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

If They Were Able To Manage A Space Disaster, You Can Learn Management From Them …

There’s a lot of talk about management techniques.

A hell of a lot.

And while many are good … a huge amount take something that could be about 10 pages long, and stretch it into a book that is about 300 pages.

Recently I read an article about management that I thought was amazing.

Not just because it wasn’t meant to be about that subject, but because it highlighted that great management has nothing to do with age but everything to do with leadership, trust, empowerment and delegation.

It’s the story behind the disastrous Apollo 13 space mission.

You should read it, if only for the story that leads up to the last line:

“If you spend your time thinking about the crew dying, you’re only going to make that eventuality more likely.”

Read it here. Happy weekend.

It’s Not Very Often You Get To Be At The Start Of Something Incredible …

As many of you know, I love technology.

I also am a huge advocate of talking to people.

Really talking … spending time with them, listening to them, understanding them.

And that’s why I am so happy that I’ve been able to bring both together through a project we’ve being doing at R/GA in London and Tokyo for the last 7 months called Human Technology.

No, I don’t mean the old Nokia saying, I mean literally meeting at the intersection of human curiosity and technological capability.

Over a long period of late nights and long weeks, a group of brilliant colleagues have been developing a new way to talk to people – a way that will allow us to conduct multiple interviews at the same time – enabling, for the first time, to get scalability on the nuance of conversation that I value so highly.

Now I know what you are thinking … this sounds awfully like a focus group and you absolutely, totally, passionately hate focus groups.

And you’d be right … there is a similarity between them.

But the beauty of this is that we are addressing the specific thing I don’t like about the way focus groups are approached.

You see the real issue I have is that focus groups are …. well, focused.

They don’t allow you to understand context … they don’t really care about having an appreciation of the audiences backgrounds or motivations, they just want to get to the answers they need answering.

So it is far less about understanding and far more about efficiency, which means you lose all nuance and authenticity, which is the difference between making work that is resonant with culture and relevant.

OK, it’s not perfect, there has definitely been more than a few occasions where things went a bit weird – similar to the AI Christmas Card experiment we did last year – but I’m over the moon to introduce you to Hans.

Look at him.


He’s good isn’t he.

I admit it has taken a very, very long time to get here.

There has been a lot of mistakes, disasters, frustrations and questioning … but Hans [which stands for Human Android Nuanced Screener] is something we are all super excited about.

It’s all very well saying you want to create a new method for revealing insight and nuance, but it’s a very different matter getting there … and that’s why I’m so proud of the team as we’ve had to explore every single detail to get here.

From how we wanted the AI to behave, to what movements the robotics needed to have to feel as ‘human’ as possible … to his look, feel and sound … all in the quest to replicate the energy and aura of a none-threatening, but constantly interested person.

While there is still stuff to go, I think we’re doing pretty well, as the videos below show in terms of how we went from developing realistic hand movement robotics to building a model that allows for realistic human interactions.

[Excuse the terrible music, we’ve done these as part of film detailing the various stages of the project with one of our partners, Mert Arduino]

Creating The Hand

Creating More Human Interactions

The Different Faces Of Hans

Now the sad truth is we won’t be able to finish this to the level we want on our own.

For all the talent in the building and the network … time, technology and cost are all a hindrance to seeing this through to how we envision it can end up, which is why we are going to open this up to the creative technologists around the World, in the hope they want to be part of this project and see where they can help it go to.

Of course, few will do this without some sort of benefit, which is why I’m so happy to announce that anyone who takes part will have an ownership % so that if the technology takes off, they will directly profit from it.

We will soon be announcing how to get involved – as well as issue all blueprints and coding that we have already created to allow people to quickly add to the project rather than do things that have already been create – or we would if this wasn’t April 1st and a total load of bollocks.

Corporate Gaslighting Is Still On Fire …

Hello there …

Recently I spoke to a couple of people who told me about the experience they were having at work. Or should I say the bad experience they are having at work … and when I told them about Corporate Gaslighting, they looked at me as if they had literally found safety.

Unsurprisingly, this is not only because they were enduring the slow, systematic destruction of their confidence by a bad boss. but were being made to feel this was all their own fault.

While there are quite a lot of stories on the Corporate Gaslighting, it has not had many new stories come in.

I get it, it’s hard and scary.

But what I will say is this.

Not only is everything totally anonymous – and if you ever change your mind, I’ll do whatever works for you – the reality is sending in your story has 2 really tangible benefits.

The first is you feel a release in letting it out.

Part of the horror of being made to feel worthless at work is you keep it to yourself.

Of course you do, you’re made to feel you’re the failure so why would you ever want to tell anyone that.

That pressure can be hugely debilitating so letting it out not only helps you breathe again, it helps you start being in control of your situation rather than having that situation control you.

Second is your story will help others going through it.

Everyone who has written in has expressed their gratitude to read other stories like theirs.

It helps them know they’re not alone.

It’s not them.

It isn’t right.

So if you – or anyone you know – is facing this horrific situation at work with a bad boss, can you please point them to … because even if they don’t want to submit their own story, reading others might help them feel they can get out of this, and for that alone, it’s worth it.

Thank you.

When Distinction Ends Up Being The Same …

Once upon a time, endlines meant something.

They were distinct, explained a brands value or purpose.

And more often than not, were packed with personality.

Then Dan Wieden fucked it up for everyone.

You see his famous JUST DO IT became the benchmark for all brands.

Marketing Directors craved a line that summed up who they were in 3 words.

The number of words was more important than what it said … which is why you now get this …

What a pile of shite.

Bland, contrived, sameness …

Literally doing the opposite of what it is supposed to do.

Designed to appeal to the ego of the board rather than the hearts of the audience.

All because we have fallen into the trap of believing simplistic equates to effectiveness.

It doesn’t.

Simple might do … but simplistic is the lowest common denominator that requires zero thinking because it makes zero impression.

It’s why I sit here and can remember endlines from my childhood more easily than end lines I watched 10 minutes ago.

Handmade by Robots … for Fiat.

Refreshes the other parts other beers can’t reach … for Heineken.

Do you love someone enough to give them your last Rolo … for, ahem, Rolo.

Of course there’s a few modern endlines that work … GoPro’s ‘Be A Hero’ for example [though they went and fucked it up by changing it to utter blandom] … but in the main, companies seems to like endlines that sound like they know what they’re doing but don’t really say much at all.

At cynic we used to call these ‘Yoda Statements’, but what is even scarier is consultants are being paid a fortune to come up with this sort of twaddle.

That’s right, companies who claim to know how to help business grow are coming up with statements that literally make companies blend into everything else.

And yet they still are valued more highly by clients that companies who know how to push, provoke, inspire and capture the imagination of culture through creativity.

If anything tells you how mad the World is, surely one of them is that.

Fuck Off Martin …

So today we say goodbye to Martin.

While I’ve only known him for 16 months, he made quite the impression on me.

Not because of his talent.

Nor is it because of his brilliant attitude and hunger to help create great.

Not even because I was the one that got to take him to Din Tai Fung for the fist time.

In China.

Christ … it’s not even because his Mum is from Nottingham and he studied there.

It’s because he was the very first person at R/GA to tell me to “Fuck Off”.

This might sound a bit weird, but I was really happy when he did it.

I’d been here a couple of months and – as it always is the case when you start a new job – everyone was still feeling each other out.

While I can’t remember what it was I said to him – but, let’s be honest, it was probably something unprofessional and mischievous as shit – I do remember he looked at me and laughingly told me “Fuck Off”.

And that’s when I knew it might work out here.

Or at least work out with the team.

Because while we were obviously bantering, I am a big believer in us being able to say what we think to each other.

Of course it has to be respectful to the other person, but it also has to be truthful.

There’s no time for managing up or playing office politics – not if the goal is to do truly great work – and the moment Martin told me to go away in his unique style, I knew we could get somewhere good.

Now of course it’s not just his swearing ability that has made me sad to see him go.

He is – as I mentioned earlier – a genuinely great talent.

Sure he is smart, creative and committed to culture.

But he’s more than that …

He’s authentic, genuine, compassionate and a genuine decent human.

He is focused on the work not his ego and always pushes the work to get to new places rather than what is easy and safe.

In fact, when I started at R/GA, I told someone the moment Martin realises how good he is, we’re all doomed.

Well, he still hasn’t quite grasped that, but my beautiful bastard friends at W+K have and he heads there to let them benefit from his magic.

They are lucky to have him.

They are one of the few places I would let him go.

They know I’ll always be loyal to WK, so if he ever slacks off, they can tell me and I’ll come over and kick his arse.

So Martin, you might be a pie-cheating, Crystal Palace fan who looks like a double-glazing/car salesman on the [very] rare occasions you wear a suit, who is seemingly always on holiday and throws a tantrum when his Nintendo Switch breaks mere hours before having to go on a 12 hour flight to London from Beijing … but you’re also top human with top talent and I’m very glad I got to have you in my team and my life.

Now Fuck Off.

Own Your Truth …

When I was in Sydney at Christmas, I fell ill.

I know you may feel that is karma, but it was pretty shitty.

So after going to the doctors, I went to the local chemist and it is there I saw this …

Proud To Be Cheap.

Words you don’t hear very often.

Either because everyone is trying to come across as ‘aspirational and premium’ or they’re repositioning price to mean ‘smart and discerning’.

And yet, not only did those 4 words stand out from everything else, they made me smile.

It owned its truth.

It said exactly what it was.

It was, quite literally, proud to be cheap.

There is something incredibly refreshing about that.

But more than that, there is something incredibly valuable about that.

Not just because – as I mentioned earlier – it stands out.

Nor is it because it allows them to minimize their investment in store experience.

[Though, the service I got was brilliant, and not just because I was expecting shite]

And not even because by saying it, they rob the competition from trying to diss them for it.

The reason I think it’s valuable is because it immediately feels more inclusive and approachable than so many of the ego brands out there and so attracts a certain sort of customer rather than trying to constantly chase or seduce them.

It’s a bit like Dolly Parton [yes, I’m going there].

She is very self depreciating …

When she said, “It takes a lot of money to be this cheap”, she was proudly owning who she was and accepting her tastes were not what society likes.

OK, so she was talking about her cheapens from the sense she has a lot of money whereas this chemist is talking about themselves from the perspective they don’t cost a lot of money … but owning their truth has immediately separated themselves from the sea of competition.

Years ago I wrote about an approach to strategy that I had which I called unplanning.

I’ve talked about this a lot – from James Blunt to Eminem – but really this about authenticity.

Knowing who you are.

Being true to who you are.

Living by the values that shaped who you are.

And accepting that in a World where brands are often shaped more by what the competition force you to do than what you want to do, by being yourself you will be different.

Power Is Nothing Without Trust …


It can be super daunting because people feel it’s more about dealing with others shit than doing great work.

And sometimes it is.

But it doesn’t always have to be that way.

Whether I am a good manager is something my colleagues would have to tell you, but one thing I think I am good at is building a team. That’s not just down to who you hire – in some ways, that’s the easiest bit – it’s how you keep them all together while moving them collectively and individually forward once they’re in.

And for me, it comes down to one word.

It’s that one at the top of this post.


Small word.

5 letters.

Means everything.

But one thing I was taught that has served me well is that trust is earned not just handed to you because of your position.

Yes, Hemingway said the best way to trust someone is to trust them – and I get that, because so much starts with the attitude you have towards someone – but as a manager, I believe the key to achieving it is to accept you start with none of it.

Which is why if you’re at a point where you could be taking on a management position and are either fighting against it or daunted because of it, let me tell you what has helped me.

When you take the job – regardless how well you know you team – don’t expect them to trust you.

It would be nice if they do, but even then, don’t take it for granted.

Earn it by proving it.

Keep earning it by continually proving it.

Be transparent, honest, consistent, constructive and supportive.

Oh, and for gods sake give a shit about what those you are responsible for, give a shit about.

They can deal with you fucking up.

If it’s your first management gig, they almost expect it.

But they need to feel you support them, back them and want the best for them.

That doesn’t mean you pander or creep, it just means they know you want them to succeed better than they thought they could by finding ways to develop their talent to be better than they thought they ever could.

Earn their trust by investing your time in their lives. Listen. Be honest. Give a shit. Talk to them. Make space for them to grow, be inspired, fuck up and fail. Not to mention for them to change your mind on things you thought you were certain on. Never let good enough ever be good enough – for you, for them and the work being created. Know what you don’t know so they can learn from someone who does.

Yes, you will still have to deal with their shit – and they’ll have a ton to give you over time – but they will repay you by making the best work of their lives because ultimately, you’ve created the environment that enables them to keep performing at their best in ways that are better than they ever imagined.

And that’s when you discover management isn’t all filled with darkness, but also with brilliant light.