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


We’ll Meet Again …

So even though we are not leaving for NZ for a month, this is my last post for at least a month.

Moving countries always requires a bunch of things to be done, and despite us being old hands at it, doing it during a pandemic means we have a bunch more stuff to do – hence the blog post rest.

Being back in England has been a special time.

Part of it is because I never thought I would have lived here again.

Part of it is because I have been able to catch up with old friends once more.

Part of it is because I love big cities and always wanted to live in London.

Part of it is because despite its bullshit, it’s still my home and I’ve loved being in a place where so much of it just felt natural.

And part of it is because of the new friends I have met along the way.

To think I didn’t know people like Tanter, Nils, the beautifully irresponsible – in the most responsible way – Mike and Sam, the entire planning gang at R/GA [though Lachlan did remind me when I started that we had once met in Australia … when he was a student, hahahaha], Michael Roberts, Ben Major, Tarik at Onroad, Sam Clohesy, Ian Preston, Trudie, the inspirational [whether he accepts that or not] Murray Calder, Keerti, Munraj, Larissa Vince – who is a better Nottingham Forest than I could ever be, John, Nana at POCC, Asheru, Louise Jack, Eduardo, Sara Tate, Holly Day, Ally and everyone at Brixton Finishing School, Dorcas, Abi, the incredible Kay Adekunle Rufai from the S-M-I-L-E-ing Boys project, Nick Hirst, Tom Roach and countless other people from work or – shock, horror – Twitter [including one of my ad-icons, Trevor Beattie] … is astounding.

And while I am thrilled to be going to New Zealand for our next adventure, leaving England is much harder than I thought it would.

Without doubt, a big part of that is because as much as I’ve been away, it still feels like home.

Not just because we bought our beautiful house here, but because my beloved Paul and Shelly are here.

And while the pandemic meant we didn’t see each other as much as we would have liked, it’s more than I’d had in quarter of a century and I will treasure that as much as I treasure the fact Paul and I are still as stupid together, as we were when we were kids.

England is where I was raised.

And while I have sold the family home to buy our new family home … it doesn’t take away from the fact, so many of the things that made me who I am, were made here.

Of course I wish my Mum and Dad were still alive.

How I would have loved to have made them happy to be ‘home again’.

How I would have loved to have spent so much time chatting and remembering together.

But maybe it they were still alive we wouldn’t have gone to NZ and so it appears they are still encouraging me to explore, even without them here anymore.

Though I would happily swap it all for another day together, even though I am also happy they have not had to endure the hardship that COVID has placed on the country. I can’t imagine what it would be like for them to have to deal with it and I have nothing but admiration for any person trying to manage/balance that situation with their own family.

But we’re off … and frankly, the idea of going to New Zealand feels like one of the greatest gift in the World.

That we will soon be in a country where WE CAN GO OUT TO DINNER IN A RESTAURANT seems almost impossible.

That we will soon be in a country where Otis CAN PLAY OUTSIDE WITH HIS [NEW] FRIENDS WHENEVER HE WANTS is a dream.

That we will soon be able to go visit Jill’s Mum IN A MATTER OF HOURS is madness, given it’s been 17 years since she could do that.

And that I get to do this while working at one of my favourite companies in the World – the brilliant Colenso – is, frankly, insane.

I’m so excited for the adventures we’ll have.
The experiences we will discover and learn from.
Not to mention the work I will able to be a part of creating.

That said, I cannot thank all the brilliant people who have made my return to England so special, enough.

I will miss so much about here, but the memories will also last me through till our return.

And we will be back.

Don’t know where. Don’t know when.

But – not wishing to make it sound like a threat – I know we’ll meet again, some sunny day.

Take care of yourselves. Thank you for everything.

See you on the other side. Literally and metaphorically.



The Final Countdown … Again.

So today is the 1st Feb.

That means today is the first day of our final month living in England.

Or at least living in England for a period of time.

We will be back for a whole host of reasons, we just don’t know when.

And while I’ll be writing another long, drawn out post listing all the things I’ll miss and all the things I’m grateful for … the reality is there’s a chance COVID will fuck our plans and instead of boarding a plane to New Zealand on the 3rd March, we’ll be in our beautiful home, trying to work out how to get our furniture off a boat and our cat out of quarantine.

It’s a strange feeling to think you have a time limit on what you have come to consider ‘home’.

A mixture of fear and excitement.

Of course we have done it a ton of times – and we’re really thrilled to be off on another adventure – but there’s a bunch of things that have got their teeth into us.

Being near Paul and Shelly after 25 years is a huge one.
Our beautiful new home with our beautiful garden is another.
Not to mention the wonderful new friends we’ve made in the time we’ve been back.

But as I say to many people who ask me about moving overseas, while it is easy to focus on the things you’ll miss, you need to focus on the things you’ll gain.

And we can’t wait for that.

The things we know, the things we hope for and the things that will just crash into our life.

I owe so much of my life to having lived around the World and I’m very excited to discover what new chapters this adventure will write.

So as this is a month where a lot will be going on, this blog will end on Friday till we are either in NZ or being told we have to wait longer to get into NZ.

Though whatever is the outcome, while not hearing my rubbish on here for a few weeks sounds like a delight, let me remind you – when I’m in quarantine in NZ with literally nothing to do, there’s a good chance I may be writing 100 blog posts a day.

So be careful what you wish for.



Brand In 10 Words.

I am a massive fan of Rick Rubin.

Actually that’s not quite right.

I am a massive disciple of Rick Rubin.

I think he is incredible. His ability to help others express their most powerful creative voice is amazing.

So much of this is down to how he see’s his role.

Not as a music producer, but as a sophisticated fan.

Someone who wants the band he loves to be their shameless best.

Protecting them from ever feeling they have to compromise on who they are or what they want to say because he fiercely believes the greatest return comes when you express your honesty and authenticity rather than play to be liked.

It’s why the artists he’s worked with reads like a ‘who’s who’ of the most culturally significant artists of their time.

Those who either defined a genre or validated it.

LL Cool J
Run DMC
The Beastie Boys
Slayer
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Rage Against The Machine
The Black Crowes
The Dixie Chicks
Johnny Cash

Look at that list. Look at it.

Hip Hop. Rap. Rock. Metal. Thrash. Blues. Country. Funk.

No one should be able to be so successful with that range of genre and artist.

It’s hilarious and yet there are so many more artists I could mention because for almost 4 decades, Rubin has helped artists not only express their truth but recognise the economic power from doing so.

He has created icons.
He has revived icons.
He has shaped, pushed and provoked culture.
He has influenced, shaped and changed music forever.

When we hear agencies talk about ‘creating culture’, most haven’t come anywhere close to what he has helped create.

But what I love the most about Rubin is how he decides who he is going to work with.

Basically his entire decision making process is based on one simple process.

Taste.

If Rubin likes what he hears, then he’s up for it.

It doesn’t matter whether it has any connection to anything he’d done before, he see’s it less about the music and more about the artist needing help to express … find … or rediscover their voice.

Not their singing voice. Their soul.

It’s not that far off what we as an industry say we do for brands.

Except we’re increasingly forgetting what brand is because we sacrifice it time and time again for the quick win.

I get it, we’re fighting for our lives … but in our quest to show we have value, we’re destroying what makes us valuable.

Oh I know we won’t admit that.

We’ll point to words like purpose, experience and membership as proof ‘we get it’.

We’ll say they’re representative of modern brand building and all else is old.

We’ll show 1000 page decks that show how our unique processes ‘guarantee’ success.

And some clients will buy this, which means we can go away thinking we’ve got it all sorted out and we’re legends.

Except we haven’t and we aren’t.

Yes, all those elements play an important role in building a modern brand … however they’re never the lead, always a supporting actor because …

Sales without distinction doesn’t build a brand.

Purpose without sacrifice doesn’t build a brand.

Data without understanding doesn’t build a brand.

User journeys without nuance doesn’t build a brand.

Eco-systems without an idea doesn’t build a brand.

Personalisation without being personal doesn’t build a brand.

Wanting to be something to everyone rather than everything to someone doesn’t build a brand.

The harsh reality is we’re dangerously close to confusing commoditisation with brand building. Of course this is not all our fault, but continuing to perpetrate it, most definitely is.

While I appreciate Rick Rubin didn’t mean the photo/quote that appears at the top of this page to be interpreted this way … he pretty much sums up how to build truly distinctive and definitive, culturally resonant brands.

And he does it in 10 words.

TEN!!!

And that’s part of Rubin’s magic.

He understands how to get to the simplest expression of his viewpoint, because he knows the simpler it is, the less obstacles to deal with.

Simple lets truth speak and rise.

Simple lets possibilities flourish.

Simple lets distinctiveness be expressed.

Simple is unbelievable power.

Now the irony of simple is it’s not easy to pull off.

Simple is definitely not simplistic. To be simple requires a hard work, experience and confidence … and while as an industry we have known this and advocated this for decades, we seem to have recently decided the opposite – where we celebrate complexity.

What the hell?!

Maybe it’s because we’re making more money from this approach. Or just feel more important. But the endless playbooks, frameworks, processes, tools and strategies we’re producing aren’t building better brands, just bigger obstacles.

Again, there’s a place for them. But the way they’re being used – they’re more like hammers than brushes – forcing them into the process, competing with all around them and ultimately leaving people lost with what they’re following, what they’re building and what they’re actually doing this all for.

As someone recently said to me – someone hugely successful in business – when companies make the solution more complex than the problem, they’re just creating another problem.

Please don’t think this means you skimp on standards or rigour.

If anything, it’s the exact opposite … but because everyone knows what they’re working towards [rather than doing their version of what they think everyone should be working towards], it means they can be sharp and focused and that means your work can be expressed in ways that lift things up rather than bogs them down.

I get some people won’t like this.

I get some people won’t agree with this.

I get some clients would never sign off on this.

But apart from the fact I doubt any of them will have come close to influencing, shaping or creating culture in the same commercially infectious way Rubin has, if they really believe selling the complexity of intelligence is a smarter way to operate, I’ll leave you with something my dad – who was pretty good on this whole intelligence thing – used to say to his lawyers:

“If you have to show how clever you are, you aren’t that smart”.



Clear The Way To Another Place …
January 18, 2021, 7:30 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, Comment, Context, Emotion, Hope, Imagination, Love

You know that old adage, "everything happens for a reason"?

Well I passionately believe it.

The thing is, that reason often doesn't become clear for years.

Sometimes the delay is because you are caught in a sea of pain.

So distraught at what is happening around you, you can't see what it's telling you.

Sometimes the delay is simply because clarity takes time to emerge.

That the effect of what occurred needed time before change became clear.

And while it is hard to see the positives in bad things that happen … sometimes, as the quote above states, it clears the way to reaching somewhere new.

That somewhere new could be a range of things.

From having the ability to literally go to a new physical place, to being able go to an abundance of new places in your mind.

It’s happened to me many times.

Where years after a storm, I saw clarity and everything became clear.

From what led to the storm to where I am because of it.

Life is often run at a frenetic pace.

Where our goal is speed rather than substance.

And that’s why storms are so important.

We might not like it at the time. We might feel the consequences of it for years. We might not understand it for decades.

But the storm slows us down.

It makes us think and re-evaluate.

Question what we're doing and who we are.

What we're working towards and where we're going.

I have faced quite a few storms in my life.

Not as many or as harsh as many people have had to endure, and some have been entirely of my own making … but one by one, they have all cleared a path for me, even if it has taken me years to realise that sometimes.

I appreciate some may say the clarity we eventually get is post rationalised. That we ‘invent it’ to feel better about it.

Maybe that’s true.

But what I know is that while life might not go in a straight line, it generally moves forward.

We might not like the speed.

We might not like the direction.

But we can generally deal with what’s thrown at us. Eventually.

And that’s one of the nice things about getting older. You get more comfortable with storms.

It doesn’t mean they don’t mess you up, but you know they rarely will kill you and you will eventually end up far from it.

Obviously we all went through a terrible time with COVID last year.

It whipped up one of the cruelest seas we’ve ever seen.

Many will face the effects of this storm for years to come … and while I am not in any way trying to dismiss the pain or suffering people expeienced – and continue to experience – I hope in time they see it has silently led them to a different place..

Because not all storms are here to disrupt your life, some come to clear your path.

That’s for you A.

Rx



Loyalty Is Demonstrated By Time, Not Just By Actions …

Over the past 9 months, we’ve heard a lot from companies talking about loyalty.

Whether that’s loyalty to their staff, loyalty to their shareholders or loyalty to their values and commitments.

Sadly, in a lot of cases, this has been nothing more than a PR statement.

Something that looks good and makes the C-Suite feel good, without having to actually be good.

Of course there have been the exceptions, but in many cases, that’s all there is.

Now I am not naive.

I know in a commercial organisation, tough decisions need to be made every day … but the reality is, in many cases, it’s not that tough for them. Or it shouldn’t be given how often they do it. Though I do find it surprising how many companies are OK with letting people go but don’t like it when their employees let their employer go. Funny how they see that as an act of betrayal.

But that’s by-the-by, because this is about what real loyalty means and it revolves around Metallica.

So when the band started, there were 4 members.

James Hetfield
Lars Ulrich
Kirk Hammett
Cliff Burton

On September 27th, 1986, the band were in their coach travelling through a rural part of Sweden. They were there as part of their tour supporting their ‘Master of Puppets’ album.

It was a long and gruelling tour and sleep was in short reply. The band members had been complaining the sleeping arrangements on their bus were unsatisfactory so to decide who received the pick of the bunks, Hammett and Burton played cards.

Burton won and said to Hammett he wanted his bunk … leaving Kirk to sleep up front near the driver.

Around 7am, the bus flipped over onto the grass in Kronoberg County.

Cliff Burton was thrown through the window of the bus, which then fell on top of him, killing him instantly.

While there is debate on whether the accident was the result of black ice or the driver sleeping at the wheel, the reality is Burton – a much loved, highly talented musician – was dead.

So where’s the loyalty?

Well it’s true the band decided to continue rather than split up – like some other bands who had suffered the loss of a member.

And it’s true the bassist chosen to replace Cliff, Jason Newsted, faced a lot of tension from a band still grieving for the loss of their friend.

However, it’s the connection the band maintained with Cliff’s father – and the support Cliff’s father gave to the band – that is something to celebrate.

From the moment Cliff died, his Dad – Ray Burton – encouraged the band to continue.

Despite being in unbelievable grief, he was adamant the best way he could honour his son was having the band go on.

To play the music he helped create.

To let his name, talent and spirit continue even though he is no longer here.

And while the band probably didn’t need that endorsement to make their decision, they treasured it.

But more than that, they treasured Ray Burton.

In their mind, he was a part of the band because he had fathered the guy who helped father the band.

It was a mutual love … based on respect, compassion and a love of Cliff.

I know that sounds like the sort of cliched ‘bro’ statement you would hear from a band or brand in a desperate attempt for a PR headline, but in Metallica’s case, it’s true.

Demonstrated and proven by the duration this relationship has been celebrated, nurtured and expressed.

What’s wonderful is they always managed to do it in a way that was respectful yet positive.

Whether that’s having Ray join the band on stage to be conducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of fame, or just having him come to whichever band gig he chooses.

And then celebrating his attendance on stage.

But Ray also plays a big part in keeping this relationship healthy.

Because while he loves the acknowledgement the band and the fans give his beloved son, he also wants to ensure the memory of Cliff doesn’t overshadow or become a burden to his replacement. Or the band.

He loves the music and wants that to be the focus.

And that gives the band the freedom to keep moving forward.

Which, of course, makes them love and support him more.

Which is maybe why their loyalty is so strong and positive.

Because where many [read: companies] believe loyalty is about compliance regardless of situation, Metallica and Ray see it as being founded on openness, honesty and positivity.

They can’t change what has happened.
They can’t live in the past.
But they can celebrate where something they created is going.

Sadly, Ray died recently, aged 94.

The band’s loyalty to him still lives.