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


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.



Chapters Aren’t Just For Books …

So I have some big and exciting news. Well, it is for me …

On May 10th, I leave Wieden+Kennedy.

In addition to that, on May 16th, I leave China.

Given both have been my home for the last 7 years – one of the longest periods of my entire adult life – that means this is very big thing for me and I won’t deny it is bitter-sweet.

I’ve had an incredible time and leave with a bunch of memories, stories and learnings that I can honestly say will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Of course, I’ll miss so many things – the people, the culture, the colleagues the clients and the holidays* [ha] – but I still have a lot I want to try and experience and that just wasn’t going to happen if I stayed.

In addition, I need a place where my son can go out and play.

China is an amazing country, but the pollution means there have been too many days where he’s had to stay inside and that just isn’t what I want for him growing up.

That is very hard for me to admit, because I truly love and respect this country and would never want to speak bad of it because I’ll forever be grateful for how it embraced me, educated me and helped me thrive.

As for Wieden … well they have been awesome. 

I thought I would stay at W+K forever but unfortunately, we’re a very flat structured, relatively small company, so there’s just not that many options easily available for someone like me. Everyone tried to make it work but as I have no desire to be an MD and feel I’ve achieved everything [and more] that I set out to do in Shanghai – and that I was asked to do in Shanghai – I came to the realization that for me to keep growing, I had to try something different.

That said, there is absolutely no doubt that I have enjoyed one of the most exciting and fulfilling times of my professional career [so far] but right now, I need to go and try some stuff that takes everything I have learnt – from Wieden and beyond – and mix it with a bunch of new experiences and lessons so I can see what happens in a totally different environment and situation.

I’m very excited about that but I’ll always be super thankful for the chance Wieden gave me, especially because they never asked me to be anyone else other than myself.

Even when it annoyed the fuck out of them.

To have done 7 years in the best agency in the World, in one of the most amazing countries in the World with some of the best clients in the World is an incredible honour.

To have earned their trust enough that they asked a planner – a bloody planner! – to start and run their creative talent incubator, The Kennedys, is extra special.

But to have them say you’ve done a good job and you should go and explore but never rule out coming back, shows how special – and mental – they are.

And they are. Very, very special.

And mental.

So what next?

Well, I’ll announce that soon however what I will tell you is I’m swapping one country with an evil government regime for another.

That’s right, I’m moving to America.

To LA to be precise.

I swear this is not purely because I can get away with wearing Birkenstocks the whole time.

But it helped make our decision.

I’ll reveal all soon, but I’m very excited about this next chapter in life.

It will hopefully challenge and teach me a bunch of new things while offering my family the sort of environment they absolutely deserve to enjoy – and I’m incredibly grateful I have the chance to do this, especially at this point in my life.

But it’s even more than that.

You see my parents always said they wanted me to live a life of fulfilment rather than contentment and if they knew their only son was going to have experienced life in America, Europe and Asia, they would be super-proud.

As I get older, I realise what is becoming more important for me is less about how high up the career ladder I go [though, as Harrison Ford said, I won’t undervalue all the work it has taken to get me to my current position] and more about how varied my life experiences are.

This move is another step to fulfilling that … or it will be when it happens. Until then, you’ll have to put up with business as usual, which basically means more ranty rubbish blog posts.

Onwards …
____________________________________________________________________

* For the record, given many of you think I’ve done nothing over the past 7 years except go on holiday, you’ll be ecstatic to know I’ll be leaving Wieden just before I was going to be having my 6 week paid sabbatical. I guess you could call it ‘holiday karma’.




What – And Who – Are Trust Exercises Really For?

Years and years ago, I worked temporarily for a small company in Australia.

I hated it but I needed the money so each and every day I went there to destroy my soul.

I was not the only one.

So one day, this company announced they’d hired some specialists to help build trust between us all. The irony was there was already a lot of trust between us, it was the management we thought were dodgy bastards.

So off we go to some hotel where we are subjected to all manner of inane and condescending bullshit, when one of my colleagues announced …

“For this to work, we have to trust your bosses aren’t stupid and you’ve failed in achieving that”.

Within 2 seconds, pandaemonium happened and for all intents and purposes, we rebelled and all went to a coffee shop.

Of course management weren’t happy and a few people were fired and a lot of people were given written warnings – and while I am a big believer teams being built on trusting each other to help each other – that comes from the everyday environment, not some totally unrealistic experience in some nondescript hotel room outside of an industrial estate.

Half of the time the reason for doing it is simply for the management to say ‘they’ve spent money on training’ … which is VERY different from actually training … but none of this matters, because the only reason I’m telling this story is so I can justify showing this clip.



History Repeats Itself …

So a while back I went to see Queen with Adam Lambert.

The last time I saw them, Queen were made up of the original four.

It was also the last time the original 4 would ever play live together.

Of course at the time, I didn’t know that was going to be the case – though rumor says Freddie did, even if the rest of the band weren’t yet aware – however despite only 50% of the band being on stage, it was still exhilarating to watch.

It was also a bit weird … because rather than see them in Europe, it was in China.

And rather than see them with my best mate Paul … it was with my wife [and a bunch of Wieden folk]

That might not seem that strange to you, but it was mental for me because the situation was the absolute opposite of that mad summer in 1986 where my parents, reluctantly, let me follow them on their tour.

I must admit, when I walked into the venue, I was nervous for the band.

This was the first time they had ever played China and the venue – an 18,000 seater – was only 10% full.

Of course I knew people would come in as the lights went down and if they really hadn’t sold many tickets, they’d have cancelled the show … but I felt some kind of responsibility given I was a fan from England living in China and wanting their first impression of this amazing country to be a good one.

Of course I shouldn’t have worried because as the lights went down, the stadium was packed – to the seats high, high, high in the rafters – and that made the whole night even more wonderful and emotional for me.

The band was brilliant.

The sound was brilliant.

The lights were brilliant.

And Mr Lambert was brilliant.

Sure, he is no Freddie, but he is an amazing singer with perfect levels of campness that did the songs, the show and Freddie … incredible justice.

But the real reason it was emotional was because the moment they hit the stage, they momentarily transported me back to being 16 … where I was on the cusp of entering a life full of adventure and possibilities.

Of course I hope I still have a lot more adventures and possibilities to come [more of that in a few months] but that doesn’t change the fact these concerts represent significant bookends of my life.

One where I was about to start my journey. One where I am its midpoint.

And I don’t mind admitting that when they came on stage, I found myself crying.

I know, it’s pathetic, but it was less about seeing a band that I love with all my heart [though it has a bit to do with that] and more a reminder that despite all the wonderful and sad things that have happened in my life over the past 30+ years, they were still there.

My friends.

My confidents.

My escape.

To paraphrase the great Bill Shankly, some say music isn’t a matter of life or death.

They’re right, it’s way more important than that.



Fly The Unfriendly Skies …

Remember a long time ago I wrote about the Air France lounge in Paris.

In that post, I talked about the brief I got from Richard Branson for his Virgin Atlantic lounge at Heathrow.

Well recently I was in LA and went into the United lounge and this is what I saw.

Now I appreciate this may come across as a massive ‘first world problem’ and it is … but it’s also a massive brand problem for United, because if this is how they treat their business class passengers, god knows how you must feel if you’re in coach.

Seriously, how hard is it to put a bit of effort into your lounge.

Now they will claim they’re in a temporary location because they’re building something new and special … but that’s not really an excuse. Surely they could have sorted out a viable alternative while work was going on.

Is it so hard to arrange the room to look like it has had some care put into it. Offer some food that looks like you actually give a damn about the passengers who are going to eat it.

But here’s the bigger thing.

If your normal standards are going to be inhibited due to building work, then I’d imagine the sensible thing to do would be to over-deliver in terms of food and service so that your customers still feel valued, despite being in a smaller room with less natural facilities.

But not United … oh no … for them, they see this as a cost saving exercise, which is why they’re about as friendly as sitting next to Donald Trump on Air Force One.



Great Creativity Leaves Scars …

So a few weeks ago, I talked to The Kennedy’s about something that rarely gets talked about … and that is there’s times where the creative process feels like a battle.

Sometimes it feels like you’re fighting your colleagues … sometimes it feels like you’re fighting your clients … sometimes it feels like you’re fighting yourself … but here’s the thing, it’s absolutely OK to experience these things because in my experience, nothing great happens if there hasn’t been tension along the way.

Of course there’s a point where decisions and directions have to be made and everyone needs to unite behind an idea to make it sharper and push where it can go [which should happen once you’ve tried stuff rather than just talked about the theory of it] but the fact remains nothing worth doing can be achieved without some scars and frustrations along the way … so rather than hide from it, embrace it.

8 little things that can ensure it’s only a momentary battle, not a bloody war …

1. Focus on the idea not your ego.
2. Try things, don’t just talk about them.
3. Be passionate but never be personal.
4. Remember everyone wants the same thing.
5. Hear feedback as help, not attacks.
6. Listen before you speak.
7. Rally behind decisions.
8. You can tell when the work was fun to make.

It has taken me almost 30 years to learn these things, but the difference it makes is huge – both to your personal fulfilment and the work you get to be a part of.

Of course, for it to work, everyone needs to understand this and practice it* … but when they do, more often than not you come out of it with something you’re all excited and proud of, which is what it’s supposed to be and why this industry – when it’s good – is very good indeed.

Don’t worry, I won’t be writing any more semi-professional posts for at least 1000 years.

_________________________________________________________________________

* It hopefully goes without saying that stuff like having a great brief, a great team and a fair amount of time to explore possibilities [etc etc] has already been accounted for.



You’re Either In Control Or Being Controlled …

Many of you may have already read this, but a while back, Politico magazine wrote a long – but fascinating – article about the moment George W Bush heard about 9/11.

What makes it especially interesting is they talk to people who were with him that day … from his Chief Of Staff, to his security detail to journalists to the pilots of Air Force One and the F-16’s sent to further protect the plan.

It is an amazing insight into one of modern histories most defining moments as well as being a wonderful lesson in how to give direction to chaos rather than letting chaos direct you.

You can read it here.