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


Freddie And Friends …

Many years ago I worked with a Swedish planner called Fredrik Sarnblad.

I loved him.

I loved him for many reasons …

His brain.

His humour.

His creativity.

His friendship.

His unsatisfiable appetite.

We went through all manner of trials and tribulations together … from highs of convincing work to send us to Bali for a week so we could work on the SONY pitch strategy in peace [which, thank god, we won] to lows of being in Thailand with a client who spent all their time trying to undermine us in front of their colleagues. [which we, read: me, didn’t react to very well]

And while we’ve not worked together for over 11 years, Freddie was always more than an ex-colleague, but a real friend … exemplified by the fact that when we saw each other in Boston a few weeks ago – after almost 6 years apart – it was like nothing had changed.

My relationship with Freddie is different to that of many of my other friends.

One of those reasons is I’ve never made a highly inappropriate blog about the way they dress.

The other is that I can have really personal and emotional conversations about life with him.

That’s not to say I can’t with my other mates, it’s just I rarely do … but with Freddie, we always did and do. Talking about subject many people find uncomfortable but are true for all of us.

The reason this can happen is that Freddie is both self aware and in touch with who he is.

He doesn’t shy away from the big conversations because he knows that’s where life resides … the real stuff, not the things we use to distract us from dealing with the real stuff.

One of the things we talked about recently was happiness.

Initially it was in the context of family but it quickly evolved to the job we are paid to do.

Creativity.

We talked about what makes us happy, what frustrates us and what we can do to make things better … more fun … more interesting and exciting. We even talked about how we can work together again.

Well that conversation must have had a real impact on Freddie because weeks later, he quit his job and started his own agency.

To be honest, I think that’s a bit extreme … all he had to do was say he didn’t want to work with me again … but I’m super happy and excited for him.

I’ve written many times why everyone should experience starting their own business, but in Freddie’s case it’s a little different.

Don’t get me wrong, it will be amazing for him – but the real value will come from the companies that use him because he’ll not only make them better, he’ll make them discover what they are capable of being.

So congratulations my dear Freddie, I look forward to one day being one of your shitkickers …

Knock them dead …

You can find out what he’s doing and how he’s doing it here.

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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.



We Are All The Same. We Are All Different.

So for the past 2 days I’ve been writing a lot about equality.

It’s a subject very close to my heart.

To be honest, it always has been but being a Father has raised it’s importance.

In some ways, having Otis grow up in China made things easier as it meant he was exposed to different cultures from day 1 but I didn’t want to take that for granted, so when we knew we were going to move to the US, I spoke to a friend of mine – a Brit, who is black and lives in the US – about the [thankfully small] issues his kids faced being in the US and what he thought parents should teach their kids to stop that happening.

His response was phenomenal.

In essence there were 2 parts.

The first was the obvious one – treat every person from every culture the same way – with respect, appreciation and consideration.

So far so good … but it was the next bit that really made an impact.

Don’t tell Otis different cultures are all the same.

Don’t ‘whitewash’ our differences, acknowledge them … enrich Otis with understanding about different cultures history, struggles and values.

Or said another way … celebrate the differences but treat everyone the same.

Brilliant.

Absolutely brilliant.

In a World where so much hate is built simply on ‘being different’, helping break down those walls through knowledge and understanding is even more powerful than just saying ‘don’t see the colour, see the person’.

Of course it’s vital to treat people the same, but understanding the background isn’t just a mark of respect – it’s a way to celebrate strengths and understand behaviours that you may otherwise judge for no other reason than your own in-built prejudices.

So among Otis’ books on animals and dinosaurs and Peppa fucking Pig, he has books that explore the cultures associated with Africa [‘Africa Is Not A Country’ & ‘Sundiata’], Mexico [‘Tequila Worm’] and the Middle East [‘My Fathers Shop’].

Now I appreciate some people may think we are going a bit over-the-top with this.

After all, Otis is only 2 and a half.

But, as I have written before, I’ve learnt not to care what others think.

I’ve learnt people often mistake being a parent with being an ‘expert’ on kids.

I’ve also learnt kids develop so many of their behaviours by being masters of mimicking how their parents behave.

[Jill hopes she can stop him fall victim to ironic t-shirts and Birkenstocks]

At the end of the day, we believe we have a responsibility to him – and society as a whole – to encourage the values and beliefs that can enable him to be a good human being … someone who doesn’t just contribute to society in terms of what he achieves, but in terms of what he helps others achieve.

Of course we know he will face challenges.

Peer pressure. Unexpected circumstances. The allure of mischief.

And while we can’t dictate how he handles those things, we hope we can prepare him to deal with them in a way where he can hold his head high … which is why on top of being loving, supporting parents, we will buy him books on understanding different cultures, give him dolls to play with and encourage him to play with his beloved pink kitchen.

Being a Father is one of the most amazing things that has happened in my life.

I feel embarrassed to admit I had no idea how good it would be … and while being a good parent is basically a matter of trying things with good intent, I want to say a big thank you to Karrelle Dixon … because he may not realise it, but he made a big difference to how my little boy will grow up. Not in terms of respect, but in terms of understanding … and when you think about it, that’s one of the most wonderful gifts you can give anyone.

I hope my parents would think we’re doing good with their grandson.

I think they would.



Speak In A Way Culture Can Hear …

I know this week has been a week of super short, super bad posts – even by my standards – but today I end the week on a longer and more serious note.

A few weeks ago, the country singer Glen Campbell died.

Despite sharing the same surname, I have never shown any interest in this singer/songwriter because basically, I hate country music.

Sure, I knew a couple of his songs, but if you’d asked me who sang them, I would have not been able to tell you in a million years.

So why am I writing about his death?

Well, when he died, a friend of mine – who is a massive music guy – wrote on his Facebook about Glen Campbell’s life and there was one bit that really hit me which was how he dealt with being diagnosed with Alzheimers.

Rather than retire quietly, he stepped up his workload.

Not to capitalize on his illness or end his career on a high … but because music was something he loved and he wanted to enjoy it before he forgot it.

And he was forgetting it.

He needed a teleprompter on stage to help him remember the lyrics to his songs.

He needed to be reminded that some members of his band were his very own children.

But that’s not the thing that hit me, it was the fact that he wrote a song about his illness called, ‘I’m Not Gonna Miss You’.

To be honest, just hearing he had done that reminded me of the poem Clive James wrote about his impending death. A post that was extra significant at the time because I was about to fly to England to be with my Mum for her impending heart operation – an operation that sadly didn’t work.

As many of you know, I’ve written a lot about death.

Not because I particularly like the subject, but because I believe not talking about it can do us far more harm.

It’s never a comfortable topic to discuss, but I know my denial of my Fathers situation led to me experiencing 10 years of pain.

And while my Mum died unexpectedly, she had made sure that it was something we talked about in general terms and then – as an act of love that is almost impossible to comprehend – she quietly made arrangements to ensure that if she did not get through the operation, the legal ramifications of her passing would not add extra burden to my broken heart.

I must admit, I initially found it hard to think that she had done this for me.

Of course I recognised it as an act of love but as she had once told me that she was scared of dying alone, I imagined her fears would have become even stronger while she was preparing all these things for me.

I’ve got to be honest, it’s only writing this that has made me realise that regardless the nervousness Mum was feeling, she would also have had a sense of contentment that she was able to do this for me.

That’s a level of love that has literally made me tear up while I am writing this which reinforces why I am so, so glad that she knew I was with her when the worse moment happened.

I write all this because I hope Glen Campbell’s family will one day feel the same sense of love when they read the lyrics to his sons, ‘I’m not gonna miss you’.

I can’t imagine how it must have felt hearing this song for the first time – especially as his Alzheimers had only just been diagnosed – but in time, I truly hope they can see past the pain and feel the love of someone who, at their darkest hour, wanted them to know how much he loved them.

I’m still here, but yet I’m gone
I don’t play guitar or sing my songs
They never defined who I am
The man that loves you ’til the end
You’re the last person I will love
You’re the last face I will recall
And best of all, I’m not gonna miss you
Not gonna miss you
I’m never gonna hold you like I did
Or say I love you to the kids
You’re never gonna see it in my eyes
It’s not gonna hurt me when you cry
I’m never gonna know what you go through
All the things I say or do
All the hurt and all the pain
One thing selfishly remains
I’m not gonna miss you
I’m not gonna miss you

It those lyrics haven’t affected you, then you’re not human.

Which leads to a point I’d like to make about advertising.

No, really …

As you will have worked out by now, I am an emotional bloke.

Of course that doesn’t mean I don’t value intelligence or information or data, it’s just that if our learnings aren’t conveyed in a way that captures how our audience actually feels, it becomes ‘cold’ to me.

Part of this is because I believe our job is to connect to culture, part of this is because I believe creativity should push and provoke … but mostly, it’s because I believe the best work connects to audiences on a much deeper level than the superficial.

Put simply, it feels like it’s come from inside the culture rather than from someone observing it.

And that’s why Glen Campbell’s song is so powerful to me … because even though I hate country music, when I read his lyrics, I was reminded that great work talks in a way you powerfully feel rather than passively rationalize.

Thank you for the lesson Glen.



Finally, Something Useful On This Blog …

Yes it’s a national holiday in America and yes, I said there would be no post today … but the thought of you not having your daily dose of my blog joy broke my heart so I am doing this for you.

I know, I should be knighted.

Ahem.

Anyway, the wonderful Mark Sareff has written a book.

I’ve written about Mark before because apart from being whip smart, he’s also one of the nicest people on the planet.

[Though I appreciate being being one of my friends and mentors may undermine that declaration a bit]

Anyway, while Mark may not be the best known names in planning, he is – in my opinion – the best planner in the industry and so anything by him is going to be interesting and useful and that is exactly what his book is.

It’s full of fantastic strategy nuggets of awesomeness based on real-world experiences.

It’s fun and quick to read and best of all, it’s free so if you are at all interested in smart thinking without the intellectual bullshit, then download it here … it just may be the first useful thing I’ve ever done for anyone on here.

Right, back to my holiday.



Let Them Learn, Don’t Teach …

As many of you know, I spent 5 years trying to pass a bunch of teacher qualification so I could one day be a lecturer at MIT.

It should have taken 2.

And while I [eventually] passed and have done the odd lesson here and there, the reality is I find the whole thing very difficult.

Part of that is because I’m a bit thick, part of that is because the students I’ve worked with are ridiculously smart [one is 21 and re-engineering the pace maker for fucks sake] … but the other part is that so much of the ‘higher education industry’ seems to be focused on teaching, rather than on helping students learn.

Of course, both of those are interconnected, but for me, it’s about the core motivation.

If it’s about ‘teaching’ … then your focus is communicating the curriculum within the time allowed.

If it’s about ‘learning’ … then your focus is on enabling the students to grasp concepts that they can then use with their own free will.

I am absolutely in the latter camp, which is why I’ve found MIT a bit of a struggle and why I’ve found The Kennedys such a joy.

Of course it doesn’t help there are systems in place where the students ‘grade’ the teacher.

Seriously, how stupid is that?

I appreciate there’s some bad teachers out there, but to give students the authority to pass judgement based on their experience is ridiculous.

Of course, in a perfect world they would be able to do this objectively, but as we all know, so much commentary these days is from a subjective point of view so you could be a great teacher who is given a bad grade by students simply because you didn’t give them the grades they desired because they didn’t warrant them.

Now I’ve made a distinction between higher education and more junior – but that’s not to say they don’t suffer the same issues – but the reason I write this is because of that article at the top of this post.

Despite the author inferring they found it educational and inspirational, I’m not sure that approach would be allowed today.

I appreciate it is fairly radical, but handled correctly, it not only helps students learn, but it opens a debate that would help them truly understand.

To me, that is what education is about …

Giving students the tools to challenge, destroy and liberate stuff … because if we don’t give them that, what hope has society to move forward, let alone stand up against those who wish to do us harm?



Simple Advertising Is Great Advertising …

I’m 46.

I’m a husband.

And a father.

I supposedly hold down a senior job at a highly respected company.

I have responsibilities … mortgages and a bunch of other things ‘older people’ should have.

And yet despite all that, when I saw this ad for Hot Wheels, I totally got what they were saying.

Oh Hot Wheels.

When I was a kid, they were the toy cars to have.

Matchbox made the practical but Hot Wheels made the sexy.

The daring.

The souped up.

The ‘fuck, that looks cool’.

Kids who were good at maths would play with Matchbox but kids who could play the guitar would have Hot Wheels.

I must admit, I am shocked at all this emotion coming out of me despite the fact I haven’t bought – or played with – a toy car for at least 36 years. And that’s why I love this ad so much, because in an instant – and without showing any product whatsoever – I get it.

I totally get it.

Given this ad appeared on a motorway, I am assuming Hot Wheels actually want to target people like me.

Their goal being to awaken my memories of their brilliant toy cars and introduce my kids to them.

It could be because a while back I read Hot Wheels was a billion dollar company under threat.

Not from other toy car competitors, but because parents didn’t know how to play toy cars with their children. Especially Mum’s with boys.

[Don’t call me sexist, this is what they said]

Whatever the truth is, this ad worked for me.

It not only reminded me how much I loved Hot Wheels, it made me want to play with them with Otis. Which all goes to show that while the features of a brand can be copied, it’s spirit and values are always unique.