It Doesn’t Amount to a Can of Beans. Or a Hill of Beans. Or Whatever That Saying Was.

Bean Can Label

YEARS AGO, Les Kerr and I were talking to a photographer friend when he brought up a conversation he’d had with a prospective client from a packaged foods company. It’s a conversation that Les and I have inducted into our Hall of Fame of Funny Things We’ve Heard People Say.

The prospect wanted to make sure he hired a photographer qualified to shoot his beautiful, packaged food, which happened to be canned beans (no, not Van Camp’s). So he asked our friend what else he’d worked on. After hearing a rundown of extensive experience shooting for several clients in the packaged foods category, the man dejectedly concluded, “But you’ve never photographed canned beans?”

It’s in our Hall of Fame, not only because it’s funny, but also because it illustrates a blind spot that’s common in the industry. What I’m talking about is partly Packaged Food Guy’s lack of objectivity, but more than that, his misunderstanding of creativity, of what motivates good creative people to do what they do (those in the communications business at least), and how that energy can be directed into solving problems for clients.

What the guy didn’t know how to see was this: our photographer friend had a portfolio that demonstrated more than skill, technical proficiency, or an understanding of the challenges unique to shooting tin cans with, I don’t know, whatever inside them. He was good at what he did in part because of an innate drive to help make his clients successful, to know he made a difference. The drive was innate; the skill was acquired, and readily transferrable, from cans of yams to cans of beans.

Admittedly, not every creative in the business is so inclined, and even the best can sometimes allow personal bias or a pet idea to get them off track. But even that detour can be corrected: Very few good photographers, designers, writers, et al, just want their own way. Rather, what is often mistaken for ego and intransigence can instead be a passionate commitment to doing something great, and to being a contributing factor in that great thing. Gently help the seemingly recalcitrant creative person find their way back on track and watch how quickly they’ll reinvest in the great idea that’s the right idea.


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