In 1926, Peter Freuchen was on an expedition across northern Greenland.
A blizzard blew up and he took shelter underneath his sled.
The snow built up until he was stranded inside a tiny, pitch-black space.
It froze into solid ice and was literally a snow grave.
Freuchen tried to claw his way out but the walls were frozen hard as rock.
His beard was frozen to the sled – if he turned his head, he ripped part of his face away.
The cold froze everything rock-solid within seconds – there was no hope.
Which was when an incredibly creative thought struck Freuchen.
This negative might be turned into a positive.
The fact that everything froze rock-solid might be an opportunity.
If Freuchen could find something soft and fashion it into a tool before it froze hard.
And it occurred to Freuchen that he did have something like that.
Something soft and warm he carried with him all the time.
His own faeces.
It should have been unthinkable but Freuchen had been in his snow grave for 30 hours.
He was struck by what George Washington called "the clarity of desperation".
This wasn’t a time to choose his ideal preference, this was about survival.
Here’s how Freuchen described the process:
"I got an idea! I had often seen a dog’s dung in the sled tracks and noticed that it would freeze solid as rock. Would not that cold have the same effect on human discharge?
"Repulsive as the thought was, I decided to try the experiment. I moved my bowels and from the excrement I managed to fashion a chisel-like instrument that I left to freeze… I was patient. I did not want to risk breaking my new tool by using it too soon… At last I decided to try my chisel and it worked!"
Freuchen lived by thinking the unthinkable: the clarity of desperation.
That’s why I like to work with clients who are in trouble.
The job becomes very clear: it’s not about what you like, it’s about what you need.
The clarity of desperation.
When we were briefed on Toshiba, they’d already been advertising for five years.
Sony had 30% awareness, so Toshiba kept copying Sony and talking about the quality of their picture and technology.
But after five years of advertising they had just 2% awareness.
Because they didn’t dare to think of doing anything different to the market leader.
We told them the problem wasn’t quality of picture, everyone had that.
The problem was their name, they needed to sound like a big, established brand like Sony.
They didn’t want to do it but, with no choice, they ran with: HELLO TOSH, GOTTA TOSHIBA.
Did it work?
Within six weeks, awareness of Toshiba was 30% – the same as Sony.
London Docklands had been advertising for five years when we got the account.
They were still just a building site, eight square miles of mud.
The other development areas – Telford, Peterborough and Milton Keynes – were advertising themselves as great places for families to live.
So London Docklands was trying to copy them, and getting nowhere.
We told them they had to stop competing as a family destination and start competing as a business destination.
They didn’t want to do it but, with no choice, they ran with: WHY MOVE TO THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE WHEN YOU CAN MOVE TO THE MIDDLE OF LONDON.
Did it work?
Compare London Docklands today with Milton Keynes, Peterborough and Telford.
The difference is the clarity of desperation.
Dave Trott is the author of Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three.