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


No Posts Till Thursday …
February 11, 2019, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, America, Attitude & Aptitude

… because I’m away ALL WEEK in the US.

Your pain is America’s gain.

And why is there a post on Thursday?

Well you’ll just have to wait and see.

I can sense the excitement in your eyes already.

At least I can in my dreams.

Have a good week.

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When Love Turns To Apathy …

You might just be getting over the shock of yesterdays post, where I showed the world I was wearing shoes.

Real shoes.

Proper, proper shoes.

Well hold on to your hats because it’s going to get worse.

As many of you know, I have had a long, long, long, long, long time love affair with Taiwanese restaurant, Din Tai Fung.

I have been there so many times.

Literally hundreds.

The food is amazing.

The service is amazing.

The whole thing is amazing.

It’s the first restaurant I took my son to.

It’s the first restaurant we went to when we moved to LA.

It’s the first restaurant I looked forward to going to when we moved to the UK.

Now, to be honest, the food wasn’t quite the same in LA compared to China/Asia.

Don’t get me wrong, it was nice … but some of the ‘classics’ had been adapted to American tastes.

A bit sweeter.

A little less spicy.

But I could deal with it because apart from the free soda refills, it’s Din Tai Fung and that’s all that matters.

OR SO I THOUGHT.

You see when we moved to London, the restaurant had not yet opened.

In the 3 months between moving here and the doors opening, I had told everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – how this was going to change their life.

Well, we went … and I was right, it did change my life.

FOR THE WORSE.

I know … this is possibly even more shocking than the Birkenstock situation.

You see, while they had food that was on all their menus around the World, it was a poor imitation of it.

Worse, the sizes were smaller … it was less well cooked … it was served by people who were severely lacking in the kind, seamless service I had come to expect and a shedload more expensive.

As you can see from the receipt, a meal for my wife, 4 year old son and me was over £100.

ONE HUNDRED POUNDS.

No booze … no excessive amounts of ordering … and yet it cost about twice as much as my biggest ever order in China and trust me, that was a huuuuuuuuge order.

Now I get London is more expensive than China.

I get people in London may not have a frame of reference for what Din Tai Fung should be.

But it utterly destroyed me.

I went in their with such high hopes and came out disappointed and dismayed.

OK, so they have just opened and may still be having teething problems … but sadly, I doubt that is the real reason. As in the fashion with many companies trying to duplicate the success of one thing, they tend to focus on the ‘big things’ to copy and completely miss – or ignore – the small.

The details that make the big things sing.

While I’ll give them one more chance, the reality is I fully expect I won’t be back until I am back in Asia and while that might not sound a big thing, the fact they have lost such a massively loyal customer should be of concern to them.

Sadly I doubt they’d even care.



How America Changed Me For The Better …

While I wasn’t in America for long, 4 female, people of colour changed my life forever.

Given how old I am, that’s a pretty big statement and yet it is entirely true.

Mind you, it’s my age – or more specifically, the fact I’m at a level where I have some sort of influence in the industry – that is driving real change in terms of what I hold up as goals I want to hit in the time I have left in adland.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have a ridiculous level of enthusiasm and excitement for helping make great creative work … and I still want to help my team create one of the most interesting planning departments in the industry [based on what we create and how we did it] but I also want to make time for what I passionately believe will help the industry be better … of which one of those things is driving diversity in leadership.

Look, I know I don’t take too many things seriously, but this podcast interview with an HR organisation [I know, HR, but it is part of Niko’s brilliant Gap Jumpers group!!!] is one of the proudest things I’ve ever done.

Not for what I say, but because who helped me think this way.

Of which those 4 female, people of colour in America that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, are some of the most important ones.

Which is why I hope all the women I refer to in the podcast feel I honour the generosity, compassion, friendship and trust they showed towards me, because I am forever grateful to them for who they helped me become.

You can listen to it here.



Management Is Directing, Not Dictating …

One of the things that really shook me working in the US was how hierarchal it was.

Of course I appreciate not all companies are like this, but in my experience, there were a huge amount who were.

Where the person with the highest title won.

Regardless how right – or wrong – they were.

And what this led to was a bunch of talented people opting for the easier life.

Where they did what the most important person in the room wanted, because ultimately it meant they would have less stress and could go home on time.

Or realised their career growth was about managing up rather than being great.

I don’t blame them – especially those who had families to feed – I just found it sad and alien.

Sad … because I saw incredibly talented people being restrained and restricted.

Alien … because I had been brought up to see management as enabling people to make the best work of their life.

Directing rather than dictating.

Creating the time, space and energy to let your team craft the work not focus on the politics.

But in America, this didn’t seem to be the case … it felt it was much more about following orders rather than solving the challenge in the most interesting and exciting of ways.

I kind-of wrote about this before, but the reason I’m saying it now is because I recently read a book that reminded me of some of the things I saw and – to a degree – experienced.

A book that reinforced why I will always love Wieden – and now R/GA – because they were founded by individuals who value creativity rather than devaluing age.

The book I’m talking about is called “Disrupted: Ludicrous Misadventures in the Tech Start-up Bubble” and was written by ex-Newsweek journalist Dan Lyons.

It’s a humorous tale of his experience working for the tech/marketing company Hubspot and – without giving anything away – it’s a total shitshow.

There’s a bunch of reasons for it … but as I read the book, I couldn’t help feel that many of them were because of this hierarchal practice that I saw in America.

It’s definitely a book worth reading because apart from just being enjoyable, it is super informative in how Silicon Valley works.

Even more specifically, how the finance of Silicon Valley works.

But if that doesn’t tempt you, then maybe this will.

You see Dan Lyons – the author – was a hardcore, tech journalist and yet when he joined Hubspot, he found himself in the marketing department. After experiencing the industry first hand, this is what he had to say about the conferences we love to go to and talk at …

“Marketing conferences are filled with wannabe gurus and ‘thought leaders’ who work themselves up into a revival-show lather about connecting with customers and engaging in holistic, heart-based marketing … which sounds like something I made up but is actually a real thing that really exists and is taken seriously by actual adult human beings, which makes me want to cry.”

Harsh?

Maybe.

True?

Definitely.



When Thinking Isn’t Thinking …

I have long-written how Asian hotel hospitality – albeit in the better end of the hotel ranking system – absolutely trash their US counterparts in almost all aspects of comfort and service.

The same can be said for a whole host of things, including airports, infrastructure and educational standards … however recently, on a trip to the US, I saw something that basically summed up the whole madness of American standards, at least in terms of hotels.

To demonstrate the point, come with me on a terrible z-grade bit of storytelling …

We are in the boardroom of the Sheraton Suites Hotel chain.

The team are meeting on room design …

“Where should we put the full length mirror” asks one of staff members.

“There’s so much wall space – we’re in America, greatest land in the World – it could literally go anywhere” replied a duty manager.

This debate goes back and forth for a while before they determine they won’t be able to get to the answer by themselves.

So after opening a P/O number and conducting some internal questionnaires, they spend a further 6 days at a ‘mirror brainstorm summit’ offsite before deciding they needed external help.

Enter McKinseyBainBoston&Sons … management consultants that now can turn their hand to anything if the invoice has a minimum of six 0’s attached to it.

Off they go and do a full brand audit and interview process.

This takes 9 months.

Finally, after spending millions of dollars in expenses and time, the consultants come back and present their answer to the Sheraton Suites board.

Obviously they love it, McKinseyBainBoston&Sons are the pinnacle at whatever they do.

A grand party is set to announce the answer.

The whole company comes together.

There is lift music, average food and fake smiles before finally the time has come.

With great fanfare the envelope with the answer is opened.

“Place the mirror directly opposite the loo so guests can see themselves when they’re having a shit”

Everyone claps wildly.

Except anyone who stays there.



Till Next Year …

So this is the final post of the year.

It’s been a big year for me and the family.

Then again, it was a big year for the family last year too.

However, whereas 2017 saw us leave Shanghai and Wieden+Kennedy – something that was truly emotional for all of us – 2018 has seen us go from sunny LA, working at Deutsch, living in a house by the beach and driving a custom made Audi to being citizens of cold and rainy London, living in a much smaller house in Fulham, working at R/GA [with some sprinkles of Metallica madness in-between] and traveling by tube to and from everywhere.

And we haven’t been this happy in ages.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things we definitely miss from our life in the US – people, the weather, Otis’ school, free soda refills and bacon mainly – but this move was right for us for a whole host of reasons, personal and professional, and we enter 2019 with the full expectation we’ll still be here when 2020 comes around.

I hope.

It’s funny, when I read the final post I wrote for last year, it is apparent that change was in our minds. We didn’t think that openly, but it seems it was there.

Of course, moving to a country and then leaving in just over a year is not the best thing.

It’s financial stupidity for one.

But these things happen and we are very happy for the amazing experience, though I must admit I’m even happier my wife, son and cat are still talking to me.

Fools.

But while our environment has changed, some things have stayed exactly the same.

Your ability to trash everything I write on here, for one.

And to you all, I say a huge thank you.

Sure, being told I’m a bad dressing, musically ignorant, gadget tosser every-single-day can get a bit tiring, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Because amongst the insults, there’s often pearls of gold in there.

Stuff that makes me think about things a different way.

Stuff that influences how I think about things I never thought about.

Stuff that just keeps me on my toes and interested about stuff.

And I love it.

I love that people come here and share a bit of their time and opinion with me.

Yes, I appreciate moving to the UK and still posting at 6am is screwing up the flow of the comments given the East Coast of America is asleep and can’t insult/join-in until much later … but the fact so many people still write makes me feel very fortunate.

While I have loved the ability to move countries and cultures so many times – and hope to continue doing it, just not for a bit – the reality is that is makes your friendship network difficult.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very fortunate we have technology to keep me in touch with the wonderful people I’ve met in every country we’ve lived [whether they like it or not] and this year I got to catch up with people I’ve not seen in years – from Freddie to Paula – but there is something about having a level of constancy that makes you feel settled.

Bizarrely, this blog has provided me with a bit of that.

Even with people I have still yet to meet.

[Though I met Marcus and Neil Perkin this year and that made me so happy]

While I would never suggest I am your friend, you have been to me – in many ways and at many times, both at moments of darkness and happiness – and I want to take this opportunity to say thank you.

To all of you.

Even you Andy.

When I started this blog way back in May 2006, I never expected anyone to read it, let alone comment so the fact some of you still are – regardless that many Police officers would call it abuse – I’m grateful.

I’m excited about next year.

It will be big.

Not because we’ll be moving … or I’ll changing job … but new things will be entering my life.

From my beloved Otis starting proper school – which literally is screwing with my head – to the much-talked-about-but-not-much-actually-done Weigel/Campbell officially doing its thing in addition to the exciting adventures and exploits my wonderfully beautiful family, my bloody amazing friends and fantastic new planning team will get up to that will make me feel even luckier than I do already.

Being back in England has had a much bigger effect on me than I ever imagined it would.

I am grateful for it.

I am grateful for all I have.

I hope this holiday season and 2019 is one that is wonderful for you all too.

See you in a few weeks. [Yeah, don’t think you get so lucky to not have me come back]



Here We Go …

So here we are, the last month of 2018, and what a year it has been for me.

Started out in the sunny life that is Los Angeles and end it in the rainy life that is London.

From Deutsch to R/GA.

From Audi’s to the Tube.

From LA Din Tai Fung to the new London Din Tai Fung.

[Let’s be honest, I’d never of come if they weren’t here]

But I’m happy – very happy.

Sure, there’s a bunch of things I miss, but apart from the fact many of them will remain in my life for ever, the rest I can look back on as experiences I am fortunate to have had so I’m grateful I got to have them rather than sad I’ve lost them.

I know, who am I?

But all that is for a an even more boring post sometime in the next few weeks, so I’ll end this far-too-positive post with one of my new favorite songs, ‘Love Can Only Heal’, by Altered Bridge and the Slash band, Myles Kennedy.

I know you will think it’s bollocks – but apart from the fact that means you’re all a bunch of musical heathens who can’t appreciate the brilliance of a melancholy melody that’s orchestrated with a slowly building pulse of drama – you’re forgetting the alternative would be suggesting you listen to Queen.

Suddenly not so bad it is?

And it gets better … because for reasons that make no sense whatsoever, I’m going to be on my way to the US again by the time you read this. Which means you’re free from my blog rubbish till Thursday and given the following week is the final week of blog posts from me for 2018, you are exactly 7 posts away from ending the year on a positive.

If that doesn’t make you enjoy today, then nothing will.

Happy Monday.