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


Celebrating 11 Years Of Cranky Wonderfulness …
June 29, 2018, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, Comment, Daddyhood, Emotion, Family, Rosie

So on the 1st July, the cat above is 11 years old.

While she can drive the patience of a saint with her demanding ways, I absolutely adore her her madly.

I’d never really had a pet before – unless a goldfish and a cactus counts – and while there were some initial complicated moments, Rosie has given me nothing but utter joy.

I bloody love that cat.

What else would explain me building her a cat penthouse so she can survey her kingdom without having to venture outside [something she’s never done] or buying her a plane seat so she can be with us when we moved to LA.

For a street cat from Singapore, she lives a pretty pampered life.

Not that she thinks that.

Oh no.

I swear if she could talk she would list all the things she believes she’s hard done by.

Not having constant access to Friskies cat treats.

Or not being allowed to go behind the Televisions.

Or not getting brushed 24/7.

And yet – ironically – for all her desire for even more pampering, I swear that she thinks of herself as this …

… because when birds – or another cat – comes into her vision, she reacts like Russia has just invaded another nations airspace, but if she was actually allowed to go and ‘defend’ her land, she’d be utterly rubbish, because underneath it all, she is 100% this.

And I love her even more for that.

Even though it took her 3 years before she sat on our knee.

So to my beloved Rosie, happy birthday you beautiful but cranky purr monster.

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Don’t Fall In Love With Your Own Voice …

So I know that the first reaction most people will have reading the title of this post is, “Pot. Kettle. Black.”

And I get it, I can talk. A lot.

But the thing is, in actual client meetings, I’m much more surgical.

There’s a couple of reasons for this.

The first is I am genuinely interested to hear what others in the room think.

The second is it allows me the time to truly consider my point of view in consideration of all we’ve heard.

And thirdly, I can ensure my POV has the opportunity to be shaped by others perspectives that I may not have considered.

However there are 2 occasions where I don’t follow these rules.

The first is when the room requires some sort of ignition to commence debate.

I know we live in times where everyone seems to have a point of view on everything, but there are occasions when silence happens and when it does, my role is to kick things off so a topic finds its natural rhythm and momentum with the rest of the attendees.

The other time I enter the fray earlier is when we have the self-appointed expert.

Now as I’ve said many times, I’m a huge fan of ‘intelligent naivety’ … people who experience/situation affords them a unique perspective on a subject matter, despite not being employed or trained in it.

For example, years ago when I was working with Dreamworks to define what ‘entertainment’ was, one of the people we invited who had a fascinating perspective, was a mother of 8 kids who regarded anything that kept her kids quiet and still for 15 minutes was the pinnacle of entertainment.

But I’m not talking about these folk.

The beauty of them is they tend to speak very much from their personal perspective, situation and experience and never try to claim their opinion is valid for a different set of circumstances.

I’m talking about the people who don’t understand that their perspective is simply their perspective rather than something that is universal and can be transported to others.

The millionaires who talk about what it’s like to be a kid in a low income home, based on what their kid likes.

The ad folk who talk about what life is like in the suburbs because they read an article about it in The Guardian.

The white guys who talk about understanding what it’s like to be an African American because they aren’t racists.

The men who tell women what they want because “my Mum was one”.

The businessmen who talk about what an ad should look like because they know business.

And while those people absolutely have a right to an opinion, they need to be reminded it’s just that – an opinion, not a fact – because if you let them talk incessantly, they don’t just have the ability to derail a meeting, they have the ability to get otherwise sane people to agree to decisions that are utterly car-crash. Remember Pepsi?



Forget Taking A Position, Give Me A Point Of View …

One of adlands favourite things is the ‘positioning statement’.

A statement that informs where a brand fits within its category.

It’s been a successful way to do things for decades and many brands continue to embrace to this day.

But it’s limiting.

It stops a brand from having a bigger role in culture.

It leads to those painful annual ‘brand relaunch’ campaigns.

It can become out-of-date in the blink of an eye.

It is for this reason I’ve always believed in the importance of a brand ‘point of view’.

A point of view transcends the category rules.

A point of view can adapt and flow with the times.

A point of view lets creativity flow, not be stifled.

Of course, to do this, you have to start with knowing who you are, who you want to be and what you stand for … but in my experience, expressing this as a point of view means you can make work that resonates with culture rather than tries to be relevant to it.

For those who don’t think resonance vs relevance is a big difference, I would say you’re missing a valuable shift in culture.

With so many brands talking at culture or making innovation that they want them to like rather than what they want, a brand that shows it truly gets it’s audience is more differentiated than any amount of brands who spend all their time trying to create a widget no other brand has, but no person actually wants.



Remember My Name …

So recently I saw that the movie, Fame was 38 years old.

While I didn’t see the film, the memory of the TV show is burned into my mind.

I remember seeing trailers for it on TV earlier that week and wanting to watch it … however when it aired, I was out with my friends playing football – it was summer – so when I finally walked into the house [via the back garden, as I’d gone to talk to my Mum and Dad who were enjoying the late evening sun] the show was half way through the episode.

But I was hooked from the beginning.

The idea of a school that taught creativity in a way that wasn’t stuffy was infectious to me.

Previous to that, I didn’t even know those things could exist but the fact there was a TV show about it, meant it must do. Somewhere.

To be honest, at that point in my life – 1982 – I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but it’s now obvious to me that part of the appeal of the show was because I wanted to go down that path, I just didn’t know it before then.

It might sound a bit of a leap, but the show might be one of the reasons I picked up the guitar about a year later and went on to spend a big chunk of my life between the ages of 17-24 making, earning and traveling because of music.

I always wonder if I’d have tried to get into a school of the arts if there had been one available in the UK at that time.

There were acting schools, but nothing like the one in Fame.

Of course, the school on Fame was fictitious, but the schools it was based on represented a very different feel and place of learning that the UK equivalent.

I personally think these schools are incredibly important.

At a time where education seems universally focused on academic subjects, the value of ‘the arts’ seems to have slipped down in importance.

I get why, but I can tell you, if Otis wanted to go to one when he is older – I’d be thrilled.

Sure, you could argue a degree in dance or music or acting is going to be harder to turn into a good income down the line, but apart from the fact you could say that about most degrees in general these days … the role of education is not just to better the individual, but for that individual to help better the country they live in.

It’s for this reason I’m so vehemently opposed to education-for-profit.

Not just because it has resulted in universities lowering their qualification standards to increase admission, but because a highly educated population adds huge commercial value to a country.

Smart people do smart things.

Whether that is creating things or attracting things, a highly educated workforce creates more opportunities for others … be that people, communities, companies or countries … and it’s for this reason I passionately believe governments should keep standards insanely high but the cost of insanely low.

But sadly few look at it that way – preferring to take the money rather than make the investment – resulting in too many people going to university in the hope of getting a great future but finding out they got sold a great lie.

Education is an amazing thing – regardless what you study – but with degrees fast becoming worth less than the paper they’re written on, I hope if Otis does choose to advance his education, he follows the path that leads him to emotional fulfillment.

I don’t care what that is … art, music, accountancy or tech … but for me the key is he does it for his happiness, not purely for his career because in a World where everyone seems to do stuff to get ahead, there’s something amazing in following a path for the sheer joy that you enjoy it and that’s something I would love for him to do.

As my parents taught me, at the end of the day, feeling fulfilled is more important than simply being content.

Wow, this is quite a leap from a 1982 TV show about kids dancing in the streets of NY isn’t it.



World Cup Advertising Plane Crashes …

I thought it had been well documented that any ad agency commandeering a song to try and show how ‘fun’ they are was a recipe for disaster.

Well, it seems that lesson has only been partially learnt, because while this sonic shitshow is not being performed by – or on behalf – of an agency, an agency was behind its creation and the end result is the sort of disaster that is more likely to cause hooliganism than fandom.

Seriously Qatar Airways, what the fuck were you thinking?

I know airline advertising is notoriously bad [except my old Virgin Atlantic stuff, of course] and World Cup spots tend to not be too far behind [except NIKE, though for some reason they’ve decided not to do anything yet which is either going to be a masterstroke of surprise* or a New Coke moment] but this piece of awfulness reaches a low that even Donald Trump at his most ambitious would be hard pressed to pull off.

Cliched.

Contrived.

Vacuous.

Lazy.

Devoid of any idea, energy or – for that matter – strategy.

Ladies and gentlemen. Boys and girls.

Please welcome an ad that was made to ruin your Monday …

* Please be a masterstroke of surprise. You are always the ones who define the World Cup.

Talking of NIKE and World Cup ads, maybe someone should tell the agency behind Iceland Air’s World Cup spot, that while people say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the reality is imitation is the laziest form of flattery.

Look, I know Write The Future was 8 years ago, but there’s this thing called the internet that means people can easily see and compare the work and while your production values are good – certainly compared to that Qatar disgrace – it’s still a blatant bloody ripoff that does you [and your agency] more harm than good.



Conversational Icebergs …

One of the things I am continually amazed at, is how few people know how to listen.

By that I don’t mean they’re not hearing the conversation, they’re just taking it all on face value.

The older I get, the more I have realised professional conversations are like icebergs.

What’s actually being said is often under the surface … clues, hints, admissions.

As someone once told me, people speak in words that are often designed to protect themselves rather than reveal themselves – and yet, if you listen really carefully – you can sense what is trying to be said … what they want you to really ask.

Police interrogators get this more than anyone.

Their ability to listen – and read visual cues – is what helps them solve their cases … whether that’s people who don’t want to be committed of a crime or people who are finding it hard to admit a crime has happened.

Subtext is everywhere.

It’s part of the reason I loved living and working in China, because everything had meaning.

To be quite honest, the easiest way to separate the people who appreciated Chinese culture and those who pretended to was to test their ability to read the invisible conversation that was going on during the conversation.

That or if they continually mentioned Confucius.

The ability to listen – and visually focus – is an incredible skill.

It lets you ask better questions.

It lets you discuss subject matters others may be finding hard to open up about.

It lets you judge situations through the context of the other parties body language.

It’s something rarely talked about in planning when – in many ways – it is the embodiment of planning, however it is also very easy to get trapped into.

Where you think nothing said is the truth.

Because if you think that way you’re doubley doomed – not just because there’s no way you can understand what someone is trying to communicate if you don’t listen to what they’re saying, but because the temptation would be to invent the subtext you want it to be and then you’re going to be in an even worse position than if you just took everything on face value.

As author Margaret Millar once said, “Don’t be one of those people who get so obsessed with what is being said between the lines that you don’t read the lines”.



Moore’s Law Won’t Be Law For Much Longer …

Moore’s law – created by Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel – states that computer power will double every two years at the same cost.

Since he said this in the later 60’s, he’s been proven right, but having listened to a professor of computer engineering on the radio last night, it appears it’s coming to an end.

The reason I am saying this is because to prove his point, the Professor said 3 things that have blown my mind.

1. The iPhone has 4 billion transistors in it. FOUR BILLION.

2. There are now more transistors in the World than their are leaves on all the trees across the entire planet.

3. Some transistors are so small – separated by a distance of just 14 nanometres (nm) – that they are invisible. And when I say invisible, I mean it because they are smaller than the wavelengths of light human eyes and microscopes use.

What I loved about the talk the Professor gave wasn’t just his ability to articulate the incredible journey of innovation that the tech industry has been on for almost 50 years … nor was it his view that this rate of innovation was going to be impossible to maintain given the micro scale the industry is already operating at … it was that he felt this obsession with precision was stopping craftsmanship to flourish.

Now I must admit, my initial view was getting 4 billion transistors into an iPhone would be the ultimate demonstration of craftsmanship, but no … this Professor was saying that in our quest to automate our lives, we are doing it at the expense of celebrating and expanding human skills.

For him, craftsmanship is when a human manufactures a product by hand … they use dedicated human reasoning to work out the kinks during production to make a high-quality, functioning piece.

These pieces attract and inspire those around them, attracting more people to both value the products and want to create the products, helping humanity both evolve and appreciate what we are capable of creating and becoming.

Now of course we could say computers have done a similar thing, but this Professor was saying ‘perfect precision’ was overshadowing ‘human precision’ and while there will always be a need for technology to do heavy lifting for us, humanity is at its best when it is can satisfy and appreciate what we as a species can do and right now, we are outsourcing that to technology.

It’s an interesting argument – especially when you think of what so much of this new era of tech is being used to do from a human interaction perspective – but ultimately I believe the argument is that if we don’t get back to teaching tech what to value, then tech will start teaching us.

It already is.

In their quest to get AI accepted in households, many companies are building applications to cater for the lowest common denominator of needs. The low hanging fruit, as it were. Now that would be fine if they then evolved their offering, but as this is a fierce, commercial race, I am pretty sure most companies will end up focusing on trying to automate as many simple tasks as possible in a bid to show their ‘usefulness’ which means over time, they are educating us to value speed over quality, convenience over experiences, virtual over reality and information over understanding.

Some might think that is OK, but as Andy said in a comment a few weeks ago, the implication are frightening …

“The fucked thing about all this tech assistance isnt that its making us lazy, its that its making us selfish and dismissing anyone or anything that doesnt do what we want immediately. The arts are going to be fucked over by this shit till people work it out and by then it will be too late or they just wont care.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love tech.

I love what it does and I love what it has allowed us to do.

And it goes without saying I love that it has helped me satisfy my love of gadgetry.

But if this is all at the cost of humanities appreciation of humanity, that’s quite a price to pay which is why if the end of Moore’s law means we get to teach values to tech rather than have tech teach us our values, then I for one am all for it.