10 questions with... Rei Inamoto, founding partner of Inamoto & Co.

Rei Inamoto answers The Drum's 10 questions. / Hakuhodo

In an attempt to showcase the personalities of the people behind the media and marketing sector, The Drum speaks to individuals who are bringing something a little different to the industry and talks to them about what insights and life experience they can offer the rest of us. This week's 10 Questions are put to Rei Inamoto, founding partner of Inamoto & Co.

What was your first-ever job?

I guess the first-ever job that I think directly relates to what I’m doing now – and it was an internship, an apprenticeship that I had in Japan for, I guess he was a creative director, his name is Noriyuki Tanaka. He was kind of a hybrid creative in that he was a designer, he was an artist, he was an art director, he was a bit of a jack of all trades. And it was the summer before I graduated from college that I did an interview for a few months and that I would say is the first official job that I had to break into this industry.

I was an apprentice – I was basically an assistant to do everything. It was a small studio, it was him the main guy, his art director and that was it and I was added as the third leg to the mix as a very young inexperienced assistant. I would go to the office, make coffee in the morning, clean the office, take phone calls, take deliveries to do some basic design, layout – everything.

It was cool in that I was exposed to all aspects of his studio, but it was also brutal in that I worked like 20 hours a day, every day for six days a week. It was brutal. I was way younger than I am now so I had the stamina and I don’t recommend to people that they work this way but I got quite a bit of experience in a very intense kind of way.

One piece of tech you can’t live without?

I’m not gonna say my Smartphone because that’s what everybody would say but also, it’s one piece of tech –but it’s thousands of pieces of tech in one piece of tech. I think that’s a simple yet quite profound question because I think people can technically live without a Smartphone it’s just that … people are addicted to it, and it’s not that they can’t live without it. They could. I mean, 10, 12 years ago we didn’t have a Smartphone. I don’t want to say my phone because I could technically live without it. And every time I travel – I travel to Asia quite a bit for work – I don’t connect to wifi on the airplane and I’m totally fine with it. In fact, I cherish that moment because I know it’s good for me to not be connected and not to have my phone with me. It’s not that I can’t live without it, I could live without it and so could everybody.

I think I’m gonna say the phone – not the Smartphone, but like the old-fashioned phone. It’s a piece of tech that’s existed for many, many decades, but the idea of somebody having a number you can call and have a conversation. I think that there’s a distinct difference between a Smartphone and an old-fashioned phone. Having a phone conversation is much more effective way of communicating than texting or email.

So a piece of tech I can’t live without is an old-fashioned phone – or a watch. We created time, it’s an unnatural invention; an artificial concept applied to nature that gives us an understanding of our being. Much more essential than a Smartphone.

Which industry buzzword annoys you the most?

Innovation – because it’s one of those ‘suitcase’ words in that it’s such a word with such a broad range of meaning that it doesn’t mean anything. Also the word ‘creative’ – it’s not a buzzword, but I think the word creative is abused and also it’s an elitist point of view because I think the advertising and marketing industry put creative on a pedestal a bit too much and you know everyone wants to be a creative director and once you become a creative director, I think a lot of ‘creatives’ tend to have an elitist view on the rest of the industry and we had Cannes Lions recently and it’s a celebration of creativity and at the same time it’s a subtle yet distinct difference between the word ‘creative’ and the word ‘creativity’. I don’t like when the word ‘creative’ is used as a noun –when it’s used to referred to a person or a thing, the work, whereas I think the word creative is more of an adjective, it was always an adjective and anybody can be creative, but a lot of quote-unquote “creatives” have that kind of elitist view on the rest of the industry.

Who do you find most interesting to follow on social media?

I think visual social media such as Instagram has done a lot of interesting things to business, different types of businesses obviously but specifically I find the impact of visual social media on the culinary world to be very different from everything else. I think the restaurant business was not really a visual business – like photography, cinematography, movies, and whatnot – I mean the entertainment industry has also been a visual industry. The fashion industry has always been a very visual industry. So social media, particularly visual social media like Instagram, has had a significant impact.

Think the culinary world had never existed the way it does now, in that … I think social media has given visibility to that world way more than they had previously.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

I’d rather not think about “highlights of my career” just because then I have to look back, and I know I’m kind of giving you a cheesy answer, but if I start thinking about my highlights then I feel like I’m reminiscing about my past and not thinking about my future.

What did you have on your walls as a teenager?

I was a big fan of Andy Warhol and Keith Herring, so pop artists. I don’t remember if I had posters, but I did have their art somehow, like magazine clippings. Specifically, Keith Herring became very famous in the 80s and 90s for the graffiti he was doing in the subway stations of New York, so for him it was less about one particular piece but more about his style that became so iconic and similarly Andy Warhol as well, but the things that I was drawn to were the mundane things made pop like the Campbell’s soup can prints he made as well as celebrity images he recreated like Marilyn Monroe. But his pop art from that era had a big impact on my youth.

What needs to change about social media?

I think nobody could have expected the negative impact that it’s had on the world, and these tech companies like to position themselves as a company that is changing the world and many of the companies that think this is creating more negative impacts than positive ones, unfortunately. And they kind of trap that in – the more addiction they create, the more profit that they make and the richer the companies become, they can invest more into new things they create, so they’ve either consciously or subconsciously created this vicious cycle of creating a system that generates revenue, but that revenue is based on the negative impact, that addiction that people are having to social media and the political landscape that we live in … it’s appalling what’s happening to this world and I think social media is definitely feeding it.

What is your favorite platform?

I do use social media just like everyone else – Instagram, Facebook , Twitter – but I also try to limit the amount of time I spend on it each day so on my phone I have a time limit, I can still hack it, but I have a time limit on those social media apps just so that I’m not looking at it 24/7. So it’s kind of like, social media has become a gossip magazine, and gossip magazines, I only look at them when I’m in a dentist’s office just because it’s there but every time I take a gossip magazine in my hand and look at it I always feel dirty – like I feel like I just have to wash my brain after that. I kind of feel the same way about social media in general. But at the same time, I haven’t been able to shake off my addiction, just like everybody else.

Partially I think as a human being there’s that social evaluation that I’m craving I guess, and partially I do need to use it for my business as well so that’s that. Text messaging, though, I find it relatively OK to use mainly because I use it for, not checking up on people – I feel like with social media I’m checking up on people whereas text messaging, imessage, WhatsApp, Line – I’m just using it to communicate with a select group of people just to communicate what’s needed. With my family, I use iMessage just to communicate and that is all good use as opposed to meaningless use.

What is, in your opinion, the greatest film/album/book of your life?

I don’t know if it’s the greatest film book or album but I will tell you that one book that had either a direct or indirect impact on me is ‘The Little Prince’. It’s a book my mother read to me when I was a little kid and it was a book she was using to study French when she was in high school and it’s one of the books that are most widely read around the world in so many different languages and it’s also the origin of the star logo that we use.

It’s basically about a pilot who gets stranded in a desert and she meets this little prince who’s from another planet. A lot of it is about kids’ imagination and how one should maintain that innocence and imagination.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

It wasn’t given to me but I discovered it: “It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be.” It’s by a guy named Paul Arden and he has a book with the same title.

Read further entires into the 10 Questions With... series here.

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