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


Class creates change. Hype creates headlines.

I work in an industry that loves to make big deals out of everything.

Literally everything.

And yet, how many of those things were still being talked about a month later?

Or maybe a week?

Or even the next day?

The reality is that for all the work that claims to be revolutionary in its thinking/execution, the reality is few seem to be.

And the same is with agencies.

While it is difficult, the reality is any agency can hit the ad jackpot at least once in their life.

Maybe it’s a Super Bowl spot … or a Cannes award … or just something utterly, utterly brilliant/fun/funny/emotional … but for me, the true test of greatness is not about having done it once, but having done it on a consistent basis.

I don’t mean in terms of getting a headline in the industry press – however nice that is – I’m talking about capturing the mood and imagination of a nation.

Years ago I met someone who kept telling me about the time they ‘achieved something big’ in their career.

What they were talking about was admirable and certainly worthy of feeling proud about, however this thing was 15 years in the past.

Fifteen.

Don’t get me wrong, the person in question should absolutely feel they achieved something few do because they did … but if you are living 15 years in the past, you’ll never be able to move on into the future.

And that’s why one of the best bits of advice I ever got was to always be known for something in every job you have.

It doesn’t matter if you did something amazing over a decade ago, be known for having done something good things in the present.

Whether I have done that is questionable, but that advice has meant I have always gone into new adventures with the desire to make a difference. That should sound obvious, but you’d be amazed how many people try and live off their past.

So for me, it’s always about trying to find something I can improve, impact or instill … something that will last longer than my time there.

Now I appreciate you can easily fall into some post-rationalisation of achievement, because – let’s face it – when you’re judging yourself you’re rarely hard on yourself, but most people accept nothing worth doing comes easy so if they see you as having consistently done positive things wherever you have worked, it not only separates you from the lucky ‘one-off’s’, it lets you look at your career in terms of what it can still be, not just what it was.

Advertisements


Trust Is The Most Important Word In Everything …

Originally this was going to be a post about patience.

We live at a time where the urge to rush to judgement seems omnipresent, however we often forget that each of us is going through personal situations that can affect how we behave and so what we experience may not be who the other party really is.

There’s this quote that says something like, “if we knew the troubles that weighed on the minds of the people we talk to, we might react to what they say in a very different way”.

And that quote is right, however in our rush-rush, myopic state-of-mind, we rarely stop to even consider that – let alone explore it – so the results we get might never be as positive as they could be if we had just stopped for a beat and thought of the other person.

That’s what this post was going to be about but then something happened.

You see recently I discovered someone betrayed my trust.

The irony is what they told another party was incorrect.

But that doesn’t make it any better.

And then I remembered that quote that says, “the worst thing about betrayal is that it never comes from your enemies” and they’re right.

I liked this person.

I still do.

But for some reason they thought it was right to do something that was wrong.

And right there, things got damaged because trust is everything in a relationship … whether that’s with a loved one, a colleague or a client.

Trust means you can disagree without any lasting damage.

Trust means you can let people explore things you don’t understand.

Trust means you can let teams go to the wire before they reveal their work.

Because trust is about believing the other person has your back … that their standards, goals and expectations match yours.

That doesn’t mean you’ll always like what they’ve done, but it does mean you can be honest about it and they’ll listen to you and you’ll listen to them. Not because you want to necessarily have a ‘compromise’ on the outcome, but because you want to make sure what you’re doing is the work the person best placed to make that call wants to make.

The work that excites them … or makes them laugh or simply shit-their-pants.

And while it would be nice to think trust happens simply by spending time together, it doesn’t.

The reality is trust comes slowly.

It tests you.

It see’s what you’re made of at the most vulnerable times.

But when you have it, it’s the most amazing feeling you can have.

It liberates you.

It lets you literally get to places bigger that you could ever get to on your own.

And that’s why I am always willing to let someone I trust make mistakes, but never when it’s to save their own neck.

Which is why trust is so hard to earn and so quick to lose.

Because as they say, united we stand divided we fall.



When It’s Unfiltered, It Might Leave A Nasty Taste In Your Mouth But It’s At It’s Most Authentic …

When I first joined Deutsch, I wanted to understand what the hell was really going on with American youth so I sent 3 of my team – Maya, Armando and Leigh [along with Sarah, a photographer and co-supported back at HQ by the wonderful Kelsey] – backpacking across the US to spend about a month in some of America’s most opposite cities.

Specifically the richest/poorest … fastest growing/shrinking … most/least diverse.

No nice hotel rooms.

No fancy travel.

Just a month hearing and learning from America in The Raw.

As you can see from this little text exchange below, it left a mark on the guys …

In all seriousness, while they loved it, there were some things they saw and went through that challenged them deeply on a personal level. So deeply, that I honestly believe they have all come back changed for the experience.

And yet overall, what they found was a nation full of young people who wanted their country to be the one they had been brought up to believe in.

A country that lets anyone succeed.

A country that cared for their own equally.

A country where it led by taking on the big challenges and issues and crushing them.

Now of course, you could argue America was never really any of these things – just a master of PR – but that aside, the country they have found is not the country they want and so the way they are approaching their life is basically one of survival.

And what do I mean by survival?

Well in essence, it’s how they can cope with what’s going on until it stops.

Their overall view is “I can’t control the future, but I can control the present”.

And while their behaviour is expressed in multiple ways, we believe they fall into 4 distinct territories …

Protect: Keep safe what you have and don’t risk anything to get what you want.
Disguise: Define your relevance by the topical things you want to associate with.
Escape: Physically create a [momentary] world you want to live in.
Fight: Push against the unfairness you face.

Of course it’s way more complex and complicated than that – and we have spent a lot of time exploring and uncovering the influences, attitudes and behaviours that drive it and define it – but it does seem those 4 lenses are consciously and subconsciously influencing how people are starting to behave.

In all honesty, this adventure has been fascinating – not just in terms of understanding what is starting to happen, but how the issues of race or equality are reaching points where you can feel major change is on the way. Whether that change is instigated by government or the people is still anyones guess, but what we know is that it won’t be able to be swept under the carpet as easily as it has in previous years.

They won’t let it, especially with the current administration doing all it can to prod and provoke them.

The implications for society and business are huge – both in terms of positive change and negative potential – which is why we have created a [coffee-table] book and a presentation and – when we get some breathing space – a short film to truly define and explain what we heard and discovered. But as much as all those things are exciting, the bit I love the most is my team have given a voice to those who are rarely heard in the purest and most unfiltered way you can get.

There’s a lot of things I’ve done in my career that has made me proud.

This is most definitely one of them.

_________________________________________________________________________

If you’re interested in seeing/having a copy of the ‘America In The Raw’ book, let me know. I can’t guarantee we can accommodate everyone, but we’ll try.



How To Get Ahead In Your Career Without Being A Corporate Toady …

I’ve always found management an interesting concept or – more specifically – how people become managers.

Most of the time, it seems someone who is good at their job gets promoted and told “… there you go, manage the department”.

Little support. Little guidance. Masses of responsibility.

Now having done this for a long time, I realize the folly of this approach.

Sure, it’s nice to feel you’re being recognized, have a bit more responsibility and power and get more cash … but it also is the fast-track to bad habits, bad practices and bad career decisions.

You see management is complicated.

On one hand you have to lead your department … set a direction, instill standards and beliefs and develop a gang.

On the other, you have to put yourself second to enable your team – and the people within that team – to grow and develop and ultimately, take your job.

Few have the skills to work this out on their own – let alone execute it – which is why the older I get, the more grateful I am that I was given such great help from my amazing mentors and certain bosses.

You see in the early days, I saw career development as simply going from employee to boss to big boss.

In my mind, if you were a good employee you might get to be a boss and if you were a good boss, you might get to be a big boss.

That was it.

But my mentors – and some good bosses – made sure I understood that career progression wasn’t just about how good you were in your day-to-day job, but in your ability to develop additional skills.

Sure, some of these were operational skills – really important operational skills – but the advice that made the biggest difference to me was when they told me how I’d need to understand the difference between good management and good leadership.

To be honest, previous to this I never really saw a difference between the two but this quote by Peter Drucker sums up what they told me perfectly …

Now I appreciate anyone who has worked with me in the past might think I am terrible at what I do – and I accept my approach is often unorthodox and filled with dollop-loads of chaos – but understanding how the development of skills and outlook was better for your long-term career than consistency and capability made a real difference to me and that’s why I am such a big believer in feedback and goals.

I should point out this does not mean the ‘annual reviews’.

Sure, they have their use, but if you’re only having these conversations once a year, you’re really not helping anyone that much.

But constantly having conversations – where you discuss where people are and what they’re working towards – makes a difference.

It lets you know where everyone is.

It lets you know where everyone is heading.

It gives you the opportunity to offer the right advice at the right time.

Which enables them to develop the skills that will help them grow not drown.

Which lets them develop their own voice and approach to the challenges they face.

Which lets them work out where they are heading and want to head.

Which lets them get hired for who they are not just what they do.

Which means, ultimately, you’ve done what I believe a boss is supposed to do … which is help your people get opportunities they never thought they could have.

This all may seem so obvious to you all, but I still meet people who think being good at their job means being good enough for career progression and while many companies may agree with that, I am so grateful to my mentors and certain bosses for putting me straight.

May this year be your year.



Inspiration From The Random Post-It Note Writer …

A few weeks ago – after being away on a business trip – I found the above note on my laptop.

I have no idea who wrote it and – to be honest – I’m not sure if it was meant as a reminder of what I should be doing or a report on what I do … but either way, it’s a pretty good standard to live up to.

Many years ago, a magazine asked what my job was. I replied …

“To ensure no one gets complacent, whether that’s the team, the agency or the client”.

I used to think what that meant was to ‘keep pushing, prodding and provoking so we would stay focused on making the biggest difference in the most interesting way rather than settle for good and easy’, but now I know a better interpretation is this.

Be great.
Fuck shit up.
And do it again tomorrow.

We all win if we all want higher standards.



Why A Bin Is Better Than Earth Hour …

I’ve written about my skepticism of Earth Hour.

And while I appreciate any bit of good is good, I feel the problem with Earth Hour is that it lets people off the hook for the remainder of the year just because they turned their lights off for a few hours on a single day.

Recently I saw this …

Yes, it’s a bin.

A simple bin in the airport.

But what I love about it is the fact it says LANDFILL, rather than rubbish.

Maybe this is nothing new – maybe this is just a byproduct of having lived in China for the past 7 years – but by ensuring I knew exactly what was going to happen to what I put inside it, it made me look at what I was doing.

I’d like to think I give a shit about the environment, but I can honestly say that bin had a stronger effect on me than Earth Hour. Not only that, but that bin won’t let me off the hook for the rest of the year. It will be there – every time I pass it – reminding me that my choices will determine how much I poison the planet.

The other thing this does is highlight my big problem with adland … which is that it loves to communicate problems rather than solve them.

When a bin [and let’s remember, this is not the first time this has happened] produces more effective solutions than much of adland – and certainly what adland awards at shows like Cannes – maybe it’s time to re-evaluate what we view is creativity.

Please don’t think I am pissing on the power of communication or ignoring the importance of craft and exploration – of course I’m not – but for an industry that celebrates the freedom of creativity, it’s amazing how limited we are in our execution of it.

Of course part of that is our ego – because not only do we like to think that we can solve all the problems of the universe, but we feel simply ‘renaming’ something is beneath our creative brilliance, despite it potentially being more effective than a Worldwide campaign asking us to turn our lights off for the night.

I think this is why I loved Fearless Girl and Mr Parking Ticket Nerd because at the end of the day, they have understood our industry is at it’s most powerful when we’re at the creative end of business rather than the business end of creativity.



Know Your Audience …

So yesterday – on Linkedin – I found this posted on my feed …

Now putting aside the fact I no longer work at Wieden, the fact is that part of the reason WK is so special is because it doesn’t have an abundance of people who have – or want to have – an MBA.

Wieden is born from a desire to use creativity to do it’s fighting.

That ranks higher than absolutely everything and anything else.

Now I should point out that I am not suggesting someone with an MBA isn’t creative, however that qualification does mean you have a greater focus on business than creativity and that ultimately flies in the face of Wieden’s beliefs.

Of course WK are savvy at business and Mr W is most definitely a business guy.

However unlike many in the ‘commerce World’, they want to grow through creative excellence not ‘optimization’.

Which is why I found this ad so weird.

Has Willamette had a lot of Wieden people there before?

Or had a lot of interest from them?

Or is the reason they are offering such a huge financial incentive means they want them because it will benefit them as much as the student?

Even though a recent decision at WKSH means there are some people who – in my opinion – could do with some basic lessons in how to successfully build a business – the reality is this ad shows how little Willamette know, rather than how much.