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


Together We Can Make It Better …

I know I said there’d be no posts while I’m away, but this is important.

As many of you know, a few weeks ago I wrote about a management style where the goal appears to be to systematically destroy the confidence and self-worth of their employees.

While I suggested a few possible reasons for their approach, the reality is – intentional or not – what they’re doing is abuse, pure and simple.

I am well placed to say this because – as I also wrote in the post – I had once been a victim of it.

Well that post hit a big nerve because within 72 hours, it had been shared thousands of times on Twitter and I received over 250 stories of abuse from people who previously thought they were alone in facing this cruel and debilitating experience.

I must admit I was initially shocked how many people had been affected until I remembered the reason this topic is so rarely talked about is because one of the ways the abusers get away with it is they make the victim feel so worthless, they believe it’s all their fault and so keep quiet out of shame for their supposed inadequacies.

Reading so many stories of pain made me both very sad and very angry and I knew right them that I wanted to do something about it, but the reality is I didn’t know what I could do.

Then I got an email from someone I used to work with …

Rather than tell me they had gone through a similar situation at work – or even their thoughts on my post – they asked if what I’d written was about them.

After telling them that if they feel guilt, then maybe they needed to take a look at how they conducted themselves [because at no point had I mentioned any names or places in my post] I then realised there was a way I could try and help stop this situation happening to others.

Let me introduce you to a site I’ve set up called Corporate Gaslighting.

Corporate Gaslighting [available at TheyTriedToKillMeButI.Live] is my attempt to try and stop this slow, systematic abuse from bad management while also hoping to help those who have been victims of it.

The goal is simple, but hard.

Simple because all I want to do is fill it with people’s [anonymous] stories of their abuse.

Hard because I know how damaging these experiences are and how survival often means burying them deep down inside and kidding yourself they don’t exist … even though you know very well they do and they’re eating you alive.

But the benefits will hopefully be worth it for two key reasons.

For management … my hope is they come and read the stories to be reminded of the responsibility they have for the people they manage. And if they end up reading something they think is specifically about them … then maybe it will force them to look at their actions and behaviours and – for their sake – start to change them.

For victims … my hope is that by either writing their story or reading others, they’ll not only realise they’re not alone in this slow, viscous destruction of self-confidence, but the reasons for it happening have absolutely nothing to do with them and all to do with their managers. If I achieve this, my hope is it helps removes the stigma of guilt and failure we are all made to feel we brought on ourselves … because then it will remove the power abusive managers have over us … allowing us start to valuing ourselves again and [hopefully] giving us the strength to take action rather than only take the abuse

But none of this can happen without stories which is why this post is directing people to the site where they can learn how they can get involved to help themselves and help others.

Corporate Gaslighting isn’t about revenge. It’s about change, help and encouragement.

With that in mind, it has been designed to be a safe place to be vulnerable.

No names. No comments. No judgement.

What happens next is up to you.

I am just here to help.

Thank you.

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Prepare For Change …

So as you read this, I’ll be on a plane to NY.

Which means there’ll be no blog posts for a whole week.

Better yet, when I’m back, there’ll only be some rubbish for a few days because I’ll be going back to America for 10 days.

Seriously, I don’t know why I moved given I’m spending so much time there.

Oh hang on, yes I do …

Anyway, while I’m gone I hope to set up my response to the post I wrote regarding the systematic destruction of employee confidence and optimism by bad managers.

As I mentioned a while back, when I wrote that post, someone wrote to me asking if it was about them.

I told them that if they feel guilt, then maybe they need to take a look at how they conduct themselves because I mentioned no names or places in my post.

Which led to the idea of setting up a blog of corporate gaslighting.

I would love to fill it with anonymous stories of systematic corporate abuse so that anyone who goes there and thinks a story is specifically about their actions, they will be forced to look at their attitude and behaviours and hopefully change them.

As much as I was tempted to name names and destroy careers, the reality is that would just make me as bad as them.

I know that sometimes good people do bad things – often influenced by issues going on in their life we have no knowledge of – which is why my hope is that if they go to this site and recognize some of the behaviors that are being described, it might help jolt them back into the right frame of mind and actively work on changing their approach to their role.

And if it doesn’t?

Well then they’re not a good person and they deserve all they get … which, I hope, will happen more because this site will give the people subjected to this abuse the confidence and reassurance they’re not alone and can take a stand against it, with our backing.

Ultimately, I just want to try and change a situation that is happening much more than people seem to think. Part of this is because the people who subject others to this abuse, make them feel so worthless, they believe it’s all their fault and so reporting it would ultimiately be like advertising their own inadequacies.

Being told you’re wrong is fine when it’s done by people that you feel genuinely care about your improvement. But being told you’re wrong by people who are doing it to protect or further themselves – especially at the expense of someone elses self belief – is abuse, pure and simple.

I recently registered the domain for the website …TheyTriedToKillMeButI.Live

I hope people will help me populate the site and spread the word.

See you in a week.



When Work Tries To Destroy You …

So as I said on Monday, this is my last post for a couple of weeks.

Given the extra-low quality of rubbish I’ve written over the past few days, that is probably of huge relief to you.

However I want to leave you with a post that – for me – is deadly serious, as the title of this post hopefully suggests.

It’s quite dramatic isn’t it?!

Well, sadly it’s not a joke and it is really happening.

Worse, it’s seemingly happening more and more.

What am I talking about?

The systematic destruction of employees confidence and experience to either leave them questioning their ability, their future or forcing them to be a complicit robot to the whims of management.

Now I should point out I am not in any way suggesting this is something companies are actively trying to do – however, many of their managers actions and behavior are doing just that.

Maybe it’s down to the pressures they face from the people above them.

Maybe it’s down to a sense of insecurity about their ability or their job security.

Maybe it’s the competitive environment and so it’s about ensuring clients are always happy.

Or maybe it’s simply their inability to deal with people who have different opinions to them.

Whatever the reason, it’s destroying talent, standards, creativity, agencies and client relationships.

I don’t care that some people will say that’s the ad business and everyone needs to toughen up … because the reality is it’s NOT the ad business and it’s not a case of toughening up.

Sure we will continually face disappointment and judgement, but that is very different to undermining individuals confidence, especially when it’s from the very people who should be giving you protection and encouragement.

Adland is at its best when it harvests diversity of opinion, backgrounds, experiences … when they have people who look at the World differently … but nowadays, everyone is trying to look and act like the clients they represent or – worse – punishing those who don’t fall into line with the company narrative.

The very existence of our job is to help companies have a role and position in culture.

To connect … entice … seduce … play with …

You don’t do that with people who look and act like their clients, you do that with people who can translate what clients need and express it in interesting and intriguing ways that culture will actually give a shit about.

Once upon a time I had a job that did this to me.

Of course, at the beginning everything was fine.

While there were the odd difference of opinion, I just put it down to that thing where every new job starts off with this balancing act between expressing who you are and learning how everyone else is. But quickly – and I mean within a few weeks – I started to sense this was something more than just teething problems, because it felt certain individuals were going out of their way to either stop me expressing any different point of view or just openly devaluing it to others.

What made it more confusing was generally, these people were being nice and smiley – possibly because they didn’t see or think what they were doing was causing any harm – but it was and I started reacting to it.

At first it was just asking them if there was anything wrong and if there was a better way for me to communicate my views. But after they said all was fine but their attitude towards me continued – I started to get a bit dogmatic.

No one wins when this happens … but then no one wins when someone feels this way because of others actions.

I should point out clients and colleagues seemed to be happy with my work, but certain bosses – regardless what I did – seemed to immediately sideline me and then position me as ‘the problem’, without ever telling me what the problem was.

The worst bit to all this was that I only mildly understood how damaging this was starting to have on my mental health over time.

I knew I was miserable – truly miserable – but the full impact of their subtle destruction only became clear much later when I realized I wasn’t the only person this was happening to and a few of us started to chat about it openly.

It was then that I knew I had to take action.

Again, I must say I am sure none of this was intentional – they too were going through personal and professional bad times – however it doesn’t lessen the fact it happened and while I could have made life much easier for myself if I just agreed with them 100% of the time, the reality was I was just trying to make things better and genuinely thought my experience or viewpoint was worth at least discussing rather than dismissing out of hand.

And while I tried to find ways to work better with them, their attitude towards me – and countless others – didn’t change and the effect it was having on me was getting much worse.

I questioned myself.

My abilities.

My hopes and dreams.

And what’s even more criminal is how it affected me outside of work.

I felt isolated and abused.

I became very argumentative.

I let people who cared for me feel left aside or behind.

I hate what these people did to me … because unintentional or not, they caused it.

While I’ll never know the real reasons for their attitude towards me, I have my thoughts …

Survival being one of them.

Survival in terms of salary. In terms of role. In terms of ego.

Where their insecurities – personal and professional – were able to be managed by undermining the confidence of those around them … the very people they were paid to nourish, grow and trust.

It’s almost the ultimate betrayal.

While this all happened a while ago, I still believe that if I’d stayed I would have suffered from clinical depression.

A depression that could have ended up breaking the things that I love.

Which is why I am so grateful I was able to get out and move on, while appreciating I was in a situation that meant I could do it relatively easily because I didn’t have to worry too much about family responsibilities, financial commitments or simply not having any other options available to me.

I still remember the shock I felt when – in my new job – I showed some work to my boss and they said it was great.

I asked them what they wanted me to change and they looked at me like I was a lunatic before saying, “you’re hired for your opinion not to repeat mine”.

It was at that moment I knew just how far those bastards had hurt me.

But now I am seeing many of my friends in a very similar situation.

Where they feel they are also being destroyed by managers who want to control them by undermining them.

Letting them feel they are failing so their bosses can appear strong. In charge. In control.

Going home crying … wondering who they are, what they do, what their worth is.

A sense of being trapped because they’re too worthless for someone else to want them.

It’s psychological abuse, pure and simple.

Thankfully not every company and not every manager is like this. In fact there are probably more good than bad – however given how many of my friends are going through a situation like this, I also know it’s not isolated incidents and I know it’s getting bigger.

Given how all these company mission statements say their staff are their most important asset, I find it disgraceful more and more people feel their employers are actively hurting them … where the only way to survive is to follow leaderships orders, whether they are in their best interests or not.

Of course the great irony is our industry in particular is built on those people who see the World differently.

Who challenge, provoke, explore and experiment … but as adland chases money – having sold the commercial value of creativity down the river long ago – we are increasingly regarding anyone or anything that gets in the way, as our enemy, ultimately speeding the pace of our demise.

Which says the leaders of the companies who are allowing this to happen, are basically only focused on their own future.

Where any member of staff left behind is simply regarded as collateral damage.

Labeled as not good enough.

Not strong enough.

Not adding enough value.

It’s wrong.

Worse than that, it’s an act of viciousness.

I know money is important.

I know business needs it to survive and it’s getting harder to get.

[And not just because there’s more options for clients than ever before]

But when many talented people are feeling broken and worthless by their bosses, maybe it’s time we all take a good look at how we’re operating and what we’re asking our people to do, because if our future is dependent on showing how we can do amazing things with creativity and smarts … we’re doing a great job of making sure that stops happening.

If anyone recognises themselves – or someone they care about – in this post and wants someone to talk to, please reach out. I can’t fix it for you but I can listen and I can encourage.



It’s A Matter Of Taste …

Before I start, let me ensure your Friday is even better than if you were being bathed in a sea of Crunchies by letting you know next week there will basically be no posts as I’m going to be back in the good ol’ USA.

Now I’ve given you a deep sense of joy, let me rip that away from you with some bitching.

So I saw this ad for Kontor – a company that helps other companies find their perfect space.

Now I appreciate I have the style sense of an Australian [Boom Tish] but I must admit I am a bit confused regarding the image they’re using in the ad.

If it’s an example of an office environment they think is good, then I am afraid they’re badly mistaken.

It feels more like a hotel restaurant in any 3 star business hotel you can find across the US.

Or the Costa Coffee boardroom.

But if they’re trying to make it look like the sort of office environment a company would want to move away from … an office environment that Kontor can help them find … then I hate to say it, but it’s not bad enough.

Let me be a bit clearer …

Yes, it’s horrific, but in terms of an image for use in an ad on a tube, it’s no where near horrific – or nice – enough to make whatever point they want to make and so for the poor schmuck stuck on the tube looking at it, you end up wondering if Kontor have as bad taste as me both in terms of what they hate and what they love.



When Love Turns To Apathy …

You might just be getting over the shock of yesterdays post, where I showed the world I was wearing shoes.

Real shoes.

Proper, proper shoes.

Well hold on to your hats because it’s going to get worse.

As many of you know, I have had a long, long, long, long, long time love affair with Taiwanese restaurant, Din Tai Fung.

I have been there so many times.

Literally hundreds.

The food is amazing.

The service is amazing.

The whole thing is amazing.

It’s the first restaurant I took my son to.

It’s the first restaurant we went to when we moved to LA.

It’s the first restaurant I looked forward to going to when we moved to the UK.

Now, to be honest, the food wasn’t quite the same in LA compared to China/Asia.

Don’t get me wrong, it was nice … but some of the ‘classics’ had been adapted to American tastes.

A bit sweeter.

A little less spicy.

But I could deal with it because apart from the free soda refills, it’s Din Tai Fung and that’s all that matters.

OR SO I THOUGHT.

You see when we moved to London, the restaurant had not yet opened.

In the 3 months between moving here and the doors opening, I had told everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – how this was going to change their life.

Well, we went … and I was right, it did change my life.

FOR THE WORSE.

I know … this is possibly even more shocking than the Birkenstock situation.

You see, while they had food that was on all their menus around the World, it was a poor imitation of it.

Worse, the sizes were smaller … it was less well cooked … it was served by people who were severely lacking in the kind, seamless service I had come to expect and a shedload more expensive.

As you can see from the receipt, a meal for my wife, 4 year old son and me was over £100.

ONE HUNDRED POUNDS.

No booze … no excessive amounts of ordering … and yet it cost about twice as much as my biggest ever order in China and trust me, that was a huuuuuuuuge order.

Now I get London is more expensive than China.

I get people in London may not have a frame of reference for what Din Tai Fung should be.

But it utterly destroyed me.

I went in their with such high hopes and came out disappointed and dismayed.

OK, so they have just opened and may still be having teething problems … but sadly, I doubt that is the real reason. As in the fashion with many companies trying to duplicate the success of one thing, they tend to focus on the ‘big things’ to copy and completely miss – or ignore – the small.

The details that make the big things sing.

While I’ll give them one more chance, the reality is I fully expect I won’t be back until I am back in Asia and while that might not sound a big thing, the fact they have lost such a massively loyal customer should be of concern to them.

Sadly I doubt they’d even care.



Childhood Happiness …

My son.

My cat.

A semi-tidy/messy bedroom.

Colour. Toys. Posters and Paintings.

Books to Dolls houses to Magnetic Blocks.

This photo makes me so very, very happy.

Not just because of Otis and Rosie – though obviously that is great – but as childhood photos go, I can’t help but feel this is how it should be.

Now, of course, this ‘look’ – excluding my son and cat – is often the sort of thing you also find inside ad agencies.

I remember an old boss telling me that when he took his kids to the office, they asked where the other kids were, because they thought it was just like their bedrooms.

And while it is easy to write this design approach as superficial or childish – I genuinely believe it can make a difference.

Being surrounded by an environment that celebrates and provokes creativity can only be a good thing, especially if you are paid to think creatively – however, like raising a child, it only works if that extends to what you expect from the people within it.

Frankly, if you create a creative environment you have to let them be creative.

You can’t do that and then create systems and processes that push people to conform to rules.

Creative culture can absolutely be aided by the environment you surround people with, but the reality is it’s ultimately driven by having a culture of freedom and encouragement, which is why it seems to me the nice environments of many agencies are more about the illusion of creativity rather than the celebration, inspiration and ignition of it.

Kinda like what I told Campaign magazine a few years ago …



What If We’re Wrong …

One of the things that bothers me is how data [in marketing] has become law.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of data – or should I say, real data that has been amassed properly, read properly and used properly – but a lot of the stuff today is nothing more than small bits of information packaged to be big bits of information.

Worse, a lot of it has no texture whatsoever … designed to reinforce a position someone wants rather than to inform and enlighten on things you don’t know but would like to find out.

But even then, data is not infallible.

There, I said it.

Data is as good as the people who created it.

And yet day after day, I read about companies who treat their data like its god … even though you can see the flaws in their approach from 10,000 miles away.

From what they’re trying to discover.

To how they’re trying to discover it.

To what they want to do with it once they’ve got it.

No surprise then that so many then go on to report ‘lower than expected’ revenues.

I’m lucky that I work at a place with a progressive view of data, especially with the way we use our Ventures program.

But in addition to that, I work with an amazing data specialist.

She’s cheeky sod who is a bloody legend.

Not just for what she does but for what she pushes.

A believer in the role of culture not just habits.

But another part of her skill is that she knows what data does and what data doesn’t.

Data guides.

It heavily suggests.

It shines a light on important and essential behaviours.

It forces discussions about how best to approach situations.

But it rarely is undisputed, unquestionable, always certain, fact.

To be honest, I believe most people in the marketing field of data knows this but – as is the case with most things in marketing – we go around talking in certainties in an attempt to raise our professional standing when all it does is the opposite.

Hey, I get it, we see it being done in so many fields – from government to finance – but that still doesn’t mean it makes people believe what we’re saying, it just makes us complicit.

The reality is society is far smarter than we give them credit for. The only reason they let so much of this rubbish pass is because they literally don’t care what we say. They have seen so many facts that turned into fiction that they view what we do as literally a game … which is why, while data and strategy still play an important part in making creativity that helps brands move forward, the most powerful differentiator between ideas that culture sees and culture give a shit about is how interesting, intriguing and exciting it is.