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

Why Planners Might Not Be That Far Different From Politicians …
February 28, 2014, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

How about that for a blog post title eh?

Yes, I know I’m inviting trouble so let’s get all the possible horrible answers out of the way first, shall we.

It’s not because we both …

Talk shit.
Think we’re better than everyone else.

Oh no, in fact, if last week you’d asked me if there was any similarity between politicians and planners, I’d of wholeheartedly said no, and then I saw this …

Sure, I get the first bit sounds more like a ‘futurist’ than a planner, but the second bit sounds way too familiar for planners.

As I’ve said before, being a futurist must be an awesome gig, because at the end of the day, they can spout any old nonsense about what they claim will happen in 20 years time and then sit back in total smugness knowing they can either use the old, “you can’t say I’m wrong until 20 years time” excuse or just wait and wait and wait, knowing that in all likelihood, at some point in the future, it might happen and then they can claim they were right all along.

I swear Nostradamus was actually the village idiot.

When people saw him, they’d probably cross the road because they didn’t want to have to put up with his mental mutterings, that he shouted and scrawled on walls and books.

And then – hundreds of years later – some historian comes across his bollocks and post rationalises it with developments and evolutions of the modern day and he’s instantly lauded as a futurist genius.

Same with Da Vinci.

Everyone goes on about how he ‘foresaw’ the helicopter.

Have you seen what he did? It’s this …

Doesn’t look much like a bloody helicopter to me.

If anything, it looks more like an elaborate sun lounger/shade umbrella than a device that can take flight … but in the interests of having a legacy that isn’t based purely on the rubbish of this blog, I here-by declare that at some point in the future, we will be able to open a carton of milk without ripping the sides and the World will stop buying Coldplay albums.

I know that all sounds unlikely, but just you wait and I will happily go down in history as a visionary.


But this isn’t about the people who just proclaim the future, this is about the people who then explain why it didn’t happen.

From politicians to clairvoyants to planners, it never fails to amaze me how there is always a reason for why something ‘didn’t happen’. If I were a cynic – which obviously I’m not, because I’m a big ray of sunshine – I’d say we all operate in the field of ‘calculated hope’ or more accurately, ‘disassociative blame’ … because when it buggers up, it’s always someone else’s fault.

Whether it’s the client, the culture, the economy … whatever … it always sounds like we say we were absolutely right, but some unexpected force – or some terrible decision out of our hands – had a critical influence in fucking-up the master plan.

And it happens a ridiculous amount of the time.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many things that can affect results – from clients trying to dictate how to approach the challenge they’ve set you to society having this thing called ‘a brain’ that results in them doing what they want to do, not what you want them to want to do – however our ability to explain why something hasn’t worked, and to blame it on others actions and decisions – seems to know no bounds which not only is ridiculous, but actively contributes to why business doesn’t trust us and that has massive implications on what/how we can do things in the future.

To do something wrong is OK.

Things happen … things change … things fuck up.

However, regardless of the outcome, if you want to continually invest in your reputation and effectiveness, there are 3 questions you should always ask yourself at the end of every bit of work you have done …

1. Were your intentions done for the right reasons?

2. Did you consider all the key factors that needed to be considered?

3. Have you accepted and learnt from what you did – personally and as a group – that contributed to things not going as you planned/hoped?

… because as JFK said so succinctly:

“An error doesn’t become a mistake unless you refuse to correct it”.

The Parental Dilemma: Encourage Or Protect?
February 27, 2014, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

So I was talking to a colleague of mine about parenthood.

Neither of us are parents, but we had watched a documentary about parents trying to get their pre-schoolers into daycare and were shocked at how competitive it was.

Listening to the parents talk, they were saying the kindergarten their child entered had an implication on what school … university … and ultimately, job, they would have in later life.

Admittedly, the parents were wealthy wannabe’s in Manhattan, but still … it all seemed a bit extreme to me.

Of course, the problem I have is that my frame of reference is my own upbringing.

Pre-school for me was the church down the road … where I got to play with my oldest and dearest friend Paul.

Then infant school was the school around the corner from our house … where I got to play with my oldest and dearest friend Paul.

Then comprehensive school was the school attached to the infant school which was around the corner from our house … where I got to play with my oldest and dearest friend Paul.

And college was the building attached to the comprehensive school, which was attached to the infant school, which was around the corner from our house … where I got to play with my oldest and dearest friend Paul.

And then, instead of going to university, I had a dodgy music career before going into adland and while many would regard that as being lower than a traffic warden, it’s not too bad of a job and I earn a good salary … which lets me go back to England fairly regular where I get to play with my oldest and dearest friend Paul.

Now a lot of this is because my parents actively encouraged me to follow what I was passionate, excited and interested in.

Sure, they would have loved me to go into law or medicine or even the Royal Academy of Music … but they were far more focused on me living a life of fulfilment than contentment.

And only in the last 10 years or so have I realised what an act of love that is.

Despite the risks of a music career [ie: no cash, no achievement, no success] they knew it was something I adored and – having discussed the possibilities and implications with me – backed me wholeheartedly to see where it took me.

And I did OK with it.

Not what I dreamed of happening, but OK.

And even when I went into advertising – a career that was like kryptonite to my Father – they still supported me as despite the high potential for failure, redundancy and low pay, they could see it was something I found interesting, exciting and challenged by all at the same time.

In short, while they never wanted me to have a life of hardship, they also didn’t want me to have a life of regret and for that I am so truly, truly grateful as it set the foundation for me to do and try all manner of things … of which I still have a couple in the pipeline and a hell of a lot in my head.

But that was all 30-40 years ago.

A totally different generation.

Nowadays, competition for employment is even harder.

Academic qualifications are even more important, and yet have seemingly less value.

The arts even more difficult to break into.

And while I would like to think that talent and persistence will still find a way to ‘get through’, I know the sad reality that isn’t always the case.

Which leads me back to the discussion with my colleague.

If we had children, would we support their passion or would we encourage them to follow a path that increases the chances of them being able to live a more comfortable and stable life.

After all, comfort and stability doesn’t mean boring.

It doesn’t even mean it can’t be fulfilling.

But what would we do. Encourage or protect.

I know what I’d like to think I’d do … but I’d love to hear what the parents who check this blog out think about this dilemma.

Is it a dilemma?

Have you worked out what you’re going to do?

Was it something that has challenged you and your values?

Of course, few parents come on here and the ones who do are probably not the sort of parent that would be held up as being a ‘role model’, but if you are and you don’t mind explaining your perspective on this, I’d be fascinated to hear it.

And finally, to my parents, thank you. I always knew you were wonderful but I hold you both in even higher regard, if that is at all possible.

Why Ignorance Is Bloody Beautiful Bliss …
February 26, 2014, 6:14 am
Filed under: Comment

One of the things I love about my job is the opportunity to continually do something that can fundamentally – and positively – impact culture and commerce.

Of course, it doesn’t happen every time – or even much of the time – but every time I talk to a client or get a brief from a client, I get excited about what we could end up doing.

What we could end up creating.

What we could end up changing.

In some ways it’s a curse, because I get stupidly excited about stuff only to end up being slightly disappointed when we end up doing something that – while great – is a shadow of what I thought we could have done together.

And it’s all my own fault.

Because somewhere along the line, I’ve failed to explain why the bigger opportunity is better … how it can drive commerce, culture and creativity … how it would be an investment in their future, rather than just their present.

But despite that … despite more failures than successes … despite putting too much of my energy into things that are probably best left alone … I always begin every project as if all the shit of the past never happened and end up getting stupidly excited and enthusiastic about the possibilities and potential of where every single brief could take us.

I should point out, this does not mean I ignore the clients needs and wants, it’s just that I want us to respond in ways that are bigger and better than they ever expected or imagined. Than we ever expected or imagined.

Sure, that sometimes means we will have to go back and ask them to invest huge amounts of time and money into something they originally thought was going to be a ‘quick fix’, but even when we do that, we always [1] have a business case for it and [2] offer something that solves their immediate problem … because we know that if you don’t do that, then you’re become a hinderance to their business, not a help.

But as I said, more often than not, I fail to get them to buy the bigger plan – or at least how we hoped they’d embrace it – and as I said, I take responsibility for that, because getting them to dream bigger is part of my job and while I continually try to learn and adapt from the situations I’ve experienced in the past – both good and bad – the reality is my enthusiasm for what ‘could be’ always trumps the reality of what ‘probably will be’ and despite that often ending up being frustrating as hell, I like that I’m like that, I like it a lot.

I know I once started a company called cynic, but I’ve always been of the belief naivety, mischief, optimism and ambition are good traits to have – at least at the beginning of the journey – because they help you get past the past and see way beyond the short-term deliverables and obstacles. Sure, along the way you will have to embrace objectivity, context and countless other issues – and that may require you to rethink or readjust your original plan – but going into everything with the ignorant belief that this could be the project the client buys that ends up changing the rules for everyone and everything forever is hugely important … if only because enthusiasm is infectious and your excitement can influence and encourage colleagues and clients to go on a journey that ends up taking them to a place that’s much bigger and further than they would ever have otherwise achieved.

Yes, it helps if along the way you have the occasional ridiculously amazing ‘win’ – which I am very fortunate to have had, which is probably why I’m so happy to stay stupid – but the reality is, if you don’t aim high, then how the hell do you think you’re ever going to get off the ground?

Of course it’s hugely important to remember no one is going to buy enthusiasm if you don’t do the due-diligence to make it logical, acceptable and buyable – both for their current needs and their future ambitions – however whereas many people start each brief looking for – and at – the realities and mandatories, I believe this is the exact moment where you have to throw off the fear and blindly believe in the improbable, implausible and impossible because as my smart friend George once put it:

“Nothing great happens if you follow the rules”.

This Is How I Sometimes Feel, Working At W+K Shanghai …
February 25, 2014, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

… except you should replace ’30’ with ’70’.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great working with a bunch of young, talented, hungry, enthusiastic, culturally aware, socially-minded people … it keeps you informed, on your toes, ambitious and, to a certain degree, young … but by the same token – when you take away those rare moments where you can laugh in their face at the issues they think are issues – it can also make you feel old, achey, anti-social and grumpy.

So to those people who say 40 is the new 20, trust me you’re wrong. Mainly because the only people who say that are 40 year olds. Everybody else – younger and older – know you’re just a delusional fool who needs to go to bed at 9pm on a weekday.


Thank you to Clare Pickens @ W+K Amsterdam for finding the picture that I have stolen without her permission [true to my Nottingham roots] for this post. She may be the most Hollywood connected Scouser in the history of Scousers, but she’s still toptastic.

Post Holiday Prozac …
February 24, 2014, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

So I know you think all I do is have holidays all the time – and, to be fair, last year I sort of did – the fact is, I now won’t be having a single holiday for at least 5 months.


Yes, I know that isn’t that long and I’m incredibly lucky to be able to still go away a few times a year – plus the fact is, I really like my job – but for someone who spent the last 12 months seemingly never being more than 21 days from another break, it’s come as a bit of a culture shock.

So to help me through it, and to help you get over the Monday blues, I thought I’d put up the best of Ali G’s interviews – you know, when Sacha Cohen Baron was still funny – in a desperate bid to make us smile on this bleak, bleak day.

Hey, at least 21 minutes of your 480 will be happy.