The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Signing Off One Of The Worst Years Of My Life With One Of The Best Things That’s Ever Happened To Me …

So this is the last post of this year.

Yes, I know it’s only the 11th December, but frankly, I can’t wait to see the back of 2015 and I need to spend a few weeks letting out all the angst of the past 12 months so I can start 2016 as I mean to go on.

It’s no exaggeration to say this has been one of the worst years of my life.

Of course, the main reason for that is my wonderful mum passed away.

Having a parent die is always going to be tough … but when that parent is so full of life and – after her operation – expected to blossom, it makes it especially hard.

Alas, things didn’t work out the way they were supposed to and the events of that day on March 9th, still haunt me.

The high hopes.

The precious time together.

The slow, almost torturous, delay in being told any news.

The creeping fear of what may be happening.

The battle between hope and devastation.

The realisation of tragedy.

The hell of loss.

That 5 weeks in England seems like another time. Involving other people.

Recently, I was sent a new credit card from my bank in Australia.

When I opened the envelope, there were 2 cards.

One with my name on it. One with my Mum’s.

I’d forgotten I had given her a supplementary card. Not that she ever used it – getting her to take anything from me was always a struggle – but there it was, with her name embossed on the front.

It affected me deeply.

It was something precious and sad all at the same time.

Despite having organised so many things following her death … things that honoured her legacy, respected her beliefs and gave me a sense of peace for the future … I still feel I haven’t truly grieved.

I need to. I want to. But I’m also scared to.

It took me 10 years to come to terms with my Dad’s loss.

He – nor my Mum – would not want me to experience that duration of pain again, but I feel haunted by her loss … reinforced by the numerous beautiful things my son does that I wish she could see, experience and share. But the fact is she died this year and it casts a dark shadow on how I will look at 2015 for the rest of my life.

But there is a but.

Despite living each day carrying a burden of loss and sadness, there have been moments of sunshine pushing through the clouds.

I find it amazing how the human spirit can still move forwards when you feel everything around you is collapsing.

At first, I almost felt guilty when there were things that I found filled me with joy – as if I was dishonouring my Mum – but I knew in my heart of hearts, it would be something she would want for me.

Despite the utter tragic reasons for it, one of the things I treasure from this year is that I got to spend 5 uninterrupted weeks with my wife and son and my best friend and his wife.

To have that period of time to spend with the most important people in your life is always a gift … to have it at your greatest time of need is almost divine intervention.

To be together – just hanging out – sharing, talking and being an active part of each others lives was something I will always treasure.

By having it … by feeling connected to it … it highlighted how much I miss that interaction. Don’t get me wrong, I utterly love my life and the fact I have lived around the World … but being able to just drive over to my best friends house with my family and just hang was something I feel I’ve not had for 20 years. I felt I belonged. That I was home. That I had come full circle.

And maybe that is why another of my favourite things from 2015 is when Shelly, Paul’s utterly awesome wife – and Otis’ “oddmother” [because we are not religious] – came to visit us in Shanghai.

She was only with us for 2 days, but being together reinforced how much I love her and Paul being close.

It’s brought up a lot of questions for me, things I don’t have the answers to yet … but I feel so lucky that they are in my life.

Talking of ‘in my life’ … another thing my Mum’s passing did was reconnect me to her family.

We were always a relatively ‘independent group’ … my Mum, Dad and me.

That doesn’t mean we had issues with the broader family, just we loved our independence.

But Mum’s passing brought them all into my life again, especially her Italian family … and reconnecting created a connection we have all embraced and nurtured and it feels good.

I cannot tell you how happy I am that Mum’s beloved sister, Silvana, got to hold Otis.

If my Mum tragically didn’t get to do it, I’m so, so glad her sister did.

And then there’s the other stuff that made sure there was a silver lining in a dark year …

Seeing members of my team reach new stages in their life and career … getting one of my colleagues to have a perm … somehow being recognised for being OK at what I do [not to mention, what I don’t do] … finally passing my teacher exams AFTER FIVE BLOODY YEARS … being given a level of support and compassion that reminded me just how special Wieden truly is … meeting old friends, travelling, laughing, feeling loved and cared for by people that stretched much further than I knew or deserved.

And that includes everyone of you who reads or even insults me on this blog.

But there’s 3 people that made sure this year had moments of happiness in them that transcend everyone and everything else.

Rosie my cat.

Jill my wife.

Otis my son.

Without taking anything away from all the people who helped ensure this year was not be as black as it could – or should – have been, those 3 protected, loved and cared for me during every bump in the road.

The big ones and the small.

From the worst moments of my Mum passing … to the hell of the legalities that death forces you to deal with … to the sadness of other situations occurring involving people I care about.

OK, so Rosie did it by being annoying.

Regardless how down I was feeling or sorry for myself, she would miaow as if she was the only one having a hard time.

And while I would never want to tell her this, her selfishness was kind-of lovely. It forced me out of my darkness to sort her out. It gave my brain an excuse to focus on something else.

The other person is my wonderful wife, Jill.

I have no idea – no idea at all – what I have done to deserve her, but I am so glad I managed to convince her I was worth having.

Her compassion, care and love got me through moments where I wonder how I’d cope without her. That may sound dramatic, but it’s true.

She makes me a better person. She makes the darkest days brighter and I can never thank her enough or show my love to her enough for what she means to me.

Thanks Jilly, you’re perfect.

And the last person is of course Otis.

12 months ago today, this little bundle of perfect came into the World.

Yes, my son is a year old.

Today.

A year old. Today.

That is bloody amazing.

[When you’re older Otis, click here for a birthday message]

A year ago, I literally had no idea what to expect … I was a mixture of nerves, fears and anticipation.

Nothing – absolutely nothing – could have prepared me [or should I say, would make me believe] for the joy this little boy has brought into my life.

Watching him grow has been one of the most beautiful and wonderful things I have ever experienced.

He has done far more for me than I have done for him.

He has made me feel a sense of pride and happiness I didn’t know existed.

Literally didn’t know.

He has shown me that the wonderful woman I married, is even more wonderful than I imagined.

He has made Rosie – that selfish, self-centred, pampered moggy – start to be a little bit gracious.

Sure, it’s only to him, but that’s a start.

He gave my Mum an energy and happiness that literally radiated out from her.

She sadly may never have got to meet him in the flesh, but he ensured the last 3 months of her life were filled with joy and pride.

For that alone, I can never thank him enough, but he did even more than that.

At my greatest time of need, he ensured I didn’t fall.

From giving me the most infectious smiles imaginable to the most delightfully inappropriate behaviour at the most inappropriately appropriate times … he made sure I always had hope and love to cling on to.

He has been a revelation.

I am so proud and honoured to be his Dad and I hope I can repay him for everything he has done for me in his first 12 months of life.

[Let’s face it, I probably can and will … especially if he starts developing the same tech tendencies as his old man]

OK … that has been a super long post.

Few – if any – will have probably read all of it, but this was done more for me than any of you, so I don’t care.

All that leaves me to do is say this.

To my beloved son, Otis … happy, happy birthday.

You are perfect in every single way.

Literally, every single way.

I am a better man for having you in my life.

Thank you my darling son, I love you so, so much.

To everyone else … every single one of you who was gracious and kind enough to care and be part of my year this year … I wish you a Happy, Happy Christmas.

Whether you gave me hugs, laughter or just a well-timed message, your actions meant more to me than you could ever imagine and I wish I could see you all in person so I could return the gesture.

I’m so grateful for all you did for me and I wish each and every one of you, nothing but happiness and the hope that 2016 is a stellar year in your life.

We all deserve it and I need it.

Have fun and make sure you tell everyone who needs to know, that you love them.

See you January.

Advertisements


For Otis …
December 11, 2015, 6:00 am
Filed under: Family, Fatherhood, Mum & Dad, Otis

Whatever happens
Fire, flood or cold
Travel or trouble or just growing old
Our lives are stitched together by a thread of gold
That cannot change
Whatever changes come
You’re my boy for ever

Happy first birthday Otis.

I love you so very, very much.

Daddy xxx

Comments Off on For Otis …


If Only History Did Repeat Itself …
December 10, 2015, 6:00 am
Filed under: Attitude & Aptitude, Context, Culture, Perspective

I was recently talking to a friend – a very talented and successful individual – about their job.

More specifically, about the company where they did their job.

As we were talking, it became apparent that their focus of the ‘good times’ was all spoken in the past tense, not the present.

Now you can argue that sentimentality always makes you look fondly on history, but in this persons case, it seemed it was less ‘rose tinted glasses’ and more fact.

Now there were very specific reasons for their past glories but what really struck me was how he didn’t see the future of his job – or the company where he did it – as offering a chance of reclaiming or redefining that situation.

If anything, the future looked bleak.

Sure, the area where they operate has evolved.

Sure, the management he works into has constantly changed.

Sure, the competition have upped their game so they’re no longer so far ahead.

Sure, the needs and wants of clients are almost unrecognisable from where it once was.

But you should never be in a situation where the past looks more exciting than the future.

Never.

Of course, you must evaluate whether it’s the company that’s changed or you [and that’s a post for another day] … but the fact is you can’t just sit there and complain, you have to try and do something about it.

Try things. Change things. Alter things. Explore things.

Fight … complain … try … inspire … push … prod …

And to be fair, that is exactly what my friend had done, so to help him work out what was going on, I asked him 3 questions:

1. Does the company value the same things today as it did in the glory days?
2. Are the standards of the company the same today as it was in the glory days?
3. Do your clients want the same thing today as it did in the glory days?

He answered them honestly and fairly to which I then asked him the ultimate question:

“Do you have the power to change the overall situation of the company or just your own personal situation?”

He didn’t like that question.

Not one bit.

Because he knew it was the ‘decider’.

If it was the former, then he should do it.

The beauty of business today is that there’s a chance to change your situation every day.

But if it was the latter, he knew it was time to start looking around.

He knew there would be no point carrying on. Job satisfaction was done.

I won’t tell you what he decided on the off-chance someone at his firm reads this blog – however unlikely that is – and recognises who I am talking about … and I accept finding another job, especially a job you are excited by, is getting more and more difficult … but here’s the thing:

Fulfilment matters.

I know that might sound like a pipe-dream … I know there’s massive of implications to achieving that and I am absolutely not suggesting anyone should just quit their job with nothing to go to … but the fact is if you’re going to spend more time at work than with your family, you deserve to feel some sense of fulfilment because nothing would be more insulting to the people you love than spending so much time away from them doing something you hate.



The Rise Of User Unfriendliness …
December 9, 2015, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, Cunning, Design, Technology

For years we’ve heard about the importance of simplicity … intuitiveness … seamlessness …

While it has led to an incredibly improvement in all manner of technology, it has also – to a certain degree – led to an entitlement attitude.

We now live in a society where if you have to actually do something, we see it as a negative.

Get up to turn on the lights?

Are you fucking kidding me!

Have to turn on the music system to hear your favourite music?

You want me to do what!

Look out the window to see what the weather is?

Why are you torturing me!

As I’ve said many times, I appreciate I am a massive hypocrite with all this given I live in a gadget nightmare household.

Wifi lights. Multi-room sound systems. Digital weather stations.

And then there’s the tons of robot dogs, cats and rabbits.

But despite this, I can’t help but say I’m kind of excited by the user unfriendliness movement that has started to show itself.

I’m not talking about tech that has been designed by someone who has no understanding of how humans think and work … I’m talking about people who are actively making products whose goal is to make you work for what you want.

Designer Weng Xingyu has designed a lamp he calls, the Angry Lamp.

It’s a light that, when it detects a room is bright enough to read in – either because of daylight or another lamp that is turned on – turns itself off. In other words, your reading is at the will of Angry Lamp’s interpretation of ‘bright enough’ because it absolutely, categorically, steadfastly refuses to use power if you are not going to the light for good reason.

Genius.

Weng has also created a digital photo frame that automatically starts blurring the pictures appearing on it if you fail to interact with the frame for a period of time.

In other words, it shames you into paying attention to images that you probably claim are ‘important to you’.

Then there’s Albert Clock by Axel Schindlbeck & Fred Mauclere.

This is a clock where it tells you the time by mental arithmetic.

In short, if you want to know the time, you have to do the maths.

Yes, I know it’s horrific … but it’s also massively cool.

OK, so maybe I’m the only person who is excited by this sort of stuff, but I like that this technology is offering you something more than just ‘making your life easier’ … it’s offering you the chance to value the moment.

We spend so much time passively engaged with life.

Of course, we will passionately argue that we’re fully focused, but the fact is we’re not.

We watch movies while checking out details on our phones.

We listen to music while playing video games.

We talk on the phone while reading websites.

We don’t get to truly value what we have because – as my wife says about me, far too much of the time – we’re not living in the present.

The wonder of this technology is it changes that.

It makes you care about the book you’re reading.

It makes you truly value the time you’re enjoying.

It forces you to embrace the memories that have importance in your life.

Sure, it may be annoying … sure you might regret purchasing it the moment you are negatively impacted by it … but in a World where we seem to be focused on NOT making people appreciate what they’ve got, I think this is a brilliant movement.

We’ll find out whether I still feel that way, once some of these items arrive at my house.



Packaging Adds Value …
December 8, 2015, 6:20 am
Filed under: Craft, Design, Packaging

OK, so this is hardly a new topic.

Any person who has ever bought an Apple product – be it an iPhone or a Macbook – appreciates how the packaging has been designed to enhance the specialness of ownership.

I call it the ‘ceremony of purchase’.

Of course, lots of brands have followed Apple’s lead … from Beats Headphones to pretty much every luxury watch manufacturer in the World, but recently, when I was in Amsterdam, I saw a company present their ‘cheap and cheerful’ [but not that cheap] headphones in a way that I thought was cute … especially compared to all the others that just had a photo of the product on a nondescript box.

Nice eh.

But it wasn’t just headphones they did it with, here’s their USB charging cable …

OK, so their logo design is a fucking disaster, but in the quest to stand out from the myriad of competitors, they realised one way they could do it presenting their product in a way that would attract and appeal to their audiences eyes and heart.

Simple. Clean. Effective.

My wife – an ex-packaging designer – has always said good design solves problems.

Where adland often needs complex presentations and reports to prove their campaign has been effective, great design often speaks for itself.

It’s something we could all do with remembering as we develop work.

And I include clients in that.

In other words, make the idea so good it can’t be denied.

If you need copious amount of words to explain why it’s right, it’s probably not right.



Meetings Kill More Than Save …
December 7, 2015, 6:10 am
Filed under: Attitude & Aptitude, Comment, Communication Strategy, Meetings

So this is the final week of this blog for this year.

Yes, I know it’s only the 7th of December, but frankly I am over it so god knows how you lot must feel.

Sadly that doesn’t mean the end of this blog, just the end of it for this year, because it will be back in Jan 2016. Oh yes.

[Cue: Evil laugh]

Anyway, as I’ll be writing a big Oscar-speech post on Friday [so make sure you’re washing your hair that day] I thought I’d make today relatively easy for you to take.

Let’s talk about meetings …

Contrary to the cartoon, not all meetings are a waste of time.

At their best, they are where people in various teams come together … explain what they’re doing … explain what they need from others … discuss what they have to do and when they will deliver it and then they go away and get on with it.

They are short, efficient, informative and valuable.

But sadly – as the cartoon captures – those sort of meetings have become the exception.

Many meetings today are a cross between a social gathering and a focus group.

Used more to ‘gauge opinion’ than to make decision.

They are energy and morale sapping … and yet we continue to feed their inefficiency for reasons I cannot fathom.

Well, actually I can fathom the reasons, but they’re not good ones.

Fear of making a decision. The illusion of communication. A false sense of collaboration.

Not great are they?

The amount of meetings I’ve been in, where people whose role had no direct value to the discussion is astounding.

But people now get invited for ‘political reasons’.

Everyone is encouraged to have a say.

There are “no wrong answers”.

But there are. There are a lot of wrong answers.

It’s not their fault, it’s the fault of the person who invited them.

If you’re going to ask someone to attend a meeting with little – or no – relevance to the discussion, they’re not going to say things that have value to the task in hand.

But they will say something simply because they feel they have to justify being there.

Which leads to long meetings that go off in lots of different directions with no clear, tangible outcome.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for bringing in fresh perspectives to a meeting – and I’m all for bringing in people who are relatively new to the industry or office, so they have a chance to listen, learn and convey their viewpoint – but a meeting for me is something that should aid efficiency, not be an obstacle to it.

It’s a bit like brainstorms.

A lot of them are terrible, but in the right hands, they can be liberating.

And similar to brainstorms, the difference between good and bad is down to the organiser.

If they don’t know why they’re having the meeting so they don’t know who should – or shouldn’t – be invited, it’s a disaster.

In my experience, the best way to ensure people attend your meeting is to have a short meeting.

+ Know what the meeting is for.

+ Ensure the right people are in the room.

+ Give the meeting a maximum duration of 20 minutes.

+ Manage the debate to make sure the discussion stays on track.

If you do that, people will come … not just because they know if they miss it, they miss out … but we now live in a World where nothing makes someone want to attend a meeting like knowing they won’t have to attend it for long.



A Reminder That Print Advertising Can Still Be Brilliant As Long As You Want It To Be Brilliant …
December 4, 2015, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Audio Visual, Craft, Design

I must admit, I have a soft spot for print advertising.

Not the stock-photography shitty stuff you see 99% of the time, but the stuff that is distinctive, crafted and tells a story.

The stuff that is simple rather than simplistic.

The stuff that treats their audience with intelligence, rather than a bunch of retards

The stuff that stands out from everyone else because they’ve appreciated the importance of design, not just shouting.

The stuff that, if truth be told, was the backbone of British advertising.

There’s been a bunch of these ads over the years, but recently, it seems there’s been a lot less.

Maybe that’s because of the way designers and art directors are being trained these days or maybe it’s because of the economic marketing shift towards digital … but it’s probably got a lot more to do with the approach favoured by many marketing departments.

Sell the features, forget the brand.

This could be why one of the last print ads that I really loved was that British secret service execution … but recently I saw one that took me back to the glorious days of print.

Where an image said a thousand words.

And the words simply said enough to make you want to find out more.

And the best bit is it’s for a British company.

Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls … cop a load of this:

I love it.

Sure, you could argue you need to know what Bowers & Wilkins do for it to be truly effective, not to mention understand they have a product that looks like a Zeppelin balloon … but I’d argue you’re being too John Doddsy, and even he couldn’t fail to be impressed by the lack of copy in the ad.

Clean.

Distinctive.

Explains the product benefit without having to spell out the product benefit.

For me, it’s almost a perfect print ad.

One you can’t fail to notice and – more importantly – associate with a particular brand, which is something very, very rare these days despite the fact that’s what all work should try and do.

What with the SONOS logo and this, it seems it’s the sound companies who are leading the way in terms of brand building communication.

[Mind you, if you look at this old SONY ad, you could argue they always were]

So take a bow Bowers & Wilkins and your agency.

This is awesome. Just like your audio systems.