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

Here’s To Those Comfortable With Uncomfortable …

I recently saw the above quote in The Athletic magazine.

The idea that Manchester City – albeit during their less successful period – had to provide ‘rain charts’ to show potential signings that their city was not wetter than London surprised me.

Then I came to my senses.

Society has an incredible knack of trying to lift themselves up by putting others down.

Obviously racism is the work example of this, but we do it everyday in lots of little ways.

From blanket attitudes such as …

“People from the North are backwards”.

To city affirmations such as …

“Manchester is the musical capital of England”.

To hierarchy comparison such as …

“I may be from Nottingham but at least I’m not from Derby”.

It’s not only bollocks, it’s also often stated by people who have never gone anywhere near the cities/countries they are negatively judging. Now I know people will say it’s all a bit of a joke – and I appreciate between mates, it can be – but there’s a lot of perceived truth in those sorts of statements, which has been exploited by all manner of organisations, especially politics.

When I lived in China, I was shocked how hard it was to recruit people from outside of Asia to come and work at Wieden+Kennedy.

OK, it may have been because they didn’t want to work with me … but even then, the amount of people who started off claiming to be interested and then said ‘it wasn’t for them’, was incredible. [Though maybe you will still find it understandable. Bastards. Ha]

There was a time where I almost gave up wanting to hire people from outside the region due to it being so much hassle. But the reality was I always felt it important to have a real mix in the gang. Sure, the vast majority of them had to be from the country/region – but by incorporating people from outside of it, I felt it created a tension that led to better and more provocative thinking. In addition, it could also help stop the blind and blinkered views we kept seeing and hearing from the West … because the more Westerners we got to experience the crazy, infectious magic of the nation, the more positive voices we would infect the rest of the world with.

But many people we talked to weren’t interested in changing their blinkered opinion.

So many didn’t even bother to investigate more about China, they were just happy to keep making their false judgements.

Oh they were all very happy to work for Wieden+Kennedy, they just didn’t want it to be in China and would often say, “but if you could connect me to people in London/Portland/NY/Amsterdam” etc.

And if they were really interesting and had a valid reason to not leave their country, I would.

Didn’t happen often.

I find it amazing that people – especially planners – don’t want to explore the World.

Planners go on about curiosity but what they mean is they are curious under certain conditions of personal comfort.

Behind a desk.
Surrounded by people and things they know.
Never venturing outside of the bubble they’ve created.

Of course not everyone is like this, but there’s a lot who are. Viewing the world and passing judgement on it via Twitter rather than experience.

In the case of China – as with anywhere I’ve lived – if the issue became about the country we were in, it probably wasn’t going to work. Of course it was OK to have concerns and questions, but if I sensed you saw it as a hardship rather than an opportunity or you thought you knew everything when you would have to relearn everything, you were not going to be someone I wanted on the team.

I was, and still am, eternally grateful to everyone I’ve had the honour to work with – and I’ve been incredibly fortunate with the incredible and diverse talent I’ve inherited and nurtured – however those in China will always have a unique place in my heart.

Because whether they were from China, Asia or further afield, all of them knew what they were taking on with the job. Not just in terms of the standards and expectations of Wieden+Kennedy, but the inherent perceptions, prejudices and lies that existed in society – and the ad industry as a whole – towards China and Asia.

And it’s for this reason that I fucking loved seeing them do work others could only dream about, especially when the industries perception was ‘China doesn’t do great work’ or ‘there’s no good planning in Asia’ … often muttered by people who have neither been to China or done great work.

But even that doesn’t make me as happy as seeing where they have all ended up …

Not just in terms of the level they’re at – from running departments, big pieces of business or companies – but the actual organisations they work with or have worked with.

Nike. Ideo. Tik-Tok. Wieden. Mother. 72. Anomoly. Supreme. Playstation. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Facebook. Google. Net-A-Porter. Instagram.

Not just in China but in countries that include America, Taiwan, Holland, UK, Singapore and Australia. Not forgetting the mob who decided to start their own thing and are now working on a bunch of fascinating projects from gaming to research.

I’m not just proud of them, I’m excited for them … because I truly believe they will do stuff that is interesting, intriguing and valuable for the rest of us.

And while most of their achievements are down to their talent and graft, another part is because of what China gave them.

Unique knowledge, experience and understanding of people and situations.

Some will never understand that.

Some will never value that.

But for those who were there – and the companies who hired them – they absolutely do.

Because while some make choices based on not wanting to leave things behind, this group of wonderful fools made their decisions based on what they could gain … and they didn’t need a rain comparison chart to convince them.

Thank you to all of them.

Thank you to anyone who runs towards the challenge not the comfortable.

23 Comments so far
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I obviously wrote this in a moment of extreme sentimentality.

Or, as I am today, sleep deprivation. Ha.

Comment by Rob

Calls or pitch!

Comment by George

Is this your attempt to keep your ex colleagues sweet and quiet before you meet your new colleagues?

Comment by Bazza

An alarming lack of opaqueness. ; )

Comment by George

Classic mafia move. Loyalty through intimidation.

Comment by Pete

when did you become a prick? i like it pete. keep it up.

Comment by andydy@cynic

But it’s a nice post. Unnervingly nice. If it didn’t have the few snide barbs of dismissal, I’d wonder if you actually wrote it.

Comment by Bazza

Where being comfortable with the strange is concerned, Robert has more of a right to write about this than many. As does anyone who has worked with him.

Comment by George

Cheeky sod.

Comment by Rob

cheeky? fucking fact.
well fucking said auntie g.

Comment by andydy@cynic


Comment by DH

I love how much you love China. So few people I know who went there embraced it like you. I look at my time in Asia as a lost opportunity and reading posts like this helps me understand why. I’m envious of the people who worked for you at Wieden and it’s fascinating to see where they are now. I also noticed you didn’t take any credit for that. I’m sure they would say you played a big role in their success. Even if it is lessons of what not to do. Great post Rob.

Comment by Pete

Are you and George doing a passive aggressive pincer attack? Haha.

Comment by Rob

Just keeping you real.

Comment by Pete

There was a press conference doing the rounds yesterday where Burnley manager Sean Dyche rambled on about life in the pub rather than football for five minutes. It’s an example of exactly what you started to write about before today’s novel took an excursion to China.

Everybody thinks it’s great. Not me. At its heart was a bit about drinking with your mates and working out who other drinkers look like. Sounds harmless, but deep down it’s about personal mockery. Deflecting from their own self-loathing by punching down while being unaware.I hope, of what they’re actually doing.

But that’s not good enough because once you dismiss punching down as a bit of fun, you can move on to defending its nastier manifestations.

Comment by John

Bitterness is often dressed in a fun jumper.

At least on here, I get bitterness dressed in bitterness.

But I agree, there’s a lot of spite in these comments. The reason people laugh is because they recognise the act but fails to see what it’s saying.

Saying that, I laughed out loud when you wrote this:

“exactly what you started to write about before today’s novel took an excursion to China.”

Novel. Epic.

Comment by Rob

Well said John.

Comment by Lee Hill


Comment by andydy@cynic

i might pay all the poor fuckers who had to work for you to do a documentary on all the shit you put them through. the mental anguish they still suffer. the horror they feel when they fucking hear your name. it would be scarier than a korean horror movie at 4 in the morning in a fucking cemetery.

Comment by andydy@cynic

A true video nasty.

Comment by Jjohn

If they’re anything like me, they’re all in therapy. Good news is it only needs 15 years until you feel a bit better.

Comment by DH

This is you feeling better?

Comment by Bazza

Why has no one talked about that painting of you? It’s serial killer creepy.

Comment by Bazza

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