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


The Last Month Of 4.0 …

So today is June 1.

In 11 days, I wave goodbye to my forties and enter a decade that seems impossible for me to fathom.

50.

FIFTY.

Seriously, how did this happen?

I still remember sitting on the hill outside Erica’s newsagent with my best mate Paul around 1978, when we worked out that in the year 2000, we would be turning 30.

But here we are, 11 days from 50.

[Though it’s 15 days for Paul, who will LOVE those 4 days where he can bang on about how he is a decade younger than me … though he will also moan that my present for him isn’t like the full page newspaper ad I got him when he was 40, but a Forest shirt signed by all the members of the 1980 European Cup team. Asshole. He knows about this present as I bought it for him years ago so I’m not ruining anything for him. But I still have a surprise for him. Oh yes.]

Turning 30 bothered me a bit.

I was totally fine with becoming 40.

But 50!

I’m both bricking it and utterly casual about it.

And while there are some practical reasons for the shitting myself part – health, work, life in general – the fact of the matter is the older I get, the better my life has become.

I totally get the privilege of that statement, I don’t take it for granted at all, but it is definitely true.

Personally, professionally, emotionally …

Sure there have been some bumps along the way – some terribly hard and emotionally destructive ones – but looking at the big picture, the reality is my life has generally been on an upward trajectory.

Now even I know that it can’t keep going like that forever … but it doesn’t mean I have to stop trying.

The fact is, the older you get, the more you discover …

From what you like, what you don’t … to what you didn’t know and what you want to know.

And what makes it even more amazing – and annoying – is that every step you take, in whatever direction, reveals a whole host of other possibilities you would like to explore and investigate.

The problem is time is now officially, not on your side … so there’s a point where you have to accept you won’t get to try, play, experiment with all you want to do, so while that might put some people off, it kind of makes me want to try and pack more in.

And I am … because on top of work, Metallica, the school with Martin, I’ve already agreed to do a couple more projects that are intriguing and – frankly – ridiculous.

But there’s another reason for this attitude and it’s because my Dad died at 60.

Death is something I’ve talked a lot about over the years – mainly due to both my parents passing away.

I’ve talked a lot about the importance of taking about it, but I must admit, I’m scared of it.

I’m in generally good health, but fifty is still 50 and my Dad still died just 10 years on from this age.

Now of course it doesn’t mean I will … and I’ve come to this completely unscientific view that I should live till I’m at least 71 because if you take away my Dad’s age of dying [60]from my Mum’s [83] … that leave 23 years. Halve that … add it to Dad’s age … and voila, I will live till at least 71.

But then that means I only have 21 years left.

TWENTY ONE.

That’s nowhere near enough.

My wonderful little boy is only 5 for fucks sake. 26 is way too young to lose your Dad … hell, that’s even younger than I was when I lost mine.

Years ago, an old boss I looked upto said that if you can’t feasibly double your age, that is when you know you are – at best – middle aged or – at worst – the last stage of your life.

Well I suppose I can still feasibly double my age – even if it’s against the average age of death for a man in the UK [79.2] – but the reality is where I’m going is shorter than where I’ve been.

But shorter doesn’t mean less interesting.

And arguably, I have more exciting things in my life now – both personally and professionally – than I have ever had.

It also helps I am insanely immature with a desire for mischief, experimentation, creativity and adventure.

And I intend to fill it up with even more.

Fortunately I get that from a number of sources.

My wife.

My son.

My job.

My other jobs.

My friends.

My mind.

A while back, Pete said something I found pretty profound.

He said the narrative of strategy tended to focus on the importance of curiosity when discovery is far more valuable for driving the standard of the work you create and the adventure you go on.

Now I’ve written a lot about how I hate when planners talk about curiosity – as if they’re the only people who have it – but I really, really like that idea of the hunger for discovery.

I absolutely have that.

I owe so much of what I have to that.

The countries I’ve lived in. The people I’ve worked with. And most importantly, the family I am fortunate to have.

So while I enter a new decade, I will continue to live like it’s the old one.

Not in terms of dressing like I’m younger than I am – mainly because I have always dressed like I live in 1986 – but with the hunger, ambition and desire I’ve always had.

I genuinely believe my best work is still ahead of me.

Truly believe that.

And the goal of this decade is to achieve some of that while discovering new things that make me believe even better work can still lie in my future.



Be Your Own Worst Enemy …

There have been times in my career where I’ve chosen the wrong path.

What makes this crazy is that there have been times where I knew I was but still went ahead with it.

Nothing bad.

Nothing illegal.

But, according to others, it was the wrong thing to do.

Now this is not because I have a death wish or want to cause trouble … it’s because a situation or certain circumstances occurred that just triggered something in me.

Good and bad.

And while – with hindsight – I know I could have handled ‘how’ I dealt with some of those situations differently, I absolutely don’t regret ‘why’ I did it … even if that led to some people labelling me as being ‘too emotional’.

Too emotional is a horrible phrase.

It aims to shame people for who they are and what they believe.

What is worse is that it is often expressed by people who have an inability to show any emotion towards anything, so act as if it is some sort of human flaw.

A fundamental weakness.

Let me be very clear, being able to express your emotions is a strength.

It’s healthy.

It’s positive.

It’s also a sign you give a fuck.

Whether that is about work, standards or other people.

Now I appreciate that doesn’t mean you can use it as an excuse to abuse others or act like you’re some sort of megalomaniac diva.

Nor do I think that just because something triggered your emotions, it means your perspective is automatically correct.

And then there’s the fact there will be times or situations where you need to restrain your emotions to a time – or place – where it is more appropriate to let out. Let’s face it, no one wants a surgeon to have an emotional outburst mid-operation just because someone handed them the scalpel in a sloppy way.

But expressing your emotions is important.

It should absolutely never be treated as doing something wrong.

Especially in the creative industry, where our goal is to literally make people feel something.

So if anyone ever say’s, “you’re too emotional”, don’t just take it.

It’s the sort of comment that – if allowed to fester – can chip away at your confidence.

Often uttered by senior figures in a company who want employees to think, act and behave exactly like them rather than embrace differences of opinion or brand new thinking … which is ironic, given that’s the main way companies can evolve and grow.

So if faced with that situation, ask them what they mean by their comment?

Put it back on them to explain.

Half the time you’ll find it is simply because they don’t like conflict.

Or an alternative perspective.

And that’s when you explain why the situation has made you feel the way it has.

Why you believe it shouldn’t just be brushed away.

Not because you’re an egomaniac who wants whatever they choose, but because you see possible implications that could have a terrible effect on the work or the company or the team at large.

Because even the person you’re discussing this with doesn’t feel it or see it as being important, doesn’t mean it isn’t … which at the very least should justify a conversation about it, especially if you feel so strongly about it.

But, as I said, there may be occasions where you will look back on how you reacted and feel you could have done it another way.

Note I said ‘how’ you reacted, not ‘why’ you did.

And that’s why it’s important to always learn from these incidents.

Discover what pushes your buttons.

Understand what you expect from yourself and others.

Reveal what standards you will and will not tolerate.

Not so you can deny or suppress your emotions in the future, but so if another situation arises, you can express your emotions in a way that will change the outcome you are responding to rather than just reacting to it.

And when you get to that point, that’s when you find being ‘too emotional’ is a superpower.

So while the guy in the video is being his own worst enemy for the worst of reasons, expressing your emotions never is.

Because regardless what some may claim, they are a sign of strength, never weakness.

It’s another long weekend here in the UK, I hope you have a good one and a safe one.

See you Tuesday.



The Daily Mail Is Another Virus We Must Get Rid Of …

Tomorrow I’ve written a positive post about some of the stuff Corona virus has revealed we are capable of being.

Today I’m writing about the worst of it.

Specifically The Daily Mail.

As we all know, they have become one of the most successful newspapers and internet destinations in the World thanks to their fear-mongering, shock-creating, prejudice-encouraging bullshit, all wrapped up in the illusion of being a family newspaper caring about family values.

If Donald Trump was a newspaper, he’d be The Daily Mail.

They have absolutely revelled in the corona virus.

Equally challenging the scientists viewpoints and then the people who don’t follow it.

They play both sides with such obviousness [see photo above] and yet they – like Fox TV – claim to be consistent, fair and balanced.

The fact they get away with it means either no one believes them or – as I fear – their readers don’t question a word they say.

While they like to focus their hate on minority groups, no one is immune from their hate.

Even the middle-England elderly readers – their core audience in the UK – cop it with headlines that suggest ‘they will all be left to die’ or ‘isolation till 2021’.

They are the embodiment of ‘take no prisoners’ …

For me, they are basically a far right political party.

However, unlike the far right, they have found a much more powerful way to operate.

They don’t openly show their hatred … oh no, they slowly and quietly infiltrate mainstream society so they can undermine the minorities, the unemployed and the poor by making prejudice, illness and poverty seem the words and beliefs of the irrational.

To be fair to them, they may not even realise it.

They are so myopic that they fail to appreciate other people have different circumstances.

Which is why they – like that other prick, Piers Morgan – don’t realise their commentary is so harmful because they’ve never experienced any of the issues they are so quick to either claim don’t exist or they would never advocate … like prejudice, racism and poverty.

As you’ll read in tomorrow’s post, corona has revealed the best of many companies and news organisations.

It has changed the dynamic between corporation and society.

It’s why I hope after this, the Daily Mail is seen for what it is, a social manipulator – a company who only acts in the interests of its owner and no one else.

A great villain for a Bond movie, but not a great company for society.



The Best Bit Of Advice About Problem Solving You’ll Ever Get …

Problems.

We love them.

The bigger and badder the better.

Of course you have to be sure you have the right problem.

And then you have to remember that as much as some people may want to claim it, business – and life, for that matter – can not be approached like one big engineering problem.

Well, it can, but the solutions are – at best – short term and – at worst – ignored for being utterly bland, boring and emotionless.

But that’s not what this post is about.

You see, in our quest to solve big problems, we like to show our solutions by overwhelming the client with our brilliance.

Brilliance of our considerations.

Brilliance of our proof points.

Brilliance of our brains.

I get it …

You not only want to lead the client through your thinking so they ‘get it’, but because you’re proud of what you’ve done.

But there’s 3 things wrong with this approach …

The first is – as my Dad used to say – if you’re desperate to show how intelligent you are, then you’re not that smart.

This has never been more true in the creative industry where the reality is the work should be doing the proving, not you.

And secondly, this ‘demonstration of intelligence’ approach more often than not, results in presentations that are hundreds of pages long.

Literally hundreds.

Slide after slide that takes people on an extremely long journey on how difficult the problem is you have to solve and how complex and detailed the path to your solution has been.

It is, at best, a strategy where the goal is to beat the recipient into submission.

And why am I saying all this?

Well recently, I caught up with someone who told me 3 things I absolutely love.

Three things that should change the way companies approach problems and communicate their solutions.

Now full disclosure …

The person who said this is not some random individual.

In fact I’ve known and worked with them for a long, long time.

But more than that, he is – and has been for 2 decades – at the top of his game.

The business leaders, business leader.

An individual with an incredible history of success through pragmatic decision making and investment in innovation.

I asked him if I could mention his name but he said he preferred if I didn’t. Not because he wants to be mysterious, but because he’s humble … which is another reason he doesn’t work in adland, ha.

That said, he has personally shaped the way I present …

Semi-structured, singular stories rather than a mass of slides.

Strong visuals rather than pages of information.

Clarity rather than confusion.

Spoken through the nuanced, authentic lens of culture rather than superficial generalisations of convenience.

Communicating as an informed outsider rather than a blinkered insider.

The language of people not corporates.

Provocative rather than comfortable.

Inspiring the possibilities of creativity rather than creating structures to stop it.

Now I appreciate not everyone appreciates my style – and that’s fine – however, it has led to a lot of success for me and now, I realise why.

You see what this individual said to me was this:

1. Make sure your presentation is focused on the opportunity not the problem.

2. Remember, solutions need to be simpler than the problem.

3. If you can’t sum your solution up in a sentence, you have either an ego problem or a problem with your solution.

That’s it.

Sounds obvious doesn’t it.

But how many of us are doing it?

How many of us are writing presentations that celebrate the complexity of the problem rather than the power of the opportunity?

How many of us are talk about our approach to executing the solution rather than what the solution actually is?

How many of us talk about solutions as a range of elements tasks rather than one overarching idea?

I would like to think I’ve been following those 3 steps for years, but even now – I read them and go through old approaches and see where I could have done things differently.

More concise.

Cleaner … at least in the articulation of the solution and how I got there.

One of the best bits of advice I ever got was ‘talk to a friend outside the industry about your idea. If they don’t get it, you might need to re think about it.’

This is not about dumbing down.

Or being simplistic and basic.

It’s about really thinking about what you’re doing and how you’re expressing it.

Because as Ronald Reagan said, “if you’re explaining, you’re losing”.



Is Michael Jordan The Best Brand Guy In The World …

Jordan.

Basketball. Baseball. Movies. CEO. Icon.

As careers go, that’s pretty impressive.

But what is even more impressive is his competitiveness.

When I was working on his brand, we heard so many stories about this.

His relentless quest to succeed.

His insane focus and drive.

Of course, a lot of these tales have now become folklore as they became the backbone to many of his – and his brands – most famous ads … with ‘Failure’ probably being one of the most well known of them all.

And while it would be easy to brush all this off as marketing hype, the reality is they all represent Jordan at his core – his ability to reframe better than almost anyone – because he can one see one thing … the power in competitiveness.

Note this is different to winning.

Winning may be the goal, but how you get there is by being competitive.

This means you never take anything for granted.

This means you practice with the same intensity as if you’re in a game.

This means you don’t give an inch, regardless who the competition are.

This means you commit to being your best before your feet even hit the court.

It’s this approach that led us – when I was at Wieden Shanghai – to making a film in China to help kids see competitiveness as a good thing.

You see in China, while everyone knows the sheer amount of people there means you have to be competitive to stand any chance of getting ahead, culturally it is not seen as a good thing to openly talk about your ambitions.

Not because it’s a communist country – though there is a bit of that – but because it’s a country that likes to talk about harmony.

The ability to be balanced and together.

This meant kids were conflicted between acting with grace while feeling the pressure to be get ahead and we saw this tension as the perfect opportunity for Jordan – a man and a brand, built on performance – to help kids see the beauty in being competitive.

Not at the expense of destroying others, but the commitment to always be your best … never resting, never being satisfied, never losing the hunger to win.

And while some may think that is pretty one dimensional … I prefer to see it as believing in your ability to make a difference.

That with hard work, you can be noticed.

You may not win everything.

Hell, you may not win anything.

And the only guarantee is you will face challenges and hardship.

But with commitment, you can – at the very least – make it difficult for the ones who think their victory is inevitable.

And that in itself, is often the best victory of them all.




Why Car Ads Are Killing The Car Category …

I wrote about an old car ad recently, but I recently saw another one that reinforced how far that category of advertising has fallen over the years.

Look at it.

Ridiculous.

Noticeable.

Full of charm and character.

Pretty much sums up the 2CV.

When was the last time you saw a car ad like that?

Hell, when was the last time you saw any car ad that made you give a shit, fullstop?

Sure there’s Wieden’s – and one of my absolute faves – Born of Fire for Chrysler and BBH’s wonderful Audi Clowns … but they are the absolute exception in a World dominated with ‘aspirational lifestyle’ imagery, topped with a bland, meaningless version of Just Do It as an endline.

It’s so sad because cars offer so much more than status and lifestyle.

And yet, that seems to be all car manufacturers want to spout – which is weird for a whole host of reasons.

One is that the future of the category is under severe threat by a generation who not only favour other options, but are increasingly not even bothering to learn to drive.

Second is the World is waking up to the environmental damage cars do and yet the infrastructure for the alternative – electric vehicles – is still insanely poor.

Finally is the fact that companies are actively pushing to lower salaries and full-time staff while increasing zero hour contracts, so who the hell do they think will be able to afford the cars they make anyway?

All in all, the category is crying out for someone who will disrupt the industry.

From ownership to running costs to marketing and everything in-between.

There’s a couple of companies exploring the possibilities … Volvo in particular are being pragmatic in these spaces … but even that might not be enough when the car manufacturers talk to the same [old] people, in the same places, with the same premise.

The last time I saw a long term brand idea for a car manufacturer that genuinely injected freshness and authenticity into the category through their work was Crispin’s ‘Mini’ … and that was back in 2002!!!

So while I hate looking backward and think most of the industries problems are because they are obsessed with ‘progressing’ through the rear view mirror, where car ads are concerned, they might do themselves a favour if they chose reverse gear.



Something We Should All Remember …

I saw this quote by David Thoreau recently …

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

I have to say I love it because in some ways, it’s the best definition of creativity – and, to a certain extent, strategy – I’ve seen in ages.

Of course our job is to help clients achieve their goals.

Help them succeed in ways that are better than they imagined.

But too much of what we are doing is solving problems laterally rather than literally.

Or worse, simply executing what the client wants.

For me, the best creativity makes people think, feel, question … and to do that, you need people who see the World differently so that they can see what everyone else is just looking at.

Revealing possibility rather than reproducing what everyone already knows.

And doesn’t care about.