A great all-round read that adds up

Will Abbott, marketing director at Hiscox UK, reviews One Plus One Equals Three by Dave Trott.

I’m a fan of Dave Trott's column in Campaign. It’s a masterclass in brevity: elegant in its economy. His latest book, One Plus One Equals Three, follows the same format. It’s a collection of fascinating anecdotes and stories drawing from Trott's own life, Hollywood, football, medieval history and much more. Each delivered in his characteristically punchy, lean copy.

The stories all have a simple but thought-provoking message linked to the idea encapsulated in the book’s title: that embracing new experiences and broadening our understanding beyond our current, narrow, fields allows us to think differently and leads to new ideas, new possibilities and, ultimately, greater creativity.

While one might expect One Plus One Equals Three to be about advertising (and in a way it is), it offers far more food for thought, whether for marketing, business or life.

It feels refreshingly different to other business books. By using a wide array of real-world stories to make his points, Trott gives us an eclectic mix of examples to draw from, outside our own experience.

Buddha's wise words from 2000 years ago – "Nothing can harm a man so much as his own thoughts untamed" – are used at the end of an anecdote about his policeman father, who would sit in a graveyard on Tooting Bec Common to eat his sandwiches in the middle of the night to overcome his fear of the dark.

The perfect pick-up-put-down book – but one that stays with you long after you've put it down. - 4/5

And Brian Clough's decision to wait until Stoke had played lowly Mansfield Town in 1977 before making Peter Shilton (then playing at Stoke) an offer to join Nottingham Forest, is used to aptly illustrate that "it’s not just what you say that's important. It’s also where and when."

The fact the book comes in small, bite-size pieces (each story is only a few pages long) makes it a perfect pick-up-put-down book – but one that stays with you long after you've put it down. A great all-round read that definitely adds up.

Key takeouts

  • Forget what you haven't done. It’s what you have done that matters. Brought brilliantly to life with the story of a British man who saved the lives of hundreds of Czech Jewish children in 1938, but only came to truly appreciate what he'd done 50 years later at a TV chat show.
  • Regret is worse than embarrassment. How often in the past have we all wanted to raise something, but bottled it at the last minute for fear of getting it wrong? If getting it right was correctly identifying an advancing tsunami, how would you have reacted?
  • Find a new solution, one that does work. Whether it’s encouraging your son to fall down the stairs or using horse-wagon design to create the modern elevator, the best solutions are rarely the ones that have been tried before.
  • Change a problem you can't solve into one you can. When the solution proves too much, focus on the problem and turn that to your advantage. Eclectically illustrated through the stories of the Sultan Baibars in 1271 Tripoli, Ridley Scott and Blade Runner in 1983, and the inventor of the wind-up radio in 1989.
  • Don't tell me you're a comedian, make me laugh. Reputation builds brands. More true today than ever. Just rather unfortunate (or ironically prescient?) that Volkswagen is used to illustrate this point…
  • Stop working at it and start to enjoy it. As a Spurs fan, a story about Ian Wright wasn't likely to make my list. But Trott uses it to great effect to remind us of the danger of trying too hard at the expense of excelling at something we love.

One Plus One Equals Three by Dave Trott is published by Macmillan.