Been there done that


An extract of this article first appeared in Impact magazine | Written by Arvind Agrawal

Inspiration is like an aphrodisiac. It can get you all excited and ready for the game, but ultimately, it is you who has to perform. 

For me, running a creative outfit was never about the skills. Simply because I had none. NONE.

I was a Chartered Accountant, trying to do the cool ‘follow-your-heart’ gig, while a voice in my head kept screaming “dhandha kaise chalega?”

Yes, there are the ‘how-to be-this-and-that-in-5-easy-steps’ books. Yes, there are the expert lectures whose fee can adversely skew your P&L. And then there are other people. People who are the masters. People who are okay to meet you and have a chat. People who say things that you don’t think about much when they say it, but which keep playing on loop in your head as life lessons.

None of what they say is unique. Yet, it is that much more credible because they speak from the experience of really having ‘been there, done that’. That’s what makes the inspiration they provide so uplifting and believable. I’ve found my learning enhanced and enriched through meetings – chance or otherwise – with people whose thinking has helped revive my spirit, each time it threatened to go limp.

Happily sharing a few:

Wally Olins   

Acerbic wit. Uncomfortable candour.  A six-foot frame.  Whether it was a devout audience or a prospective client, he said it like it was. One wondered if that was right, even though he was the world’s branding big daddy. When I finally asked him this, he said, “If you are really really good at what you do, no one will ever call you arrogant.” The next day, he threatened to walk out of a pitch meeting I had facilitated, when the owner of a multi-billion dollar jewellery firm showed up late. 

Wally is now (hopefully) resting in peace, but hop over to @saffronbc to keep in touch with his last venture as co-founder.

Michael Johnson

You know Michael is special the moment you exchange business cards. What announces itself as ‘A Johnson Banks Business Card’ is a neatly folded long piece of paper containing a portable portfolio of his best work. That, however, isn’t the reason Michael is inspiring. Nor is it the fact that he is a rockstar guitarist, who can jam on-demand in front of thousands! Michael is simple. His ideas are simple. And the two make his work unique and timeless. A frame for an art fund. A house shape for an organisation called Shelter. A font shaped like a roller coaster for an amusement park. All executed brilliantly. Get the idea?

Stalk him at @johnsonbanks

Tirso Frances

Tirso is a co-founder of Dietwee - literally ‘we-too’ in Dutch. After nearly missing my train from Amsterdam, and walking a few miles, I finally made it to the gates of his quaint studio in Utrecht, Netherlands to seek inspiration. He literally showed me his thought process (a learning in itself), and as we were saying goodbyes, told me, “Be careful what you wish for, because it often comes true. And be very careful of what you choose to do, because you end up doing more of it!”

Learn some Dutch and check out what Tirso and his crew are doing more of at

Michael Wolff

Michael Wolff is one of his kind. Grandfatherly in approach, profound in his utterances and a pioneer to the hilt. His advice – focus on positioning. It makes all the difference. We interchanged two words in our standard pitch, and it changed the way clients looked at us.

The best part? He makes it all seem as easy as ABC.

Irma Boom

The best book designer in the world – as she is known – Irma is passionate about the old-fashioned way of doing things. Eventually, all creativity is craft, and whether it’s a personal project or a multi-million dollar assignment, you’ve got to put craft into it. 

5 minutes of your time. 20 of her books. Here.

Nevile Brody

At a recent meeting, I asked him how things were. His wry response was that they were all right, but a tad tough. “But you are Nevile Brody”, I said. He shot back, “Yeah, but I still got to eat!”

And just like that, he reinvented himself at Brody Associates.

Look these people up. Reach out to them. Or make your own list of people who have told you a wise thing or two, and keep reminding yourself of those. Trust me, it helps.