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


Maybe 2020 Is The Most Important Year …

OK, let’s get the obvious out the way.

Even if 2020 is the most important year, it’s still been a shit year.

But the point being made is a good one.

To be honest, when I first read it, it felt very much like an ad for NIKE.

Taking what we think and forcing us to re-imagine it.

To feel the words rather than functionally jump to conclusions.

And while there may well be a lot of good that comes out of this.

There has been a lot of pain to lead up to this point and then get to this situation.

However as much as many of us probably wish to put all this behind us, it reminds me of something my Dad once told me.

My Dad changed careers quite a lot in his life.

And when I say ‘changed careers’, I mean it.

From the RAF to insurance to a photographer to law.

Fortunately for the family, my Mum was much more stable … hahaha.

But one day I asked my Dad why he did it … why he didn’t just change job, but dramatically and radically changed industry, even if it meant he had to retrain and re-qualify.

And he gave me the best answer I’ve ever heard.

It went like this:

“I love you and your Mum. If I’m going to spend so much time away from you every single day day, I owe it to you to be doing something I love because nothing would be more insulting than being away from the people I want to spend all my time with, doing something I hate”.

I have always taken that to heart.

Fulfilment over contentment.

It’s what has helped me make decisions that others thought were mad.

It’s behind the jobs I’ve taken, the countries I’ve lived in and the projects I’ve embarked on.

And while there were times it opened up challenges that made me question what I was doing, it always was worth it.

The best things always are.

And while I’ve experienced a fraction of the pain others have had to endure in 2020 – both in terms of the impact it has had on them and the duration it has lasted for them – this is the moment where we need to see change through … to get to the other side rather than try to go back to where we were.

Because on the other side of all this shit, is a chance.

A real, once-in-a-lifetime chance to make things right.

Not just in the US, but everywhere.

Where the systemic and systematic prejudice and racism that is embedded and integrated into our whole way of life is changed.

From education to higher government.

Where people of colour are given the equal rights that the rest of us have enjoyed our entire life.

And let’s be honest, if we do that, we still get the easy job.

There’s people out there who have fought for generations for this moment.

To be seen … heard … noticed … valued.

Which is why we have a moral duty to see this through … to keep fighting to the very end … because nothing would be more disrespectful to the people we say we stand with than walking away at the point we have the chance to make sustainable, effective change.

And if you need any other reason – which you shouldn’t, but just in case – there’s the fact that if we force equality – real, actionable, sustainable equality – into our everyday lives, the people of colour community will lift us all higher.

Take us somewhere better. For absolutely everyone.

Which is why we have to choose fulfilment over comfort.

We over me.

To make 2020 the most important year rather than the worst.



Fifty Not Out …

I know what you’re thinking …

Or should I say, I know what you were hoping.

That hitting 50 and having 10 days off would make me re-evaluate what I’m doing?

That I’d start to value afternoon naps versus writing stupid blog posts.

Well, if I was smart, maybe that would be the case … but I’m not, so here I am.

To show my age has done nothing to extinguish my pain-in-the-ass spirit, I thought I’d post about a little project I have going on.

It kind of comes out of the Corporate Gaslighting work I’ve done and basically relates to what seems to be the skills, modern management values most.

Now there are plenty of very, very good leaders out there …

But, and this is only personal opinion, it seems there are far more bad.

Now I appreciate some will view what I’m doing and say the people I’m describing are not bad, they are simply ‘optimising’ their position. However, managers should achieve their success based on what they enable their people to achieve rather than trying to ensure the spotlight falls just on them … so because of that, I stand by my view.

What’s scary is these attitudes and behaviours are so common that someone thought – when I posted one on social media – that I was celebrating them rather than mocking them.

That scares the crap out of me.

But not as much as the idea employees are being trained – consciously and subconsciously – to do this to further their career.

But I would like your help …

What am I missing?

What are terrible management practices that are being sold as ‘sensible’.

For example, with the blame thrower at the top of this post, I added the following:

If you don’t own your mistakes, let someone else own it. #LessonsFromModernManagement

And for this …

… I added this ‘lesson’:

It’s more effective to manage up than manage your standards. #LessonsFromModernManagement

But what else is there?

I’ve got one regarding the benefits of doing whatever someone wants you to do as well as destroying others careers is it proves you were made for success … but as I really want to turn this into some sort of alternative management book type-of-thing, I need a ton of them.

I know they’re out there.

I know I can come up with a lot myself.

But if you have any suggestions, I would be so grateful.

It may help someone not become the sort of manager that appears on Corporate Gaslighting.

Or allow someone who is suffering from this sort of ‘leader’, to realise they’re not to blame.

So I hope you can help.

Over to you …



If You Are Uncomfortable Talking About Race, It Means You Are Comfortable With Racism And Are A Shit Planner …

So last week, I was invited to talk at GroupThink’s planning conference.

I like the people there and said yes.

Originally I was going to take people through an old presentation because I didn’t really have much time to write something specific for you. They were OK with it and so wrote it into their program.

Then the situation with George Floyd happened.

Following so shortly on the heels of other racist motivated murders, like Ahmaud Arbery – who was murdered in cold blood by a father and son while out jogging.

At this point, quite frankly, the idea of doing a presentation on strategy seemed so utterly pointless.

So 2 days before the day of the event, I wrote something new.

Something that was about why Black Lives Matters is the only thing that really matters to me right now.

How the ad industry HAS to change.

How the ad industry may talk a lot about diversity and inclusivity but its actions are racist.

I’m not saying that is their intention or that they even realise it, but it’s racist.

And I’ve been complicit in that.

Again, not intentionally, but still done it.

Anyone who is white has … because we’ve let our privilidge create a gap between our actions and our self awareness.

Finally, I talked about 6 things people could do TODAY to make a positive difference to any person of colour … whether that’s through education, responsibility, judgement or action.

Now I must admit I was scared to write this presentation.

Not because I was worried it would make people feel uncomfortable, but because I’m a white male who has had every privilege going and the last thing I wanted to do was come across as if I was claiming to be an expert on this matter or whitesplaining anything.

Which is why I didn’t write the presentation.

I co-wrote it.

In addition to capturing some of the lessons I learned from the brilliant people of colour I’ve worked with and known over the years [which is a lot given how long I spent in China and Asia], the main bulk of the presentation was put together – after seeking their permission – with the irrepressible, wonderful and take-no-shit-from-anyone-especially-me … Maya Thompson, Breanna Jones and Chelsea Curry.

I’ve written and talked about them a lot.

They changed my life.

Literally.

I genuinely believe I can never thank them enough, but one way I try is to take on the issues I should have taken on years ago but thought not being racist was enough.

It isn’t.

So here it is … it’s my usual picture rubbish, but hopefully the bits that are there will make sense to everyone.

The real presentation starts at page 28, the previous slides were linked to the talk I was going to give so I could lull people into a false sense of security so they would get comfortable before I talked openly, emotionally and plainly about an issue that should be the focus of every human right now, but isn’t for a whole host of unimportant or self-serving reasons.

Should anyone want to know more about the presentation, please get in touch.

But most importantly, please act.

Black. Lives. Matter.

Slides 1-5: Just introducing me and why I am happy to be invited to present.

Slides 6-10: How the standard of work being created is generally very poor and how we are all contributing to it in terms of the things we are talking about. Which isn’t the standard of the work and sounds more like us trying to be clients than people valuable to clients.

Slides 11-23: Insights matter because people matter and if you want to make work that is intriguing, interesting, provocative and fresh, you have to care about people, culture and subculture or you’ll get nowhere.

Slides 24-27: I talk about how I was going to talk about the wonderfully crazy project we’ve recently done in China and how understanding sub-culture made building something specifically designed to look like ‘future Mars’ was perfectly sensible but ….

Slide 28: I need to pause the topic of the talk because frankly, the events of the past week have really upset me – specifically the reaction of many agency leaders – and I want to talk about something that matters more to me.

Slides 29-31: Black Lives Matter. There’s many lives that matter, but right now – for me – Black Lives Matter is the only one that matters.

Slides 32-34: Lived around the World, eventually moved to America and then met 3 brilliant women who changed my life. Maya Thompson. Chelsea Curry. Breanna Jones.

Slides 34-39: This is how they fundamentally changed my life for the better by helping me see how blind, stupid and complicit I’d been and then [with some values my Mum taught me] the journey we went on – and still go on – together.

Slides 40-49: Announce this deck has actually all been co-written by Maya, Breanna and Chelsea. Three main reasons for this. I don’t have credibility, I don’t want to come across as whitesplaining and I want any advice I give to be genuinely valuable to people of colour, not a white persons interpretation of what is valuable.

Slide 50: How my industry is racist. Doesn’t want to be. But is. And I use a recent ‘challenge’ put out by Cannes as an example. For the record, they launched a competition on how to attract more diversity into the industry and gave a media budget of £100,000. That’s right they were committing an amount of money most agencies would spend for dinners during Cannes for a topic that they claim is hugely important to them. They don’t intend to be racist but they – like the whole industry – is acting in ways that are.

Slides 51-58: What we have to do to stop being a racist industry including letting go of everything we thought we knew and starting again.

[Please note slide 54: Lots of people say they’re ‘colour blind’. By which they mean they claim they treat everyone the same. The point of this slide is that while we should absolutely treat and value everyone the same, we should do this in a way that acknowledges individual backgrounds and beliefs. Not doing this can result in one of 3 things. [1] We treat everyone the same but based on our definition of what ‘same is’. Which is often white, which means we expect people of colour to adapt to us and our standards. [2] We generalise groups for our convenience, so we call [for example] everyone who is black, “black” … ignoring the vast range of backgrounds, beliefs and nuances they could have BECAUSE PEOPLE OF COLOUR DO NOT ALL COME FROM THE SAME PLACE!!! Or [3] because of being ‘colour blind’, you see everyone the same [which we don’t, let’s be clear on that] so you end up making the same work for everyone thinking it will be resonant with everyone. It isn’t. See how Rihanna highlighted this when she launched her Fenty cosmetics and simply added colours for African American skin, fucking up the big cosmetic companies who had ignored this for decades]

Slide 59-60: Highlighting when you start from scratch it can work, because my son Otis is living proof of it. He has lived in 3 countries and loves them all equally, while accepting and respecting their individual differences.

Slide 61: If you need a commercial reason for why Black Lives Matter [and if you do, you’re a prick] it’s because people of colour can make this industry great again because on top of all influential culture being born from black culture, people of colour understand nuance, values, struggles and humanity better than anyone as they have to deal with this shit every day.

Slide 62-63: Thank you to all the people of colour who helped co-write this presentation – especially Maya, Chelsea and Breanna – and justice for George Floyd.



If You Think It Would Be Mad, It’s Probably Got Something Going For It …

Before I write today’s post, I want you to listen to something …

Yep, that’s the White Stripes with their now classic, ‘Seven Nation Army’.

I say classic, because it is.

It was recorded in 2002 as a bit of fun and yet now it is deeply entrenched in culture.

Sung at concerts.

Sporting events.

Pubs.

It’s the modern equivalent of Smoke In The Water … the go-to song for any guitarist starting out. [And the nightmare for any guitar shop employee]

But the thing about it that I never realised is that it’s a song without a chorus.

Nothing.

Nada.

It’s deliberate, because one day Jack White liked the idea of – in his own words – “creating a compelling song without a chorus”.

And he did.

A song that will no doubt outlive him because – like Queen’s We Will Rock You – is a simple, repetitive riff that allows audiences to not just join in, but be an integral and active participant in the music.

When you look at the ad industry, while we have evolved from talking AT audiences, our version of audience involvement is still largely based getting them to be an extension for what we’re doing rather than be an integral part of it.

Now of course, I get an audience doing stuff for a band they love is very different to getting people who are mildly interested in a brand, to do something for us … but the main point here is we are not pushing any boundaries right now.

Oh of course there’s agencies constantly pronouncing they have just executed a ‘world first’, but apart from the fact it’s often just a slight variation of something that has previously been around, it’s almost always done to benefit the agencies and clients ego and no one else.

But where is the bolder stuff?

The writing a compelling song without a chorus stuff?

If adland was about writing music, you can bet EVERYTHING would have a chorus.

It would also probably be a pop-song, 3 minutes long [MAX], as simplistic as they can make it and designed to be so palatable as to not offend a soul.

It would be this song …

Hell, even Matt Beaumont thought so in his brilliant book, E.

OK, I’m being a bit mean because its not like there aren’t some agencies doing amazing pieces of work using the ‘traditional’ model not to mention those who are genuinely trying to push the boundaries of what creativity can be – and do – for clients, like this brilliant Planned Parenthood campaign we did at R/GA recently … but in the main, the focus is not about breaking new ground it’s about treading carefully over the old.

Look, I get it … this stuff costs a lot of money.

There’s a bunch riding on it.

But where this ‘minimum risk’ approach fails is when brands talk about wanting to make a big impact in culture … something that powerfully differentiates themselves from the competition … an idea that change attitudes and behaviour … because the most effective way to increase the odds of this happening is to literally do something that runs counter to traditional norms.

An airport lounge that is modelled on a Rock Stars house.

An electric car with an insane button.

A ravioli where the pasta disappears.

An ad that talks about failure.

Now I know what you’re thinking, most companies will never do that.

And you’re right.

But what I find amusing is that we all know doing the same as everyone else produces, in the main, even less chance of breakthrough success than walking into the unknown or unexpected.

The harsh reality is that while many companies talk about breakthrough … innovation … provocation … what they really mean is – at best – being a degree or two better than their competition or – at worst – simply playing catch-up

Or as Lee said, they confuse innovation with modernisation.

And while I know there is a lot of talent in our biz – talent who use creativity to create incredible ways to either deal with old problems or create new normals – we are in danger of letting ourselves just become executioners of clients transactional requirements, and if that happens, we lose any chance of regaining/retaining our seat at the boardroom table. Because in my experience what the best C-Suite want aren’t companies who simply execute their requirements, but those who see the World differently to them, so they can help them get to places in ways they never imagined possible.

In other words, creative people with commercial appreciation rather than commercial people with creative appreciation.

Now the problem is we live in times where the money men value consistency more highly than boldness … which is ironic given they them place them under immense pressure to keep finding new ways to grow, transform and unlock new revenue streams.

An oxymoron if you will.

Which, for me, highlights 3 things.

1. Independence is power.

2. As Martin and I talked about at Cannes last year, chaos can achieve what order can’t.

3. The only things worth doing are the ones that can break your heart.



Be Your Own Worst Enemy …

There have been times in my career where I’ve chosen the wrong path.

What makes this crazy is that there have been times where I knew I was but still went ahead with it.

Nothing bad.

Nothing illegal.

But, according to others, it was the wrong thing to do.

Now this is not because I have a death wish or want to cause trouble … it’s because a situation or certain circumstances occurred that just triggered something in me.

Good and bad.

And while – with hindsight – I know I could have handled ‘how’ I dealt with some of those situations differently, I absolutely don’t regret ‘why’ I did it … even if that led to some people labelling me as being ‘too emotional’.

Too emotional is a horrible phrase.

It aims to shame people for who they are and what they believe.

What is worse is that it is often expressed by people who have an inability to show any emotion towards anything, so act as if it is some sort of human flaw.

A fundamental weakness.

Let me be very clear, being able to express your emotions is a strength.

It’s healthy.

It’s positive.

It’s also a sign you give a fuck.

Whether that is about work, standards or other people.

Now I appreciate that doesn’t mean you can use it as an excuse to abuse others or act like you’re some sort of megalomaniac diva.

Nor do I think that just because something triggered your emotions, it means your perspective is automatically correct.

And then there’s the fact there will be times or situations where you need to restrain your emotions to a time – or place – where it is more appropriate to let out. Let’s face it, no one wants a surgeon to have an emotional outburst mid-operation just because someone handed them the scalpel in a sloppy way.

But expressing your emotions is important.

It should absolutely never be treated as doing something wrong.

Especially in the creative industry, where our goal is to literally make people feel something.

So if anyone ever say’s, “you’re too emotional”, don’t just take it.

It’s the sort of comment that – if allowed to fester – can chip away at your confidence.

Often uttered by senior figures in a company who want employees to think, act and behave exactly like them rather than embrace differences of opinion or brand new thinking … which is ironic, given that’s the main way companies can evolve and grow.

So if faced with that situation, ask them what they mean by their comment?

Put it back on them to explain.

Half the time you’ll find it is simply because they don’t like conflict.

Or an alternative perspective.

And that’s when you explain why the situation has made you feel the way it has.

Why you believe it shouldn’t just be brushed away.

Not because you’re an egomaniac who wants whatever they choose, but because you see possible implications that could have a terrible effect on the work or the company or the team at large.

Because even the person you’re discussing this with doesn’t feel it or see it as being important, doesn’t mean it isn’t … which at the very least should justify a conversation about it, especially if you feel so strongly about it.

But, as I said, there may be occasions where you will look back on how you reacted and feel you could have done it another way.

Note I said ‘how’ you reacted, not ‘why’ you did.

And that’s why it’s important to always learn from these incidents.

Discover what pushes your buttons.

Understand what you expect from yourself and others.

Reveal what standards you will and will not tolerate.

Not so you can deny or suppress your emotions in the future, but so if another situation arises, you can express your emotions in a way that will change the outcome you are responding to rather than just reacting to it.

And when you get to that point, that’s when you find being ‘too emotional’ is a superpower.

So while the guy in the video is being his own worst enemy for the worst of reasons, expressing your emotions never is.

Because regardless what some may claim, they are a sign of strength, never weakness.

It’s another long weekend here in the UK, I hope you have a good one and a safe one.

See you Tuesday.