How to Brain Like Coca-Cola

If I was Oprah Winfrey, I’d buy a copy of Design to Grow: How Coca-Cola Learned to Combine Scale and Agility by David Butler and Linda Tischler and give it to everyone in C27 and their mother. I’d give it to every new hire, to interns, I’d leave it under the tree as a Secret Santa present, and I’d fling it with full force at people I hate.

Design to Grow

Alas, I don’t have handbags filled with cash. And so you’ll just have to read bits and bobs of what I’ve decided are the most interesting parts of this book. It’s a pretty spesh book that spoke to me on so many levels because the ideas and lessons in it have a self-help vibe to them. And we’re all about self-improvement and shiz.


Before we get into it, let me introduce the authors. The late Linda Tischler was a longtime Fast Company editor and David Butler was, at the time, Vice President of Innovation at Coca-Cola. What a badass title. The book is so seamlessly written by the two that you can’t tell which of the authors are writing which bit. It sounds like one amazing mind. Okay now let’s get into it. Imagine me rubbing my hands with glee at this point k.

Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the camel. This quote needs to be printed and stuck on the wall of our agency door. A0 size. David and Linda call this idea Systems Thinking; a discipline for seeing wholes. How does one thing connect to the next and form a cohesive thought or story? It’s a framework for seeing interrelationships and patterns rather than static snapshots. I honestly think this is where we fail when it comes to the work we do. Everyone is often so focused on perfecting their little part of the campaign, that when it’s all strung together, in the end, it can sometimes resemble a very hot mess. This is when we frantically try to put toothpaste back into the tube. This is also what causes my angina. So for the love of all things holy, think of the (forgive the cliché) bigger picture. Always.

Fun fact: Most people don’t know that WD-40 means Water Displacement, 40th formula. So my man Norm over here turned all his epic failures into the name of this now famous product we all use. Clever bloke. Lesson A: Mistakes are great. Lesson B: Be open about your failures. As creatives, we’re always worried about letting people see that we’re normal people who sometimes muck things up. But good old Norm decided to fuck it and show people how much work went into creating his product. Another fan of this idea of moving fast and breaking things is Apple.

“If you bought one of the earliest iPhones, you probably remember that it was very buggy and unreliable. However, this allowed the company to start learning what worked and what didn’t very quickly, which made them smarter.”

Copy of C27 Blog Quote Template (4)

Christ Almighty, what a quote. Robert Woodruff was the President of The Coca-Cola Company once upon a time. His words really do ring true – everyone who has ever created or built something was unhappy/annoyed/sad/angry about something. Their reaction was to create something better. Heck, that’s how C27 came to be. I know we’d all rather complain about things and then shrug it off, and let someone else deal with it. But if you hate something enough, fixing it could be the answer.


There are lots of good bits in this book that transcend its original purpose – to inform us about the inner workings of Coca-Cola and how the people who work there think. Some of it isn’t even related to advertising. Or is it though? Since it’s all very much connected at the end of the day. It leaves you questioning your role in the long chain of events from the second the product is assembled in a factory to when it hits the shelves in supermarkets. It makes you shift your perspective. I think all good books are meant to do just that. I leave you with this fellow readers: think of ideas from A to Z and then add your cool, expensive, award-winning ideas in between. Because as much as we try not to admit it, what we do is actually a very small portion in the grand scale of things. 

ichelle Francis

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