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


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.

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Marketing To The Religious Right …

Over the years I’ve written about some strange beliefs some strange people have.

For strange people, read overly religious, bigoted individuals.

First there was the gum that claimed to stop you masturbating.

Then there was the soap that made you a virgin again.

Well if that wasn’t weird enough, I recently saw this …

Now that is some headline.

It’s a headline that commands your attention.

It’s a headline that demands you delve deeper.

And when I did, I discovered that – similar to TBWA’s current approach to disruption – I left feeling more repulsed than attracted to the cause or the topic. Have a read of this …

I have read this a few times.

And even now – as I read it again – I come away shaking my head in utter dismay and disarray.

Because while I appreciate the authors beliefs are her beliefs [even though I find them unbelievably condescending, patronizing and judgmental] I also think she is fundamentally wrong because I’m pretty sure the main thing young men look for in young women is a pulse.

I’m not saying that’s right but neither is this sort of blinkered bollocks.

But here’s the thing, as blinkered bollocks as this may be … there’s a bunch of people who not only believe this, but live by it. And our industry needs to acknowledge this reality, because while we can judge all we like in our personal opinions, we have to keep an open and curious mind to what’s going on in our professional lives, because real life is a damn sight more complex, twisted and confusing than the nicely curated versions of what’s going that we like to present to the World.

If great communication is about resonance rather than relevance, then knowing the weird is way more important than knowing the convention.



Never Apologise For Your Emotions …

I cry.

I cry a lot.

I cry at films.

I cry at memories.

I cry at just how much I love Otis.

Now I appreciate that’s not the sort of thing you should admit, but that’s what I want to change.

I get why it happens.

From the moment we are kids, we are told not to cry.

To be fair, it’s less to do with any sense of parental embarrassment and more to do with parents hating seeing their precious child being upset, but in my opinion, it’s still wrong.

But it gets worse.

Especially for little boys.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard a Dad tell their little man who has fallen over …

“Big boys don’t cry”.

I totally appreciate they’re not saying it to be mean, but I can’t help but worry for what we are teaching the men of tomorrow.

Especially in America.

I was lucky, I was brought up in a household that didn’t try to hide emotions.

I was taught it was healthy and was encouraged to express how I felt.

Now I know that was pretty rare, but fortunately for everyone else, there was the local pub.

The pub was more than a place for drinking, it was a place for men to express their feelings.

Sure, they did it through banter and jokes, but it was where you could reveal your feelings and fears to other men in an environment that was, ironically, none threatening and none judgemental.

I have no idea if that’s still the case but I know in America it’s not.

Here, you don’t go to a bar to talk, you go to a bar to sit with other men and watch sports.

There appears little outlet for men to express their feelings which means either the pressure of situations add up to unbelievable levels or the response to situations is disproportionate or overly aggressive and confrontational.

OK, so not everyone is like that, but until we teach our children – and especially our little boys – that crying is actually the act of someone strong rather than weak, then we are going to continue stopping people knowing how to navigate the challenges and frustrations that fill our lives. Or said another way, we’ll be stopping our kids from being able to be as good as they can be … which is a crime no parent wants to ever be accused of doing.

Which is another thing we could all learn from the values taught at Otis’ school.




Where It All Began …
May 23, 2018, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, Childhood, Comment, Education

Following on from my sentimentally infused post of yesterday, one of my old school friends recently posted this photo on Facebook …

What you’re looking at are all the teachers at my primary school, Heymann.

Now to be honest, I don’t recognise all of the faces, but the others have all left an indelible mark on me.

I appreciate this is of absolutely no value or interest to you, but in the slight possibility that Otis will read this at some point in the future, I’m going to detail my memories of each one so Otis can have a glimpse into his old man’s past.

From the back row, on the right left hand side, we have Ms Clay.

She was – I think – a student teacher. I am pretty sure she was engaged to the guy 3rd from the left. She came with us on our school trip to Whitby [see pic below, with me in a bloody red cagoule] and someone bought some ‘X-Ray Specs’ from a joke shop, convinced we would be able to see her nude. Unsurprisingly, we didn’t.

Next to her was Mr Catchick. The overwhelming memories I have of him is when he made me mop up someone’s vomit in class. I can’t remember why, but I do remember thinking it was terrible. I also remember the rumour his breath smelt of alcohol despite the fact that at aged 7, we were unlikely to know what alcohol smelt like. Then there was the time he sent me to the Headmaster’s room, Mr Dewing, for shouting “Bollocks” very, very loudly in class … even though I didn’t know what the word meant and Mr Dewing had to explain it to me, much to his huge embarrassment.

As I mentioned earlier, the person next to him is – I think – Ms Clay’s fiance, but next to him, like a member of some BritPop band, was sports teacher Mr Fletcher. He never taught me directly, but everyone knew him and when he retired from the school a few years ago, he was inundated with goodbye messages – me included.

Next to him is Mrs Crowe. She was my teacher when I turned 8 and the two overwhelming memories I have of her are that we did a class project on Australia and Canada – which, spookily, is where Jill is from – and that my Mum once came to collect me early and I remember thinking she looked the most beautiful Mum in the World. In another bizarre coincidence, we were flying from Shanghai to London a few years ago and we got talking to the people near us, only to discover they were Mrs Crowe’s nieces.

Last – but not least – on the top row, far right, is Mrs Cohen. She never taught me and I’m so glad because she used to hit people on the knuckles with a wooden ruler. Mind you, Mr Aspinal – who did teach me, but isn’t in this photo for some reason – used to hit people with a slipper, but he was far nicer than Mrs Cohen so I remember feeling a massive sense of relief when I was put in his class rather than hers.

Below her, now going right-to-left, is Mrs Berry – my first ever teacher. She drove a dark purple MGB GT … as cool a car as you could get back then … and was brilliant. She was also my teacher when the school got vandalised, where some kids broke all our pencils, spray painted our playground and killed the school rabbit. Oh, she also is the teacher who decided at the last minute that I should give Rebecca Baldwin my jumper during the school nativity play [where we were both playing animals] resulting in me watching my parents watching Rebecca thinking it was me until the very end. To say they were shocked when we removed our masks is quite the understatement.

Then comes Mrs Terry … the teachers teacher. She was firm but fair though I once caused her to almost have a meltdown with my inability to understand fractions [I’m still rubbish at it]. The other memory I have is that when it was parent/teacher night, she wanted everyone to have their ‘gold star/black mark’ chart updated and because she was so inundated with kids asking her questions, I kept going up to her with a piece of my work that she had graded with a ‘gold star’, and basically managed to get her to give me 5 stars when it should have been 1. This is maybe where my blagging abilities began.

Next to her was Mrs Staples. She taught me after Mrs Berry and was the deputy head. I remember thinking she was the most elegant woman I’d ever seen but that could also be because she didn’t go mad when she found I had decided – at age 6 – the questions in the back of the school books weren’t grammatically correct so I’d used a pen to change them. Before you call me a cheeky bastard, I did it because Paul, my best mate, was having reading issues and I didn’t want him to feel bad so blamed it on the school.

I have no idea who the other 2 teachers were, but these people – along with Mr Roberts, the school caretaker who lived in a house by the school entrance – were my introduction to education, so we can blame them for why I didn’t go to university.



Learn From Otis’ School, Not Mine …

Last week I talked about Otis’ school and what companies could learn from it.

At a time where everyone seems to want to prepare their kids to ‘win in life’ by focusing on hard skills rather than soft, I swear helping kids learn how to express themselves openly – as well as deal with conflict in positive ways – is going to be even more useful for their future given the times they experience will be fluctuating far more than we have today.

But that’s not the real point of this post, this is …

Yep, that’s me.

At 11 years of age.

About to go to ‘big school’.

And while Otis’ kindergarten is focused on helping him express his feelings without limits – aided by teachers who openly treat all his emotions with validity – it seems my school was concerned in turning me into a corporate toady, as demonstrated by the absolutely HUGE school badge on my pocket, let alone the tie and shoes.



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.



It’s Only A Mistake If You Don’t Learn From It …

One of the things I find amazing about adland is their inability to review what they just did … whether that was a pitch, a big meeting or just a campaign.

Basically, it things have gone well, they act like they are invincible.

And if things have gone less well, they either ignore it or blame it all on the client.

Look, I get that we have too many meetings.

I get no one wants to be the person who brings the energy of positivity down or make a bad situation worse, but reviews are super useful.

Not just for what you did wrong, but what you did right.

And yet so few agencies seem to do it …

Maybe part of it is that it can quickly turn into a blame game.

Maybe part of it is because people feel they can’t be honest, either for fear or reprisal or fear of hurting egos.

Or maybe it’s just because ‘reviews’ are so closely associated the ‘annual review’, people feel they can’t do it without masses of paperwork and 360 degree feedback.

But in my experience, an honest, objective review can make a huge difference – not just in personal performance but in terms of giving confidence to the team moving forward.

For me, there are a few key rules to do it well.

1. It can not be more than 30 minutes in length.

2. It has to happen within 48 hours of the event that justifies the review.

3. It has to involve all the people involved, not just the key players.

4. No comment can be personal, you win as a team and you fail as a team.

5. Everyone gets to say 1 thing they liked [about the process/pitch/work] 1 thing they’d change [about their approach to the process/pitch/work] and 1 thing they’ve learned [about how to improve the process/pitch/work]

That’s it.

Now I am not denying that a key element to it’s success is the tone of the meeting.

Too serious and it makes people nervous to say anything valuable.

Too light and no one takes it seriously.

But if you ensure there is an air of inclusion, positivity and the sense it’s being done to help everyone become even better, I find it is 30 minutes that people find genuinely valuable.

Of course it’s not just something for show.

All comments must be noted, distributed and then reviewed prior to the next situation where a post-review is likely … but once you get in the habit of it, those 30 minutes can have a lifetime of positive effect.

I wish more people did it … if not for the agencies benefit, but their own.

I promise I won’t write any more serious posts like this in the future. Sorry.