Inspiration can strike in the most unlikely of places. For marketing maverick Michael Fanuele, his creative awakening happened at a U2 concert that he had been dragged to by friends.

“I went with my arms crossed determined to hate it,” Fanuele recounted in an interview. “Halfway through, I was transformed. I wanted to sign up for Amnesty International. I wanted to quit my stupid job and go to Africa and dig irrigation ditches. I was so inspired and then immediately fascinated by how that happened. How did Bono do that to me?” 

Fanuele had worked at several marketing firms before he came to the Twin Cities in 2011, where he served as chief strategy officer at Fallon and then as chief creative officer at General Mills. His new book on inspiration “Stop Making Sense: The Art of Inspiring Anybody” is scheduled to debut July 9.


Q: What pushed you to write about inspiration?

A: I hate the idea that inspiration is something we needed to pray for, to wait for, to arrive on its own stingy schedule. And I always believed that there was a way of learning how to give ourselves that awesome advantage that happens when we are inspired. How can we make ourselves into those giants striding across the landscapes believing that they can do anything?


Q: What made you take the leap from creative agency life to the corporate world at General Mills?

A: Well, I really resisted it. I got a call and I said, “Absolutely not.” It would be such a culture clash. They seem really “mom jeans.” It’s not going to work. And they said well just come and meet Mark Addicks [the former chief marketing officer], and I had heard about Mark, so I was like, “Oh, of course.” I met Mark and when you do, you swoon. He’s charming and smart and funny and ambitious and generous. He’s everything you want, but I was like, “Mark, nobody else there is like you,” and then he said, “Well come and meet one more person.” … For a couple of months when I would meet a person after a person, I was surprised to find myself so intrigued. They were smart in a very different way than I was used to. … My last meeting was with Ken Powell who was the CEO and he said to me, “Michael, which advertising of ours do you like?” I shook my head and said, “None.” He said, “Not even Cheerios?” I said, “Especially not Cheerios.” And he said, “Well, that’s why we want you.” I said, “Ken, I don’t think you have an advertising problem. I think you have a food problem. You’re making too many things that America doesn’t want to put in its body.” That’s when he told me about their commitment to natural and organic food and taking sugar out of yogurt and artificial ingredients out of cereal. And I became so excited that I could be part of fixing America’s messed up relationship with the food that it eats.


Q: How do you spur creativity in a corporate environment like that?

A: At the end of the day, there’s probably no power more effective than passion. Neuroscientists have learned that our mirror neurons reflect the emotions of the people who are around us and when we see people who are passionate, turned on, engaged biologically, we feel turned on and engaged. So, simply reminding people with great fervor and enthusiasm of the wonderful treasures before them and the wonderful opportunities before them — you hope — begins to set them on the path to do the hard work of moving markets and moving brands and moving organizations with creativity. The problem is that neuroscientists have also identified what gets in the way of that magic transfer of passion. And it’s thinking. … Thinking and feeling in a very strange way are opposite and antagonist forces. That’s nowhere more evident than in corporations, big, giant corporations that are stocked with big-brained, MBA adult bureaucrats.


Q: Who is your book targeted to?

A: It started as a marketing book, a book about the importance of brands inspiring consumers in a world where persuasion has lost its power. At the heart of my book is the belief that the more you try to reason and logic and argue and explain and bullet-point your way to anything, the more likely you are sticking yourself in place. You need to stop making sense. … I started writing a book about what I know, brands and marketing and how brands can move consumers in a sort of passionate and emotional way, can create fans. But I quickly realized that all of the principles that would work for brands would work for people as well. I say my book is for anybody who needs to lead people, but lead in the most general sense. Maybe you are leading a team, or a company, but maybe you are leading your family. Maybe you are leading your friends on a Friday night.


Q: What is something that you have learned from inspiring brands that can be applied to individuals?

A: One of the skills of inspiration has to do with ambition and the power of thinking delusionally. Having your modest goals turned into delusional, preposterous goals. It’s what works for brands. We know that the brands that are capable of producing the most amazing market-driven marketing are brands that think big. Nike wants to inspire the athlete in every single body. Dove wants every woman in the world, no matter her shape or size, to feel beautiful. … When brands think grandly and ambitiously they arouse people’s emotions because they make people underdogs. You’re fighting something big, you are tilting [at] a beautiful windmill. That’s exactly the way great individual leaders operate.