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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The Most Selfish Generation In History …

Hello … I’m back.

It was amazing.

OK, it was more for being with the family than the physical place … but that’s because I’m not a ‘stay-down-on-the-farm’ kind of person, though I appreciate some of you may suggest it’s more because I’m not a ‘pay-for-my-own-holidays’ kind of person.

Pah.

Anyway, I wanted to return with a post that matters a lot to me.

To be honest, all of them matter to me … but as of late, I’ve been writing stuff that matters more than most.

Things like female leadership, prejudice and when work tries to kill you

Well, while this isn’t connected to the industry I work in, it is about an issue very dear to me.

Living overseas is one of the greatest privileges you can have.

Sure, there are things you give up and miss – but what you gain more than compensates for it.

Case in point. I recently had dinner with Rodi and David in San Francisco.

The photo from the evening is at the top of this post.

None of us live here. None of us work here. None of us are from here.

In fact all of us live in totally different countries and come from different parts of the world.

Rodi is Australian/Ukrainian, David is Taiwanese and I’m British/Italian.

To make matters even more random, we all met in China.

Yet despite having all moved on from our time at Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai, we remain connected … not because of the company we worked at, but because of the generosity of the country we experienced.

This dinner represents what England has voted entire generations never to have.

It’s an act of utter selfishness.

Utter, utter selfishness.

So many in society like to bestow that label on the youth of the UK, but it’s not them.

It’s the Daily Mail reading, over 55’s who have enjoyed good fortune in their life but don’t want anyone else to have it. Who don’t want anyone else to evolve and grow because they don’t want to be left behind and feel less important.

Selfish, egotistical, bigoted and blinkered pricks.

The reality is my ability to live around the World has made my life unquestionably bigger, better and fuller.

Almost everything I have and treasure is because of my life outside of England.

That is not in any way meant to say life in England is bad – far from it – but anyone who thinks there is greater value staying isolated versus expanding the possibilities of life through adventures, experiences and friends that exist beyond the borders of our shores has either never done it or is frightened of it.

May I have dinners with friends in countries none of us come from for many years to come.



When Meetings End Up Feeling Like This …

We have all had bad pitch meetings.

When things don’t just go wrong, but go terribly.

Politics.

Bad attitudes.

Going on too long.

Terrible work.

Great work they think is terrible.

Stand-up rows.

Professional fails.

Arrogance and abuse.

Lack of response.

Stupidity.

But the next time it happens – however angry, sad, pissed off it may makes you feel – look at this video and remember, it could have been so much worse. It could be Kylie bad.

You’re welcome.



We Are Always On Display …

Thanks to technology, our private lives are less private.

While many of us seem to be OK with this, there is a potential price to pay.

With more and more companies worrying about their professional reputation, they are actively delving into the lives of their existing – and potential – employees … making sure the way they conduct themselves out of work reflects the values of how they should be acting when they are inside work.

While we can talk about whether a company has any right to demand how an individual behaves is open to debate, but what is certain is our personal and professional reputation is now constantly being viewed and reviewed by those around us and if you want any chance of continually moving forward in life, you have to be conscious of what reaction your actions may have on that.

Let me tell you a story …

A few weeks ago, I was staying in a hotel in Germany.

It was a fancy-pants hotel, with the room overlooking a central garden.

Imagine my surprise when I looked out the window and saw this …

Yes, that’s a man.

A man who is walking around his room.

A man who is walking around his room, naked.

A man who is walking around his room naked with the curtains open.

He was like this for bloody ages and yet, when he saw me trying to take a photograph of him, he acted shocked [not shocked enough to put on his clothes though] when he was the one who knowingly poncing around his hotel room with his unimpressive penis on display.

Look, I get when you have travelled a long way, you just want to get into your hotel room and let your metaphorical hair down … but making everyone complicit in your actions is a bit mean.

Maybe I should give lessons on hotel etiquette …

You might be wondering what gives me the right to do that, well let me tell you why.

About a year ago, after an extraordinarily long day, I finally got to my hotel room and just wanted to relax.

Problem was, a very dear friend of mine was leaving Wieden and I had to send in my leaving ‘video’ that night.

Did I send my message while standing naked in front of a window?

No …

As you can see from the photo below, I found a way to balance the need to chillax after a long day of work with a sense of professional decorum towards my friend and fellow hotel guests.

I have created a 5 step ‘reputation training program’ to help any individual or hotel group who is interested in knowing how to best handle these situations in ways that balances self expression with managing a strong corporate image.

All at very reasonable prices.

You’re welcome.



How America Changed Me For The Better …

While I wasn’t in America for long, 4 female, people of colour changed my life forever.

Given how old I am, that’s a pretty big statement and yet it is entirely true.

Mind you, it’s my age – or more specifically, the fact I’m at a level where I have some sort of influence in the industry – that is driving real change in terms of what I hold up as goals I want to hit in the time I have left in adland.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have a ridiculous level of enthusiasm and excitement for helping make great creative work … and I still want to help my team create one of the most interesting planning departments in the industry [based on what we create and how we did it] but I also want to make time for what I passionately believe will help the industry be better … of which one of those things is driving diversity in leadership.

Look, I know I don’t take too many things seriously, but this podcast interview with an HR organisation [I know, HR, but it is part of Niko’s brilliant Gap Jumpers group!!!] is one of the proudest things I’ve ever done.

Not for what I say, but because who helped me think this way.

Of which those 4 female, people of colour in America that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, are some of the most important ones.

Which is why I hope all the women I refer to in the podcast feel I honour the generosity, compassion, friendship and trust they showed towards me, because I am forever grateful to them for who they helped me become.

You can listen to it here.



Goodbye Mr Gee …
January 18, 2019, 7:30 am
Filed under: China, Chinese Culture, Death, Empathy, Insight, Marketing, Media, Planners

When I first moved to China, I heard of this ad man who was highly regarded for his authentic insight into Asian culture but without the smug arrogance shown by so many of his peers.

His name was Ian Gee.

A few years later, I had the pleasure of meeting him when we were both invited guests on an episode of the now defunct, Thoughtful China.

Unsurprisingly he stole the show with his smart comments delivered in his understated charismatic way.

Despite his brilliance making me feel even more of an imposter than I normally do, we hit it off and while we only met in person that one time, I was thrilled we stayed in touch – often instigated by comments he made on this blog.

Sadly today I heard from his son that Ian passed away yesterday from cancer.

Few people knew he was ill because he kept it to himself as he didn’t want it to define him.

He need not of worried because lots of people know he was a kind, generous, humourous, intelligent man with unwavering and unapologetic standards for doing what was best for the work, the people around him and the culture he represented … and anyone who tried to shortcut or short-change had better watch out.

It was a true privilege Ian.

Comments Off on Goodbye Mr Gee …


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]