Thursday, February 2, 2012

Andrea Hiott's "Thinking Small"

Andrea Hiott was born in South Carolina and graduated with a degree in philosophy from the University of Georgia in Athens. She then went to Berlin to study German and neuroscience, and ended up staying and working as a freelance journalist. In 2005, alongside a group of international artists and writers, she cofounded a cultural journal called Pulse. She now serves as editor-in-chief.

Hiott applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle, and reported the following:
When I opened Thinking Small to page 99, here’s what first caught my eye:
Though the shop had other projects in the works as well, Porsche was obsessed with getting the small car exactly right. He consumed any automotive writing he could find on new ideas of streamlining and weight, trying to rearrange all available theories into something new.
Straightforward as these sentences may be, there is indeed a lot of the Long Strange Trip in them; in fact, they hint at three ideas that bubble up again and again in the story of the Bug:

1. Thinking strange. To paraphrase NYU”s president John Sexton, thinking strange is about wakefulness, curiosity, and responsible risk. It’s about experimenting with what you’ve learned, deconstructing and recombining artifacts until you’ve discovered something new. In Ferdinand Porsche’s time, that ‘something new’ was the Bug. And thinking strange was precisely what the complicated genius and his close-knit design team did when they created the iconic car.

Something similar happened, too, in the smoky ad offices of a Times Square high-rise when a few young men and women found themselves pulled into the world of an unexpected revolutionary named Bill Bernbach. Together, with ads like Lemon and It’s Ugly But it Gets You There, they created a campaign for the Bug that exemplified thinking strange. In Bill’s own words, “Rules are what the artist breaks. The memorable never emerged from a formula.”

2. Thinking big. If there’s one thing the story of this little car demonstrates, it’s that no revolutionary idea has ever come to light without first having to fight for its life. And that’s no different for the automobile. Not too long ago, it was laughable in Europe and the States to imagine a day when so many citizens would have his or her own car. The idea of a People’s Car (“Volkswagen”) sounded like the idea of a maniac when men such as Henry Ford and Ferdinand Porsche first dared to dream of it. Still, it was those big ideas that led to the dynamic world we now know so well.

3. Thinking small. It’s essential that we dream big and reach for the stars, but it’s equally essential that we remember to evaluate what really holds meaning and worth. Thinking small, being present and clear, can require infinite patience and self-constraint (tough stuff!), but true success, as the story of this car shows, requires dreaming big and thinking small. One without the other can be dangerous, as the legacy of Adolf Hitler unfortunately proves. The bigger we dream, the more crucial it is we remain strong and sober enough to think small.
Learn more about Thinking Small at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue