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


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.

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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]



Why Facebook Are Acting More Like A Dictator Than A Friend …

Recently my wife found the following picture on her Facebook stream …

Because she’s hardass, she wanted to know what the hell the picture could be, so she clicked on it to discover it was this …

That’s right, a woman breastfeeding.

A woman giving life to a new life.

Literally one of the most wonderful things a mother can do for her child.

And Facebook thought it was potentially offensive.

I’ll tell you what I find offensive Facebook … you allowing a company to steal our data and then act slowly to stop it. Or how about allowing fake accounts to try and influence public opinion. Or then there’s letting groups who openly promote hate use your site to ‘rally members’.

I tell you what I don’t find offensive.

A picture of a woman feeding her child.

For all the talk you give about wanting to help society connect to each other and encourage a better life, I have to say you absolutely suck at it.

This was a chance for you to show what you stand for.

Take a stand for what is absolutely, unquestionably right.

But instead you bottled it – fearful of offending people who make a career out of being offended.

How you can be OK with issues of privacy but not about feeding a child is beyond me … which is why you might need to get out of your Silicon Valley bubble because your values are more in tune with Wall Street than the average High Street.



Messing With The Beat Of My Heart …

Today my wonderful little boy, Otis, turns 4.

Four. How is that possible?

It literally seems yesterday I donned a mask of the Queen [her Royal highness, not Freddie and the boys] and asked the doctor who delivered him, to photograph us.

Sadly that is not a joke and here is the proof …

And yet, despite that inauspicious start to life, he has approached all that has come his way with a wonderful sense of energy, optimism, happiness and curiosity … from seeing his Dad fall apart when his besotted grandmother died when he was just 3 months old to moving to 3 radically different countries in his first 3 years of life.

I love him in ways I can’t describe.

I often find myself flicking through thousands of photos of him while I’m sat on the tube.

Watching him literally grow in-front of my eyes … and I don’t mind admitting there have been occasions where I’ve had tears in my eyes.

Not out of sadness, but just out of how much I love his face.

No wonder no one wants to sit next to me.

He has been one of the greatest things in my life from the moment he was born.

While Jill was pregnant I was focused on trying to plan for the unknown …

How much would it cost?
How would it affect our life?
How will we cope with all he will need?

And then the moment he was officially out in the World, none of that mattered …

It was all about him. And us. And how our lives had suddenly become immeasurably richer and more loving.

I’m embarrassed to admit how naive I was as to how good being a father would be.

I always liked the idea of being a Dad, but never really understood the impact it would have on me. I assumed the relationship would be built more around ‘responsibility’ … and while there is a big part of that, it’s way, way more two-way than I assumed.

I learn from Otis.

I experience life with Otis.

I re-evaluate what is important because of Otis.

He is literally the best part of me.

Of course a big part of that is because his wonderful Mum has had an extraordinary influence on how he is turning out … but he is still the best part of me.

I wish my parents could have met him. I know for a fact they would adore him.

Not just because he’d be their first grandchild, but because of how he is approaching life …

Curious. Happy. Cheeky. Compassionate. Eager to learn, play, experiment and laugh.

I love him with all I’ve got.

Every single part of me absolutely adores him in ways I can’t properly describe.

When he climbs into our bed and pushes his way into the middle of us at some ungodly hour of the night, I often turn around, see his beautiful face resting peacefully and feel the happiest I have ever felt.

Family.

My family.

All together … including the cat.

I know this won’t last forever … there will be a day when he doesn’t climb between us, and while I will finally get a good nights sleep, I have to admit I’ll miss it.

These are very special times, but I know I’ll only truly appreciate just how special when they’re not happening anymore.

Because the irony of being a parent is your job is to help them live without you.

Where they don’t rely on you.

Where they develop their own interests and social circle.

Where you become the person they visit occasionally rather than see every single day.

Where their relationship with you fades in importance as they create their own families and life.

That’s part of the twisted wonderfulness of being a parent and one I don’t mind admitting that I’m dreading and excited to see.

But even when that happens, I know that whenever I see him or hear from him or even think of him, it will mess with the beat of my heart, because he is – and always will be – everything to me.

So to my dearest Otis … happy birthday.

You bring so much joy to me and your Mum.

You’re perfect to us.

Never forget that.

Love you.

Rx



Nature Still Has It …

So we swapped living next to the beach in LA to living next to a park in London … and because of that, we spend a huge amount of our time there … hanging out while he goes off to explore.

Watching him is awesome.

The way he throws his entire energy and enthusiasm into everything.

From the swings and slides to the way he interacts with the other kids … bonding over nothing but the fact they’re around the same age and want to play.

Recently I caught him at the top of the slide with a couple of kids he had just met.

They weren’t talking.

They were just staring.

At a leaf …

Sure it didn’t last a long time, but for a moment, that single leaf held the attention and wonder of 3 kids …studying its shape, it’s colour and guessing which tree it had fallen from.

No electronics.

No lights.

No sounds.

Just nature showing she still has it … exemplified by Otis looking at it like I look at gadgets.

Long may that continue.

Thank you park.