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


If You Thought The Last 2 Days Of Posts Were Scary, This Is Going To Make You Want To Die [Especially If You Live In Ireland]

Last year, the wonderful DMX Conference got the magnificent Mr Martin Weigel\ to talk where he wowed them with his wonderful Case For Chaos presentation.

It was, by all accounts, inspiring, provocative and bursting with creativity.

This year, they’ve decided to go with this …

That’s a level of downgrading that challenges the Obama to Trump nightmare in America.

Seriously, haven’t the people of Ireland suffered enough?

Who are they going to invite next year … Theresa May?

I – on the other hand – am over the moon to be invited.

It’s a genuinely huge honour for me, despite the fact I have no idea what I’m going to talk about and following Weigel is like being at the wedding of Princess Eugenie after you’ve seen Harry and Meghan nuptials.

I can only apologize in advance. To everyone.

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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.



Childhood Happiness …

My son.

My cat.

A semi-tidy/messy bedroom.

Colour. Toys. Posters and Paintings.

Books to Dolls houses to Magnetic Blocks.

This photo makes me so very, very happy.

Not just because of Otis and Rosie – though obviously that is great – but as childhood photos go, I can’t help but feel this is how it should be.

Now, of course, this ‘look’ – excluding my son and cat – is often the sort of thing you also find inside ad agencies.

I remember an old boss telling me that when he took his kids to the office, they asked where the other kids were, because they thought it was just like their bedrooms.

And while it is easy to write this design approach as superficial or childish – I genuinely believe it can make a difference.

Being surrounded by an environment that celebrates and provokes creativity can only be a good thing, especially if you are paid to think creatively – however, like raising a child, it only works if that extends to what you expect from the people within it.

Frankly, if you create a creative environment you have to let them be creative.

You can’t do that and then create systems and processes that push people to conform to rules.

Creative culture can absolutely be aided by the environment you surround people with, but the reality is it’s ultimately driven by having a culture of freedom and encouragement, which is why it seems to me the nice environments of many agencies are more about the illusion of creativity rather than the celebration, inspiration and ignition of it.

Kinda like what I told Campaign magazine a few years ago …



We Are All The Same Even If We Are Different …

I have written a lot about how we are bringing up Otis.

What we want for him, what we want him to value.

I have also written about the education we want for him.

A none-religious, state school that celebrates creativity as much as the more traditional academic pursuits.

Sadly I know there are many people out there who think we are mad for the choices we make, but as I have also written, my advice to them is to look after their own kids upbringing and leave ours to us.

That said, following these ideals is not easy.

Apart from the simple issue of access, the reality is most schools and kids companies focus on structure, stereotypes and grades because that is what most parents – and Governments – seem to value most of all, so for us to go outside of that takes effort and commitment.

None of this means we don’t want Otis to have a quality education – of course we do – it’s just that when it comes to what we think ‘education’ means, we see it going beyond the importance of reading, writing and maths.

We want his school to help him develop a love of learning.

Give him the ability to practice critical thinking.

An openness and comfort to express himself openly and creatively.

But there’s something more – something we feel very strongly about – which in part is one of the reasons we’re against religious and private schools.

You see we want him to learn that stereotypes limit, control and create prejudice.

That just because you’re a different gender or come from a different heritage or have a different sexual preference doesn’t mean you can’t aspire to – or achieve the same level as – anyone else.

And while it’s a small thing in the big scheme of things, it is the reason why I love that Otis’ school had a black Santa visit them last Christmas.

Of course Otis didn’t care, comment or even probably notice … but for the other little kids who come from different backgrounds, they saw a face that could give them comfort, confidence and courage about who they are, where they come from and what they can achieve and who wouldn’t want a school that teaches kids – all kids – that.

Education is so much more than just grades and while this is not all of the schools responsibility, it is part of their responsibility.



What If We’re Wrong …

One of the things that bothers me is how data [in marketing] has become law.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of data – or should I say, real data that has been amassed properly, read properly and used properly – but a lot of the stuff today is nothing more than small bits of information packaged to be big bits of information.

Worse, a lot of it has no texture whatsoever … designed to reinforce a position someone wants rather than to inform and enlighten on things you don’t know but would like to find out.

But even then, data is not infallible.

There, I said it.

Data is as good as the people who created it.

And yet day after day, I read about companies who treat their data like its god … even though you can see the flaws in their approach from 10,000 miles away.

From what they’re trying to discover.

To how they’re trying to discover it.

To what they want to do with it once they’ve got it.

No surprise then that so many then go on to report ‘lower than expected’ revenues.

I’m lucky that I work at a place with a progressive view of data, especially with the way we use our Ventures program.

But in addition to that, I work with an amazing data specialist.

She’s cheeky sod who is a bloody legend.

Not just for what she does but for what she pushes.

A believer in the role of culture not just habits.

But another part of her skill is that she knows what data does and what data doesn’t.

Data guides.

It heavily suggests.

It shines a light on important and essential behaviours.

It forces discussions about how best to approach situations.

But it rarely is undisputed, unquestionable, always certain, fact.

To be honest, I believe most people in the marketing field of data knows this but – as is the case with most things in marketing – we go around talking in certainties in an attempt to raise our professional standing when all it does is the opposite.

Hey, I get it, we see it being done in so many fields – from government to finance – but that still doesn’t mean it makes people believe what we’re saying, it just makes us complicit.

The reality is society is far smarter than we give them credit for. The only reason they let so much of this rubbish pass is because they literally don’t care what we say. They have seen so many facts that turned into fiction that they view what we do as literally a game … which is why, while data and strategy still play an important part in making creativity that helps brands move forward, the most powerful differentiator between ideas that culture sees and culture give a shit about is how interesting, intriguing and exciting it is.



Care, Not Control …

At Christmas, I went to the free Winter Wonderland show in London.

I say ‘free’, but it cost me more money than a West End Show,

But for all that, there was one thing that I saw that I truly loved.

This.

Yes, it is from a long time ago.

Yes, it is a pretty small thing.

But my god, how good is it?

The idea that the government paid for small versions of real cars to help kids with disabilities feel they are part of society – when everything around them tended to, and still does to be honest, say otherwise – is brilliant.

An act that lets minorities feel they belong.

Are seen and heard.

Can contribute and become more than they thought they could be.

And while this sort of behavior seems to be something consigned to history, they are happening.

I have written a post that comes out on Friday that does a similar thing.

Except it was done by Otis’ school rather than any government authority … and that pisses me off, because in my opinion, this is exactly the sort of thing the government is for.

To look after the people it represents.

Their health. Their wellbeing. Their education.

And before everyone starts calling me a hippy or a communist, it’s not just because that is their duty but because by doing this, they are literally making the country better. Richer.

Not just in terms of happier, smarter more confident people, but interns of invention … collaboration … industry.

A nation that is healthy and educated is a nation that builds, grows and attracts and yet it appears nowadays … governments are about control, power and self serving.

How the hell did we come to this?



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.