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


Conversational Icebergs …

One of the things I am continually amazed at, is how few people know how to listen.

By that I don’t mean they’re not hearing the conversation, they’re just taking it all on face value.

The older I get, the more I have realised professional conversations are like icebergs.

What’s actually being said is often under the surface … clues, hints, admissions.

As someone once told me, people speak in words that are often designed to protect themselves rather than reveal themselves – and yet, if you listen really carefully – you can sense what is trying to be said … what they want you to really ask.

Police interrogators get this more than anyone.

Their ability to listen – and read visual cues – is what helps them solve their cases … whether that’s people who don’t want to be committed of a crime or people who are finding it hard to admit a crime has happened.

Subtext is everywhere.

It’s part of the reason I loved living and working in China, because everything had meaning.

To be quite honest, the easiest way to separate the people who appreciated Chinese culture and those who pretended to was to test their ability to read the invisible conversation that was going on during the conversation.

That or if they continually mentioned Confucius.

The ability to listen – and visually focus – is an incredible skill.

It lets you ask better questions.

It lets you discuss subject matters others may be finding hard to open up about.

It lets you judge situations through the context of the other parties body language.

It’s something rarely talked about in planning when – in many ways – it is the embodiment of planning, however it is also very easy to get trapped into.

Where you think nothing said is the truth.

Because if you think that way you’re doubley doomed – not just because there’s no way you can understand what someone is trying to communicate if you don’t listen to what they’re saying, but because the temptation would be to invent the subtext you want it to be and then you’re going to be in an even worse position than if you just took everything on face value.

As author Margaret Millar once said, “Don’t be one of those people who get so obsessed with what is being said between the lines that you don’t read the lines”.

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Moore’s Law Won’t Be Law For Much Longer …

Moore’s law – created by Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel – states that computer power will double every two years at the same cost.

Since he said this in the later 60’s, he’s been proven right, but having listened to a professor of computer engineering on the radio last night, it appears it’s coming to an end.

The reason I am saying this is because to prove his point, the Professor said 3 things that have blown my mind.

1. The iPhone has 4 billion transistors in it. FOUR BILLION.

2. There are now more transistors in the World than their are leaves on all the trees across the entire planet.

3. Some transistors are so small – separated by a distance of just 14 nanometres (nm) – that they are invisible. And when I say invisible, I mean it because they are smaller than the wavelengths of light human eyes and microscopes use.

What I loved about the talk the Professor gave wasn’t just his ability to articulate the incredible journey of innovation that the tech industry has been on for almost 50 years … nor was it his view that this rate of innovation was going to be impossible to maintain given the micro scale the industry is already operating at … it was that he felt this obsession with precision was stopping craftsmanship to flourish.

Now I must admit, my initial view was getting 4 billion transistors into an iPhone would be the ultimate demonstration of craftsmanship, but no … this Professor was saying that in our quest to automate our lives, we are doing it at the expense of celebrating and expanding human skills.

For him, craftsmanship is when a human manufactures a product by hand … they use dedicated human reasoning to work out the kinks during production to make a high-quality, functioning piece.

These pieces attract and inspire those around them, attracting more people to both value the products and want to create the products, helping humanity both evolve and appreciate what we are capable of creating and becoming.

Now of course we could say computers have done a similar thing, but this Professor was saying ‘perfect precision’ was overshadowing ‘human precision’ and while there will always be a need for technology to do heavy lifting for us, humanity is at its best when it is can satisfy and appreciate what we as a species can do and right now, we are outsourcing that to technology.

It’s an interesting argument – especially when you think of what so much of this new era of tech is being used to do from a human interaction perspective – but ultimately I believe the argument is that if we don’t get back to teaching tech what to value, then tech will start teaching us.

It already is.

In their quest to get AI accepted in households, many companies are building applications to cater for the lowest common denominator of needs. The low hanging fruit, as it were. Now that would be fine if they then evolved their offering, but as this is a fierce, commercial race, I am pretty sure most companies will end up focusing on trying to automate as many simple tasks as possible in a bid to show their ‘usefulness’ which means over time, they are educating us to value speed over quality, convenience over experiences, virtual over reality and information over understanding.

Some might think that is OK, but as Andy said in a comment a few weeks ago, the implication are frightening …

“The fucked thing about all this tech assistance isnt that its making us lazy, its that its making us selfish and dismissing anyone or anything that doesnt do what we want immediately. The arts are going to be fucked over by this shit till people work it out and by then it will be too late or they just wont care.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love tech.

I love what it does and I love what it has allowed us to do.

And it goes without saying I love that it has helped me satisfy my love of gadgetry.

But if this is all at the cost of humanities appreciation of humanity, that’s quite a price to pay which is why if the end of Moore’s law means we get to teach values to tech rather than have tech teach us our values, then I for one am all for it.



May The Forth Be With you …

I know this is late but then everything on this blog is late, but I absolutely love what Heathrow Airport did on 4th May.

I love it for many reasons.

But the main one is they did it right.

Sure, you could argue what they did was to hijack the day and gain some extra publicity … and I’m sure that was part of their motivation … but what I really like about it is how they went for the highest common denominator, not the lowest.

While the board features names most people will understand – R2D2, Wookie, Death Star, Han Solo, Leia – they have also used elements that only the true Star Wars nerd will get … like the name of the planets, the measurement of time and the weather conditions.

What this means is that not only will they get ‘mass appeal and coverage’, they will also make the hardcore nerds feel good about it … feel they’re dealing with an organisation that really gets them rather than just pretends to.

In a World where marketing is too often expressed as a constant stream of generalised noise … those who show their authenticity through actions and behaviour will win big every time, because as we saw in our America In The Raw study, the future of brand differentiation is going to be less about unique product attributes and more about demonstrating how you truly understand your audience.

Or said another way, resonance not [pretend] relevance.

So well done Heathrow, you deserve to be in a galaxy far far ahead of your competitors.



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.



Weigel And Me …

As some of you know, I trained to be a teacher.

Admittedly it took me 5 years to qualify instead of 2, but my plan was that I would eventually leave this industry and become a teacher in the areas of creativity and innovation.

Then I started, and ran, The Kennedy’s, Wieden’s creative talent incubator and it all changed.

Not because I discovered I didn’t love teaching – quite the opposite – but that I love doing it through chaos, not order.

Now given most teaching jobs prefer the latter more than the former, that put me in a bit of a predicament … carry on with my plan and risk not enjoying myself or find another outlet.

Well, the reality is I’m a long way off leaving this industry, but if I am going to teach, I need to do it on my terms, not an education boards … especially as more and more teachers are being graded by their students which has to be one of the most stupid things I’ve ever heard.

So why am I writing this?

Well I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while and thanks to the experience I’ve had with the Advertising Planning School on the Web [APSOTW] and HOALA, I realized one area I like helping people learn, is advertising strategy.

Now I know what some of you are thinking, “the last thing Campbell needs to teach is ad strategy” and you’re right, that’s why I’ve somehow managed to convince the best advertising strategist in the World to do it with me.

Yes, that’s right … the majestical Professor, Mr Martin Weigel.

Now Mr Weigel’s brilliance is well documented – hell, I even wrote a love letter post about him not that long ago – which is why even if you ignore everything I say [which, let’s face it, we all know you will] you’ll still learn really valuable stuff from it.

I should point out, we’re not leaving our jobs* – this is a little side hustle business, where a couple of times a year, we’ll turn up in a country to see who is interested in doing a couple of days planning workshop – but it is something we both are very passionate about doing because we both feel there is not enough training going on in the industry these days.

Yes, there are schools of planning and yes, there might be the odd training workshop at an agency, but at a time where more and more brands seem to favour efficiencies and process over creativity and possibilities, we believe strategic radicalism is needed more than ever which is why we want to offer something that will help planners reveal, release and exercise their most dangerous mind.

We’re still finalising our first session, but if you want to know more [if only to start pre-seeding it with your bosses, hahaha] then visit here and put your name down so we can send you information when things are finalized or if you want to talk about your organisation’s training needs [whether you’re on the agency or client side] drop us a note at info@weigelcampbell.com

I’m super excited to be doing this, especially with a man who I bloody love to death, so I hope people/agencies will see the worth in it or our egos are about to get deflated quicker more than one of Jordan’s implants.

All this leaves me to say is a big thanks to the wonderful Mercedes – Martin’s much, much better half – who ordered us to do this because she thought we’d be good at it, though I have a feeling she talked to Jill and decided this was their way to get us out of their homes.

Now that’s the sort of strategy we could all learn from.



Microsoft Are Microgood …

Microsoft used to be the joke of technology.

Or maybe the ‘beige of technology’ is a better description.

Creating products for mainstream mediocrity.

To be fair, that perception was driven more because of their marketing than their technology … but it’s fair to say they were certainly lacking that slick sheen that turned other tech companies into Rock Stars.

But a change has been happening in Seattle over the past few years.

OK, less on the marketing side and more on the tech … but a change all the same.

Where other companies are trying to hype up small degrees of change, Microsoft have been trying to push a genuine innovation agenda. But not innovation just for the sake of innovation, but stuff that has a real purpose as demonstrated by their new controller for X-Box.

Now you may argue making a controller that helps those suffering from physical difficulties is a small market, but on a global scale I would imagine it adds up – especially when there is no real viable alternative out there. [Or one that I know of]

But that’s not the point here … it’s that they did it.

Even more than that, they did it with real understanding of the audience they’re catering to.

They spent time and money on producing a product that offers a genuine solution to people often ignored.

[You can see how this affected their process by going here]

For all the talk tech companies give about wanting to ‘help humanity move forward’, few do.

Or should I say, few do if it requires doing something that has a more ‘niche’ appeal.

Yes, I know some are doing stuff that we don’t know about, but to make a physical product specifically for this audience is a big deal … especially in this commercially obsessed World.

So well done Microsoft, this is brilliant.

Brilliant for millions of people who want to play but have been ignored.

Brilliant for showing the power of design to solve problems … again.

Brilliant at showing you use technology to evolve humans rather than devolve them.

Brilliant at being more innovative than your competitors.

Brilliant at making me feel more towards you than I have in years.

As I’ve said for years, products have done more to grow brand value than advertising.

Don’t get me wrong, advertising is hugely powerful and important, but it all starts from doing something good, not something average.

That used to be obvious. Sadly, I don’t think it is anymore.



You Either Are Building Or Destroying. Building Is Better …

One of the things I’ve found interesting over the years is how planners deal with creative reviews.

In the main, they fall into 2 groups.

1. The ones that tear things down.

2. The ones who lift things up.

What makes #1 worse is that in many cases, what drives their destruction isn’t the work doesn’t answer the brief, but doesn’t answer it in the way they imagined.

In other words, they’re acting like a Creative Director.

Don’t get me wrong, a brief is important – it’s something that not only gives direction and lets ideas be pressure tested, but serves as a historical document so people can see where things came from at some point in the future.

But – and it’s an important but – a brief is not law.

It is not something that can’t be changed, enhanced or thrown out and re-done.

The goal has to be the work and while briefs can work ‘in theory’, if the creative teams aren’t getting to ideas that ignite energy in people, then it’s time to look at where the brief is stopping creativity to flow.

That does not mean you post-ratrionalise whatever is produced, but by the same token, you don’t expect a brief to be answered to the letter, which is why I stand by the belief a brief should act as a direction rather than a destination.

And that’s why I like planners who ‘lift things up’.

Who look for the good in the work rather than the bad.

Not in a Paula Abdul ‘everything is good even when it’s not’ kind-of-way, but recognise the threads that could lead to something exciting and new … threads that encourage rather than dictate … threads that lets everyone feel you’re on the same team and want the same thing.

The reason I say this is because I recently saw a quote that I loved.

It comes from US politician, John A Morrison and he say’s …

“Knowledge may come from taking things apart but wisdom only comes from putting things together”.

I love this.

I love what it means and represents.

And that’s why I think planners need to spend more time on wisdom than knowledge, because while a major part of our job is finding out the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’, if we don’t think of how those things can come together in interesting ways, then we’re not only limiting our own potential, we’re doing a disservice to where creativity can go and what it can achieve.