He's been blessed by two popes, shook hands with Princess Diana, and has hosted both Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mother. He's met Obama, and just about anyone else you'd want to meet, and most of the time he was not on the guest list. You might call him a bit of a hustler. You might call it a charmed life. But I've always understood the truth—that for my father, life is one big act of creativity.

The main thing about Paul Beresford-Hill is that he never let where he was at the moment get in the way of where he was going. Said more provocatively, he never let reality get in the way of his dreams. And that is the essence of creativity. No matter how the odds are stacked against you, how tough the problem, or difficult the brief, the creative genius only focuses on the greatest possible outcome, and starts building paths to it.

I'll share one small example of how he lives his life, from a trip that greatly impacted mine.

When I was 10, we took a father-son trip to California. It was the first time I'd been to the West Coast. The highlight was a day at Universal Studios, where we took the backlot tram tour, and I saw the set of Back to the Future Part II. It was my absolute favorite movie, and it blew my mind to be where it all happened. I'm pretty sure it altered my brain chemistry, and gave me a rush of energy that I have been chasing to the hundreds of film sets I have been on since.

But I digress. Back to 1990. That evening, we returned to the hotel and called my mother to recap our day. I shared that I would give anything to go back again, but it was not possible. Tickets to the park were expensive, and it exceeded our budget.

The next morning, my father woke me up before dawn, and without much explanation drove our rental car to Anaheim, where we sat in a strip mall office and watched a presentation for a new timeshare development. After a four-hour sales pitch, we were granted two tickets to Universal Studios as a reward for our attention. We burned rubber returning to the backlot, and rode the tour all afternoon, until the park closed for the night.

That day I learned a valuable lesson, which is that when you encounter a "no," you don't have to accept it, or get mad, and you certainly don't have to give up. You just have to find another way. If you’re my father, or any creative person, you always believe there is another way.

Finding another way has become my favorite way to define an act of creativity, whether it's getting into a theme park, or selling an ambitious advertising idea. When you invariably run into obstacles, walls and "noes," finding another way is an invitation to do the impossible. It's liberation from what's been done before, and gives you the freedom to do it like no one else.

And just maybe, if you're like my father, you will inspire a person or two along the way.

Creativity! Thank you, dad.

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Chris Beresford-Hill
Chris Beresford-Hill is North American president and CCO at Ogilvy Advertising.

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