In 1945, Averell Harriman was the US Ambassador to the Soviet Union.
Tensions were high, it was the end of the Second World War but the beginning of the Cold War.
But, in a gesture of friendship, the Young Pioneers of Russia made a presentation.
They gave him a carving of the Great Seal of the United States of America.
This is a copy of the seal that must go on any official document: an eagle with an olive branch in one talon and a quiver of arrows in the other.
The Young Pioneers was the Russian equivalent of the Boy Scouts or the Girl Guides.
The ambassador was touched that young people should want to extend the hand of friendship.
It was a hopeful sign for the future of the two superpowers.
He hung it in his study, he used to look at it during important meetings.
It was a good reminder that some hope existed amongst all the tensions.
The Great Seal hung on his wall for seven years.
During many important and stressful meetings and briefings.
In 1952, a British radio operator accidentally began picking up conversations from the US ambassador’s study.
The FBI hired a British radio technician to investigate.
They found the Great Seal actually contained a listening device so sophisticated that it couldn’t be detected.
It needed no batteries, it sent no signals, it lay dormant until activated.
Voices caused a membrane to vibrate slightly, which could then be tuned in to by a Russian radio operator using the correct wavelength.
Because it wasn’t made of metal and wire it couldn’t be detected by any of the anti-bugging sweeping devices.
It was a brilliant piece of thinking.
But the most creative part for me was the way they got it into the embassy.
It was presented by a charming group of children, the one thing you absolutely wouldn’t expect.
The people that your heart wants to believe are more innocent and pure than cynical, suspicious adults.
And that was the creative brilliance for me, to look where everyone else wasn’t looking.
While the superpowers were concentrating on competing with nuclear bombs, missiles, satellites, tanks and aircraft carriers, what’s the one thing no-one’s worrying about?
A group of children giving a wood carving as a charming present.
That is really getting upstream of the problem.
Changing the game to something that isn’t even recognisable as part of the game.
Of course, in reality, the children didn’t even know what they were presenting.
Which to the recipient, just makes it seem much more innocent.
As Marshal McLuhan said: “The medium is the message.”
Which is another way of saying that the execution is often more powerful than the content.
That’s how the mind works.
You’ll often hear: “The commercial with the puppy and the baby was lovely.”
But they can’t remember the name of who it was for.
This is great if you’re trying to slip a bug into a foreign embassy.
Not so good if you’re making an ad where you want people to notice who ran it.
After all, if they can’t remember who ran it how can they buy it?
No matter how much they love the ad.
Worth remembering, we’re not in the pure entertainment business.
Dave Trott is the author of Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three