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


Society Is Growing Kids Faster Than Battery Hens …

One of the things that is a beautiful nightmare for parents is watching the speed of their children grow up.

At each stage of their development, you think they have reached ‘peak perfect’ and you want them to stay that way forever … but you can deal with their growth because they bring an even more delightful element into their behaviour and, as a byproduct, your relationship.

It’s utterly, utterly magical.

That said, it still doesn’t stop the fact it all happens in the blink of an eye, so while you want to always encourage their development, you just wish it would slow down a little.

The reason I say this is that I recently read about a graphic designer was so appalled at the cover of a young girls magazine, that they decided to release what they thought it should be.

Now I must admit, my first impression to this story was that the graphic designer was probably a self-righteous individual who wanted kids to grow up in the same conditions as they did.

That was until I saw this …

The original cover of the magazine is on the left, their version is on the right.

I’m going to ignore their cover – because you can read how it came about and the story behind their idea, here – however the magazine they redesigned is a real magazine and, according to their own website, supposedly stands for:

Girls’ Life (GL) magazine was founded in August 1994 (yes, we’re ancient, we know) by Karen Bokram. Since then, GL has grown from a 23-year-old’s pipe dream project to a best-selling and award-winning platform for tween and teen girls.

Tweens and teens.

An incredibly impressionable age.

Now look at that cover.

Look at those story headlines.

Now I appreciate I am an old, white male … but they seem to place huge subliminal pressure and expectations on young women.

Wake Up Pretty.

Dream Hair.

Fashion you need to own.

Boyfriends.

If young women want to explore any of those things, then that is wonderful, but I wonder how much of it is because they are being made to feel that way rather than being something they are naturally interested in. Of course, there is something wonderful about learning to develop and grow … but this seems less about personal growth and more about playing to stereotypes – and advertising dollars – so that they can then be judged by broader society.

Of course parents have a big role to play in managing the environment their children play in, but at a time where the World is finally waking up to fighting the prejudice, oppression and stereotypes women have had to face for centuries, it becomes increasingly difficult to achieve this when the World they are surrounded by continues to push an agenda of compliance … especially when they’re titles supposedly designed for the betterment of young women.

Of course this is not limited to content for young women, young boys also have stereotypes of behaviour and aspiration shoved down their throats that are unrealistic and add incredible pressure to their development.

I get children will always grow up too fast for parents, but it is scary how even that isn’t fast enough for media outlets.

What makes it worse is so many of them say their ‘purpose‘ is to inspire brilliance in their readership.

Girls Life specifically say their role is ‘dedicated to informing, inspiring and entertaining girls around the globe—and that includes everything from starting your business (we LOVE spotlighting smart, successful teens) to putting up with periods to styling a personal look you’ll love’.

Which is why I look at the Graphic Designer who screwed with their cover and say ‘well done’ … because I now realise what they did was not act like a judgmental parent, but simply show Girls Life how their cover should look if they are serious about what they claim they represent.



You Never Forget Those Who Never Let You Be Forgotten …

Many years ago I wrote a post called pivotal people.

It was about those individuals who have an incredible impact on how your life turns out.

I’m not talking about family or friends.

I’m not even talking about relationships that last years.

I’m talking about interactions – whether for 10 minutes or a decade – that changes the course of how you live.

I’ve been lucky enough to have had quite a few of these people come into my life – most recently Maya, Bree and Chelsea – and it is important to me they all know the impact they have had – and continue to have – on who I am and what I do.

A long time ago, I decided the best way to show this was to write to them all and say thank you.

Weeks passed without a word from anyone so I emailed one of the recipients to check they had received the letter.

He responded saying he had and wanted to know if I was dying.

Yep … my heartfelt gratitude was met with the general consensus that I must have a terminal illness.

Thankfully I nipped that misconception in the bud, and while the people I wrote to still didn’t really know how to react [to the words in my letter, not the fact I wasn’t dying] the reality is I wasn’t looking for any sort of response or gratitude, I just wanted them to know.

Why?

Because in my experience, the people who go out of their way to help you in this way, do it because they see something in you that maybe you don’t even see.

They want to see you grow because they give a shit about your wellbeing.

But better yet, they do it for no self-serving reason, they just believe in you and who you can be.

It is – in my opinion – one of the most beautiful acts someone can do for another person and yet, in many cases, the people helping don’t even realize the impact they’ve had on you.

I’m writing this because I recently read an interview with the footballer Ian Wright.

He was asked ‘what did he owe his parents’ and he said he owed them nothing as he had done everything for them. He said the person he owed the most was his old school teacher, Mr Pigden.

Looking into it, I learned a story of love, belief and standards.

A story that celebrates teaching in its most powerful form.

Not for grades. But for preparing someone for a fuller life.

You can read the article here, but watch the video, it’s incredibly moving.

You don’t have to be a teacher to be Mr Pigden to someone.

I hope you have recognized yours and act in the same way to someone else.



Behind Every Clean Process, Is A Mass Of Messy

I love chaos.

Always have.

In fact, my approach to work can be summed up in 3 words.

Culture. Chaos. Creativity.

And yet, I do appreciate the importance of some sort of process … some sort of systematic thinking in terms of approach … because ultimately we are in the commercial creativity business, so we need some guide rails to ensure we’re heading in the right direction, even if I am removing any specific destination.

Where things go wrong is when people care more about the process than what the process is supposed to create.

Where systematic thinking goes from direction to dictation.

That’s when things go wrong.

That’s when potential and ambition are killed in the quest for control.

But here’s the thing …

For all the processes talked about.

For all the proprietary tools hyped.

The system agencies tend to end up adopting – even when they’re hidden inside a beautifully constructed, clearly planned out, client facing framework – is this.

This is not a criticism.

To get to somewhere new … somewhere interesting and intriguing … you have to take a leap of faith at some point, even in the most well-organised, well thought-out of processes.

Some people don’t like admitting that.

Some people don’t want the pragmatism of creativity to overshadow the ego of their process.

Some people don’t even want to accept creativity rarely follows a straight line through the entire process.

And yet it is creativities ability to solve problems in lateral ways that makes it so valuable and powerful, which is why for me, those who are comfortable with uncomfortable are the ones who create the most enduring ideas for brands, business and culture.

And the ones who aren’t?

Well they tend to be the ones who use words like operationalize or optimise or codify or, the old classic, ‘proprietary tools and processes’ a lot … the ones who want to feel in control, despite the fact what they’re actually saying is they want to replicate creativity rather than ignite it.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s always some element of process in any development of creativity – whatever form that manifests – but there’s also messiness and chaos and to remove that, not make room for that or go around that is either a lie or an act against the incredibly infectious possibilities of creativity.

As Martin and I said at Cannes, chaos creates what order can’t.



When Life Becomes Real …

So I’m 49.

By any stretch of the imagination, that’s pretty old.

Sure, I still might have the dress sense of a 15 year old and the immaturity of a 12 year old, but the reality is I’m still 49.

Which leads me to the point of this post.

Recently I read this quote from Confucius:

“We have 2 lives and the second one begins when we realize we only have one”.

That’s one of the best insights I’ve ever read.

It’s brilliant … not just because it’s undeniably true, but when you have just gone through this, it hits you in the chest like a freight train.

While I will never probably act my age, I am now more aware of my situation than I’ve ever been.

That I am more than likely past the half way point of my life.

As well as in the final phases of my career.

Given I have a young child, a wonderful family and a mortgage to pay – that can be quite intimidating. And yet it is also liberating.

It means I don’t let little things at work get in the way of what I need to do to feel I’m being useful to the creative work. It means I ensure my team – who ultimately deliver my success – always feel supported and encouraged. It means I practice tough love with my clients because ultimately, the best demonstration of how much I care about their success is by being honest with them about their situation. And it means I won’t let the family I love with all I’ve got, feel I’m not present and invested in their lives.

In many ways, I’d like to think this is how I’ve always been … but when you realize you truly have one life, it’s amazing in how it focuses the mind.

Separates distraction from action.

Keeps you hungry rather lazy.

Growing old has a lot of negatives … A LOT of negatives … but the great irony is that while many think it means people are past their sell-by date, it tends to be a period where you are more productive than you’ve ever been, albeit in different ways.

Of course being young is amazing.

Sharp.

Open.

Fearless.

Bringing an energy and viewpoint others may never have or never see.

Being young is a wonderful gift that ironically, you only truly appreciate when you are no longer young … but it’s not all doom and gloom because the moment you realize you only have one life, that’s when you actually start living.



Why Purpose Marketing And Planners Need To Be Stopped …

Purpose.

Planning.

Both have had a lot of debate about them in the past few years and both have their cheerleaders and detractors.

The reality is they both have incredible value but – and it’s a big but – only when used responsibly.

Of course, what ‘responsibly’ is, is often in the eye of the brand owner and that’s where the problems starts … because too often, the focus is appealing to the ego of the company directors rather than the pulse of culture which is why we’re seeing more and more ‘purpose work’ that communicates in the corporate monotone of egotistical, bland, business-speak.

The client doesn’t think that of course, they think they’re doing an amazing thing and that people will really believe Hard Rock Cafe’s want to stop hunger or a plastic lighter company in HK wants to save the rainforest [which is true, but I can’t find the post about it, mainly because it was back in 2010] or – hold on to your hats – this …

WHAT. THE. FUCK.

Yes, that really is an umbrella company claiming their purpose is to offer lifestyle solution and protection for the public.

Are they insane?

Even if that was true – which if it is, means they’re bonkers – then the way they’ve written it means the umbrellas are to save you from marketing bullshit raining down on your head.

Purpose has a really important role for brands … but you don’t just ‘make it up’.

I am utterly in shock how many companies sell ‘purpose’ to brands and yet never investigate the soul of the brand.

Go into the vaults.

Look inside every single box.

Discover what made them make their decisions.

Understand the values they lived by and fought for.

Talk to the people who have worked there or shopped there since the earliest of days.

Basically discover their authenticity rather than what they wish their authenticity was.

And yet a lot of companies are paying a lot of other companies to literally make up a bullshit story about them.

Something they think makes them sound good.

Something they think will make people want to choose them.

And while we are definitely seeing more and more people choosing to associate with brands that live by a set of values and beliefs, the thing the brands who ‘invent a purpose’ fail to understand is that this audience seeks truth, not bullshit and so what they’re doing with their make-believe is actually achieve the absolute opposite of what they were trying to do.

Purpose matters.

Planning matters.

But the moment you let ego drive your ambitions rather than your authenticity, you end up being a brand that is flying extremely high on the Planning Purpose Twatosphere.

Remember brands, by being yourself you will be different.

Stop inventing bullshit and start acting your truth in interesting ways.



Post Office Windows …

When I was a kid, I would love to look at the post office notice board.

Every week it would be filled with different items for sale – from bikes to beds – with maybe the odd babysitter or gardener ad thrown in-between.

Decades later – literally – I pass the local post office in Fulham and now have Roxy and her massage centre stage.

I’m not judging, I just find it interesting … though I have to admit, I don’t find it nearly as interesting as the massage ad that appears bottom left.

Therapeutic or not … a ‘pay as much as you want’, female only massage, feels dodgier than a night out with Billy in the Bronx … and that’s VERY dodgy.



Be Interested In What Others Are Interested In …

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been invited to speak at a couple of conferences – in Hamburg, for the APG, and at ‘Closeness’ in London.

In both cases, I was asked to talk about the importance about empathy – something I’ve been banging on about for centuries.

And in both cases, I felt the best way to do it was to talk through the lens my Mum had taught me … which is the title of this post.

For an industry that is supposed to understand people, I’m surprised how few seem to really understand what that means.

Rather than understand hopes, dreams, fears, ambitions and contradictions … it seems we prefer to focus on the bits that are relevant to our business needs, without seemingly realizing the important role context plays in shaping how we live.

If you don’t get context, you don’t get people … and you don’t get context without investing time.

Not focus groups.

Not ethnographic studies.

But an on-going commitment to going down the rabbit hole of people’s lives to understand how they live and the nuances that separate each and every one of us.

You can’t do this if you want to ‘fast forward’ to the bits you have pre-determined will be useful to you.

You can’t do this if you want convenient answers to ‘sell your campaign’.

You can’t do this if you want answers rather than understanding.

This last point is especially important.

Frankly, understanding is becoming a lost art.

Understanding is built on emotional connection, not intellectual.

Where you leave your prejudices, barriers, filters, expectations and hopes at the door and focus. Asking questions to understand more about what someone is saying than to get the answers you want to your specific challenge.

It’s hard.

It takes real practice.

Because while you may appreciate every person has a story … it can only truly be revealed if you let them do it in their own way, in their own time, in their own words. Which means you might end up hearing things that makes no sense to you, even though it makes perfect sense to them … and while that might not initially seem valuable, you’ll soon realise it’s immense.

But all this takes time.

And takes a real commitment.

However it lets you go back with knowledge that enables you to make work that feels like it was born from inside the culture rather than from a bunch of observers.

Work that is filled with the nuances that makes the audience take notice.

Care.

React to.

Feel respect towards because it shows respect to them.

Or said another way …

Work that is resonant to culture rather than just relevant.

And it all starts by being interested in what others are interested in.

Not for commercial gain, but because you are interested in who people are.

It’s why my Mum is still teaching me how to live, 4 years after she has gone.

And now she is teaching others too.

Thank you Mum.