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


We Are All Hiding Something …

So much for not posting for 3 weeks eh?

For what it’s worth, I officially start writing my rubbish again on Monday.

What’s the difference between the posts I’ve been writing and the posts I will be writing?

Apart from the fact I’ll allow you all to insult me in the comments?

Errrrrm, that’s it.

But this one is quite important because it’s something I hear talked about a lot.

Imposter syndrome.

Every industry has people who suffer for it, but right now, I’m hearing a lot of planners talk about it. Doesn’t matter if they are top of their profession or new into it, somewhere along the line they feel it.

I know I do.

And while I know it can be massively destructive – undermining your confidence and self belief – it isn’t all bad.

I know, that sounds mad … but hang in there.

Recently I was talking to one of the best planners in the world. Yes, I appreciate that’s a subjective comment, but if you knew who I was talking about – saw the work they have consistently been a part of – you’d probably agree they’re in the top 5 globally.

Anyway they were telling me how they felt imposter syndrome. That they were going to get ‘found out’ any day soon and then their career would be over. Cast aside by an industry who would point at them and laugh and then use their name as a warning to any new entrant into the industry of what not to do.

And then I said, “maybe that’s what makes you so good”.

That shut them up.

And when they asked me what the fuck I was talking about, I said that maybe that was part of the reason they were so brilliant. That they were never so comfortable with their abilities and title that they would ever take their foot off the gas … that they would ever stop exploring every possibility … that they would ever not write a million different versions of the same brief until they found the one they thought had the most creative potential.

Silence.

Then they said, “but it can hurt so much”.

And I acknowledged it can. But I then added that I imagine being as good as them does not come without pain, sacrifice, tension, scars and sheer utter graft … so while they experience times where they wish they didn’t have to feel that way, the thing they should really worry about is if they didn’t.

Now please don’t think I am advocating pain and suffering. I appreciate how demoralising and destructive it can be. I also think it’s a subject that should be talked about more to both destroy the stigma and help people feel they are not alone.

I can tell you for a fact it is something I have – and continue to – suffer a lot.

However, until you feel confident to speak about it or get help for it – and you can get help for it, because it’s a real situation with many different expressions – maybe you can reframe what it is doing to you.

Not bringing you down, but possibly pushing you further.

I’m here to chat should anyone wish to.

_________________________________________________________________________

There’s a big difference between imposter syndrome and gaslighting.

One is where you are involuntarily undermining your own self-confidence, whereas the other is driven by others doing it to you.

Both are debilitating, so ensure you know which one you are dealing with to get the appropriate help.

For those experiencing the latter, there is Corporate Gaslighting … a place where you can see you are not alone and start taking steps to changing your situation. I am also here for that should you need or wish to talk.

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The Problem Vs The Real Problem …

A while back I wrote a post about the best bit of advice I’d ever had regarding solving problems.

Or should I say, on how to present how you are going to solve a problem.

But this is dependent on knowing what is the right problem to solve … and quite often, it ends up being the problem we want to solve versus the problem that needs solving.

Now of course, we can only solve the problem that relates to our particular discipline.

For example, as much as adland likes to claim it can solve everything, we can’t build a car.

[Trust me, I’ve tried]

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

Too often, when there is a huge piece of business on the table, our goal is to get all of it.

Every last piece.

Doesn’t matter if it’s not our core expertise.

Doesn’t matter if the work won’t be interesting.

We. Want. It. All.

Now there’s many reasons for this – mostly around money – but what it often ends up doing is destroying everything we’ve spent decades trying to build up.

It burns out staff.
It undermines the creativity of the agency.
It forces quick fix solutions rather than ideas that create sustainable change.
It creates a relationship based on money. rather than creativity.
It positions the agency more as a supplier than a partner.

Now don’t get me wrong, money is important, but when you let that be the only focus – it is the beginning of the end.

Before you know it, the money becomes the driving factor of all decisions and – because you have had to scale-up to manage the huge business you’ve just won – you end up looking for similar sized clients to ensure the whole agency is being utilised rather than chase the business that can elevate your creative reputation.

Oh agency heads will deny this.

They’ll say they still value creative, regardless of the size of client they work on.

And maybe I’m utterly wrong.

But as I wrote a while back, we had a [small scale version] of this situation when we had cynic … and while we were making more money than we had ever earned, it had made us more miserable than we’d ever been.

Thank god we noticed in time, because we were in danger of seeing more economic value in the processes we were creating for the client than the work and then that would be it.

People would leave.
Our reputation would be damaged.
We’d have to pay more to bring people in to deal with the situation.
The profit margin money we were making from the client would be impacted.
Soon we would be doing work we didn’t like without even the excuse of making tons of cash.
The client would call a pitch.
We would have to do it because we were so dependent on them financially.
They’d pick someone who would do things cheaper.
We’d crash and burn.
We would hate ourselves.

OK … OK … that is a particularly bleak possible version of events and I know there’s a lot of big agencies that have found a way to manage doing work for big clients while marrying it with maintaining their creative credentials [but not as many as they would like to admit] but I am surprised how few agencies say which part of a big job they want to do.

I get why, because there’s fear the client will write you off because they want a simple solution rather than a complex.

But if you’re really good at something, then you have the power to change that mindset from complexity to effectiveness.

Of course, to pull that off, you have to be exceptional.

A proven track record of being brilliant at something few others can pull off.

Which means I’m not talking about process or procedures … but work.

Actual, creativity.

In my entire career, there’s only been 3 agencies I’ve worked at – and one of those I started – who have told clients they only want a slice of the pie rather than the whole thing.

More than that, they also told the client how they believed the problem should be handled rather than simply agreeing to whatever the client wanted in a bid to ‘win favour’. Of course, the slice they focused on was not only their core area of brilliance, but also the most influential in terms of positioning the entirety of the brand – the strategic positioning and the voice of the brand – so what it led to was a situation where the benefits for the agency far exceeded just an increase in revenue.

They had the relationship with the c-suite.
They set the agenda everyone else had to follow.
They were paid for quality rather than volume.
They made work that enhanced their reputation rather than drag them down.
They were more immune from the procurement departments actions.

All in all, they ended up having a positive relationship rather than a destructive one.

Now, I am not denying that in all 3 cases, the relationship lasted less time than those who were willing to take everything on. In many cases, once the initial strategy and voice work was done, many companies felt we were no longer needed. Not all, but a few.

And while many will read this and say my suggestion to choose the part of the work you want rather than take it all on is flawed … my counter is not only did all 3 agencies enjoy a reputation, relationship and remuneration level that was in excess of all the other agencies they worked with – and often delivered in a fraction of the time – but they ended up in a position where they attracted new business rather than had to constantly chase it.

In all business, reputation is everything.

Don’t make yours simply about the blinkered pursuit of money.



When Creativity Was Used To Tell A Story Not Just Demonstrate A Product Feature …

Look at that ad.

Look at it.

Isn’t it marvellous?

Simple. Clear. Charming. Engaging.

Sells the product feature through a human benefit.

A simple story that works for kids and parents alike.

The photo and the headline do all the heavy lifting, namely because the photo isn’t a stock image and the headline isn’t a piece of generic twaddle. And yet it’s not like it has high production values, it is just a good piece of advertising.

It’s also from a bygone age.

Not just because this ad ran years ago, but because advertising has become about selling features rather than benefits.

Explaining rather than communicating.

Describing rather than imagining.

Telling rather than inspiring.

It’s not advertising … it’s a product brochure designed to please the board of directors rather than actual human beings.

Despite my music and clothes taste, I hate looking backwards … but maybe the industry needs to do that. Not because we should aim to replicate what has gone before, but because we seem to need to remember it was stories, ideas, creativity and craft that once made us so valuable, not being able to churn out cultural landfill at the lowest price per execution.



What Happiness Looks Like …

Tomorrow I’m on holiday.

For over a week.

I am also turning 50.

Both of these pieces of news are no doubt going to fill you with happiness.

[Though there is a post tomorrow, so don’t get too excited]

Well, that is good, because this post is about just that.

Happiness.

One of the best things that has ever happened to me is Otis.

I loved the idea of kids – and at 18, I actually tried to adopt, hahaha – but after that, the idea was put on the back burner because frankly, I always thought I was too young.

I swear part of that is because Paul, my best mate, also didn’t have kids … so I was in some form of arrested development.

Anyway, one day Jill – who had been very patient – pointed out I wasn’t getting any younger so we decided to go for it.

Of course we then discovered the only we would pull this off is if we had IVF.

ARGH!

But then we got 2 pieces of luck.

First was being able to have the treatment in Australia. This was important because the process in Shanghai was so unbelievably weird, complicated and confusing, that we’re not sure we would have ever stood a chance there.

Secondly, the treatment worked first time. We are under no illusion how fortunate we were … though there was some sort of cosmic comedy karma in the fact we discovered Jill was pregnant on April 1.

Now I don’t regret being late to the Dad party.

The reality is I didn’t feel ready before.

OK, so I don’t know if men ever feel ready, but that’s probably less to do with being a Dad and more to do with the fear of the responsibilities associated with being a Dad.

And even though we are 5 years down the road, I still feel that.

Sure, maybe we could have had a brother or sister for him if we’d done it sooner. Sure, there’s a part of me that would have loved to do that. But apart from the fact I worry I may not get to see him grow old given my age, I can live with the fact I am soon to be 50 and I have a 5 year old bundle of beautiful mischief.

And what a bundle of beautiful mischief he is.

Kind. Compassionate. Emotional. Creative. Curious. Imaginative. Cheeky. Full of energy.

He is a loving son who wants to see the best in everything.

Part of me worries a bit about that.

I’ve already seen how some kids try to take advantage of that generosity, but in the end – all we can do is prepare him for how to deal with things that are sadly going to happen in his life and he is generally handling those tougher situations pretty well.

The main thing for me is for him to be able to enjoy his childhood.

I get that’s an incredibly privileged way to live … but I also think that’s something every parent would want for their children.

The fact is life passes so fast, we want to try and ensure he is given the chance to enjoy the present.

Be silly.

Try different things.

Resist placing pressure on him to do things he doesn’t like.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love him to like playing football as much as he likes doing acting, but he knows to support Nottingham Forest, so I’m OK with it.

Which leads back to the point of this post.

Happiness.

When we lived in LA, we bought Otis a trampoline for his birthday

As you can see, he was very happy to get one.

In fact, he was so happy, he would want to do it all the time. Including at night, where he would go into the garage with a torch [where the trampoline was kept] and just bounce up and down.

For hours.

And hours.

And hours.

When we left America, I wanted to sell the trampoline and get another when we worked out where we were going to live. But Jill had other ideas. And as usual, she was right.

Because while the weather in London is not the same as the weather in LA, that trampoline was a guarantee of happiness for Otis.

Not just because it was a treasured possession from another place, but because he still loves to bounce on it.

For hours.

And hours.

And hours.

Which is a very long winded way to get to the point of this post.

As the weather is nicer, Otis likes nothing more than bouncing on his trampoline while being sprayed with water.

Yes, I know this sounds like the sort of torture the US government subjected inmates at Guantanemo Bay to, but he adores it.

Recently we captured a photo while he was doing it that, for me, sums up what happiness is.

As a feeling.

As a look.

As a parent.

As my son.

Which is why I hope this is one thing that never changes as he gets older.

Not just because I doubt it can be topped – regardless what he does – but because, for me, it is the definition of perfect.

Stay happy Otis.

You make your old man giggle with pride and delight.




Whose House Are You In?

If you work in a company that claims to have D&I systems and processes in place, I’d like to try and explain why I believe that might not be enough.

And if you don’t have D&I practices in place, I’d like to try and highlight why you could be part of the problem even if you think you‘re open and none-racist.

If you find it useful, then please share it or steal it.

You see while I wrote it, it’s not my property – I learnt this from my life in China and specifically in America where the brilliant, amazing and wonderful Maya, Chelsea and Breanna [not to mention some spectacular people of colour] helped me see things I was previously – and arguably consciously – blind to.

And while this came from experiences in China and America, the reality is this situation happens everywhere so hopefully it will have some use wherever you are.

Now obviously I don’t have all the answers – and it means nothing if we don’t actually do something to change something – but thanks to conversations I’ve had with my friends, it is clear some of the problems people of colour face in our work environments are problems we create and cultivate even if we‘re trying to do the right thing.

OK, here we go:

‪When you walk into someone’s home or office for the first time, there’s always that feeling of needing to hold back.

To play to the hosts standards.

To ‘manage’ your authentic self.

Conscious they’re looking at your every move. Judging.‬ ‪

The clear but invisible line between you & them … reinforcing you’re in their space, not yours.

Uncomfortable isn’t it?

That feeling of your presence being squashed. Less valued. That the only way to be allowed to stay is to act like you’re them rather than you. The distinct feeling of being tolerated rather than welcomed. ‬ ‪

This is what people of colour face and experience EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

Entering white spaces with white expectations and white rules.

And even if you don’t think that’s what happens at your place, ask yourself – who owns the house you are inviting people into?

What colour is the CEO?

Who created the company?‬

How many people of colour are there?

What levels of authority do they have? ‪

Diversity and inclusion isn’t about allowing people of colour to act like white people.

It’s about allowing people of colour to be themselves. Their authentic self. Not judged or devalued for who they are, but welcomed, respected and rewarded for who they are. ‬ ‪

So instead of pointing at your D&I practices and thinking that is enough, ask yourself one question:

Are you asking people of colour to step into your house or are you going to let them equally own, create and build it?‬

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