What’s happening with the business of advertising? What will the post-consumer economy look like?
What is going on in sustainability? Jelly Helm is the first to admit that he doesn’t know. But that doesn’t stop him from speculating about it in public, especially to audiences of excited listeners.
Last night, Jelly treated a number of us to a great presentation was full of existentialist introspection, personal narrative, and show-stopping poetry. He also gave us a sneak peek of the new work he’s done with the Oregon Council for the Humanities, and shared his excitement for Wikipedia, his newest client. It was a fun-filled tour de force that could’ve lasted for a few hours more.
About this Transcript
If you were unfortunate enough to be sitting near me, you probably heard me typing very furiously, first in the audience, and then respectfully (hopefully) off to the side. Transcripts are important because they allow something amazing to be shared with a larger audience, but the resolution of experience decays as one abstracts the essence of the event through a digital means. I hope that this account preserves something of the excellent speech that was given last night.
I’m sorry there are not many images. I didn’t have a camera with me. Undoubtedly, there will be a thousand errors in punctuation and grammar. If it is something you enjoy doing, please feel free to point out any and all of them in the comments below.
The event was held in the Cleaners at the Ace Hotel, a space often reserved for events such as this. Eric Hillerns, of Pinch. A Design Office., organized the event as part of AIGA’s Designspeaks.
“The Design Speaks series was developed as a voice for the creative community”, he began, “It was basically established to be a series of small talks intended to inform and inspire”.
How Eric met Jelly
Eric Hillerns met Jelly after his presentation at the 2008 Creative Conference.
“I knew that he was a high profile guy with arguably the best agency in the world”, said Hillerns, “Though our chat was brief, we had some common realationhips – and we left it at that”.
But later, while vying for the same buisness pitch – Jelly won it. Hillerns wasn’t pleased, of course.
“But I understood,” he admitted, “after all, Jelly was one of the more creartive strategists in the business”.
So Hillerns sent an E-mail.
“And at the end of the E-mail, I said – ‘We’re interested in watchng the brand evolve. We’re rooting for them, we’re rooting for you – don’t fuck it up’ .”
There was laughter from the aduience.
“Needless to say,” continued Hillerns, “he certantly hasn’t fucked up. I’m inspired by his approach to problems. He approaches them in a reverent manner”.
About Jelly Helm
Hillerns explained that Jelly Helm was a writer, designer, film director, creative director, and teacher. His clients include Imperial Woodpecker, Oregon Humanities, Infectious Diseases Research Institute and Wikipedia. He was formerly an executive creative director at Wieden + Kennedy, and founder of W+K 12, an experimental school inside the agency.
Jelly Helm arrived at the podium. Behind him was the beginning of a PowerPoint screen that held an image of the word “Story” in a typewritten font. It looked like Jelly had typewritten his PowerPoint and scanned in each slide.
Jelly: Well, that certaintly was pleasant. I’m glad you all came. I didn’t expect you all to come, but thanks.
For me, all of my work, whether in design, writing, film directing, ect. — has been about the narrative; about story.
I left Wieden+Kennedy to take a sabbatical with no clue as to what would happen next. I took six months at first and then took one year because it was good to sit and think about why I do what I do for a living.
Tonight, before I got up here to give this speech, I saw Dave Allen. He said, “are you prepared?” And I said, of course, ‘this is my script’. This is me.
Jelly then tried to turn the slide, but it doesn’t work — it’s stuck.
Jelly: I hope you like this slide.
So, while they’re getting that, are there any questions you’d like to ask?
Audience: Where are you teaching at right now?
Jelly: I’m not teaching right now. I taught in two places, and then started a school at Wieden+Kennedy called 12.
David Kennedy, who is kind of a crazy guy, has all of these little papers, which he cuts up and carries around with him. I used to be confused about why he did this, but now I’m doing it.
“This slide shows the time humans have been on Earth compared to how long the Universe has existed. It’s taken 12 billion years from the beginning of the Universe, and 5 billion since the beginning of the Sun. And then a tiny dash at the end shows us. Here we are, barely begun – the race of humans.
He showed the next slide, which was a picture of the Earth with the acronym “wtf” typewritten above it.
The Birth of the Story
The beginning of human life is inexplicable. There’s animals chasing you; you’re living in the cold without any clothes; picking foods that occasionally posion you….
And around 30,000 years ago we started doing something. We started telling stories. And people linked this up with the birth of the human spirit.
The reason we told these stories was to understand what was going on.
Karen Armstrong writes:
“We are meaning-seeking creatures.
Dogs, as far as we know,
do not agonise about the canine condition,
worry about the plight of dogs in other parts of the world,
or try to see their lives from a different perspective.
But human beings fall easily into despair,
and from the very beginning we invented stories that enabled us to place our lives in a larger setting,
that revealed an underlying pattern,
and gave us a sense that,
against all the depressing and chaotic evidence to the contrary,
life had meaning and value”.
We still use stories to make sense of the world, to:
-To find our place
-To discover meaning
-To determine actions
“I think story is the operating system of being a human being.”
I can’t remember what slide is next.
The slide changes to read “I am a storyist”.
So I’m a storyist.
I’ve played in a rock band, I’ve been an actor…
[But] underneath it all is a passion for telling stories and how they shape us and what they mean to us.
I Read Poetry
If any of you were at the Creative Conference you know I use poems. I use this particular poem to understnad my role – because, like you, I have the same chaotic experience.
This is the same poem that Willy Wonka quoted from. It is from the time of the Civil War.
We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams.
World-losers and world-forsakers,
Upon whom the pale moon gleams;
Yet we are the movers and shakers,
Of the world forever, it seems.
With wonderful deathless ditties
We build up the world’s great cities,
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion an empire’s glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song’s measure
Can trample an empire down.
We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of the earth,
Built Nineveh with our sighing,
And Babel itself with our mirth;
And o’erthrew them with prophesying
To the old of the new world’s worth;
For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.
— Arthur O’Shaughnessy (1884-1881)
Jelly’s recitation of the poem left a sort of stunned atmosphere in the audience.
“You don’t explain poems, right?” he finally said, “That’s the rule?”
“But sometimes I need help,” he continued, “I think it describes what it is like to experience the endless cycle of us as the leading edge of the universe.
The story that holds togehter for me is the story of growth – unfolding and exploding. And I think that’s what the world is about – unfolding and exploding and exploring new growth.
Spiral Dynamics Model – The Theory of Human Development
This graph shows a more analytical way to describe what Arthur said in his poem. This model was created by taking every model and puting them on top of each other. Maslow, and Jung, ect. Is there any pattern to them? This is mappnig human development over time?
At the bottom there is there is this tan area – this is pure terror – this is waking up as humans and having this rude self-awareness. And the next layer is purple. It is the idea that, ‘I exist and you exist – and if we cooperate, we can do things together’.
Red is our development of our sense of power an dominance. The idea that there are others our there and we have to kill them.
The blue layer is order and not letting violence be the top level of culture.
And then the next layer is the layer of science.
Then there’s green – what you think of as green sustainability – we need to protect the least of us. It is about relativism.
And beyond that is yellow. We’re entering this emergent culture and we’ll talk about more of that momentarily.
I’d like to talk about this word and what it stands for. It’s not enough.
The idea that my grandkids are buying the same sustainable couches as me makes me want to gag. I think we can aspire to more than that.
What would more than that look like? Yes-we can understand those values of sustainability.
The emergent culture is the green meme is a little suspicious of technology.
There’s an entire chart here of emergent culture, where multicultural/fairness/equity, technology/science, heirarchy/order, competition/power/ego, and trival/local — they’re all at odds with each other.
So right now we’re merging into this yellow culture which will embrace all of these values.
That’s kind of the typical thing that hppens.
I think we have our first emergent culture that’s happened right now.
That’s an easy applause line. But it’s true. We see it here in Portland.
The Zoroastrians’ Visions
So I was watching Rick Steves on PBS a while ago. It was one of those travel episodes where he was in Iran. The first thing he says was, “they’re not Iraqis — they’re Persians!! They don’t speak Arabic, they speak Persian!” Like it was obvious.
I though that was interesting, and I wanted to learn more, so I went to Wikipedia, which is what everyone does now when they don’t know soemthing. There was a link to an article on Zoroastrianism, the oldest religious community of Iran.
Apparently the Zoroastrians had predected that the future of civilization would be so spiritual that humans would not even cast a shadow.
And this is not about IKEA making everything sustainable. It’s about soemthing else.
And it’s a great thing to say. People usually say ‘woah!’, when they hear this. But if you say it too much you begin to sound crazy.
So we seek out, in branding – the things that expand our own stories. The brands I who are successful are the brands who align with who we are and the story of the world.
I don’t know what to call them. People-powered brands. Because they’re not controlled by an agency. Emergent brands. Because they’re not controlled by a style guide. Post-consumer brands. Because many brands are based on a consumer way of happiness while not being actually okay for the earth.
They allow us to experience our full humanity. Our full creativtiy.
Are these Emergent Brands? McDonalds’ Stock keeps going up right now. I don’t really go into McDonanlds and I don’t get eat there, but those times when I go into McDonald’s, I find that the menus are a hundred times healthier than they were before. I can go in there and my kid can get celery sticks, a grilled cheese sandwich and an apple juice.
I also hear that they’re the number one distributor of apples in the country. Is this true?
(Someone in the audience confirms).
If you’re working with a company who can’t answe rhte question of ‘Who are you?’ and ‘Why are you here?’, then run far, far away.
Value vs. Profit, Abudance vs. Scaricity
It will never work if a company extracts more than it takes.
I think that successful post-consumer brands create value before they reap it, which is much better than abudance vs. scarcity – which is the opposite process – where a brand decides to reap value before creating it.
See “Conspiracy of Science – Earth is in Fact Growing” on YouTube. It’s a really hilarious video where a guy says, “these continents can’t be moving around over time! What are they moving on? The only solution is that the Earth must be expanding! Check it out. You should really watch this video.
There’s kind of a folly of being a human being.
Where do you create value — where is your abundance?
Where is your joy?
I’ll leave that thought with a poem. It’s a Robert Frost — one he wrote towards the end of his life.
This last one was sort of him throwing up his hands at the progression of humans.
“Yet for all this help of head and brain,
How happily instinctive we remain.
Our best guide upward further to the light,
Passionate preference such as love at sight.”
I was so suspicious of Bill Gates in the beginning.
His comment was “when I’m ready to give away money, “you’ll know about it”.
He was really a good person in the world. And he’s really pulled his mind to it.
My frame is growth.
We expand – and we’re an endless source of growth.
We’re all abundant, whether in storytelling or elsewhere.
The key is going to it from that frame of thought. Thinking, ‘Where am I abundant? Where am I good?’
Usually it is the opposite. One asks the self, ‘why am I not like other people? I need to do things like they do!’
This is why I had Philip Morris next to the McDonald’s logo in that earlier slide. When they bought a bunch of food compainies – I said, “good job, Philip Morris – I’d rather you be selling food than cigarettes…”
Large soft drink companies are having a difficult time selling that brown (explicative) any more — becuase it is posion — you drink that shit and you die.
You must instead ask, what is the prupose of your brand?
And if it is to continue lining the pockets of shareholders — then it is not the right purpose.
Audience: Who is your favorite philosopher?
I didn’t do school – so I don’t know many philosophers. I heard Bertrand Russell was pretty cool. I have a lot of people tell me that, so he’s probably great.
I like people who tell the truth and tell a good story so I can read about it.
I like anything that tells me a story that quiets my mind and opens my heart.
So I like Mad magaizine.
Audience: What makes you mad?
I didn’t feel very good today so I felt mad.
I’m not as good at being mad as I used to be.
Audience: What is it you push against?
Jelly: Nothing. I mean – it’s great – what is there to push agaisnt?
Audience: Will there be anything to be angry push agaisnt when we no longer cast a shadow?
Audience: It’s that the Myans that think it is the end of history.
Jelly: It’s hard to look at that slide of 13 billion years and think anything it intense or unordinary. Anything can happen. We haven’t been here for very long.
Growth is natural. How do you connect to it? You just have a good itme.
You know Danial Payne wrote that book Collective Intelligence. He wrote about how incentives dont’t work in this new work. I totally agre. You cannot invent a world voice. It is so counterintuitive. I think joy might be the solution.
Jelly: I dont know if anyone feel a little bit ripped off about ho tey were raised.
So story is how we connect our culture, for sure.
I think of the stories I grew up with. We’ve had 50 stories that have been carved in granite for 150 years and now they’ve all crumbled. I think, ‘these are bad stories!’.
Audience: When was the last time you had your hair blown back?
Jelly: Well, Obama, right? I feel bad about going on about Obama – but it is an amazing story.
Also, I’m a fan of Joseph Campbell. Joseph Campbell’s stories can be overlapped and they become a pretty good story. They’re about peopel falling down and getin back up…which is what all of humanity is about.
Are you laughing at me or with me?
The Infectious Disease Research Institute
Let me show you some work. I’m working with some organizations right now. One of them is this Infectious Disease Research Institute, which is a really bad name.
But it is a really neat story. Basically it is this guy name Steve Reed in Seattle who made this non-profit institute to prevent disease.
Then there’s a non-profit Biotech. There are some great people. Chris Hornbecker. These scinetists who are great.
And then there’s this company. (shows an image of the Wikipedia logo) And this is it – I cant beleive I’m working with this company.
Wikipedia is written by 150,00 volunteers in the world. They have now assembled the lastest amount of material in the world. Jimmy Wales just wanted to start an online encyclopedia that anyone could write. It was called Newpedia.
He recounted his experience at Wikimania, a conference for wiki users. It sounded like a wonderful time.
“Did you know that inventor of the Wiki lives in Oregon?”, asked Jelly.
Some of the audience shook their head.
“His name is escaping my mind right now. It was…”
“Ward Cunningham!” I shouted from the audience. (Not only does the inventor of the wiki live in Portland, but he’s an extremely kind person too. Wickedly intelligent, approachable, and very involved in the local tech community).
Yes! Ward Cunningham. And Pete Forsyth, another Portland resident, is also a very dedicated contributor too.
Here’s how I got involved with Oregon Humanities. They called me up one day and the first thing I thought was, “woah, did I forget to turn in an essay or something?” But instead they started telling me about what they do.
For instance, they told me about a series they have called “Think and Drink”, and I said, “uhh…”. So they were like, well ‘we’d like to talk to you about what the humanities are’. Humanities are no longer concerned with a white haired dude at the front of the auditorium telling us what to do.
So Jelly worked on the name. It got shortened to O. Hm, which is the sound of leanring a new idea. Oh! Hmm! or, O. Hm. Oregon Humanities. That’s part of the campaign. There’s more. Lots more. If you live in the Portland area, there’s no doubt that you’ll see more of it.
We were there, and working on a campaign to get people to drink (a certain soft drink which will not be named here) during the holiday. Someone said, ‘how about we associate it with a holiday? Have people opening that drink and enjyoing it during the holidays’. And that campaign was so successful that they said, ‘next year we want to own Ramadan and Passover’. Own! Especially when one reads Joseph Campbell and gets to understand how important these traditional holidays are to the cultures they’re associated with. No one talks about the purpose of the buisness. They just want to make moeny.
I just guessed I looked under a rock a few too many times.
Early on, there seems to be an overview of the aesthetics of what we did visually, but not the purpose of it.
when I work with clients who have a purpose — I LOVE it.
Like Timberland. If it is a good story to tell, I still want to tell it.
Audience: A year ago, at Cre8con, you were really down on Chompsky — and I didn’t read him becuase of that.
Helm: You can read him — I just dont think you’ll enjoy it.
Audience (Crystal Beasley): What do people most often get wrong about story?
Jelly: I don’t know.
What do you think?
I think about it when I watch a movie and they don’t have the heart piece right.
Audience: Some people don’t have a point to their story. In the end there’s nothnig to gain from it.
Jelly wrapped up his speech after that and got a lot of applause. It had been an excellent evening.
There was also some nice wine and beer. Thanks to those who served the crowd, 52Ltd, AIGA, Designspeaks, and everyone who attended.
About the Transcriber
Amber Case is a Cyborg Anthropologist and new media strategist living in Portland, Oregon. She currently works at Wieden + Kennedy and tries to participate in as many tech and design events as possible. Her clients range from small to large companies, and she can be contacted through Twitter at @caseorganic, or through E-mail at caseorganic [at] gmail [dot] com.
About 52 Ltd.
52 Ltd. is Portland’s homegrown matchmaker of talent and employers in the arena of creative services. They received recognition in the 2008 and 2009 lists of Fastest-Growing Private 100 Companies by Portland Business Journal.
52 Limited provides contract freelance employees, full-time placement and custom project teams to a diverse client roster which includes: advertising agencies, design houses, interactive firms, brand marketers, health care organizations and others. For more information on how 52 Limited can help you find work or find talent, please visit
The Designspeaks series, developed by Portland AIGA and in partnership with 52 Limited, showcases the most intriguing designers in the Pacific Northwest. Some of our guest speakers in this quarterly series will be stars and some will have managed to maintain a lower profile, but we can assure you; all will challenge you to think a bit differently about design and its impact on community. We’re continually tweaking this series as an intimate venue for the creative community to connect to others, to see what they are doing and how they’re doing it. There is no specific format for Designspeaks. Basically, it’s a series of small talks gathering intended to inform, inspire and engage.
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