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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Another Landmark Moment Of Daddyhood …

So today is my last post for over a week as I am off to the US [again].

And while that news might make you happy, today makes me happy for totally different reasons.

You see later today, my wonderful little boy, Otis, takes part in a theatre production.

For the last few months, he has been going to a drama class with other kids his age … and to say he loves it, is an understatement.

He comes home singing songs.

His vocabulary has noticeably evolved.

He’s using his imagination in new ways.

He is even projecting his voice to new levels.

Though on this last point, there are some disadvantages given Jill sent me this text as they were sat on the bus on their way to pre-school last week …

OK … OK … you can wipe the smiles off your faces now thank you.

I know it’s just a kids show.

I know it will be a bit ramshackle.

I know there may be tears and laughter.

But that’s what makes it brilliant.

Not from a ‘I get to laugh at a bunch of kids’ sense, but from a ‘look at those kids discovering the impact they can have on others’.

But of course, from a personal perspective, seeing my son express his creativity while being part of something bigger is going to be a massive thrill.

Quite frankly, I don’t care how he performs as long as he enjoys himself.

He wanted to do this – there was absolutely no push or pressure from us – and so all we care about is him having fun and seeing his parents support him.

That said, I hope it’s not like the first ever performance I did.

Christmas 1976.

The school nativity play at Heymann Primary School.

I was a rabbit. OK, not a pivotal role, but one that gave valuable context to the other ‘actors’.

However just before I was due to go on, Mrs Staples – or it could have been Mrs Berry – asked me to swap jumpers [Mine was a white one with red stripes in boxes, where hers was pure white] for some reason with Rebecca Baldwin.

After that last minute change, I went out on to the stage to a packed assembly hall full of parents sitting on very small seats trying to jostle their way to the front so they could snap off a few pics with their cameras.

Now imagine my pain – as I looked though my rabbit mask – seeing my parents proudly looking at Rebecca, thinking it was me.

They did this through the whole play and I can still see the look of shock on their faces when we took off their masks and they saw their little boy had become a little girl.

To be honest, if that happened with Otis, I’d probably find it funny … but overall, I am incredibly excited to see him perform today. Seeing him happy and free is one of the most beautiful things in my life. It’s why the schooling thing is quite hard because British schools are pretty strict and we want one with a much greater creative syllabus.

But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it …

Most important for me today is to see my little boy have the time of his life, which – as I’m sure most parents will agree – is the thing we wish for them most in the World.

What a great way to head off out on a business trip.

Thank you Otis.

See you in 10 days.



For Auntie Silvana …
February 19, 2019, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment, Dad, Family, Love, Mum, Mum & Dad, Silvana

Outside of my Mum and Dad and my best friend Paul, Auntie Silvana has been involved my life the longest.

From my earliest age, I remember her always being there – whether that was arguing with my dad about politics or showing us around London on one of our frequent trips to visit her.

Despite facing many challenges in her life, Auntie Silvana – like her sister – was a fiercely independent woman. She never wanted to rely on someone else for help which is why she could be incredibly stubborn if she disagreed with something someone was trying to make her do. But when I think of her, the memories that flood my mind are of an incredibly kind, incredibly considerate, humble yet generous person.

She only ever wanted the best for others. She would encourage you every step of the way. And when you achieved something – however small – she would celebrate it with genuine happiness and celebration … never wanting or expecting anything in return.

There are so many things I am thankful to Auntie Silvana for. From giving me my first ever television to taking me to my first theatre show to helping my family when we needed it most.

She was a wonderful, kind, worldly and cultured lady and while I am devastated she has gone, there are 3 things I am grateful for.

1. She was able to continue living an independent life till the end. Given her eye problems, that’s testimony to her tenactity.

2. I am able to be here to let her know how much I loved her and how much my wife, Jill and my 4 year old little boy – Otis (who called her ‘Auntie Nana’) – did as well. I will forever be grateful she got to hold my son given my Mum sadly passed away before she could meet him in real life.

3. I am able to repesent my Mum and Dad – who are no longer here but would absolutely want to be if they were around – so they could share their love for her and say thank you for all you did.

Silvana, you were an amazing Auntie to me.
An amazing sister to my Mum.
And an amazing friend to my Dad.

Words will never be able to capture how much I thought of you and while the pain of your loss will last a long, long time … the memory of you will last far longer.

The World is a little less kind for your loss.

I’m happy you can be reunited with your family.

Say hi to Mum for me and thank you for everything.

Tanti Baci.

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My Dearest Silvana …
February 18, 2019, 6:15 am
Filed under: Family, Love, Mum, Mum & Dad, Silvana

So on Saturday, my Auntie Silvana passed away.

She was an incredibly kind and generous person but – like my Mum, who was her younger sister – she was also fiercely independent.

A few weeks ago she suffered an illness and sadly, while there were some positive signs, she ultimately succumbed to her ailments.

I am devastated for so many reasons.

The main one is obviously that she’s my Aunt.

She loved me and always wanted the best for me, Jill and Otis.

The second is she was incredibly kind to my family, especially Mum – who loved her so much.

During my early years, she was almost like a guardian angel to us when we encountered some tough times.

The final reason is that she is the last of her generation …

The last link to a group of wonderful people who defined so much of who I am.

While I am happy she is no longer in pain or suffering, I am so, so sad that she has gone.

Her loss will be felt for so long but her memory will last a lifetime.

Goodbye Auntie Silvana. Love you.

Rx

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Twenty Years In The Blink Of An Eye …
January 16, 2019, 6:15 am
Filed under: Anniversary, Attitude & Aptitude, Comment, Dad, Daddyhood, Mum, Mum & Dad, Parents

So 20 years ago today, my wonderful Dad died.

That means 40+% of my life has been without him.

That’s mind-blowing … but it’s also testimony to his brilliance as a Dad, that I think of him every day.

The older I get, the more I understand what he – and Mum – taught me.

The way to look at life.

The things to encourage and believe in.

The need to always life a life of fulfillment rather than contentment.

Amazing, valuable, brilliant lessons that he was able to bake into me in such a way that they continue to grow in importance, even though he has been gone for 20 years.

The good news is that I have started to remember him when he was healthy rather than ill.

For so many years when I thought of Dad, I saw how he was over his final few years rather than the years before his stroke.

But even then he was an inspiration.

His ability to try and be positive even when his entire life was falling apart.

To stay strong for his son when he knew he was trapped in a prison of the mind.

I love my Dad so much.

I would give anything to see him again.

Talk. Ask questions. Introduce him to my family.

See his eyes glisten with mischief and love.

Dad was someone who ensured I can look at my childhood with the feelings of love and support – something, that as I get older, I realize was not something everyone can say – which is why 20 years later, I might miss him even more than when he first passed away.

Which – when you come to think of it – might be the best compliment I can give him.

I miss you Dad. Hope you and Mum are together and happy.

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Humanity From A Calculator Company …

So how was your first week?

I don’t mean being back at work, I mean reading this blog.

Depressing wasn’t it.

Well I want to leave you with a little bit of positivity.

As many of you know, my Mum helped develop the calculator that is pictured above.

It’s one of the reasons why I’ve continued to use the one she gave me for the past 35+ years.

That – and the fact I’m crap at maths – so ended up using it more to type 55378008 than work out any trigonometry challenge.

Or basic addition.

Anyway, to my mates, it’s as identifiable towards me as my Birkenstocks – even though when I was at school, they took the piss claiming it was as big as one of the BBC Micro Computers we used in class.

Sadly, when we were moving to London from LA, the stupid movers broke it.

Not just interns of it not working, but in terms of cracking the actual case.

I was very sad, because – like the Braun Bedside Clock – it was something that was a real connection to my parents, so I wrote to Texas Instruments on the off-chance they could fix it.

Unfortunately they said any attempt to repair it could cause more damage so instead they’re sending me a mint condition, new-old one as a tribute to my Mum.

I cannot tell you how happy and thankful I was to hear this news.

I cannot tell you how much I love the people at Texas Instruments.

A company that makes office tech showing more heart than companies that claim to be in the people business.

They didn’t have to do that.

They could have just ignored my email altogether.

But they didn’t, they listened and they tried to help.

We could all learn from this. Especially companies who claim to be in the people business.



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]