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

Age Is Attitude …

I’m old.

In fact by adland rules, I’m a bloody dinosaur.

That’s not because I’m switched off to contemporary culture – quite the opposite – but because the industry is ageist to the core.

The reality is anyone at my age tends to face an interesting dilemma in terms of how they are perceived …

Be old but think young and the industry sees you as a try-hard.

Be old and act old and the industry sees you as past-it.

Both things are wrong of course and it’s one of the reasons I always loved Wieden because they valued creativity rather than devaluing age. Of course, you have to keep the flow of new, exciting, dangerous talent coming into the place … but in my experience, when people have an open mind, the young learn from the old and vice versa and the end result is something even more potent than it would have otherwise been.

But maybe that’s just me trying to post rationalise my value.

The thing is, as I get older, I don’t want to subscribe to the ‘life’ I am supposed to have.

That doesn’t mean I aspire to living a long-term midlife crisis any more than I want to spend my time gardening, drinking wine or playing golf … if people want to do that, that’s fine, but I want to indulge in the things that continue to fascinate, intrigue and challenge me.

I wrote about this once before, but the best and worst thing about growing older is that you are continually discovering things you want to explore – in fact, the more you explore, the more you discover additional things you want to explore – but underpinning all this is the unshakable knowledge the time you have to do it is more limited than ever and so there will be paths that will be unexplored.

That’s quite the mindfuck.

Years ago a man I met said, “you know you’re getting old when you can’t feasibly double your age”.

At the time I remember laughing but now I’m in that situation, it’s confronting.

I have so much I want to do. See. Try. Explore.

Then there’s the things like seeing my son forge his own path.

While spending more time with my beloved wife.

More memories. Less dreams.

The idea that time is getting shorter can really fuck you up.

And that’s why for me, it’s about trying to ensure my family life a life of fulfillment.

I don’t want to subscribe to irrelevance.

Sure, one day I might be regarded as that for companies, but this is not about them – but me.

My Mum always had a desire live at the speed of contemporary culture.

She didn’t want to feel she was left behind.

That didn’t mean she did things she didn’t want to do, but she also didn’t want to live in a bubble where her context for life was far removed from the realities of life so she was open to the new and actively explored it … not in the bullshit way advertising portrays it, but in her interest in culture, from comedians and artists to music and politics.

That’s an amazing lesson to be taught – one I wholly subscribe to – which is why I think the industry is missing the point when it labels people over 40 as over-the hill. For me, rather than judge individuals by their physical; age, they should judge them by what they bring … what they challenge … what they change … because it’s the one’s who refuse to be labelled who can make exciting things happen.


If It’s Not Fun Making It, What’s The Point Of Making It?

I recently read an article about companies that really made an impact on me.

It wasn’t exposing any new theory or methodology.

It wasn’t connected to any particular campaign or individual.

It wasn’t even something I didn’t know, to be honest.

But it just hit the point of what makes good work culture and good work really clearly.


I’m not talking about foosball tables or free food.

It’s not artificial or contrived, it’s embedded in how you work and what you make.

It’s the thing that makes coming into work each day exciting and enjoyable.

Where taking a chance is celebrated.

Where individuality is held in the highest esteem.

Where creating anything is filled with electricity and laughter.

Where being serious about what you do and why you’re doing it doesn’t mean having to be serious about how you do it.

It’s the best thing I’ve read about agency culture in a long, long time, made better by the fact it was written by Mark Wnek – a creative director who, by his own admission, was known for being able to start a fight in an empty house.

Every single person should read it. Especially if you’re a CEO.

Trust Is The Most Important Word In Everything …

Originally this was going to be a post about patience.

We live at a time where the urge to rush to judgement seems omnipresent, however we often forget that each of us is going through personal situations that can affect how we behave and so what we experience may not be who the other party really is.

There’s this quote that says something like, “if we knew the troubles that weighed on the minds of the people we talk to, we might react to what they say in a very different way”.

And that quote is right, however in our rush-rush, myopic state-of-mind, we rarely stop to even consider that – let alone explore it – so the results we get might never be as positive as they could be if we had just stopped for a beat and thought of the other person.

That’s what this post was going to be about but then something happened.

You see recently I discovered someone betrayed my trust.

The irony is what they told another party was incorrect.

But that doesn’t make it any better.

And then I remembered that quote that says, “the worst thing about betrayal is that it never comes from your enemies” and they’re right.

I liked this person.

I still do.

But for some reason they thought it was right to do something that was wrong.

And right there, things got damaged because trust is everything in a relationship … whether that’s with a loved one, a colleague or a client.

Trust means you can disagree without any lasting damage.

Trust means you can let people explore things you don’t understand.

Trust means you can let teams go to the wire before they reveal their work.

Because trust is about believing the other person has your back … that their standards, goals and expectations match yours.

That doesn’t mean you’ll always like what they’ve done, but it does mean you can be honest about it and they’ll listen to you and you’ll listen to them. Not because you want to necessarily have a ‘compromise’ on the outcome, but because you want to make sure what you’re doing is the work the person best placed to make that call wants to make.

The work that excites them … or makes them laugh or simply shit-their-pants.

And while it would be nice to think trust happens simply by spending time together, it doesn’t.

The reality is trust comes slowly.

It tests you.

It see’s what you’re made of at the most vulnerable times.

But when you have it, it’s the most amazing feeling you can have.

It liberates you.

It lets you literally get to places bigger that you could ever get to on your own.

And that’s why I am always willing to let someone I trust make mistakes, but never when it’s to save their own neck.

Which is why trust is so hard to earn and so quick to lose.

Because as they say, united we stand divided we fall.


Give A Little Love To The People Who Think They Will Never Get Any …

As today is Valentine’s Day, I am going to write about love.

Not the rubbish peddled by the card and florists so they can charge a 100% mark-up on their usual prices because today is supposedly a ‘special day’, but the sort of love that shows you genuinely care rather than have been bullied into looking like you do.

The fact is, they’re more people on the streets than at any point in the last 20 years and it’s going to get worse.

While a lot of media likes to paint these individuals as thieves or con artists, the vast majority are good people who have simply fallen on hard times. This could be because of family, work or mental health – but they are good people and we can’t be allowed to forget that.

While it’s easy to avoid them, I have a little ask.

If you see someone who you think is having a tough time – and please know most don’t have the confidence to write a sign, let alone ask for help – just quietly go up to them and say, “I don’t want to embarrass you but I thought this might help” and then provide what you can.

A bit of money, some food or a [none alcoholic] drink.

Then simply walk away with no fuss or expectation of gratitude because I guarantee your small act will have made a difference, if only for the momentary interaction of human warmth that is hugely different from the invisibility and insignificance they experience every day.

As many of you know, this is an issue that is hugely important to me that I see getting worse every day. Any help, helps … from simply acknowledging their existence, to offering a little helping hand to doing something that can give them back some of the self-esteem that they thought they had lost forever.

I will be forever grateful to Virgin and Human_2 for helping me see how much a little gesture can make a big difference. If more people understood that, maybe they’d feel more comfortable reaching out when they see someone having a tough time.

Happy Valentine’s Day.


Listen For The Quiet Ones …

The older I get, the more I realise how brilliant my parents were.

There are so many reasons.

They gave me all the love and support and encouragement you could ever want.

They gave me incredible advice for how to live my life.

They told me to go live my life when they could have asked me to stay at home with them.

But for all those things, there was one thing they taught me that I feel was even more important than all that.

You learn from everyone.


That didn’t mean I had to agree with their point of view.

Nor did it mean I had to adopt their point of view.

What they wanted me to understand was every person has a story and if you really listen to what they say, it can help you learn a bunch of things.

Not just in the practical ‘move ahead in life’ stuff.

But in the understanding of how life works and how everyone is trying to deal with it as best they can.

And that’s why every month – from about the age of 8 to the age of 16 – my Dad would bring a homeless person [or as they were called in those days, tramps] to our house for dinner.

The deal was they would get a hot meal, a hot shower and a nice bed for the night if they told me about their life and what they had learnt from it.

Given the work I’ve done with HUMAN_2, I imagine my Dad often received a negative response. Not because the people he asked liked the situation they were in, but because they had experienced years of false promises or – worse – open avoidance and so were deeply mistrusting of anyone who approached them. But regardless of that, my Dad kept doing it and I’m so grateful he did.

Well, I say grateful, but at the time I found it weird.

Annoying even.

But looking back now, I realise how amazing and important it was.

It defined who I am.

It shaped how I do my job.

It ensured I respect people by their approach to life rather than their possessions.

It embodied my Mum always told me “… to be interested in what others are interested in”.

It’s probably why I value empathy in a planner more than curiosity. Though that could also be because the way planners talk about curiosity makes me sick.

But even more than that, I distinctly remember hearing a number of the visitors we had saying thank you to my parents. Not just for the food/shower/bed, but for being valued and being given a chance to be heard.

Which is maybe why when we were setting up HUMAN_2, the goal wasn’t to simply provide money to the homeless, but to provide assistance to those who wanted to help themselves out of their situation but didn’t know how.

I say all this because I recently saw a notice about a local homeless guy in Manhattan Beach who sadly died.

It really struck a chord with me.

Not just because it was touching to see a community acknowledge someone who many would treat as if they’re invisible, but because in the last 2 words of their note, they said something that encapsulated empathy and compassion for humanity.

You see as much as we live in a World where media likes to promote worth and value by what we own rather than who we are and how we live, LA amplifies that superficiality by about a billion … which is why the authors last 2 words were so beautiful and so important.

I just hope gentle Artie knew it.


When It’s Unfiltered, It Might Leave A Nasty Taste In Your Mouth But It’s At It’s Most Authentic …

When I first joined Deutsch, I wanted to understand what the hell was really going on with American youth so I sent 3 of my team – Maya, Armando and Leigh [along with Sarah, a photographer and co-supported back at HQ by the wonderful Kelsey] – backpacking across the US to spend about a month in some of America’s most opposite cities.

Specifically the richest/poorest … fastest growing/shrinking … most/least diverse.

No nice hotel rooms.

No fancy travel.

Just a month hearing and learning from America in The Raw.

As you can see from this little text exchange below, it left a mark on the guys …

In all seriousness, while they loved it, there were some things they saw and went through that challenged them deeply on a personal level. So deeply, that I honestly believe they have all come back changed for the experience.

And yet overall, what they found was a nation full of young people who wanted their country to be the one they had been brought up to believe in.

A country that lets anyone succeed.

A country that cared for their own equally.

A country where it led by taking on the big challenges and issues and crushing them.

Now of course, you could argue America was never really any of these things – just a master of PR – but that aside, the country they have found is not the country they want and so the way they are approaching their life is basically one of survival.

And what do I mean by survival?

Well in essence, it’s how they can cope with what’s going on until it stops.

Their overall view is “I can’t control the future, but I can control the present”.

And while their behaviour is expressed in multiple ways, we believe they fall into 4 distinct territories …

Protect: Keep safe what you have and don’t risk anything to get what you want.
Disguise: Define your relevance by the topical things you want to associate with.
Escape: Physically create a [momentary] world you want to live in.
Fight: Push against the unfairness you face.

Of course it’s way more complex and complicated than that – and we have spent a lot of time exploring and uncovering the influences, attitudes and behaviours that drive it and define it – but it does seem those 4 lenses are consciously and subconsciously influencing how people are starting to behave.

In all honesty, this adventure has been fascinating – not just in terms of understanding what is starting to happen, but how the issues of race or equality are reaching points where you can feel major change is on the way. Whether that change is instigated by government or the people is still anyones guess, but what we know is that it won’t be able to be swept under the carpet as easily as it has in previous years.

They won’t let it, especially with the current administration doing all it can to prod and provoke them.

The implications for society and business are huge – both in terms of positive change and negative potential – which is why we have created a [coffee-table] book and a presentation and – when we get some breathing space – a short film to truly define and explain what we heard and discovered. But as much as all those things are exciting, the bit I love the most is my team have given a voice to those who are rarely heard in the purest and most unfiltered way you can get.

There’s a lot of things I’ve done in my career that has made me proud.

This is most definitely one of them.


If you’re interested in seeing/having a copy of the ‘America In The Raw’ book, let me know. I can’t guarantee we can accommodate everyone, but we’ll try.


What Planners And Police/Military Interrogators Could Have Learned From My Mum …

For a long time, I’ve talked about the importance of empathy.

In fact I regard it as the most important trait I look for in a planner.

That’s right, empathy … not curiosity.

As my Mum used to say, ‘being interested in what others are interested in’ is the foundation of forging real understanding … understanding that lets you gain real insight that leads to work that doesn’t just resonate, but is both authentic and sincere to the core.

I recently took my team through the original ‘Thank You Mom’ work I was involved with at Wieden for P&G.

In essence, there were 2 roles the planning departments of W+K had.

The first was to find a point of view for P&G’s Olympic sponsorship that was authentic rather than falling into that trap of being ‘the proud sponsor of razor blades for athletes’ etc etc.

However, once it had been identified that P&G could genuinely claim to helping the Mum’s of athletic hopefuls in their role of being supportive Mum’s, the rest of our job was to ensure the work we produced was authentic to the regions we were going to cover … the UK, the US, China and Brazil.

It took a long time, a lot of meeting, watching, listening and chatting [in fact the little film I made from it all to help the client and creatives really understand our Mum’s is still one of the best things I made at Wieden] but it made all the difference because while some elements of the film may be lost to viewers of other nations [ie: Westerners thought the Chinese Mum who watched her child win via a TV in her home did it because she couldn’t afford to go to the event, when the reality is we had learned parents wouldn’t attend key events for fear of afraid of adding extra pressure to their beloved child with their presence] the fact is those within each culture we featured connected to the little nuances we were able to reveal which led to work that felt part of the culture rather than just being an observer of it.

The reason I am saying all this is because I recently read an amazing article about interrogation techniques, or more specifically, how the interrogation techniques favoured by the Police and military are wrong.

Now I am not suggesting interrogation techniques are anything similar to how we find out our insights about people … but the learnings are.

You see what a team of scientists discovered is that rather than intimidating individuals in the hope of getting them to reveal their information, the secret was to show genuine empathy towards them.

Not in what they did or tried to do.

Not in their cause or their ideology.

But in why all of it was important to them.

In essence, they discovered empathy – rather than intimidation – was the closest thing we have to a truth serum.

Or said another way, be interested in what others are interested in.

Another reason [for me] to say Thank you Mom.

[Read the article here]