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


Heroes Come And Go But Legends Live Forever …

My god. It seems impossible.

You were the black mamba … the one with superhuman powers, how is this even possible?

And we must not forget the others who died by your side, including your young daughter.

You leave a billion fans with a billion memories crying a billion tears.

I’ll never forget how you showed your love to the obsessed young fans in China. It was the same kindness and compassion you showed to someone who didn’t know shit about basketball.

Me.

Maybe that’s why my favourite work with you was Mentu. Not just for what you did for young, Chinese players, but for making me truly appreciate just what you brought to a game I didn’t then understand.

I still believe the music we used was the perfect soundtrack to present your dramatic, distinctive elegance.

There are players famous to a team.
There are players famous to a game.
There are players famous to a country.

But there’s few who are famous around the world, whether that sport is played there or not.

You are one of the legends.

You will remain forever.

But your loss is a tragedy.

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New Year. New Hopes. Old Realities …

Welcome back.

How was it?

Full of festive cheer or headaches and disappointment.

Bet you’d swap it all again for today wouldn’t you.

Even when you like your job, coming back to work after the holidays is hard.

Getting up early.

Transport hell.

Going through the same conversations with everyone at work.

Thinking about what you were doing at that time just a few days before.

Why do we do it to ourselves? Oh I know … to pay the bills.

Well fortunately not only did I have a lovely time in Australia, I ended 2019 winning the inaugural R/GA London Planner Pie-Off competition with my [surprisingly] delicious Great British Bake Off Fry-Up Pie, so you’ll understand why I have high hopes for this year – with one of the biggest hopes being we might actually move into our new home after 6+ months of legal nightmares. We shall see.

But as we are back at work and no one wants to be here, I thought I’d start by writing a post that captures a sense of optimism for the new year.

It’s 2020.

TWENTY TWENTY!!!

That means we are post Blade Runner times … which has to be cool, doesn’t it?

No.

Don’t blame you … just typing that is enough to give me heart palpitations and it’s only Monday. So to calm us down and to get back to an issue I’m passionate about – especially in these client optimization obsessed times – here is why brand building is not a luxury, but a critical investment in building a sustainable future, especially in these highly competitive, increasingly turbulent times.

Or to quote a Chinese proverb, “a successful farmer plants their seeds and nurtures them in the knowledge that when it comes time to harvest, their crop is bigger and healthier. It takes time, but it is always worth it.”

Said another way … if you’re always trying to harvest, there won’t be anything left to grow.

Given the amount of brands who are openly admitting their focus on short-term sales has hurt their long term business, there may be hope for us all to get back to making work that builds rather than just takes.

See, 2020 isn’t so bad so far after all …



Oh China …

I am spending a lot of time in China at the moment for work.

I won’t lie, this makes me very, very happy.

And while it is in Beijing more than my ‘home’ of Shanghai, it still gives me a very warm feeling.

That said, on a recent trip to Beijing, I had a classic #OhChina moment that made me smile.

#OhChina moments are – for people who have ever lived there – an experience where you cannot imagine it happening anywhere else in the World.

It is almost without question something slightly frustrating … created either because of cultural differences, a loss in translation or someone being a bit cheeky, lazy or shit.

In our time there, we had it all …

From hiring a painter who turned up with no paint or brushes because he said he was there to paint [and nothing else] to my mate discovering his cleaner was earning some money on the side by letting workmen cool off in the summer sun, by either sitting in his air conditioned apartment or – for a bigger fee – have a shower.

As I said, it’s frustrating and sometimes even annoying, but within an hour, you find yourself smiling and muttering, “Oh China”.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I was in my hotel and went to get my laptop and passport that I had left in the room safe.

China has low crime – especially towards foreigners – but I put them in there as I was out most of the day and didn’t have a bag with me to keep them in.

So I go to the safe and the passcode doesn’t work.

Nothing.

I knew it was the right code and it registered as the right code but it did nothing.

So I rang down to reception to ask them to come check it out.

To be honest, this thing has happened to me before.

Once in Shanghai, the safe failed and they opened it by welding the doors off.

I still remember the feeling of confusion as I saw them come in and cover the smoke alarms … but they did it and I made my flight.

So back to Beijing …

The hotel sent up 3 people.

An engineer, a duty manager and some other person.

They kept trying to reprogram the safe but it wasn’t working.

Worse, the safe was built into the wardrobe and it was a ‘top-down’ model, so it was much harder to get to it.

So what were they going to do?

This …

Yes, that is the sound of them drilling.

Not the hinges, I should add … the bloody middle of the safe.

With a long drill bit.

So long it could go through the safe and my passport and laptop.

I asked them what would happen if they damaged my goods and they said, “we don’t know”.

Hahahahahaha.

But despite the potential for absolute tragedy, they not only succeeded, they did it with no damage whatsoever.

OK, so the safe was fucked …

… but my stuff was fine.

My favourite bit was when the manager worriedly asked if I’d taken any photos because he didn’t want anyone to think this was normal. Of course, the fact this has happened to me before meant it is pretty normal but the reality is the staff were very nice and apologetic and – frankly – it made me miss this country even more because it’s this sort of ridiculous that makes this country so infectious. At least for me.

Oh China …



If A Lot Can Happen In 24 Hours, Imagine What Can Happen In A Year …

So it’s September.

SEPTEMBER.

What the hell …

That means, in a few days, it’s been a year since I moved back to England.

And in a month, a year since I joined R/GA.

A YEAR!

I have to be honest, I find it amazing how quick that time has passed.

New job.

New house.

New car.

New life.

It has been a lot and I am so happy and grateful for it.

It’s pretty obvious I didn’t really enjoy my time in LA.

I liked an incredible amount of people there and Manhattan Beach will – without doubt – be the most beautiful place I’ll ever live, but there was stuff there I found challenging, stuff that went against who I am. That said, I’m very glad I did it and incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have done it, but I must admit I’m a happier person now I’m out of it.

That said, England still doesn’t feel like ‘home’.

It feels familiar … it feels nice … but having lived in so many countries over so many years, home for me is ultimately where Jill, Otis and Rosie are as opposed to a particular place, city or country.

In fact, I would say if I was made to choose a place where I feel I most ‘belong’, I would say Shanghai, that’s how much I love and loved that place.

That said, I’m incredibly excited we have just bought our first proper family home and I love being so close to my best friend – and Otis’ odd parents – Paul and Shelly, so while the country is acting in ways that are downright madness, I can honestly say I am in a happier, healthier place than I was a year ago and for that, I am grateful to everyone and everything that got me here.

Happy Monday.



Home Away From Home …

So I’m back.

I survived and no one died.

I have to say that while I love China, Beijing is not my favourite place in the World.

It’s also one of the most user-unfriendly … with everything located miles apart and the heat being utterly oppressive.

But that country still has my heart.

Every time I go there, I leave with an ache.

It will forever be a very special place to me.

Not just because Otis was born there.

Or that – in some ways – it changed my career forever.

Or my wife found a group of people that gave her a greater sense of community than she’d had in decades.

Nor even the fact I was there at one of the pivotal times in its modern history.

It’s just because in all the crazy of the country, I felt I found my spiritual home.

I appreciate that sounds mental.

Even my Chinese friends can’t work out why I love it so much.

But I do.

The people are warm, fascinating and interesting.

The culture is rich with history, modernity, complexity and beauty.

The hunger and ambition is unparalleled with anywhere I’ve been to prior or since.

I love the sense of connection and isolation that China makes me feel about myself.

That sense of returning to a place I truly felt was home for 7 wonderful years while also realizing that period might as well have been 10,000 years ago given how quick the country has changed.

And while I acknowledge there are some very questionable decisions being made by the leaders right now – decisions that undermine the potential of millions – the people within the country have been nothing but kind and compassionate to me and my family and for that, they will always have my heart.

Wherever my family are will always be the definition of home for me.

But China is the one place where that rule has some flexibility in it.

Which is the greatest compliment I could ever give a country, though if I still dislike Beijing.



A Great Week …
July 29, 2019, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, China

… because as you read this, I’ll be flying to China for pretty much the whole week.

Which means no more posts for this week.

Peace. Silence. Calmness.

How about that for a great Monday!

Oh, and to my friends in Shanghai who are now fearing for their lives now they’ve heard about my impending trip – don’t worry, I’m not going to ruin your Monday – I’m going to be in Beijing, so you’re entirely safe.

You’re welcome.

See you next week, I’ll leave you with this:

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A Love Letter To China’s Wonderful, Beautiful, Brilliant Chaos …

Of all the places I’ve lived, China is the one that has left the strongest mark.

Frankly I absolutely and utterly loved my time there.

Sure part of that was because of Wieden – I loved and will always love them – but it was more than just that.

It was the people, the madness, the history, the chaos, the energy, the values …

Yes there were some things that bothered me immensely, but overall, I was intoxicated with the place and will always be that way.

I believe you can tell how much a place gets into your soul by how you react when it’s under attack. Not by guns, but by media and politicians.

If I look back on my 7 years there, I was very quick to jump to its defense when Western media decided to take an isolated incident and claim it represented the beliefs, behaviors and values of over a billion people.

Were there some shit things that happened there when I was there?

Absolutely.

Were there moments of madness and sadness that will never leave my memory?

100%

Are there some terrible restrictions on people lives and opinions there?

Sure.

But these are not isolated to China … every country has bad people doing horrific things, every country is creating an increasing division between rich and poor and in terms of government, countries either are doing their own version of ‘inflicting their will on the people’ or wishing they could get away with the stuff the Chinese government get away with.

I’m looking at you UK, Australia and the land of ‘the free’.

And that’s why I can still truly love the place and feel privileged for the experience it gave me.

I have absolute pride my son was born there.

Whatever happens in his life, he was born in China and for me, that means our links to the country will always be strong.

And while I will always be passionate in the pursuit of changing Westerners perceptions about the Middle Kingdom, there are some things that I just stand back and accept will just reinforce certain prejudices.

Some – like Uncle Martian – are terrible, especially as it was a conscious decision.

Some – like this, below – are perfection, especially as they were done in innocence.

[And if not, that’s even more genius]

China, I love you.

Lose the bullshit but please never lose your beautiful madness.