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.

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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.



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.



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.



The Difference Between Design And Creativity …

As I’ve written many times, I am a huge, huge fan of design.

Frankly, I have seen more great things come from the design community in the past few years than advertising.

Of course there has been some great advertising, but in terms of solving problems in magical ways, the design industry seems to be more progressive than a lot of adland.

Part of that is that is because a lot of adland believes their job is to make ads to solve problems rather than embracing the possibilities of creativity … however I recently saw something that reminded me the difference between great design and great creativity.

Good isn’t it?

Captures the pain, sadness and horror of the terrorist attack in New Zealand in such a gentle, tender, authentic way.

You see what this work tells me is that while great design communicates a single thought with great clarity, great creativity communicates a 1000 feelings with great emotion.

As much as we need more great design, we also need more great creativity in our lives too.

That’s down to us.

What we do. What we fight for. What we protect.



We Are All The Same Even If We Are Different …

I have written a lot about how we are bringing up Otis.

What we want for him, what we want him to value.

I have also written about the education we want for him.

A none-religious, state school that celebrates creativity as much as the more traditional academic pursuits.

Sadly I know there are many people out there who think we are mad for the choices we make, but as I have also written, my advice to them is to look after their own kids upbringing and leave ours to us.

That said, following these ideals is not easy.

Apart from the simple issue of access, the reality is most schools and kids companies focus on structure, stereotypes and grades because that is what most parents – and Governments – seem to value most of all, so for us to go outside of that takes effort and commitment.

None of this means we don’t want Otis to have a quality education – of course we do – it’s just that when it comes to what we think ‘education’ means, we see it going beyond the importance of reading, writing and maths.

We want his school to help him develop a love of learning.

Give him the ability to practice critical thinking.

An openness and comfort to express himself openly and creatively.

But there’s something more – something we feel very strongly about – which in part is one of the reasons we’re against religious and private schools.

You see we want him to learn that stereotypes limit, control and create prejudice.

That just because you’re a different gender or come from a different heritage or have a different sexual preference doesn’t mean you can’t aspire to – or achieve the same level as – anyone else.

And while it’s a small thing in the big scheme of things, it is the reason why I love that Otis’ school had a black Santa visit them last Christmas.

Of course Otis didn’t care, comment or even probably notice … but for the other little kids who come from different backgrounds, they saw a face that could give them comfort, confidence and courage about who they are, where they come from and what they can achieve and who wouldn’t want a school that teaches kids – all kids – that.

Education is so much more than just grades and while this is not all of the schools responsibility, it is part of their responsibility.



Till Next Year …

So this is the final post of the year.

It’s been a big year for me and the family.

Then again, it was a big year for the family last year too.

However, whereas 2017 saw us leave Shanghai and Wieden+Kennedy – something that was truly emotional for all of us – 2018 has seen us go from sunny LA, working at Deutsch, living in a house by the beach and driving a custom made Audi to being citizens of cold and rainy London, living in a much smaller house in Fulham, working at R/GA [with some sprinkles of Metallica madness in-between] and traveling by tube to and from everywhere.

And we haven’t been this happy in ages.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things we definitely miss from our life in the US – people, the weather, Otis’ school, free soda refills and bacon mainly – but this move was right for us for a whole host of reasons, personal and professional, and we enter 2019 with the full expectation we’ll still be here when 2020 comes around.

I hope.

It’s funny, when I read the final post I wrote for last year, it is apparent that change was in our minds. We didn’t think that openly, but it seems it was there.

Of course, moving to a country and then leaving in just over a year is not the best thing.

It’s financial stupidity for one.

But these things happen and we are very happy for the amazing experience, though I must admit I’m even happier my wife, son and cat are still talking to me.

Fools.

But while our environment has changed, some things have stayed exactly the same.

Your ability to trash everything I write on here, for one.

And to you all, I say a huge thank you.

Sure, being told I’m a bad dressing, musically ignorant, gadget tosser every-single-day can get a bit tiring, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Because amongst the insults, there’s often pearls of gold in there.

Stuff that makes me think about things a different way.

Stuff that influences how I think about things I never thought about.

Stuff that just keeps me on my toes and interested about stuff.

And I love it.

I love that people come here and share a bit of their time and opinion with me.

Yes, I appreciate moving to the UK and still posting at 6am is screwing up the flow of the comments given the East Coast of America is asleep and can’t insult/join-in until much later … but the fact so many people still write makes me feel very fortunate.

While I have loved the ability to move countries and cultures so many times – and hope to continue doing it, just not for a bit – the reality is that is makes your friendship network difficult.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very fortunate we have technology to keep me in touch with the wonderful people I’ve met in every country we’ve lived [whether they like it or not] and this year I got to catch up with people I’ve not seen in years – from Freddie to Paula – but there is something about having a level of constancy that makes you feel settled.

Bizarrely, this blog has provided me with a bit of that.

Even with people I have still yet to meet.

[Though I met Marcus and Neil Perkin this year and that made me so happy]

While I would never suggest I am your friend, you have been to me – in many ways and at many times, both at moments of darkness and happiness – and I want to take this opportunity to say thank you.

To all of you.

Even you Andy.

When I started this blog way back in May 2006, I never expected anyone to read it, let alone comment so the fact some of you still are – regardless that many Police officers would call it abuse – I’m grateful.

I’m excited about next year.

It will be big.

Not because we’ll be moving … or I’ll changing job … but new things will be entering my life.

From my beloved Otis starting proper school – which literally is screwing with my head – to the much-talked-about-but-not-much-actually-done Weigel/Campbell officially doing its thing in addition to the exciting adventures and exploits my wonderfully beautiful family, my bloody amazing friends and fantastic new planning team will get up to that will make me feel even luckier than I do already.

Being back in England has had a much bigger effect on me than I ever imagined it would.

I am grateful for it.

I am grateful for all I have.

I hope this holiday season and 2019 is one that is wonderful for you all too.

See you in a few weeks. [Yeah, don’t think you get so lucky to not have me come back]