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


Resist The Pressure To Reduce Yourself To Others Standards …

Many years ago, I wrote a training guide called, How to ask questions without being a bitch.

It happened because a junior account service colleague at Wieden didn’t know how to get clients to acknowledge her and the questions she had.

This was not because she wasn’t good, but because of gender stereotypes.

Well recently, I had a similar experience, except this time it was a brilliant strategist that a mutual friend of ours had introduced me to.

In my time in LA, I’ve met a whole host of strategists and – as I wrote a while back – many have left me feeling indifferent.

But not this person.

She was more than one of the good ones, she was one of the best.

Sharp as hell.

Unique – yet well thought out – perspectives.

A genuine love of being creative in interesting ways.

Anyway, as we were talking, I said I’d be really interested in hearing – or reading – her perspective on the future of storytelling. For some reason, she said yes and a few weeks I received a great paper with a great perspective.

Except there was one thing I didn’t like.

“The surprising part of this was the fact that my mentor, a white man, erudite and well-known in his profession, cared about my opinion. To give you some background – I’m in my 30s, a mixed bag of races, city kid, raised by a single mom type through and through. I’m a decade into my career and this was the first time I was asked to share my perspective by someone that, for all intents and purposes, matters.”

I hate it.

I hate that this was the first time she felt she was asked for her opinion.

I hate it for the shit she has obviously had to put up with in her life.

I hate the baggage that has weighed her down.

I hate the low expectations she had been forced to endure.

I hate the bosses she’s had that have told her to follow orders rather than encourage her to find her own voice.

And while she finished her paper with a resolve to not let this shit quieten her ever again, I’m still angry that a great talent has had to put up with shit designed to keep her down rather than lift her up, which is why I ask her – and any other planner who relates to this situation – to embrace my paraphrasing of the advice comedian Michelle Wolf received when she was about to take the stage at the White House Correspondence’s dinner, at the top of this page.

Burn it all down.

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Loyalty Only Works If It’s A Two Way Street …

So recently a friend of mine asked me for some advice.

OK, so that was their first mistake, but their question was one they felt I would have some perspective on.

[For the record, I asked her if I could write about this on here and she said yes]

So she’s worked at her company for 7 years.

It’s a good company – one of the best – and she has been rewarded with compliments and payrises.

Over the years, she’s been offered other jobs but has never seriously considered them.

Part of it is because she likes the work she does and who she does it with, the other is her most senior people keep telling her how important and valued she is.

But that’s all that is happening.

Being told rather than being given chances to grow.

Now I appreciate this is still better than many companies do, but now there’s an option on the table that she is genuinely excited about.

One that scares her in a good way.

Rewards her talent both in terms of responsibility, authority, pay and title.

And yet she’s hesitating.

Not because she isn’t excited. Not because she doesn’t like the company. But because she doesn’t feel she has “achieved what she wants to achieve before she feels she can move on” … and that’s what she wanted to talk to me about.

Now anyone who knows me will know I’ll never tell someone what to do. It’s their job to learn from their mistakes and choices. However one thing I do well is ask questions … questions designed to make the person think and get clarity at the same time. And the question I asked my friend was ‘what are you waiting to achieve before you could move on?’

It wasn’t a great surprise to learn that what she was talking about wasn’t actual work, but validation.

Now you could say that she had been receiving this through the compliments, but what she really craved was proof, not words.

Proof in the terms of promotion.

Proof in the terms of new opportunities.

Proof in the terms of new challenges.

I get that – I get that more than you know – but what it meant was she was basically a prisoner, because the longer they withheld the ‘ultimate proof’, the longer she would stay. It is – I imagine – somewhat akin to people who stay with an abusive partner feel. Desperate for approval so regard being abused/overlooked as something that is ultimately their own fault and they stay to try and ‘win them over’.

Now I get staying in a well-paid job is very different to domestic abuse and so if that analogy has hurt anyone, I apologise … but I told my friend 3 things she should think about.

1. When a boss continually compliments you but doesn’t promote you – despite continually, and undeniably, showing your worth – then what they actually mean could be ‘they want you to stay so they don’t have to deal with the shit when you go’. In other words, the compliments are designed more to help them than you.

2. If you have been consistently performing – and your reviews reinforce that – but nothing is happening, maybe you have to accept that their ambition for you doesn’t meet your ambition for you.

3. Lastly – and possibly, most importantly – if this situation has been going on for the last 2 years, how long do you give it before you decide the effort/investment you’re putting in is ultimately working against your bigger goals and potential?

A company that cares is a wonderful thing.

A company that says they care is a different thing altogether.

While it is impossible to help everyone grow in an organisation because – let’s face it – the higher you go, the less roles there are – you do deserve to know where you stand, if only so you can make the right decision for yourself.

Of course, that means you might hear things you don’t want to hear, but while being kept in the dark might help keep your ego in a pleasant state of delusion, it will ultimately bite you at some point in the future.

I don’t know what my friend is going to do and I appreciate change is scary but as much as loyalty is a very valuable trait, it only works if it’s built on honesty and is a 2-way street.



Sometimes Good Service Is About Everyone, Not Just Someone …

Following on from yesterday’s post this is about the return trip from London to Amsterdam.

This has nothing to do with British Airways [though I was very politely asked if I could put my hand luggage in the hold as the plane was full and I was happy to help] and everything to do with London City Airport.

Look, I fly a lot.

I have flown a lot for at least 20 years.

And one of the things I absolutely loathe is the X-Ray machine.

Shoes off. Belts off. All electronic items separated into a different tray.

It’s a pain. It’s even more of a pain than the treatment you get at the hands of American and Australian immigration.

But I get it.

It’s for our own safety.

It’s to keep everyone protected.

And while some airports have systems that seem to be designed for inefficiency rather than traffic flow, we always get there in the end – even if you get stopped to have your bag more thoroughly checked.

So on the day I was flying back to Amsterdam, the airport was pretty busy.

Because of that, the X-Ray machine was working overtime and there ended up being quite a lot of bags that needed an additional check.

The 2 people in charge of this were kind, courteous and – from my perspective – quick.

However it seems there a bunch of people who had a different view to mine because I saw this …

Now I get companies wanting to get a gauge on their audiences experience.

I even get companies being interested in their audiences specific commentary.

But to offer a presentation pad for people to write their comments on, in clear view of the actual staff, is either motivational evil, or team building ignorance.

Personally I thought putting a digital ‘rate your experience’ board there for people to press, was good enough … but that extra mile actually ended up being more about the impatience of some passengers than the quality of airport security.

I get us Brits like to complain, but this presentation pad is like the definition of passive aggressiveness and yet it appears people have forgotten WHY we have these things in place.

It’s for everyone’s safety.

It’s for everyone’s wellbeing.

It’s for everyone to be able to look forward to where they’re going.

Quite frankly, that pad really pissed me off … so I daren’t imagine how it must have affected the staff.

Should there have been more than 2 people allocated to double check baggage?

Maybe … but what pisses me off is the commentary isn’t about how they did, but how much the passenger felt put out.

Were any planes hijacked that day? Nope.

Were any planes blown up that day? Nope.

That means the people did their job well and so maybe next time people go to the airport, they remember ‘good service’ isn’t always about your individual expectations being met, but whether you can board your next flight with a greater degree of confidence you’ll get to your destination than if there wasn’t anyone looking out for you.



Microsoft Are Microgood …

Microsoft used to be the joke of technology.

Or maybe the ‘beige of technology’ is a better description.

Creating products for mainstream mediocrity.

To be fair, that perception was driven more because of their marketing than their technology … but it’s fair to say they were certainly lacking that slick sheen that turned other tech companies into Rock Stars.

But a change has been happening in Seattle over the past few years.

OK, less on the marketing side and more on the tech … but a change all the same.

Where other companies are trying to hype up small degrees of change, Microsoft have been trying to push a genuine innovation agenda. But not innovation just for the sake of innovation, but stuff that has a real purpose as demonstrated by their new controller for X-Box.

Now you may argue making a controller that helps those suffering from physical difficulties is a small market, but on a global scale I would imagine it adds up – especially when there is no real viable alternative out there. [Or one that I know of]

But that’s not the point here … it’s that they did it.

Even more than that, they did it with real understanding of the audience they’re catering to.

They spent time and money on producing a product that offers a genuine solution to people often ignored.

[You can see how this affected their process by going here]

For all the talk tech companies give about wanting to ‘help humanity move forward’, few do.

Or should I say, few do if it requires doing something that has a more ‘niche’ appeal.

Yes, I know some are doing stuff that we don’t know about, but to make a physical product specifically for this audience is a big deal … especially in this commercially obsessed World.

So well done Microsoft, this is brilliant.

Brilliant for millions of people who want to play but have been ignored.

Brilliant for showing the power of design to solve problems … again.

Brilliant at showing you use technology to evolve humans rather than devolve them.

Brilliant at being more innovative than your competitors.

Brilliant at making me feel more towards you than I have in years.

As I’ve said for years, products have done more to grow brand value than advertising.

Don’t get me wrong, advertising is hugely powerful and important, but it all starts from doing something good, not something average.

That used to be obvious. Sadly, I don’t think it is anymore.



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.



Some People Need A Smack In The Face. With A Chair. Wrapped In Barbed Wire.
May 2, 2018, 6:10 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, Culture, Equality, Men, Sexism, Women

Remember a few weeks ago I wrote about the lack of female CSO’s … at least in comparison to male … and the need to fight against it by over-compensating for it?

Well, while my point of view was generally well received, I did cop some flack for it – unsurprisingly from men – and yet when you see the shit kids get exposed to from a young age, I wonder how they can feel the current situation is alright?

More so, I wonder how they can feel it’s fine if they’re parents to women?

Above are 2 pictures from an airline ‘duty free’ magazine.

Boys get to dream of being pilots.
Women get to dream of being air hostesses.

How many parents want their kids aspirations to be limited by their gender?

Of course there’s nothing wrong with being a member of the cabin crew – but that is about personal interests not gender limitations – and the only way this situation will change is if we remove the barriers and limitations placed on over 50% of the population and make space and opportunity for them to fulfill their potential.

Not – as I said in my original post – because it will make the world ‘fairer’ or even more ‘equal’ [though they both good reasons to do it], but because by enabling the potential of women, we all will experience the benefits of the way they see the World … a way that is often built on being better for everyone rather than just themselves.

Which, let’s be honest, is the definition of true leadership.

But there’s another reason for doing this.

It will make men better.

There is a lot to be said for being challenged by someone who expresses their talent in different ways to you.

Years ago – 2006, to be precise – I wrote about how the creative tension in the band The Who, pushed them to demand more from the music they were creating – as well as the people they were creating it with. Some of this was because of their occasional hatred for eachother, specifically Townsend and Entwistle, and some of it was because the band was so talented they would take someones musical ideas to ‘places’ they never imagined and they didn’t want to get left behind.

In other words, the tension pushed them higher … and given for so long women have had to play the support act to men – not just in companies but, as the pictures above show, in kids fashion – I believe it would be far more than just women winning if companies made more space for them to be the headline act.



Greater Female Leadership Is About More Than Just About Equality, It’s A Chance For The Industry To Grow And Discover …

When you think of heads of planning, who are the names that come to you first?

Weigel?
Davies?
Kay?
Even – god forbid – Campbell?

I’m pretty sure that whoever you are, the number of male names outstrips the number of female names.

While there’s a number of reasons for this, one of the main ones is the simple fact there’s more men at the top of the planning tree than women.

Of course there’s some female leaders…

The brilliant Sarah Watson at BBH, the wonderful Amanda Feve at Anomaly Amsterdam, the incredible Lucy Jameson at Uncommon London, the fantastic Stephanie Newman at 72&Sunny Amsterdam, the epic Jessica Lovell at Adam & Eve, the awesome Emma Cookson at You & Mr Jones, the irrepressible Jess Greenwood at R/GA and the incredible Heidi Hackemer, now at the Chan Zuckerberg Institute, to name a few.

But it’s very few.

Even with the names I could have added – such as Mollie Hill at 72&Sunny Sydney to Deutsch’s own Lindsey Allison – it’s nowhere near enough … and it only gets worse when you look for people of colour.

What makes this more frustrating is there’s a ton of phenomenal planning talent out there who happen to be female who could/should be running departments but aren’t.

From personal experience, I could quickly throw out names like Paula Bloodworth, Kaichin Chang, Kelsey Hodgkin and Heather LeFevre – who did so much for the planning community with her planner survey and book – and while they are all senior, incredibly well respected individuals in their respective departments [though Kaichin is currently involved in another venture] none are formally leading their departments.

I know there’s probably a bunch of reasons for this.

Some may be valid, most probably not … at least not in terms of giving a clear, none-ambiguous explanation of why the planning community has so few female leadership in comparison to men.

Which can only lead to one reason.

Sexism.

Now I am not suggesting there’s an overt desire to hold women back, but the evidence suggests it’s happening.

I personally think one of the reasons is companies making candidates meet with loads of people throughout the interview process.

Given the law of adland-averages means most of the senior leaders that candidates will meet will be [white] men – and there’s a fair chance that at least one of them will prefer to work with a male rather than a female – that immediately places an additional obstacle for women to overcome compared to male counterparts.

Which becomes a thousand times harder if you’re a person of colour.

And this is where I get especially annoyed because this attitude is screwing over more than just female candidates, but the whole industry.

I’m not just saying this because I think there should be more female leaders – though there should – I’m saying this because I believe female leaders bring something to the table that is different from men.

Note I said ‘different’, not better. Or worse.

And what is this difference?

Well there’s a couple of things …

One is how men and women deal with situations.

While a great planner is a great planner regardless of gender or cultural background … having more women in positions of power will allow their approaches, perspectives and/or habits to come to the fore … approaches, perspectives and/or habits that offer a real alternative to the current, male-dominated and created way of doing things.

This will push us to think in different ways.

Take us to new places.

Encourage us to try new approaches.

For me, that’s very exciting but it can’t happen unless we put – or create additional space – for more female leadership while giving them the authority to make the choices they feel are the right things to do without barriers or hindrance.

And hey, even if their approach remains relatively the same to what’s been there before [though we never know unless we let it] we not only end up with a highly talented planners in leadership position … but ones who will also act as a role-model for young, female talent and that can only be a good thing, especially as, in my experience, women are not self-obsessed [like men] with ‘getting to the top’, but want to find better ways to do things. For everyone. Which is the sort of generosity that creates something special for all involved.

The second is a situation that occurred a few months ago.

Let me backtrack …

This week I will be going to Amsterdam to teach at Hoala.

While that is bad news for the people who have paid the course, it’s good news for you as this is the last blog post for 2 weeks.

TWO!!!

Anyway, a while back I got contacted by a number of women saying it was ridiculous than of all the lectures at HOALA, only one was female.

One.

I agreed but said that given HOALA was founded by a woman, I am sure there is some reason for it even if it felt a bit mad.

They rightfully pushed back on me.

They asked if I’d give my place up for a great female planner to take my place.

This left me in a quandary because I adore teaching this course and feel I have something that can be of real benefit for the attendees and yet their argument was pretty sound.

So I came up with an alternative.

While the course this coming weekend states it’s just going to be me, it’s not.

I’m flying over the brilliant Paula Bloodworth to join me in co-running the course.

For those who don’t know Paula, she is head of planning for NIKE at Wieden London.

She’s one of the people behind this.

Told you she’s ace.

Anyway, I had the great pleasure of working with her at Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai so I’ve asked Paula to co-run our session.

I want her to talk about her perspective … her challenges … her thoughts/ideas and approaches to moving the industry – and the women in the industry – forward.

I want her to disagree with me, question the attendees, question the way the industry is moving forward and what we can all do to help change it.

Not because I like conflict [though I kinda do], but because her additional perspective will help the attendees learn far more than if it was just me.

Or another male.

For the record, when I told HOALA, they were nothing but supportive and excited and have gone out of their way to make sure she will feel welcomed and valued.

As I knew they would be.

But my shame is that I needed someone to push me to do this.

Not specifically to get Paula to come with me, but to do something that showed my genuine commitment to improving equality.

There’s 3 reasons for this self-disappointment …

The first is my parents brought me up to see equality, something we’re trying to do with Otis.

The second is I’ve had the privilege of living and working in many countries so experienced first hand the benefits of cultural diversity as well as the dangers of racial/gender stereotyping – something I hope I actively pushed against and continue to push against. [Though you would need to talk to some of my ex-collegaues to find out if I’m full of shit]

But it’s the third reason that really pisses me off because I should have absolutely not needed any encouragement to act given the things I’ve seen, experienced, got very angry about and acted against in my short-time in America.

Watching how so much of white America deals with issues relating to African American and Latino rights – even when they’re in support of racial equality – has shown me that just saying stuff ends up being nothing more than compliance with established rules and behaviors.

I admit it took me some time to realise that, but it’s absolutely true which is why I’m genuinely grateful to the women who [respectfully] called me out and I hope my action shows how seriously I’ve taken your pushback.

It is also why I have full intention to do something like I’ve done with Paula whenever I’m asked to speak/attend a conference … even if that means I eventually don’t get asked to speak/attend a conference.

But let’s be honest, this is a small thing.

A very small thing.

The reality is real change can’t happen if we don’t make it happen or if we put limits on how senior female planning leads are allowed to tackle their job because all that does is create a different set of problems women have to deal with that can hold them back.

I had originally written that because of this situation, I will continue to give preference to hiring senior female leaders however an employment lawyer friend of mine ‘advised’ me to state I believe the industry has to give preference to hiring more senior female planning leaders.

Regardless of which way I say it, this isn’t because I want to stop male talent moving forward – that literally couldn’t be further from the truth – it’s because women are equally as talented and I believe the only way to create greater equality is to [momentarily] skew to increase the odds of change and while that may end up costing me a position in the future, it means I can look my son in the eye and tell him equality is not what you say, but what you do.

No comments on this post [though you can if you have a LinkedIn account] as I want to keep the abuse out. By abuse, I mean the people who will insult me for being away again as no one should argue with my view about more female leadership.

See you back on the 23rd.

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