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


Maybe 2020 Is The Most Important Year …

OK, let’s get the obvious out the way.

Even if 2020 is the most important year, it’s still been a shit year.

But the point being made is a good one.

To be honest, when I first read it, it felt very much like an ad for NIKE.

Taking what we think and forcing us to re-imagine it.

To feel the words rather than functionally jump to conclusions.

And while there may well be a lot of good that comes out of this.

There has been a lot of pain to lead up to this point and then get to this situation.

However as much as many of us probably wish to put all this behind us, it reminds me of something my Dad once told me.

My Dad changed careers quite a lot in his life.

And when I say ‘changed careers’, I mean it.

From the RAF to insurance to a photographer to law.

Fortunately for the family, my Mum was much more stable … hahaha.

But one day I asked my Dad why he did it … why he didn’t just change job, but dramatically and radically changed industry, even if it meant he had to retrain and re-qualify.

And he gave me the best answer I’ve ever heard.

It went like this:

“I love you and your Mum. If I’m going to spend so much time away from you every single day day, I owe it to you to be doing something I love because nothing would be more insulting than being away from the people I want to spend all my time with, doing something I hate”.

I have always taken that to heart.

Fulfilment over contentment.

It’s what has helped me make decisions that others thought were mad.

It’s behind the jobs I’ve taken, the countries I’ve lived in and the projects I’ve embarked on.

And while there were times it opened up challenges that made me question what I was doing, it always was worth it.

The best things always are.

And while I’ve experienced a fraction of the pain others have had to endure in 2020 – both in terms of the impact it has had on them and the duration it has lasted for them – this is the moment where we need to see change through … to get to the other side rather than try to go back to where we were.

Because on the other side of all this shit, is a chance.

A real, once-in-a-lifetime chance to make things right.

Not just in the US, but everywhere.

Where the systemic and systematic prejudice and racism that is embedded and integrated into our whole way of life is changed.

From education to higher government.

Where people of colour are given the equal rights that the rest of us have enjoyed our entire life.

And let’s be honest, if we do that, we still get the easy job.

There’s people out there who have fought for generations for this moment.

To be seen … heard … noticed … valued.

Which is why we have a moral duty to see this through … to keep fighting to the very end … because nothing would be more disrespectful to the people we say we stand with than walking away at the point we have the chance to make sustainable, effective change.

And if you need any other reason – which you shouldn’t, but just in case – there’s the fact that if we force equality – real, actionable, sustainable equality – into our everyday lives, the people of colour community will lift us all higher.

Take us somewhere better. For absolutely everyone.

Which is why we have to choose fulfilment over comfort.

We over me.

To make 2020 the most important year rather than the worst.



Fifty Not Out …

I know what you’re thinking …

Or should I say, I know what you were hoping.

That hitting 50 and having 10 days off would make me re-evaluate what I’m doing?

That I’d start to value afternoon naps versus writing stupid blog posts.

Well, if I was smart, maybe that would be the case … but I’m not, so here I am.

To show my age has done nothing to extinguish my pain-in-the-ass spirit, I thought I’d post about a little project I have going on.

It kind of comes out of the Corporate Gaslighting work I’ve done and basically relates to what seems to be the skills, modern management values most.

Now there are plenty of very, very good leaders out there …

But, and this is only personal opinion, it seems there are far more bad.

Now I appreciate some will view what I’m doing and say the people I’m describing are not bad, they are simply ‘optimising’ their position. However, managers should achieve their success based on what they enable their people to achieve rather than trying to ensure the spotlight falls just on them … so because of that, I stand by my view.

What’s scary is these attitudes and behaviours are so common that someone thought – when I posted one on social media – that I was celebrating them rather than mocking them.

That scares the crap out of me.

But not as much as the idea employees are being trained – consciously and subconsciously – to do this to further their career.

But I would like your help …

What am I missing?

What are terrible management practices that are being sold as ‘sensible’.

For example, with the blame thrower at the top of this post, I added the following:

If you don’t own your mistakes, let someone else own it. #LessonsFromModernManagement

And for this …

… I added this ‘lesson’:

It’s more effective to manage up than manage your standards. #LessonsFromModernManagement

But what else is there?

I’ve got one regarding the benefits of doing whatever someone wants you to do as well as destroying others careers is it proves you were made for success … but as I really want to turn this into some sort of alternative management book type-of-thing, I need a ton of them.

I know they’re out there.

I know I can come up with a lot myself.

But if you have any suggestions, I would be so grateful.

It may help someone not become the sort of manager that appears on Corporate Gaslighting.

Or allow someone who is suffering from this sort of ‘leader’, to realise they’re not to blame.

So I hope you can help.

Over to you …



Grow Old Stupid …

So this is it.

Today I’m 50.

I’m also on holiday.

Well, I say holiday, but I’m just going to be hanging out with the family for the next 10 days.

Yep, I’m going to be doing exactly the same as I have for the last couple of months thanks to quarantine.

Christ, this is the weirdest holiday I’ve ever had.

Literally doing more of the same, albeit without the zoom calls.

But I’m happy – as I know you will be given there won’t be any blog posts for all that time.

OK, as I wrote last week, I’m not exactly ecstatic about reaching my half century … but the fact is, I know I have little to complain about.

The life I have is one that is totally different to the one I imagined. Even aspired for.

When I look back at what my ‘goals’ were when I was in my late teens, it’s unbelievable how mundane they were.

How unambitious.

There are some reasons for that which reflect the times my family were going through – but even so, they’re pretty beige.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong for that, but when I compare it to the life I’ve had and the life I intend to have … they’re about as different as you can get.

That’s not meant to sound some ‘bigging up’ of myself, simply a reminder that your ambitions are a reflection of the World you live in which is why I will be forever grateful to my parents that they were so supportive of me going on an adventure when they could have so easily encouraged me to stay … especially as Dad had his stroke just as I was about to leave and basically the entire family was thrown into disarray.

Dad couldn’t talk or walk.

Mum had to leave her job immediately.

She didn’t drive and so for months, she had to catch the bus to the hospital.

And then, when he did come home, she had to do the majority of the care on her own.

In fact, when Dad got ill, I immediately said I was staying but Mum and Dad insisted I go, because as much as they loved me and would miss me, they were worried if I didn’t take this opportunity after months of planning, I may never go.

And they were right. I wouldn’t.

I’d have stayed in England forever.

Possibly never even left Nottingham.

And while there would be absolutely nothing wrong with that, they knew exploring the World would help me discover who I am.

To encourage that at the very worst time of their life is the definition of unconditional love and I hope if I am ever in that situation with Otis, I would do the same.

To be honest, it’s their encouragement to go explore and discover that became my biggest driver in life.

Basically, if I was going to go away – leave my family to deal with the terrible hardship of Dad’s illness – then the least I could do was embrace the opportunity they gave me. To never take it for granted and chase down the things that interested, challenged, intrigued and inspired me.

I’d like to think I did that and do that but I know I went through a lot of soul searching when came I back to England after they had died. I kept asking myself why did I do it then when I could have come back when they were still here.

Of course there’s many reasons for that – and there’s a good chance we won’t be in England forever – but I know for a fact that as proud as Mum was about all the places I lived [Dad only knew I was going to Australia and he would have be blown away if he knew all the places I’d lived and seen] she would be so happy I was back. For however long that may be.

From seeing others turn this age, it appears this is the moment where they tend to evaluate where they’ve been and where they’re going.

And while I’ve done a little bit in this post, the fact is I do it on a daily basis.

It’s as much about what pushes me towards the unknown as it is that keeps me focused on what matters to me.

Hence the title of this post …

Because when you don’t look for security in everything, you remain open to anything.

So now it’s time to wrap this post up.

You will be relieved to hear I am going to resist the urge to be overly nostalgic and sentimental, so will leave with this:

While they will be in my heart and mind throughout the day, I don’t mind admitting that I wish Mum and Dad were here to celebrate with me.

That said, I am so happy my beautiful wife and son are here to share my special day with me.

And I genuinely feel so lucky that the most important person from my earliest days – Paul – is still the most important friend in my life today.

As I said, overall, it’s been a pretty fucking amazing run so far – and while I have worked hard for it [contrary to what many will say] I’ve also been bloody lucky along the way too … and I intend to keep that run going – at least in terms of adventure and exploration. I still owe that to my Mum and Dad.

So happy birthday to me and I’ll see you in 10 days …

Older, but not wiser.

Exactly as I like it.

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Be A Champion Like Clough …

So a while back I was invited to do a talk for Isolated – the TedTalkesque site that raises money for charity.

I could have revisited a presentation I’d written I the past, but I thought I would take the opportunity to write the presentation I’ve always wanted to write …about why Brian Clough was so amazing.

Now I could have written a thousand slides, but as Isolated in linked to creativity, I decided to make it slightly relevant to that subject by framing the presentation about ‘why the creative industry needs more of Clough’s attitude towards success’.

Whether I pulled it off is anyone’s guess and frankly – I don’t really care – because I got to write about Cloughy, but if you fancy checking out a long, rambley, over-sentimental and biased talk about Clough and Nottigham Forest, then head over to Isolated and hear me bore you half to death.

Now I appreciate the idea of hearing my voice could be too much for you to deal with, and if that’s the case, I have an alternative plan …

1 Donate money to Isolated … because it’s for a good cause.
2 Look at the deck below.

Now I admit you won’t get much out of it just seeing the deck without my accompanying narrative because it’s my usual random ‘picture’ rubbish … plus the gifs don’t work.

And where there is some writing, the lack of context means it may come across as some sort of z-grade psychobabble [even though it is all from interpreting Clough’s beliefs and philosophy over his near 20 years running Nottingham Forest] … however if you can put that all aside and want to look at some amazing pics of some amazing Forest players over the years, then it may be the best presentation you’ll ever see.

Maybe.

Possibly.

Hopefully.

Anyway, it’s Friday so just humour me and even if you don’t agree with what I say [which would be hard because there’s no chance you’ll be able to work out what I’m trying to say, because even I’m not entirely sure] know my goal wasn’t to get your agreement, but just to write a presentation about Nottingham Forest and the incredible Brian Clough.



If You Think It Would Be Mad, It’s Probably Got Something Going For It …

Before I write today’s post, I want you to listen to something …

Yep, that’s the White Stripes with their now classic, ‘Seven Nation Army’.

I say classic, because it is.

It was recorded in 2002 as a bit of fun and yet now it is deeply entrenched in culture.

Sung at concerts.

Sporting events.

Pubs.

It’s the modern equivalent of Smoke In The Water … the go-to song for any guitarist starting out. [And the nightmare for any guitar shop employee]

But the thing about it that I never realised is that it’s a song without a chorus.

Nothing.

Nada.

It’s deliberate, because one day Jack White liked the idea of – in his own words – “creating a compelling song without a chorus”.

And he did.

A song that will no doubt outlive him because – like Queen’s We Will Rock You – is a simple, repetitive riff that allows audiences to not just join in, but be an integral and active participant in the music.

When you look at the ad industry, while we have evolved from talking AT audiences, our version of audience involvement is still largely based getting them to be an extension for what we’re doing rather than be an integral part of it.

Now of course, I get an audience doing stuff for a band they love is very different to getting people who are mildly interested in a brand, to do something for us … but the main point here is we are not pushing any boundaries right now.

Oh of course there’s agencies constantly pronouncing they have just executed a ‘world first’, but apart from the fact it’s often just a slight variation of something that has previously been around, it’s almost always done to benefit the agencies and clients ego and no one else.

But where is the bolder stuff?

The writing a compelling song without a chorus stuff?

If adland was about writing music, you can bet EVERYTHING would have a chorus.

It would also probably be a pop-song, 3 minutes long [MAX], as simplistic as they can make it and designed to be so palatable as to not offend a soul.

It would be this song …

Hell, even Matt Beaumont thought so in his brilliant book, E.

OK, I’m being a bit mean because its not like there aren’t some agencies doing amazing pieces of work using the ‘traditional’ model not to mention those who are genuinely trying to push the boundaries of what creativity can be – and do – for clients, like this brilliant Planned Parenthood campaign we did at R/GA recently … but in the main, the focus is not about breaking new ground it’s about treading carefully over the old.

Look, I get it … this stuff costs a lot of money.

There’s a bunch riding on it.

But where this ‘minimum risk’ approach fails is when brands talk about wanting to make a big impact in culture … something that powerfully differentiates themselves from the competition … an idea that change attitudes and behaviour … because the most effective way to increase the odds of this happening is to literally do something that runs counter to traditional norms.

An airport lounge that is modelled on a Rock Stars house.

An electric car with an insane button.

A ravioli where the pasta disappears.

An ad that talks about failure.

Now I know what you’re thinking, most companies will never do that.

And you’re right.

But what I find amusing is that we all know doing the same as everyone else produces, in the main, even less chance of breakthrough success than walking into the unknown or unexpected.

The harsh reality is that while many companies talk about breakthrough … innovation … provocation … what they really mean is – at best – being a degree or two better than their competition or – at worst – simply playing catch-up

Or as Lee said, they confuse innovation with modernisation.

And while I know there is a lot of talent in our biz – talent who use creativity to create incredible ways to either deal with old problems or create new normals – we are in danger of letting ourselves just become executioners of clients transactional requirements, and if that happens, we lose any chance of regaining/retaining our seat at the boardroom table. Because in my experience what the best C-Suite want aren’t companies who simply execute their requirements, but those who see the World differently to them, so they can help them get to places in ways they never imagined possible.

In other words, creative people with commercial appreciation rather than commercial people with creative appreciation.

Now the problem is we live in times where the money men value consistency more highly than boldness … which is ironic given they them place them under immense pressure to keep finding new ways to grow, transform and unlock new revenue streams.

An oxymoron if you will.

Which, for me, highlights 3 things.

1. Independence is power.

2. As Martin and I talked about at Cannes last year, chaos can achieve what order can’t.

3. The only things worth doing are the ones that can break your heart.