Illustrator Ben O’Brien reveals how a small paperback changed his life
I’m an illustrator and designer, a creative problem solver, I think with a (creative) logic, the only spiritual feelings I have come from nature, I’m a fan of science, I’m not really religious (each to their own) and yet... I have a bible, I belong to a cult, one man’s words changed my life for the better, I am a follower and disciple of our lord and saviour Paul Arden.
Around 7 years ago I was working as part of a small creative team, learning a lot and enjoying it, yet I wasn’t entirely happy in my work, in my position, I wasn’t completely satisfied with my career, I had felt pretty lost since I’d started out 4 years earlier. I then discovered a book entitled ‘It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be’ by former Saatchi & Saatchi executive creative director Paul Arden.
It’s a self-help book of sorts, for people working in the creative or advertising industries, with succinct thoughts and stories, experiences, gems of knowledge, refreshing ways of thinking, ethics, morals, advice, discussions, questions and answers. The book runs through varied areas that all come together to reset your mind and fuel your aspirations, this book can be the start of great things. Included in the book are pages on coveting ideas, winning awards, team working, pitching, business cards and the tools of the trade. It changed my life. Within a year I had left my full-time studio job, started my business alone, successfully freelanced for Airside and the BBC, single-handedly taken on an ad campaign for Smart Cars and above all, found happiness in my career and an immense drive to move forwards positively. It had all seemed so easy, no worries, no restrictions, nothing held me back, it felt incredible and my entire new, forward-thinking, aspirational, focused mindset was down to Paul Arden’s book.
Since I first read this book I have re-read it many times (it’s actually quite a quick read, just an hour or two cover to cover), and every time I’ve read it it has thrown up something new, as you evolve and develop it will still have something new to help you along, it’ll give answers that can be applied to all manner of questions. I’ve also discovered that it’s not just for those working in advertising or in visual creative professions, I’ve met people who have applied it to careers in music, writing and business, it’s all about how you think. This book is far from the only guide to thinking in business published, there is a great wealth of blogs and books that can be really great, but rarely will they be as concise, inspirational, aspirational or as easy to get through as Paul Arden’s book. To reach my own favourite part of the book you don’t have to go very far at all. On the cover, below the title, lies the introduction ‘The world’s best-selling book by Paul Arden’; you can’t get much more aspirational or a better manifestation than that.
Over the years I have met and discovered a good number of Paul Arden disciples, all of whom vouch for this book keeping their minds in check, helping them focus their business and causing them to aim high and realise their aspirations. Here are just four of them...
“It gives me the courage to aim ridiculously high and not feel embarrassed or apologetic for doing so. The book is full of nuggets of advice composed succinctly and beautifully on the page, but for me, this quote (pictured below, in pride of place above Johanna’s desk) is the one which captured my imagination and seemed to give me permission to dream big, really BIG.” Johanna Basford
“Paul's Arden's book, in my eyes is the ultimate self help guide for any aspiring designer out there, well in my case an illustrator full of self doubt and worry. Now this book isn't going to suddenly turn you into an illustration or design wizard but it will change the way you think while working. The quote " Do not seek praise. Seek criticism" is something I stick too when sharing current projects online.” Aaron Miller
“Paul Arden basically grabs what I have always thought to be true, but translates it into such a matter-of-fact way of writing that it makes you wonder why not everyone thinks like that. Paul's tone throughout his book felt like an older, more experienced, more confident big brother, telling me to stop being such a pansy and man up. Stop worrying about "what ifs". Take life and everything it has to offer and fly with it. You can be/do/get whatever you want in life if you have the balls/initiative/ambition to go for it. It reminds me of my dreams, why I have them, and why I'm working so hard to get that little bit closer to them.” Lucy Woodman
“I first read "It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want To Be" whilst I was still making music and was considering a switch to design. I was immediately drawn to the anti-establishment, 'write your own rules' theme. It's a bit acid-house, a bit rebellious, a bit 'f*ck you' (but in a nice way). This gave me the courage to make a decision to switch. In addition to Arden's "play by your own rules" ethos, he also demonstrates that hard work is unavoidable. The single piece of advice I have followed is "Try treating the layout with the same intensity you bring to the main idea" - It's simple, but not easy to achieve.” Matthew Roberts
If you are open to such a thing, if you really do feel like someone needs to open a door in your mind to let you out and give you the chance to really achieve something, then I would go no further than recommending you read this book. Paul Arden sadly passed away in 2008, I only wish I could have worked with him, or at the very least thanked him for changing everything with one very simple little book. I’m thankful to say that Paul Arden left a great legacy, not just in his advertising campaigns, but in the army of worshippers he has inspired to go on to great things.