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


Resist The Pressure To Reduce Yourself To Others Standards …

Many years ago, I wrote a training guide called, How to ask questions without being a bitch.

It happened because a junior account service colleague at Wieden didn’t know how to get clients to acknowledge her and the questions she had.

This was not because she wasn’t good, but because of gender stereotypes.

Well recently, I had a similar experience, except this time it was a brilliant strategist that a mutual friend of ours had introduced me to.

In my time in LA, I’ve met a whole host of strategists and – as I wrote a while back – many have left me feeling indifferent.

But not this person.

She was more than one of the good ones, she was one of the best.

Sharp as hell.

Unique – yet well thought out – perspectives.

A genuine love of being creative in interesting ways.

Anyway, as we were talking, I said I’d be really interested in hearing – or reading – her perspective on the future of storytelling. For some reason, she said yes and a few weeks I received a great paper with a great perspective.

Except there was one thing I didn’t like.

“The surprising part of this was the fact that my mentor, a white man, erudite and well-known in his profession, cared about my opinion. To give you some background – I’m in my 30s, a mixed bag of races, city kid, raised by a single mom type through and through. I’m a decade into my career and this was the first time I was asked to share my perspective by someone that, for all intents and purposes, matters.”

I hate it.

I hate that this was the first time she felt she was asked for her opinion.

I hate it for the shit she has obviously had to put up with in her life.

I hate the baggage that has weighed her down.

I hate the low expectations she had been forced to endure.

I hate the bosses she’s had that have told her to follow orders rather than encourage her to find her own voice.

And while she finished her paper with a resolve to not let this shit quieten her ever again, I’m still angry that a great talent has had to put up with shit designed to keep her down rather than lift her up, which is why I ask her – and any other planner who relates to this situation – to embrace my paraphrasing of the advice comedian Michelle Wolf received when she was about to take the stage at the White House Correspondence’s dinner, at the top of this page.

Burn it all down.

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Loyalty Only Works If It’s A Two Way Street …

So recently a friend of mine asked me for some advice.

OK, so that was their first mistake, but their question was one they felt I would have some perspective on.

[For the record, I asked her if I could write about this on here and she said yes]

So she’s worked at her company for 7 years.

It’s a good company – one of the best – and she has been rewarded with compliments and payrises.

Over the years, she’s been offered other jobs but has never seriously considered them.

Part of it is because she likes the work she does and who she does it with, the other is her most senior people keep telling her how important and valued she is.

But that’s all that is happening.

Being told rather than being given chances to grow.

Now I appreciate this is still better than many companies do, but now there’s an option on the table that she is genuinely excited about.

One that scares her in a good way.

Rewards her talent both in terms of responsibility, authority, pay and title.

And yet she’s hesitating.

Not because she isn’t excited. Not because she doesn’t like the company. But because she doesn’t feel she has “achieved what she wants to achieve before she feels she can move on” … and that’s what she wanted to talk to me about.

Now anyone who knows me will know I’ll never tell someone what to do. It’s their job to learn from their mistakes and choices. However one thing I do well is ask questions … questions designed to make the person think and get clarity at the same time. And the question I asked my friend was ‘what are you waiting to achieve before you could move on?’

It wasn’t a great surprise to learn that what she was talking about wasn’t actual work, but validation.

Now you could say that she had been receiving this through the compliments, but what she really craved was proof, not words.

Proof in the terms of promotion.

Proof in the terms of new opportunities.

Proof in the terms of new challenges.

I get that – I get that more than you know – but what it meant was she was basically a prisoner, because the longer they withheld the ‘ultimate proof’, the longer she would stay. It is – I imagine – somewhat akin to people who stay with an abusive partner feel. Desperate for approval so regard being abused/overlooked as something that is ultimately their own fault and they stay to try and ‘win them over’.

Now I get staying in a well-paid job is very different to domestic abuse and so if that analogy has hurt anyone, I apologise … but I told my friend 3 things she should think about.

1. When a boss continually compliments you but doesn’t promote you – despite continually, and undeniably, showing your worth – then what they actually mean could be ‘they want you to stay so they don’t have to deal with the shit when you go’. In other words, the compliments are designed more to help them than you.

2. If you have been consistently performing – and your reviews reinforce that – but nothing is happening, maybe you have to accept that their ambition for you doesn’t meet your ambition for you.

3. Lastly – and possibly, most importantly – if this situation has been going on for the last 2 years, how long do you give it before you decide the effort/investment you’re putting in is ultimately working against your bigger goals and potential?

A company that cares is a wonderful thing.

A company that says they care is a different thing altogether.

While it is impossible to help everyone grow in an organisation because – let’s face it – the higher you go, the less roles there are – you do deserve to know where you stand, if only so you can make the right decision for yourself.

Of course, that means you might hear things you don’t want to hear, but while being kept in the dark might help keep your ego in a pleasant state of delusion, it will ultimately bite you at some point in the future.

I don’t know what my friend is going to do and I appreciate change is scary but as much as loyalty is a very valuable trait, it only works if it’s built on honesty and is a 2-way street.



A Year Is A Long Time In America …

So today marks a year of being in America.

Or said another way, a year away from China.

It’s been a very interesting time for me … with a bunch of ups and downs.

Ups … in terms of the lifestyle my family get to enjoy and the people I now get to call colleagues and friends.

Downs … in terms of the state America is in and the way America is behaving.

Not just as a nation, but in the beliefs and habits that have infiltrated the working environment for so many people.

But all that aside, I still feel a deep sense of privilege that I get to have this experience.

The fact I’ve been able to live in different countries, experience different cultures and make a decent living out of it is something I will always be massively grateful for.

Of course part of this is because I’m white and male … and while I can’t change that, I can try and make sure those opportunities are available to those who aren’t either of those things.

Which has been one of the best things about being in America.

The massive wake-up call I had to the realities other people face.

Of course I wasn’t blind to it, I have seen it – and reacted against it – in every country I’ve lived, but the things I’ve seen and experienced in my short-time in America has been both confronting and enlightening.

Seeing how so much of white America deals with issues relating to African American and Latino rights – even when they’re in support of racial equality – proved to me that just saying stuff ends up being nothing more than compliance with established rules and behaviors.

It shames me to admit that it took me some time to realise that, but it’s absolutely true which is why I’ll always be grateful to colleagues like Maya, Chelsea and Bree for taking me to this point and place.

In all honesty, I don’t know how long we will be in the US.

It could be a year, it could be years … I’ve never gone to countries with a ‘time plan’ … but what I can say is the experience has been quite profound for me. OK, not in the way China was – in fact I still feel more Chinese than Western in many ways – but in terms of helping remind me who I am, what I value and what I am capable of doing or being.

You see, when I was in China, I heard murmurings that some people only saw me as someone for the Asia market.

While I absolutely love/d that part of the World and enjoyed having to relearn everything I thought I knew, I found that rumour annoying given I’d worked in a bunch of markets prior to China and in my role at Wieden, had worked with global clients for global markets all the time.

But rumours have a way of slowly getting into your head and while I do not deny there has been a bunch of stuff I’ve found weird/strange/annoying and plain fucked-up about working in America, seeing my department embrace their voice, their opinions and their beliefs and turn that into ideas, points of view and creativity that has made some people feel very uncomfortable has truly put a smile on my face.

That doesn’t mean I feel we are anyway done – far from it – but seeing change and, from my perspective, growth has been hugely rewarding.

Of course there’s no magic formula to it …

From a personal perspective it’s about being open to what you don’t know and having the willingness and curiosity to keep learning and improving. From the departments perspective, it’s just setting a direction, defining the standards we are all going to live up to and then giving everyone the time, space and backing to explore, fuck up and be vulnerable, which is why in the journey to this point – which includes the choices and decisions I’ve had to make to deal with the situations and circumstances I’ve come to face – it’s acted as a really valuable reminder of who I am, what I believe and what I still want to achieve.

So thank you America.

For what you have done for me and what you have done for my family.

I don’t know if I’ll ever love you like I love some of the other countries I’ve lived in, but if you sort out the shit you don’t want to talk about, then you’ll truly be an incredibly special place. And even though I don’t think that can ever happen – at least to the extent it needs to happen – I’ll forever be grateful for the experience you’ve given us living here … even if you’re giving my son an American twang.



What Agencies Can Learn From Otis’ Kindergarten …

So Otis goes to this amazing hippy kindergarten school near where we live.

It’s a co-parenting school which means that the parents have to help with the schooling of the kids, not just with the funding.

It follows a very specific philosophy defined by the founder and it’s a place where kids learn through expressing their creativity.

They even have a ‘mud room’ for the kids to cause mayhem when it rains.

Put simply, we love it.

A few weeks ago, we went there on the weekend to help decorate it during spring break when I came across these 2 signs in the school …

I love them.

It sums up everything we adore about the school.

It captures exactly why Otis feels it’s a safe and happy place for him to explore.

It also addresses something I have been looking into for a while, which is the lack of outlet American men have to express their feelings.

Everything is built on acting tough.

Crying is for wimps.

Hell, even the bars are full of sports TV’s basting out scores, which means people don’t have the quiet to talk to one another – something I had growing up in England that actually encouraged the sharing of feelings and emotions. Albeit often wrapped up in banter.

The macho pride that seems to underpin so much of American male society feels like it’s still the 1950’s … which is why I love that this school doesn’t tell kids to ‘stop crying’, but asks what is wrong and then sympathises with their predicament which remarkably, helps them stop crying far more quickly and in a more positive way than any shouting would ever do.

Now imagine if companies operated by the same ideals.

Listening.

Valuing.

Caring.

Developing.

Oh I know those words appear in a million mission statements, but we all know they’re often used more as an illusion than an action.

In the bid to build office ‘culture’, so many organizations forget it’s not just about what you say – or even what you do – it’s the practiced beliefs that defines what everyone values, which is why companies could learn even more from this school than my dear Otis.



The Frothy Coffee Man Is Go …
April 24, 2018, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Agency Culture, Comment, Confidence, Culture, Fulfillment, Paul

Remember a while back I wrote about my best mate who was starting his own business?Well, he’s doing it and he’s being successful at it.

Of course I knew he would, and while there’s been the odd rough day – ie: when it snowed – he’s enjoying himself, which is more important than many people give it credit for.

Yes, I know money is important – and for some people, it’s about survival rather than lifestyle – but enjoying what you do is often overlooked in favour of the size of the pay cheque and I think that’s a shame because in my experience, enjoyment tends to keep you in a company for far longer than just a semi-decent salary.

And that’s why I find it amazing companies don’t really invest in culture.

Of course, part of that is because many don’t know what it really is.

Mistaking it for free food rather than a sense of belonging to something bigger, more important, more powerful.

But then, when a lot of companies will u-turn on their supposed beliefs in a bid to win a new account, I guess it’s not that surprising.

And that’s why I think Paul is creating something far more valuable than just a cash machine, but something that is an investment in his happiness and ability to forge his future, which is – at the end of the day – far more fulfilling than earning cash in a job you don’t like.

The amount of people I meet who say they don’t like what they do but don’t do anything about changing it.

I don’t mean just in terms of changing their job, but changing their approach to their job.

Look, I get it if your income is your families livelihood, but you’d be amazed how many of these comments come from people who just want to moan rather than change.

I get it … moving can seem daunting, especially if you want to move to do your own thing, but to them I say one thing …

Be more like Paul.



Only Music Can Make You Feel This …
March 22, 2018, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Comment, Confidence, Creativity

So Jill’s parents are visiting from Sydney and because of that, I’m having a long weekend starting from errrrrrm, now.

Just to clarify, I’m having a long weekend with them, not because of them.

As you may have guessed/hoped, this means this is the last post of the week … but wait, there’s more.

You see while I’m off to enjoy 4 days of family time, I thought I’d give you an additional gift on top of blog quietness.

Well, I say ‘I’, but it’s really Hiromi Uehara.

“And who is Hiromi Uehara?”, I hear you ask.

Well she is someone who – in 6 minutes – is going to inject you with a sense of pure joy.

Someone you’ll be in utter awe of for their talent, dexterity, showmanship and audacious, musical cheekiness.

Someone you’ll watch with liberal doses of wonder, amazement, fascination and smiles.

I know that sounds like overkill, but Hiromi Uehara pulls off some of the most amazing and emotional musicianship I’ve witnessed in my – and judging by the mile-wide-smiles of the musicians watching her – life.

It’s breathtaking.

Please watch it.

You won’t regret it.

In fact I’ll say it will make your weekend. Even if yours doesn’t start for 2 more days.



No Wonder American’s Love Their Teeth, Their Dentists Are Like A Holiday Camp …

When I was a kid, a visit to the dentist was a thing to be scared of.

To be honest, it shouldn’t have because I had great teeth … but there was always that chance something might happen and that scared the hell out of me.

If further evidence of my dental naivety/good teeth was needed, when I finally did have to have some treatment – a wisdom tooth removal, when I was 14 – I was in utter shock that they were literally pulling the tooth out of my gob as I assumed they’d give my gums an injection and it would fall out.

The weirdest bit of all is that when you left the dentist, they gave you a sweet.

A SWEET!

Though now I think of it, it probably was their way of guaranteeing further business from you down the line.

And given how bad my teeth are these days, it seems that was a brilliant strategy.

Evil. Geniuses.

Now I appreciate when I was a kid, the World was a very different – and younger – place, but having just taken Otis to the dentist, I’m jealous how ace his experience is.

For a start the interior has been decked out in different animal themes.

From Giraffe’s to Panda’s … each room has a different theme to help kids feel they’re somewhere special and different.

Then there’s the video games for them to play in reception or – if they’re too young – a huge aquarium for them to look at.

But it’s when they are having treatment the real difference happens.

Not because there’s a video screen showing cartoons.

Or wireless headphones so you can hear the movie not the drill.

Or even the sunglasses so you don’t let the brightness of the dentist light affect you.

Or even the balloon [not sweets] they give you as you leave the building.

It’s the way they make sure they spend time explaining what each instrument is and what it does. Letting the kid hold it, hear it … get an understanding of what it does so it stops being a fearsome object of pain and simply a instrument of health.

Whatever stress they have is reduced.

They feel they’re in a safe environment.

A special environment.

With people who you won’t fuck you over but actually want you to have an exciting experience with a great result.

It turns a visit to the dentist from a scary experience to a positive one.

Even an awaited one.

All because they give the time and space for patients emotions and fears to be calmed, which gives them – and their parents – the confidence to let the dentist do their thing. That doesn’t just result in more efficient treatment but makes the parent feel OK about being charged an arm and a leg because their precious child had an experience that is the absolute opposite of what they feared they’d have.

Now I know creativity needs a place where chaos and curiosity is allowed to explore and wander – something we don’t get enough of at the best of times – but in terms of getting clients into the right frame of mind to allow agencies to do their thing without skeptical, questioning and damning eyes, adland could learn a lot from American Dentists.