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


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]

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Social Media That Is Actually Social …

For a long time I’ve had a problem with social media.

Actually I should rephrase that …

For a long time I’ve had a problem with people who claim social media is all that matters.

Part of it is because too many companies have approached it as free media.

Part of it is because too many agencies have approached it like it’s a magazine.

Part of it is because ultimately, everything can be social, not just things on certain platforms.

And that’s why, for all the hype it gets, the amount of social media campaigns that have actually been truly social [as in, gained traction and awareness beyond their core audience eco-system] is relatively small.

Please note I’ve said ‘campaigns’, not one-off tweets … which, apart from the fact the idea of a ‘campaign’ on social is kind of an oxymoron … makes it even smaller.

And then if you add ‘successful’ to that group of criteria, it gets even smaller … with arguably only Ice Bucket Challenge and #MeToo being worthy of acclaim, which, let’s not forget, were both causes dedicated to righting human wrongs.

Which is why I have fallen in love with this social media campaign from Doncaster County Council for naming their 2 new grit-spreading trucks.

Please read it.

Read all of it.

I know it’s super-long but I guarantee you will love it.

Every single line and suggestion.

For me, it’s single-handedly the best social media campaign of 2017.

No, seriously … because a conversation from Doncaster County Council about their Road Gritters achieved over seven million impressions in 48 hours.

Seven. Bloody. Million.

I love this campaign for so, so many reasons.

I love that they treated their audience with a brain.

“We would like your name suggestions for two of our new gritting vehicles, please. Keep em clean and be original – we’d prefer not to spend the next few days trawling through responses of Gritty McGritface and Gary Gritter. 🙄”

I love that the people running it were empowered to respond to negative comments with wit and focus rather than – as is the norm – to back down and beg for forgiveness when someone challenges them.

“For those who say the council shouldn’t be wasting their money on this, we say getting the community interested and engaged in how their town runs is a good thing”

I love there mischief and humor with lines including …

“When you look at your grandchildren, what side of history do you want to tell them you were on? #DoncasterGrittingWorldCup”

But most of all, I love that one of the winning names was …

Gritsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Anti-Slip Machiney

… proving there is justice in the World.

Yet again, we see a campaign from an organisation that doesn’t have ‘social media experts’ dictating their approach being more successful than the output of an entire industry who claim to be the most informed people in their field.

Why?

Well, as much as I have met some truly brilliant social media strategists in my time, the fact is the vast majority fail because they forget the importance of understanding one key element in creating a social media campaign.

People.

Look, it’s not just the social media industry that is making this mistake, everyone in communication is … preferring to rely on data than some good, old-fashioned, get-in-the-weeds exploration and discovery.

This is not some anti-data rant, it’s just in our quest to drive speed and efficiencies, we are walking away from understanding the texture that makes any data worthwhile … the stuff that helps you develop ideas that feels it comes from the culture rather than an observer of it.

The Doncaster County Council campaign should serve as a reminder everyone about how to make great comms.

In these days where it seems the emphasis is on the platform, the reality is we’re all still trying to connect with humans so spending time to really understand how they think and do stuff is still the key to making ideas that makes a difference.

Not purely in terms of optimizating effectiveness, but in terms of how people feel, think and act.

You know, the stuff that makes sustainable differences to companies rather than this short-termism we have all fallen victims to because to quote John Le Carre, a desk is a dangerous place to view the World..



Successful People Can Tell Whatever Story They Want …

Whether you like him or hate him, Gary Vaynerchuk has made a very big impression in a very small period of time.

As with anyone in this position, he has attracted his unfair share of fans and haters.

A few weeks ago, there was an article that challenged the story he tells people.

Not just in terms of it’s message [Anyone can achieve their goals if they’re prepared to work hard for it] but his background.

As we all know, there are always 3 sides to any story – your side, their side and the truth – and while it is true many people who have dreams and work hard DON’T achieve their goals, I felt it was pretty harsh of the author to pick on that given that there’s literally no other way to achieve your goals … just some are lucky and some [most] aren’t.

But this is where I do agree with author of the article, because they correctly highlight ‘successful people get to tell any story they want’.

I find it amazing how many successful people reimagine history.

It’s not hard to work out that their goal is to ensure people view their achievements through the lens of their unique brilliance – whether that is attitudinal or through their acts.

Of course both of those elements would have had a part to play in their success, but to not acknowledge the luck they enjoyed is to create a narrative that is as deluded as most of the Linkedin write-ups I read.

That said, not everyone is like that …

Many, many years ago I met a very, very successful man.

He had made his fortune in air conditioning and when I asked him what he felt he owed his success to, he said, “1976”.

Basically, he had owned a small firm specialising in fans and air con. Business was OK but not setting the World alight until the summer of 1976, where the UK experienced it’s hottest summer on record.

In that summer, he created the foundation for his future fortune.

It wasn’t that people just wanted a way to immediately cool themselves down, it made companies realize they may need to have a solution for future summers in the office.

Yes, he had worked very, very hard during this time – and subsequent years – but as he said to me, he had always been working hard … it was the good fortune of extreme weather that made his efforts experience greater rewards.

In other words, luck.

And while he still downplayed the effort he put in to be successful, I remember even back then how refreshing it was to hear someone being humble about their success rather than claiming it was down to their unique abilities and vision.

Which is why I still follow the advice of my dad, which was always listen to the opinions/advice/experience of others but remember a good percentage of what they say – even if not intentional – is probably what they wish they did rather than what they actually did.



When You Stop Being Paranoid, You Stop Being Competitive …

Back in 2007, Forbes magazine ran this cover …

2007 is also the year Apple launched the iPhone, a product – lets not forget – that was ridiculed by Nokia executives.

While hindsight is 20:20, you can see why they were skeptical.

Here was a computer company entering a category they had absolutely no heritage or expertise in.

A computer company who only a few years ago, was on its knees after launching a plethora of badly thought-out products.

But while those are, on face value, two fair perspectives … they were blinkered to the changes that were going on both in tech and society.

Blinkered or arrogant.

The irony of business – especially our business – is that it needs a healthy dose of confidence and paranoia.

Confidence to be secure in what it believes in.

Paranoia to never let them feel settled with where they are.

The moment you think you’ve made it, you can be pretty sure you won’t be there for long.

When I was at Wieden, I could always tell who had the potential to be there for the long haul by their attitude.

In essence, those who thought getting the job was the achievement were not going to last.

Not always, but generally … because Wieden’s brilliance isn’t just about the work it produces, but the belief of what creativity can do and the ambition to see where it can be taken.

It’s similar to what I believe made Apple so powerful back in 2008.

Ambitious.

Tenacious.

Restless.

Relentless.

Stubborn.

Naive.

… and, of course, paranoid.

Not in terms of who gets there first – though that is always in the back of their mind – but who gets to do it best.

And that’s why I love hiring people who have a point to prove.

A chip on their shoulder.

A dirty little secret.

Because in a World where the smart people can perfect what we already have, it’s the freaks who change where we go.



To My Beloved Otis. Always Run Towards Happiness ….

Following on from yesterday’s post, I want to talk about the dismay I feel about the Australian government asking for a referendum on whether gay marriage is acceptable.

What offends me even more than the fact this shouldn’t even be an issue is that when there are issues that should have input from the nation – from immigration to military intervention – the decisions are made without any level of consultation.

It makes absolutely no sense, unless the government think gay marriage is more dangerous than defending Australia’s shores.

Actually, they probably think it is.

One of the reasons this issue bothers me is that on top of everything else, my son Otis has an Australian passport.

OK, he also has a British and Canadian one … but should he wish to settle in Australia when he’s older, I want him to have all the rights heterosexuals have, which is why I hope, should he ever need reassurance, he see’s this message that I wrote about marriage equality a while back and knows his Mum and Dad love him and will always support him in his quest for happiness and fulfillment.



Where You End Up Is Never Just Because Of One Journey …
September 19, 2017, 6:15 am
Filed under: Attitude & Aptitude, Confidence, Culture, Emotion, Empathy, Management

A long time ago I wrote about how I had contacted everyone who I felt had positively influenced my career.

I called them ‘pivotal people’.

I wanted to thank them for their help and let them know that I believe anything I achieve is because of them – even if they had only been in my life for a short time.

I’ve got to admit I don’t know why I did it, but it felt right even if it ended up confusing most of the recipients.

The reason I’m writing this is because I recently read a fantastic article about the Chairman of Huddersfield Town football club.

Now Chairman of Football Clubs are rarely praised – especially in national newspapers – but Dean Hoyle is not your average Football Chairman.

When your team get into the Premiership for the first time in their existence, most Chairman would probably sit back and bask in the glow of adoration, but not Dean.

First of all he honoured a promise he made to the clubs diehard fans that if they kept buying season tickets during his tenure, he would only charge them £100 if they got to the Premiership.

Now you might think he only said that because he never thought it would happen, but not only did he keep his promise [and for reference, the cheapest season ticket available for any club in the Premiership is £299] by offering that deal, he ensured he built a dialogue with the diehard fans … the ones who genuinely bleed for the club.

But he did something more than that.

He did this:

For the record, Wagner is the current manager who helped the team get to the Premiership, but Mick Buxton – the man the Chairman called to thank – was the manager of Huddersfield at the end of the 1978-79 season, when they were in the old 4th division.

Buxton guided Huddersfield to the third tier with a swashbuckling style that captured the imagination of the 12 year old Dean Hoyle who years later, used some of his riches from selling his greetings card business to buy his boyhood club.

What Dean did is not just an act of wonderfulness – delivered with typical Northern wit – it’s the acknowledgement that the places we go in life can be influenced by many things and being aware of that not only means you may have a more adventurous life, but become a better leader.

Dean Hoyle, thank you for being ace. May Huddersfield continue to prove the doubters wrong.

Read the whole article here.



The Shanghai Kennedys Graduate …

So last week – on Founders Day – we saw The Kennedys Shanghai graduate after 9 months of trials, tribulations and torture [their words, not mine]

What an amazing journey … for them as well as for me.

I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t really know what I was taking on when I agreed to launch The Kennedys – Wieden’s creative talent incubator – but it has proved to be one of the best decisions of my life.

It’s been amazing.

Actually that doesn’t do it justice, it has been one of the most rewarding, exciting and creatively fulfilling times of my career.

Seriously.

Seeing these guys use their creative talent to brilliantly solve an amazing array of radically diverse challenges was an incredible privilege but the work they created was only part of the reward, because I also got to see how their journey affected all of them individually.

Watching them discover – and start to believe – in their own, individual creative voice was brilliant.

Not just in terms of how it affected the ideas they came up with, but also in how they looked at every challenge given to them.

At the beginning of The Kennedys, there was a sense of cautiousness – a feeling of concern they might do something wrong – but by the end, they didn’t give a shit about what others may think and had the confidence to go full force with whatever they believed.

Of course to get to that stage wasn’t easy … and yet the way we did it was.

In essence there were 2 parts.

The first was we needed the guys to feel they were in an environment where they were safe to be vulnerable.

Our view was that if they ever sensed they may be laughed at, criticised or ridiculed then we’d never get them to explore or experiment with where their creativity could go.

To achieve this, we told them we would never say ‘no’ to their ideas.

We could challenge them … we could ask as many questions as we like … but we could never, ever tell them their idea ‘is wrong’.

The second part was to give the guys challenges that made them vulnerable.

Part of this was to prove The Kennedys was a safe place for them to express themselves without limitation, but the other part was we knew the only way they’d discover the power of their truth was if they experienced real vulnerability and came out of it unscathed.

To do this, the first 3 months of assignments were made up of self expression exercises … from making a film about how you felt when you were made to dye your hair white, to creating art work about eating a live octopus to writing a resume of all your failures and an incredible amount of things in-between.

Now, I’ve got to be honest, a lot of people – including The Kennedys – felt I only did this so I could satisfy my evilness, but that is not the case at all.

When you see the creativity in the work they created later in the course – such as the takeaway coffee cup that turns into a frisbee for a local cafe that attracts lots of dog owners … to the Superhero toothbrush glove that makes 5 year old kids want to actually brush their teeth … to the innovation behind a Nike Shanghai Marathon campaign [to name but a few] – I’m pretty certain it was their comfortableness in their vulnerability that got them to this sort of work.

Nothing sums their confidence like their final assignment.

We asked them to come up with something they could leave at Wieden+Kennedy that defined what they had learnt over the course of The Kennedys.

In a perfect world, it would act as a legacy for them as well as an inspiration for everyone in the agency.

It didn’t take them long to sum up their 9 months experience with this turn of phrase …

“The freedom of creativity”

I liked that. I liked it a lot.

Their belief that creativity was about freedom and that freedom meant that any challenge could be met in interesting and intriguing ways was almost the perfect outtake from 9 months of bizarre and wonderful.

And so what did they do with their freedom of creativity?

This …

Yes … it’s a Street Fighter arcade game, but not like any Street Fighter arcade game.

You see the guys decided to reprogram the machine so it featured them as the fighters and included all their experiences over the 9 months of The Kennedy’s.

The characters.
The locations.
The challenges.

They’re all in there.

Including me … where my ‘special move’ is the F-Bomb, and a Birkenstock comes down to destroy everything in its way.

Cheeky bastards.

Someone at Wieden Tokyo asked me to explain what it was like and I said the best way to describe it was South Park on speed and LSD.

Seriously, it’s utterly mental and chaotic and for that alone, it perfectly sums up the journey and spirit of The Kennedys, let alone the way they used creativity to solve the challenge in the freshest of ways. 

But while it is absolutely awesome … what’s even better is the effort it took to make it.

I’m not talking about sourcing the game or even re-programming the game – though they were difficult in themselves – I’m talking about what they did to make sure it was all perfect.

For example, to ensure they could match all the animation of the ‘fighters’, everyone had to take thousands of photographs of themselves – in front of a green screen – in various poses.

THOUSANDS!!!

Then they needed to photoshop it all.

And then animate it.

And that’s before we get to all the other stuff like the background scenes … the animated story sequences and the re-design of the game cabinet.

At Wieden we have this phrase Fail Harder.

It basically means that if you are going to fail, make it because you were going after an audacious goal.

A goal that few would ever dare to try because they would see the obstacles rather than the opportunity.

This game – which they only had 3 weeks to pull off – is the perfect encapsulation of Fail Harder.

Except they didn’t fail.

In fact, it’s so good, I asked them to make another machine so I can have one for home. 

I’m thrilled they said yes … Jill, a little less so. Hahahaha.

Portland might have their “Fail Harder” wall but Shanghai has their “Kingdom of Chaos” Arcade game.  

I am in awe of these guys, I truly am.

7 strangers.
Over 9 months.
Given 21 individual assignments.
Producing over 140 pieces of work.

I couldn’t be prouder.

I couldn’t be more thrilled.

I couldn’t feel more honoured to have been a part of it and to have these talented guys in my life … even if they don’t exactly feel the same way, ha.

Of all the great things I’ve done at Wieden+Kennedy, this has undoubtedly been one of the best.

I’d go so far as to say it has been one of the best things I’ve ever done.

So before I end this post, I’d just like to say a big thank you to the guys who helped make this a very special time in my life.

+ The Magnificent Seven … Carmen, Felix, Griet, Matteo, Meng, Quentin and Wenshu
+ Juni Zhu, the Patron Saint of Saints
+ Arlene Lu and Maxito, the dynamic duo and table tennis losers
+ Patrick Rockwell, also known as the fixer
+ Bryan & Yang
+ Azsa
+ Stone
+ Grainne
+ Nike
+ Boom Boom Bagels
+ Jill Barker
+ Paula Bloodworth, Northy and Marula
+ Yvonne … for never raising an eyebrow when we put in our weird expenses
+ Kim Papworth, Joe Staples and Richard Turley
+ John Rowe and Ryan Johnson in Tokyo
+ Blake Harrop, Alvaro Sotomayor and Judd Caraway in Amsterdam
+ Tony Davidson and Ryan Fisher in London
+ Vitor Abud in Sao Paulo
+ Wieden HR who didn’t say anything even when we made The Kennedys do very weird shit
+ Everyone at Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai
+ Everyone who was part of the Kennedys in Amsterdam, London & Sao Paulo
+ Everyone who applied for the journey
… and finally David Kennedy [and Dan Wieden] who let this thing happen because on April 1st 1982, you started a company that believed in the freedom of creativity

If you ever have the chance to be in – or part of – The Kennedys in the future, whether that is in Shanghai or any of the other Wieden+Kennedy offices, grasp it with both hands.

It will change your life.

It did for me and I’m pretty sure it did for the 7 guys who were our guinea pigs in Shanghai.