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


Little Things Make The Difference …

In Asia, hand cleanliness is almost an obsession.

People even eat their sandwiches and burgers with knives and forks to avoid having to pick them up.

OK, so maybe that’s the case everywhere and I’m just showing my common Nottingham roots … but I still find it fascinating.

Everywhere you go, there’s hand sanitisers.

I’m not just talking in hospitals, I’m talking restaurants and all sorts of other places.

Recently, I saw this on my wife’s bag.

Yep, it’s a portable hand sanitiser.

But I’m not saying this because it highlights how long we’ve been in Asia, I’m saying it because making a product that can attach easily to a bag is an act of simple genius.

For a culture that doesn’t want to just wash their hands, but have them truly germ free … this little idea has big appeal.

Sure, there’s other products on the market that do a similar thing, but having something that attaches to your bag gives a peace of mind that wipes hidden in your bag, just can’t do. Plus being permanently on display helps advertise the brand to all who see it. Nice.

I’ve said for a while that I feel designers are doing things in more interesting ways than ad agencies and ultimately that’s down to one simple difference of approach.

Designers want to solve problems whereas ad agencies want to communicate problems.

Not all agencies are like this.

Not all agency employees are like this.

But right now, the design industry is kicking our ass and I swear it’s because we are holding on to remuneration models that reward ‘the old ways’ rather than finding ways to get paid for what we are truly capable of if given the freedom to do it.

[That and the fact adlands creative department hiring policy is still primarily based on art and copy rather than embracing different types of creative people/thinkers/doers]

We will have to wake up soon, otherwise the bullshit we churn out for Cannes – that we claim is ‘creative problem solving’ will become the benchmark for our standards and when that happens, we may as well pack up and go home.

But I have faith it can be done, if only because I saw The Kennedys Shanghai consistently solve problems in imaginative and innovative and intriguing ways for 9 months.



Credit Where Credit Is Due …

One of the things that has always bugged me about adland is the ad ‘credit list’.

Sometimes you’ll read about a one-off print ad that has a longer credit list than a bloody movie.

Seriously.

Look, I get the importance of having your name on things – this is an industry obsessed with that – but it kind of gets ridiculous when people are mentioned because they put the stamp on the invitation for the client launch.

That’s why I always loved that Mother credited everything as Mother.

Sure, you could claim it robbed those involved in the making of the work from getting the credit they deserved – but I can tell you for a fact, there’s no way those people would be anonymous for long.

Of course the worst is when people take credit for things they didn’t really do.

Or big themselves up to make it sound like they were instrumental in what was created.

With that, I want to tell you a story that I heard from my friend – and creative extroidinatire – Kash Sree.

A long time ago – in the 80’s to be precise – there was a phenomenal writer called Richard Cook.

The creative director he worked for was notorious for not giving credit to the people who deserved it and had left Richard’s name off numerous previous pieces of well received work.

One lunch, the creative director handed Richard an ad and asked him to write some copy for it before he got back.

Richard – in a demonstration of his talent – wrote the piece over his lunch break.

It’s the ad at the top of this post.

The ad went on to win countless awards.

In an award-obsessed industry, Richard wasn’t exactly surprised that the creative director yet again denied Richard had anything to do with the work. So Richard unleashed his weapon.

He simply stated if anyone needed proof that he was responsible for the ad, they should read the first letter of every paragraph of the copy.

I’ll save you the bother. It spelled out ‘Richard Cook wrote this’.

Genius.



The Shanghai Kennedys Graduate …

So last week – on Founders Day – we saw The Kennedys Shanghai graduate after 9 months of trials, tribulations and torture [their words, not mine]

What an amazing journey … for them as well as for me.

I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t really know what I was taking on when I agreed to launch The Kennedys – Wieden’s creative talent incubator – but it has proved to be one of the best decisions of my life.

It’s been amazing.

Actually that doesn’t do it justice, it has been one of the most rewarding, exciting and creatively fulfilling times of my career.

Seriously.

Seeing these guys use their creative talent to brilliantly solve an amazing array of radically diverse challenges was an incredible privilege but the work they created was only part of the reward, because I also got to see how their journey affected all of them individually.

Watching them discover – and start to believe – in their own, individual creative voice was brilliant.

Not just in terms of how it affected the ideas they came up with, but also in how they looked at every challenge given to them.

At the beginning of The Kennedys, there was a sense of cautiousness – a feeling of concern they might do something wrong – but by the end, they didn’t give a shit about what others may think and had the confidence to go full force with whatever they believed.

Of course to get to that stage wasn’t easy … and yet the way we did it was.

In essence there were 2 parts.

The first was we needed the guys to feel they were in an environment where they were safe to be vulnerable.

Our view was that if they ever sensed they may be laughed at, criticised or ridiculed then we’d never get them to explore or experiment with where their creativity could go.

To achieve this, we told them we would never say ‘no’ to their ideas.

We could challenge them … we could ask as many questions as we like … but we could never, ever tell them their idea ‘is wrong’.

The second part was to give the guys challenges that made them vulnerable.

Part of this was to prove The Kennedys was a safe place for them to express themselves without limitation, but the other part was we knew the only way they’d discover the power of their truth was if they experienced real vulnerability and came out of it unscathed.

To do this, the first 3 months of assignments were made up of self expression exercises … from making a film about how you felt when you were made to dye your hair white, to creating art work about eating a live octopus to writing a resume of all your failures and an incredible amount of things in-between.

Now, I’ve got to be honest, a lot of people – including The Kennedys – felt I only did this so I could satisfy my evilness, but that is not the case at all.

When you see the creativity in the work they created later in the course – such as the takeaway coffee cup that turns into a frisbee for a local cafe that attracts lots of dog owners … to the Superhero toothbrush glove that makes 5 year old kids want to actually brush their teeth … to the innovation behind a Nike Shanghai Marathon campaign [to name but a few] – I’m pretty certain it was their comfortableness in their vulnerability that got them to this sort of work.

Nothing sums their confidence like their final assignment.

We asked them to come up with something they could leave at Wieden+Kennedy that defined what they had learnt over the course of The Kennedys.

In a perfect world, it would act as a legacy for them as well as an inspiration for everyone in the agency.

It didn’t take them long to sum up their 9 months experience with this turn of phrase …

“The freedom of creativity”

I liked that. I liked it a lot.

Their belief that creativity was about freedom and that freedom meant that any challenge could be met in interesting and intriguing ways was almost the perfect outtake from 9 months of bizarre and wonderful.

And so what did they do with their freedom of creativity?

This …

Yes … it’s a Street Fighter arcade game, but not like any Street Fighter arcade game.

You see the guys decided to reprogram the machine so it featured them as the fighters and included all their experiences over the 9 months of The Kennedy’s.

The characters.
The locations.
The challenges.

They’re all in there.

Including me … where my ‘special move’ is the F-Bomb, and a Birkenstock comes down to destroy everything in its way.

Cheeky bastards.

Someone at Wieden Tokyo asked me to explain what it was like and I said the best way to describe it was South Park on speed and LSD.

Seriously, it’s utterly mental and chaotic and for that alone, it perfectly sums up the journey and spirit of The Kennedys, let alone the way they used creativity to solve the challenge in the freshest of ways. 

But while it is absolutely awesome … what’s even better is the effort it took to make it.

I’m not talking about sourcing the game or even re-programming the game – though they were difficult in themselves – I’m talking about what they did to make sure it was all perfect.

For example, to ensure they could match all the animation of the ‘fighters’, everyone had to take thousands of photographs of themselves – in front of a green screen – in various poses.

THOUSANDS!!!

Then they needed to photoshop it all.

And then animate it.

And that’s before we get to all the other stuff like the background scenes … the animated story sequences and the re-design of the game cabinet.

At Wieden we have this phrase Fail Harder.

It basically means that if you are going to fail, make it because you were going after an audacious goal.

A goal that few would ever dare to try because they would see the obstacles rather than the opportunity.

This game – which they only had 3 weeks to pull off – is the perfect encapsulation of Fail Harder.

Except they didn’t fail.

In fact, it’s so good, I asked them to make another machine so I can have one for home. 

I’m thrilled they said yes … Jill, a little less so. Hahahaha.

Portland might have their “Fail Harder” wall but Shanghai has their “Kingdom of Chaos” Arcade game.  

I am in awe of these guys, I truly am.

7 strangers.
Over 9 months.
Given 21 individual assignments.
Producing over 140 pieces of work.

I couldn’t be prouder.

I couldn’t be more thrilled.

I couldn’t feel more honoured to have been a part of it and to have these talented guys in my life … even if they don’t exactly feel the same way, ha.

Of all the great things I’ve done at Wieden+Kennedy, this has undoubtedly been one of the best.

I’d go so far as to say it has been one of the best things I’ve ever done.

So before I end this post, I’d just like to say a big thank you to the guys who helped make this a very special time in my life.

+ The Magnificent Seven … Carmen, Felix, Griet, Matteo, Meng, Quentin and Wenshu
+ Juni Zhu, the Patron Saint of Saints
+ Arlene Lu and Maxito, the dynamic duo and table tennis losers
+ Patrick Rockwell, also known as the fixer
+ Bryan & Yang
+ Azsa
+ Stone
+ Grainne
+ Nike
+ Boom Boom Bagels
+ Jill Barker
+ Paula Bloodworth, Northy and Marula
+ Yvonne … for never raising an eyebrow when we put in our weird expenses
+ Kim Papworth, Joe Staples and Richard Turley
+ John Rowe and Ryan Johnson in Tokyo
+ Blake Harrop, Alvaro Sotomayor and Judd Caraway in Amsterdam
+ Tony Davidson and Ryan Fisher in London
+ Vitor Abud in Sao Paulo
+ Wieden HR who didn’t say anything even when we made The Kennedys do very weird shit
+ Everyone at Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai
+ Everyone who was part of the Kennedys in Amsterdam, London & Sao Paulo
+ Everyone who applied for the journey
… and finally David Kennedy [and Dan Wieden] who let this thing happen because on April 1st 1982, you started a company that believed in the freedom of creativity

If you ever have the chance to be in – or part of – The Kennedys in the future, whether that is in Shanghai or any of the other Wieden+Kennedy offices, grasp it with both hands.

It will change your life.

It did for me and I’m pretty sure it did for the 7 guys who were our guinea pigs in Shanghai.



First Day Welcome …
February 28, 2017, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Agency Culture, Attitude & Aptitude, Comment

So recently on Linkedin, I saw this …

Now I don’t want to be rude – and I appreciate the author understands the value of making a new employee feel welcomed – but I’m pretty sure a computer, desk light, post-it notes and pencil are pretty much the basic ‘tools of the trade’ for most employees, so all they’ve really done out of the ordinary is to give a clementine.

A bloody clementine.

Short of adding a note saying, “Here’s your lunch because if you leave your desk for more than 3 minutes, you’re fired” … they couldn’t be more unwelcoming.

OK, so it’s not as bad as the time an old colleagues of mine started her new job and found they’d written the wrong name on her desk. In sweets. But even that – which showing an alarming lack of attention to detail – had more effort in it than placing a random piece of fruit on a desk.

The first day is a big day for most people and while that shouldn’t mean you shower them in presents, you should go out of your way to make sure they feel welcome and are introduced to their team and broader colleagues.

Frankly, giving them a computer and a clementine doesn’t cut it.

I say all this, but on my first day at Wieden, way back in 2010, I came into the office and was the only one here for 3 hours because it had been the World Cup final the night before and everyone was too hungover to come in.

To be fair, that kind of set the expectations regarding China’s time-keeping pretty well.



A Lesson On The Folly Of Focus Groups From Cameron Crowe …

For some of the younger readers of this blog, you may be wondering who Cameron Crow – the person I reference in the title of this post – is.

Well, he’s a famous film writer/director, responsible for movies including:

+ Almost Famous
+ Jerry Maguire
+ Singles

OK, so he’s also responsible for the car-crash that was Vanilla Sky, but let’s ignore that …

Anyway, I recently read an interview with him where he talks about how he came up with the name ‘Jerry Maguire’ and it’s fascinating.

Not really because of the story behind the name, but what he says at the very end … how movie companies now operate and what the outcome of their modern-day marketing approach would result in.

The thing is, I can so imagine the focus group/movie company preferring ‘You Complete Me’ to ‘Jerry Maguire’.

I can hear the feedback …

“Who the hell is Jerry Maguire?”

“Jerry Maguire is such a boring name, so it must be a boring film”.

“I can’t think what a film called Jerry Maguire would be about?”

“You Complete Me sounds so romantic”

“You Complete Me sounds like a film that is happy and positive”

“You Complete Me is a film I want my whole family to see”

And while I accept I’m being biased – having seen the movie many times – I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have wanted to see a movie called ‘You Complete Me’, even if it still contained one of the iconic scenes of my generation.

[Which would probably be left on the cutting room floor these days, see below]

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of research … but focus groups aren’t really about that, they’re about being progress killers.



About As Subtle As A Banana Put Down A Pair Of Axl Rose’s Leather Pants …

Saw this recently on Linkedin.

Do you think it’s an employee randomly singing the praises of his company.

Or an employee who is doing this as a blatant attempt by his company to look good?

Either way, I want to smash the smarmy, corporate toady in the face.




Great Creativity Leaves Scars …

So a few weeks ago, I talked to The Kennedy’s about something that rarely gets talked about … and that is there’s times where the creative process feels like a battle.

Sometimes it feels like you’re fighting your colleagues … sometimes it feels like you’re fighting your clients … sometimes it feels like you’re fighting yourself … but here’s the thing, it’s absolutely OK to experience these things because in my experience, nothing great happens if there hasn’t been tension along the way.

Of course there’s a point where decisions and directions have to be made and everyone needs to unite behind an idea to make it sharper and push where it can go [which should happen once you’ve tried stuff rather than just talked about the theory of it] but the fact remains nothing worth doing can be achieved without some scars and frustrations along the way … so rather than hide from it, embrace it.

8 little things that can ensure it’s only a momentary battle, not a bloody war …

1. Focus on the idea not your ego.
2. Try things, don’t just talk about them.
3. Be passionate but never be personal.
4. Remember everyone wants the same thing.
5. Hear feedback as help, not attacks.
6. Listen before you speak.
7. Rally behind decisions.
8. You can tell when the work was fun to make.

It has taken me almost 30 years to learn these things, but the difference it makes is huge – both to your personal fulfilment and the work you get to be a part of.

Of course, for it to work, everyone needs to understand this and practice it* … but when they do, more often than not you come out of it with something you’re all excited and proud of, which is what it’s supposed to be and why this industry – when it’s good – is very good indeed.

Don’t worry, I won’t be writing any more semi-professional posts for at least 1000 years.

_________________________________________________________________________

* It hopefully goes without saying that stuff like having a great brief, a great team and a fair amount of time to explore possibilities [etc etc] has already been accounted for.