School of Thought – 12 Weeks Naked

Want to know more about School of Thought, have a read of what Mike Emerson, previous winner, has to say about it…

There’s a travesty show on Channel 4 at the moment called Naked Attraction. It asks participants to stand in Perspex boxes completely naked, as different parts of their bodies are slowly revealed. Someone stands at the front, judging their bits and pieces, and eventually they choose who they’d most like to sleep with or something. Unsurprisingly/disappointedly, it’s been hugely successful and everyone’s wondering if they could do it. Whilst baring all for a bit of ‘I’ve had my balls on TV’ banter at your local Wetherspoons is about as boring as it gets, I’d imagine it’s also quite daunting. I can’t imagine, though, that it’s any worse than School of Thought.

I was on the course last year, and showing off the (sometimes hideous) baby you’ve been working on day and night to a room full of twelve strangers is about as anxiety inducing as it gets. You see – for whatever reason – you’re going into that room believing that your piece of paper holds an answer to the brief, that other people will understand said paper, and that maybe they’ll be able to tell that the tree you’ve drawn in the corner is actually the expression of a forty something male looking longingly at this beautiful new car. (They won’t).

Once the initial fear fades, the intensity kicks in. You’ve basically got two days to come up with a solution, plus a possible wedge on Thursday lunch hour if you’re not snowed under. And that’s just the thing. Take out your working hours, your showers, your meals and your social life, and you’re left with all of 6 hours to crack an almighty problem. You have to learn to let the thinking spread over all of those things, and use the concentrated hours to actually get it into a pad. Be prepared for mid sex mood killers, as you crack just how to make margarine great whilst simultaneously repelling your partner, and the repetition of ‘please don’t forget’ chants whilst you sprint out of the supermarket to the nearest biro. It becomes that consuming.

The riches are worthwhile though. If the twelve creative director contacts don’t do it for you, the eleven brutally honest peers will – Thursday beers send things speeding into back scratching or bluntness. You’ll be glad to know there’s genuine learning too, which sort of manifests as a two-fold process. There’s the direct stuff you get on the Monday nights, and the things you leave the course with. The actual insight at the lectures can be as divisive as it is intriguing, the twelve-week duration offering a broad spectrum of topics to be covered.

The level of diversity in people and content offers up an unrivalled opportunity for positioning yourself too – you’ll know exactly what types of people you want to work with, and how to deal with those you don’t. You’ll learn which parts of the industry you enjoy working on, and which you’re absolutely shite at.

In terms of personal ‘development’ (*gags*), there’s truck loads of that. My main aim was to have a book of advertising based ideas by the end of the course. That worked better than expected, as I was left with a range of different media I never would have covered individually (print till I die). I learnt a lot about trimming too – I’m known to brain dump 86 disconnected scraps of paper on the table during a crit, scared that I might skip past something that could be relatively OK. Figuring out how to know when something is worth spending more time on, and when to cut it out was a massive jump forward for me. You present better as it goes along too – thickening skin fed by an evolving mix of actual progress, confidence, and increasingly focused couldn’t-give-a-shit attitude.

I can’t remember too much about how it all ended. There was some sort of ceremony, work stuck all over the walls. Lots of different potions to drink, lots of different potions drank. I was happy with what I’d personally got from the course, and then I got made to stand in front of lots of people whilst they clapped and told me to go to the south of France. I went there, bumbled around for a week, and now I’ve come back to a job in advertising – all about as unfathomable as the course itself. I wouldn’t be too surprised if I got asked to stand naked in a box next.

Written by Mike Emerson


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