The Admen
Shepherd Mead

Shepherd Mead

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The Admen

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The Admen

Copright © 1958 by Shepherd Mead

The First Day 3 Most of the corporate people had nothing, no business, no land, no stick of the companies in which they worked. They had no money, few of them enough to live for six months, nothing but their salaries, and the salaries depended on a nebulous, changeable thing, the approval of their superiors. Take away that approval and they had nothing at all.
4 Here she’d been simply knocking herself out over copy for the last six months and had done some things that she thought were really quite good. He’d seen them all, in typescript or proof or some other way on paper, and now he was impressed and even surprised at this little left-handed job. The difference was, she’d been there and told it to him herself. With people like this you always had to discount the printed word. You had to be there to present it, to sell it yourself.
The Second Day 6

If you just put down the words that Branch said, it never meant anything at all. It was like the water being pushed in front of a heavy barge—no shape, no definition—but it was being smashed ahead with unlimited power, and you had a general idea which way it was headed.

Finn wondered whether Greg had ever really had an idea in his life. He was full of phrases like “point of departure” and “sketchy alternatives”, and it made him a good man in a meeting. He wondered whether, inside his own head, Greg thought in phrases like that and whether they got in the way.

Finn had a theory that anyone could be a copy writer who could get through freshman English, had a sense of duty, a strong stomach and a modicum of greed. [...] If he were safe and steady enough, learned to marshal the ideas of others and to be glib at meetings, he would rise, as Greg Burnham had risen, to be a copy chief and make perhaps fifty thousand a year.

The amazing thing about Roley, Finn thought, was that he was the first copy writer he had ever known without an escape plan. Everybody else had one. It was the principal topic at lunch, if you were sure of your listeners. [...] Not one in fifty would escape; most didn’t really want to, but they had to believe that the door was real. A room with a door was always better than a room without one, even if you never used it.


Across the street, standing almost in the open, was the statue of the girl, walking on foot, leading the man’s horse. You could call it Victory, leading that general, but she always thought of it as Office Civilization, the man seated comfortably in the saddle, probably pushing a buzzer button, and the girl slogging along, her phone ringing and her desk a mess.

“I wanted to be an artist when I was a little boy,” he went on, “and it was a big shock to learn that you couldn’t make a living at it. In fact you can’t make a living at anything that little boys want to be. It’s the tragedy of our time.”

“I thought some people really wanted to be architects.”

“They do. You know, that was one thing about the war. Thousands of fellows were in uniform doing things they didn’t want to do at all, and it made them think about what they were going to do afterward. I kept thinking about architecture, and it seemed to me that most modern architecture was sort of three-dimensional Mondriaan, and I wondered if I wanted to spend my life fitting little rectangles together.”

“You know that’s not true.”

“It’s a good half-truth, one of my best.”




It was one big gorging of facts and conscious mastication of them and then, hours later, if you were lucky, the one big flash.

Anyone could write, they said, but did you have the ideas? Nearly all the old pros, the producing idea-smiths, used the ancient method of flash-farming the subconscious. A number of them, who had not read what Henri Poincaré wrote more than fifty years ago, thought they had invented the process, and several had written surprised little books about their discoveries.




“Very well done—all of it. You always had good taste, the best of anyone I knew.”

She liked to hear that, even if it weren’t entirely true.

“It just shows what you can do with money,” she said.

“I’ve seen some of the most horrible things on earth done with money.”

The Third Day 16

Say there were two archaeologists digging in Connecticut, turning up artifacts of our civilization. They wipe off an old piece of machinery.

He started typing.


“Power seat? Moved by itself?”

“An inch or so forward, an inch backward, inside a vehicle.”

“An amazing people, surely. Brain must have been quite highly developed.”

“Yes, you can’t go much further than that.”

“Any connection with religion, do you suppose?”

“Tribal, I think. Fetish. It wasn’t that they couldn’t push the seat up. Legs were developed quite as well as ours.”

“Bit better, I’d think.”

“It’s more complicated than that. Whole cult. They’d built a civilization on it. Complete pecking order. Object was a High Living Standard. Take this power seat, two speeds forward one speed reverse. Fellow who owned this had more caste than the chap who owned a one-speed forward. Had a Higher Living Standard.”


“They built an intricately compartmented society around it. Left them almost no time to think. Perhaps that’s best, you know.”

“That sort of thing can’t be inner-directed. I mean, someone must have had to tell them.”

“Someone did. Whole profession, almost like a priesthood.”

“Celibacy, I suppose, and all that?”

“Not till much later, when it became a kind of hierarchy. No, at this stage it was almost a trade, with a certain mystique about it. Damned highly rewarded. Had great palaces, some of them. Wouldn’t be surprised if we’re on the grounds of one now. ‘Admen’ they called them.”

Finn stopped. He didn’t know quite where you went from there, but he felt pleased with himself, as he always did just after writing almost anything, until he looked at it cold. The Power Seat. That was a title, right there. Not bad at all. Kind of a double meaning, ironic.




There were days when nothing worked, you could go into the studio and the clay would be there, and it was like mud, and nothing would come out of it. And there were days when it came alive, as much as it ever did, and at least some bits of what you thought came true in your fingers.

This had been such a day, and it gave you a feeling you couldn’t explain, not joy and not peace, but some of each, and some more.



The Fifth Day22 In front of it was a stainless steel thing, maybe you could call it a statue. It was hard to tell what it was a statue of, maybe sort of Onward Through Better Refrigerators, and of course Research, and all that, no doubt including the new shaver. One nudge and it would take off, that was the look it had.
The Eighth Day29

“We’re growing fast, Branch. I sometimes come back from a little fishing and walk down the halls and don’t know people!

“Now when a company grows you add people, and when you have a lot of people you’ve got an Organization. Then you’ve got a lot of toes to step on, so you have a lot of meetings, so everybody will think he’s in on everything, so his toes won’t be stepped on. Then everybody’s spending so much time in meetings you’ve got to hire more people to do the work, and that makes more meetings.

“And all that makes me want to go fishing again.”

The Ninth Day 30 “I’d rather have a son of a bitch any time than five committees. With a son of a bitch you do it two ways—first your way, then his way. With five committees you can never even tell what they want, because they don’t know themselves.”




You could stand apart and look, and say it’s the rankest rationalization. And of course it was. This was the penalty for thinking clearly, even about yourself. Perhaps it was the reason almost no one did.



He wondered sometimes whether goodness were another word for absence of thought, and whether calculation must always be equated with evil. It was a strange society that had attached such a connotation to such a word.




It was an illusion that art gave you answers. Art gave form to answers already spoken but did not speak them first. It could take the place of tears by giving a shape to sorrow. It could remember love and make it live again when love was gone; could give a form to passion but could not make it first.

It could not say: Do this, do that; but only: This is done, and here it is, remembered.



The Twelfth Day 37 Where one man had been a few years ago, there were now two, or even three. Committees and organization were increasing. [...] This almost seemed to be the natural evolution of a corporation. Surely it was if it were not consciously opposed.

The best strategy was always to ride upon a trend. The less you seemed to do, the more likely you were to succeed at it.

“We should evaluate all the alternatives and do exploratory roughs on at least a dozen approaches.”


He could tell that Burnham was the kind who was more impressed by a roomful of bad attempts than by one ad that was right.

38 “It looks like the kind of an ad that a committee writes. A committee always tries to think of everything. And for some reason, an ad that tries to think of everything always winds up making you think of nothing.”




The alchemy of complementary brains was a strange phenomenon. Thoughts seemed to leapfrog somehow, or to move like sparks across a spark gap. He had tried to analyse it one time. There was an undercurrent of extra-communication, and he didn’t know if it were telepathic or just a kind of parallel circuit.

It was not a personal feeling at all. Finn felt he could never be really simpatico with Chip Sterling, but there was undeniably some kind of rapport, together with a certain joy. The fascination was in the process itself, wholly apart from its raw material. There was, there had to be, a disembodied joy of creation for these captive minds. Theirs was a kind of profane love, generating an ecstasy of conception, combined with total indifference for the thing conceived.

The Sixteenth Day 44 It had fifteen selling points, and several of the points had (a), (b), and (c) after them. You could hardly go wrong with a thing like that to guide you.

“Why, they beat the bushes every year to round up the best college graduates, and they bring ’em in by the drove.”

“You can tell.” Maybe, Finn thought, it was the beginning of a phase. The rugged individualists were dying off and were being replaced by Organization.

“Maybe that’s the problem,” Jim said. “It’s plain to see we can’t all get to the top. We have to compete. Well, we spend most of our time in committee meetings, things like this morning, and we’re judged by how well we do it. How else? So you get good at it; you have to.”

Note (Hal’s):
Jim’s account of some previous corporate work on the ad campaign, continuing this conversation, is either very sad or hilarious.

— end note

The Seventeenth Day46

He and Archy had an escapist lunch every couple of weeks. At the moment Archy’s project was to buy an island in the Bahamas. He had even spent last year’s vacation down there, and he had a whole file of data, with all the information on cost of living, taxes, income-producing occupations in addition to writing books, schooling for his children, transportation—everything.

Finn knew Archy would never do it, and Archy really knew it, too, but it was against the rules to say so.

He didn’t look like the same guy any more to Finn; he looked oily and political. A drawing pencil would rot in his fingers.
The Eighteenth Day 53

Beauty was a strange coin that she had not asked to be given. It often brought sorrow, and she wondered why. Perhaps it was because beauty brought selfishness, too, first to those who wanted to possess it and finally, because of them, to those who wore it. She had seen it happen to others. And when beauty ran out, as it would now, soon, for her, she wondered whether she would be left barren, like so many of the others.



54 This was in accordance with what Chip called Sterling’s Law: The merit of every idea is in direct proportion to the rank of the person who suggests it.



text checked (see note) Apr 2006

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