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


Microsoft Are Microgood …

Microsoft used to be the joke of technology.

Or maybe the ‘beige of technology’ is a better description.

Creating products for mainstream mediocrity.

To be fair, that perception was driven more because of their marketing than their technology … but it’s fair to say they were certainly lacking that slick sheen that turned other tech companies into Rock Stars.

But a change has been happening in Seattle over the past few years.

OK, less on the marketing side and more on the tech … but a change all the same.

Where other companies are trying to hype up small degrees of change, Microsoft have been trying to push a genuine innovation agenda. But not innovation just for the sake of innovation, but stuff that has a real purpose as demonstrated by their new controller for X-Box.

Now you may argue making a controller that helps those suffering from physical difficulties is a small market, but on a global scale I would imagine it adds up – especially when there is no real viable alternative out there. [Or one that I know of]

But that’s not the point here … it’s that they did it.

Even more than that, they did it with real understanding of the audience they’re catering to.

They spent time and money on producing a product that offers a genuine solution to people often ignored.

[You can see how this affected their process by going here]

For all the talk tech companies give about wanting to ‘help humanity move forward’, few do.

Or should I say, few do if it requires doing something that has a more ‘niche’ appeal.

Yes, I know some are doing stuff that we don’t know about, but to make a physical product specifically for this audience is a big deal … especially in this commercially obsessed World.

So well done Microsoft, this is brilliant.

Brilliant for millions of people who want to play but have been ignored.

Brilliant for showing the power of design to solve problems … again.

Brilliant at showing you use technology to evolve humans rather than devolve them.

Brilliant at being more innovative than your competitors.

Brilliant at making me feel more towards you than I have in years.

As I’ve said for years, products have done more to grow brand value than advertising.

Don’t get me wrong, advertising is hugely powerful and important, but it all starts from doing something good, not something average.

That used to be obvious. Sadly, I don’t think it is anymore.

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You Either Are Building Or Destroying. Building Is Better …

One of the things I’ve found interesting over the years is how planners deal with creative reviews.

In the main, they fall into 2 groups.

1. The ones that tear things down.

2. The ones who lift things up.

What makes #1 worse is that in many cases, what drives their destruction isn’t the work doesn’t answer the brief, but doesn’t answer it in the way they imagined.

In other words, they’re acting like a Creative Director.

Don’t get me wrong, a brief is important – it’s something that not only gives direction and lets ideas be pressure tested, but serves as a historical document so people can see where things came from at some point in the future.

But – and it’s an important but – a brief is not law.

It is not something that can’t be changed, enhanced or thrown out and re-done.

The goal has to be the work and while briefs can work ‘in theory’, if the creative teams aren’t getting to ideas that ignite energy in people, then it’s time to look at where the brief is stopping creativity to flow.

That does not mean you post-ratrionalise whatever is produced, but by the same token, you don’t expect a brief to be answered to the letter, which is why I stand by the belief a brief should act as a direction rather than a destination.

And that’s why I like planners who ‘lift things up’.

Who look for the good in the work rather than the bad.

Not in a Paula Abdul ‘everything is good even when it’s not’ kind-of-way, but recognise the threads that could lead to something exciting and new … threads that encourage rather than dictate … threads that lets everyone feel you’re on the same team and want the same thing.

The reason I say this is because I recently saw a quote that I loved.

It comes from US politician, John A Morrison and he say’s …

“Knowledge may come from taking things apart but wisdom only comes from putting things together”.

I love this.

I love what it means and represents.

And that’s why I think planners need to spend more time on wisdom than knowledge, because while a major part of our job is finding out the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’, if we don’t think of how those things can come together in interesting ways, then we’re not only limiting our own potential, we’re doing a disservice to where creativity can go and what it can achieve.



Old Is Gold …

Yes I’m back, how happy are you about that?

Actually don’t answer that, it will only upset me.

So one of the things my parents taught me is to be interested in the things other people are interested in.

This bit of advice has basically been the foundation of my career.

By spending my time out of the office, out of focus group rooms, out of the marketing bubble … I’ve been able to meet people and hear stories that have had a huge impact on the work I’ve done and the opportunities I’ve had.

However there is one group that I’ve found has always been the most interesting.

The elderly.

I’m not saying that because I’m fast becoming one of them, but because they have reached a point where they’ve worked out who they are and what they like, better yet – as I wrote last year, they now recognise the things that are important versus the things they thought that were – the things that ended up undermining their potential.

The elderly – which for me, is basically anyone over the age of 65, even if they feel they’re 25 – don’t give a shit about playing the politeness game, they just answer things as they it.

Don’t get me wrong, there can be times where hearing their views and theories on life can be very scary indeed, but in this era of convenient soundbites and curated conversations, it can be liberating because as Barbara Bush once said …

“Never ask someone over 70 how they feel, because they’ll tell you”.



What Adland Can Learn From Latvia About Creativity …

I’ve written a lot about the one dimensional view adland has towards who they regard as creative and creativity as a whole – except when it’s Cannes time of course – but I was recently reminded how this view remains by a recent purchase of a guitar effect pedal.

No, seriously.

I don’t mean it purely because this pedal can create infinite sustain for any musical instrument – though that is very impressive – I mean it because it was created by 3 young, Latvian electronic students who are also amateurs musicians.

Now I don’t know much about Latvia, but I don’t think ‘music technology leader’ immediately springs to mind and yet, their product has taken away all the attention from the big, established players at all the music shows it has been featured at.

What they did is – for me – an example of where creativity is at its most exciting as well as it’s most powerful … and yet so much of adland would dismiss their efforts as not only do they only value creativity in the context of art and copy, but only regard people who sit in the creative department as being creative.

Don’t get me wrong, the people in there have a very special and valuable talent … but that doesn’t mean they are the only ones who are creative and can solve commercial problems for clients.

As I said once before, it’s funny that the only people who refer to themselves as ‘creative’, are those who reside in ad agencies.

Writers don’t.
Musicians don’t.
Artists don’t.
Film makers don’t.
And Latvian electronic students – who also play musical instruments – don’t.

To be fair, many of the great creatives I’ve worked with don’t refer to themselves in such a singular way, especially as they have many ways of expressing their talent but sadly, due to the way agencies make money and clients determine good work, they are constrained in their creative expression to only doing work that fits with ‘traditional’ marketing channels. [read: the stuff that is measurable so clients feel OK paying for it]

This is annoying for many reasons, but mainly for the fact our industries future isn’t going to get better if the powers-that-be continue to think the best way to make money is to charge for process management rather than charging a premium for solving problems in the most imaginative, powerful and meaningful of ways.
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As you mull that over, I have some good news for you …

It’s a long weekend here so you are free from me until Tuesday.

Now while I know you will prefer that to the ad industry sorting itself out, the fact is if we an an industry leant back into the value of creativity rather than advertising [even though we often call advertising creativity – which it is, but you know what I mean], then I am sure it would make every day feel a bit more like a holiday than a job …. which is one of the ways we actually get to the work we all strive to make.

And with that, I’m off … ta-ra.



Where It All Began …
May 23, 2018, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, Childhood, Comment, Education

Following on from my sentimentally infused post of yesterday, one of my old school friends recently posted this photo on Facebook …

What you’re looking at are all the teachers at my primary school, Heymann.

Now to be honest, I don’t recognise all of the faces, but the others have all left an indelible mark on me.

I appreciate this is of absolutely no value or interest to you, but in the slight possibility that Otis will read this at some point in the future, I’m going to detail my memories of each one so Otis can have a glimpse into his old man’s past.

From the back row, on the right left hand side, we have Ms Clay.

She was – I think – a student teacher. I am pretty sure she was engaged to the guy 3rd from the left. She came with us on our school trip to Whitby [see pic below, with me in a bloody red cagoule] and someone bought some ‘X-Ray Specs’ from a joke shop, convinced we would be able to see her nude. Unsurprisingly, we didn’t.

Next to her was Mr Catchick. The overwhelming memories I have of him is when he made me mop up someone’s vomit in class. I can’t remember why, but I do remember thinking it was terrible. I also remember the rumour his breath smelt of alcohol despite the fact that at aged 7, we were unlikely to know what alcohol smelt like. Then there was the time he sent me to the Headmaster’s room, Mr Dewing, for shouting “Bollocks” very, very loudly in class … even though I didn’t know what the word meant and Mr Dewing had to explain it to me, much to his huge embarrassment.

As I mentioned earlier, the person next to him is – I think – Ms Clay’s fiance, but next to him, like a member of some BritPop band, was sports teacher Mr Fletcher. He never taught me directly, but everyone knew him and when he retired from the school a few years ago, he was inundated with goodbye messages – me included.

Next to him is Mrs Crowe. She was my teacher when I turned 8 and the two overwhelming memories I have of her are that we did a class project on Australia and Canada – which, spookily, is where Jill is from – and that my Mum once came to collect me early and I remember thinking she looked the most beautiful Mum in the World. In another bizarre coincidence, we were flying from Shanghai to London a few years ago and we got talking to the people near us, only to discover they were Mrs Crowe’s nieces.

Last – but not least – on the top row, far right, is Mrs Cohen. She never taught me and I’m so glad because she used to hit people on the knuckles with a wooden ruler. Mind you, Mr Aspinal – who did teach me, but isn’t in this photo for some reason – used to hit people with a slipper, but he was far nicer than Mrs Cohen so I remember feeling a massive sense of relief when I was put in his class rather than hers.

Below her, now going right-to-left, is Mrs Berry – my first ever teacher. She drove a dark purple MGB GT … as cool a car as you could get back then … and was brilliant. She was also my teacher when the school got vandalised, where some kids broke all our pencils, spray painted our playground and killed the school rabbit. Oh, she also is the teacher who decided at the last minute that I should give Rebecca Baldwin my jumper during the school nativity play [where we were both playing animals] resulting in me watching my parents watching Rebecca thinking it was me until the very end. To say they were shocked when we removed our masks is quite the understatement.

Then comes Mrs Terry … the teachers teacher. She was firm but fair though I once caused her to almost have a meltdown with my inability to understand fractions [I’m still rubbish at it]. The other memory I have is that when it was parent/teacher night, she wanted everyone to have their ‘gold star/black mark’ chart updated and because she was so inundated with kids asking her questions, I kept going up to her with a piece of my work that she had graded with a ‘gold star’, and basically managed to get her to give me 5 stars when it should have been 1. This is maybe where my blagging abilities began.

Next to her was Mrs Staples. She taught me after Mrs Berry and was the deputy head. I remember thinking she was the most elegant woman I’d ever seen but that could also be because she didn’t go mad when she found I had decided – at age 6 – the questions in the back of the school books weren’t grammatically correct so I’d used a pen to change them. Before you call me a cheeky bastard, I did it because Paul, my best mate, was having reading issues and I didn’t want him to feel bad so blamed it on the school.

I have no idea who the other 2 teachers were, but these people – along with Mr Roberts, the school caretaker who lived in a house by the school entrance – were my introduction to education, so we can blame them for why I didn’t go to university.



Connections From History …

I first started being conscious of Brian Clough in 1978 when he took my beloved Nottingham Forest on a magical journey, the likes had never been seen before or since.

While I never spent any time with him, I can honestly say he contributed to a childhood that is bursting with memories and wonder which is why when I saw a letter he wrote from the year my adoration began, I had to get it.

I totally appreciate some might think this is stupid, but to me it’s a connection to my history.

A connection to where I grew up.

A connection to a place that still means so much to me.

When you’re just 8 years old, what Nottingham Forest did was make my formative football-fan years the most exciting, unifying and pride-filled years you could ever hope to have, and while the last 20+ years have been a total nightmare, no one can ever take those amazing memories from me because, as John McGovern, the Forest captain of the time, said …

“We were like one of those comets you see flying across the night sky. We burned brightly, but it was all too brief. But, boy, did we burn brightly for a while.”

So thank you Mr Clough, you were always with me but now you will always be near me.



More Proof The World Has Gone Mad …

So recently, for reasons I don’t quite understand, the Screen Writers Guild of America and a division of the US Government asked me to give a presentation on how writers can attract foreign investment.

My entire deck is the picture at the top of this post.

After I explained what I was talking about – which was basically this [especially #8] – we watched the documentary, ‘Exporting Raymond’ which, for me, is still one of the best documentaries anyone looking to work overseas can watch to understand the differences in culture, on both a macro and micro scale.

Actually, it’s worth watching even if you’re not going overseas … or if you’ve been there, done that – especially if it was Russia or China – so to give you a taste, the trailer is below.

Apparently it went down so well they are trying to get the star of the film, Phil Rosenthal, to come to an event where I will interview him.

WTF?!

I was going to write that if this happens, Mr Rosenthal is going to realise working in Russia was no where near as hellish as being interviewed by me and then I discovered he’s worth $200 million, so my concern for his wellbeing kind of went out the window.

That said, as much as I experienced a lot of weird things in China, being asked to do this talk – and the possible subsequent Q&A – is right up there in terms of madness.

Living overseas. The gift that keeps on giving.