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


Obstacles Inspire Creativity …

I am a big believer in putting as few boundaries around creativity as possible.

That doesn’t mean it can ignore the problem it is trying to solve.

I just think the focus should be on solving a clearly defined problem rather than piling on a bunch of additional ‘mandatories’ that are often for no other reason than satisfying someone’s ego within the organisation.

The main reason for my view is because I know when creativity is given the freedom to solve problems, it can do it in the most imaginative and powerful of ways. In my opinion, too many companies are dictating the solution they want from their agencies – which not only means they are robbing themselves of the possibilities creative people could add to their business, they need to take some of the blame in terms of the lack of traction so many of their ads have in culture.

However, as we all know, when it comes to being able to save a client money – they suddenly become far more open to changing their behaviour. The digital and data industries have profited from this approach more than most – and while some of the things they have done are phenomenal, a lot is quite simply, flawed thinking … designed to drive short-term growth at the cost of long term profit.

Please understand, I am not saying digital and data are flawed. I’m saying many of the things digital and data agencies are doing is. From D2C models that are ore about driving commoditisation than distinctive brand value, to CX practices that are often designed to reduce transactional friction than reinforce brand experience through to user-journeys … which are sold as fact but are designed for mass convenience.

I’m not saying there’s not great value in this … when done well, the impact on brand and business can be huge. But too much isn’t done well. Sold as transformative but executed in productised form.

But I digress

You see I recently read a piece about some incredible lateral thinking.

Where creativity didn’t just overcome a huge obstacle that was eagerly embraced by clients with an open mind, but created an outcome that was better than they ever thought possible.

A few years ago, the US Air Force was facing huge budget cuts.

Their technology was out-of-date and the cost to update would place huge pressure on all the other things that needed investment.

Rather than sacrifice, they explored other ways to solve their challenge.

To cut a long story short, they discovered the answer was a SONY Playstation.

1760 Playstation 3’s to be precise.

1760 Playstation 3’s the came together to build the most powerful supercomputer in the entire US Department of Defense.More than that, it was the 33rd most powerful supercomputer in the world.

At the time, it’s performance was unparalleled … able to perform 500 million mathematical operations in one second and analyse over a billion pixels in one minute. Because of this, the Air Force used it to process high-resolution satellite images, identify unclear objects in space and deepen their research into artificial intelligence.

At the time, the Playstation 3 cost about $400 each.

The cost of buying approximately 2000 of the machines meant the entire project was approximately $2 million … which was between 5-10% of the price of a regular supercomputer of similar capability.

Of course to pull this off required a lot of incredibly talented engineers and computer programmers – not to mention open minded senior officers – but the reality was the end result was something that actually advanced their capabilities.

Not an optimised solution.
Not a short-term benefit at a longer term cost solution.
But something better than they had before at a price that enabled them to do the other things they wished to invest in.

So much of what we do is impacted by systems and processes that are designed to validate remuneration.

There’s value in that.

But when it ends up killing possibilities of effectiveness and value … simply because it doesn’t fit into their pre-determined evaluation criteria of an organisation, then you have to ask who is really mad.

The people who can see ways around the impossible, or the ones who want to stop them.



Perfect Fucks You Up …

A while back, I did a presentation for the Brazilian APG about the dangers of perfect.

Or more precisely, the boredom of it.

It was my usual rambling mess of random pictures that goes off on tangents a protractor would find hard to calculate … but I still liked the underlying point that perfection stops possibilities whereas acts others may view as stupid … creates them.

[If you’re mad, you can see a static version of the presentation here]

I say I liked the underlying point until I saw this.

I really, really like this.

I love the idea that flaws help us connect.

I love that imperfection can make us feel normal. That it is something to aspire to.

Of course, the reality is perfection is just an illusion.

One persons definition of what is the ultimate expression of an idea.

A temporary moment, where they believe nothing better has been explored or revealed.

The problems start when that definition starts being challenged.

While some embrace it – seeing it as a way to push the boundaries of what they thought was possible – many fight it.

Using their definition to control, limit or devalue the work of the challengers.

Sometimes it’s due to ego.
Sometimes it’s due to money.
But everytime it aims to oppress rather than liberate.

It’s happening everywhere.

From technology processes to agency ‘proprietary’ tools.

And while there is a lot to be said for being proud of what you have done, when you use it to stop people creating their own version, it’s not.

I’ve seen too many people in too many companies follow the orders of their bosses simply because it’s easier to do that. Where they know expressing a different point of view will be seen as an attack rather than an attempt for everyone to be even better.

So while perfect might be nice and shiny and make you feel good, it also has the power to stop progress.

Or as the brilliant chart at the top of this post states, stop feeling you can relate.

Not because it’s so far ahead, but because of the speed society evolves, it’s too far behind.



It’s Not Hard To Make A Difference …

One thing that actually angered me throughout COVID was the attitude supermarkets adopted over the Christmas break.

Don’t get me wrong, they did an amazing job to ensure food supplies were maintained but they also did it because they were making incredible profits at the same time.

I’m cool with that.

I’m less cool with how some still lobbied for government benefits, made whole departments unemployed – looking at you Sainsbury’s – failed to use the Christmas period as a time to ‘give back’ to essential workers [ie: their own staff] and just ran bog-standard ads [even though they were generally pretty poor] … all the while claiming they were a version of ‘ one of us’.

Which is why this little gesture by the Co-op made an impression on me.

It’s very nice.

Not bombastic. Not chest beating. If anything, it’s almost silent.

But it’s impact for those suffering from isolation could be huge.

I really like this. Not just because it more needed than many think, but because I can imagine there are a lot of possible implications on their business should their customers take them up on it.

I have no idea how many customers Co-op delivers to each day, but if each customer just wanted a 5 minute chat, that means the subsequent deliveries will be 5 minutes late.

The more customers, the more deliveries get impacted in terms of time.

That can add up to something significant and potentially make other customers frustrated.

Maybe they’ve put on more delivery drivers to off-set this.

Maybe they’re only going to offer this for a limited time.

Maybe no one will actually take them up on any of this.

But even then, I can see a lot of reasons why a lot of companies would say no to this idea.

The cost.

The impact.

The potential for logistical nightmares.

Which is exactly why I think the Co-op have done something pretty great in doing it.

Because while words, money and countless bloody ‘purpose statements’ may make a company feel they’re doing valuable stuff for the community, its actual acts of action that proves to the community you actually care.

It’s not that hard to make a difference. If you actually want to make a difference.



If Timing Is Everything, Planning Timing Is Nothing …

Despite being in this industry for 7,000 years, I still seem to get a couple of things wrong on a pretty consistent basis.

+ Creative briefs.

+ Estimating the time needed to do things.

OK, with the creative briefs, it’s less that I get them wrong … it’s just I end up writing so many different versions of them in an attempt to find the one that I think is the , most intriguing, infectious, provocative and sharp, that I end up feeling like I’ve just gone 12 rounds with a 50 foot robot octopus by the time I’ve finally finished them.

But in terms of estimating time … I remain, utterly rubbish.

I’m not saying I think something will take a day and it takes a year [though this one wasn’t that far off], it just means that I under-estimate the time needed for stuff by a day or two.

Is this because I over-estimate my capabilities?

Possibly.

But the real reason is that I tend to either find myself tumbling down rabbit holes that I find interesting or simply thinking there’s a better way to approach things and need to explore it rather than let it go.

While I appreciate this can be fucking annoying to my colleagues, I am a firm believer that rabbit holes have real value and nothing should be so set in stone that if something better comes along, you just dismiss it out-of-hand.

But all that said, it continually surprises me that I fall into this trap over and over again which is why I loved reading this:

66 years late!!!

SIXTY SIX!!!

When I read that, I immediately felt I had the precision of a German engineering company.

The efficiency of the Singaporean government.

And if I really wanted to feel better about myself, I could blame that 66 year delay on the creative team because the brief was written and accepted without hassle.

The thing is, while timing is vital, doing something well is even more important.

And while the evaluation of ‘well’ can be very subjective, I always feel that has to be judged by the person doing their work, the person they work into and the people who need to do something with it – ie: the creatives.

It’s not the client.
It’s not the producers.
It’s not the managing director.

That doesn’t mean you can take the piss or just blindly ignore their needs and wants, it just means the people who are doing the work need to feel the work they’re doing is the work they want to do.

And while they may never be 100% happy … and while they may face all manner of frustration from the people around them … the one thing I learnt from Dan Wieden, is when the work is great, all problems disappear..



Being Positive Means Nothing If You’re Denying The Truth …

Toxicity.

It’s a great word to describe a terrible thing.

It perfectly captures the strategy so many companies, people, governments have adopted to get ahead regardless of the cost.

But what a cost it is.

As the stories of Corporate Gaslighting highlight, it is destructive, debilitating and harmful and its rightfully being called out more and more.

However one of the byproducts of this rightful shift has been the increasing number of companies and agencies who will only accept ‘the positive’.

I’m not talking about them wanting to offer optimism in a challenging world, I mean they are actively dismissing or ignoring anything that they deem as bringing negativity into the conversation.

Questions about decisions.
Realities about their audiences.
Considerations about the categories.

No … no … no … no … no!!!

It’s the ultimate sign of privilege. Not to mention arrogance. An ability to simply close eyes and ears to the realities millions face every single day, just so they can continue living in their own Disneyland of the mind.

Actually Disneyland isn’t right, because their stories involve struggles and challenges … so we’re talking about organisations who make Disney look negative.

Jesus Christ!!!

And yet in the same breath, they will wax lyrical about wanting to have ‘deeper connections with their customers’ as well as ‘living their brand purpose’.

Of course it’s complete bollocks.

Deeper understanding equates to ‘how can we sell more stuff to them’.

And brand purpose is …. well, you know my view.

Can brand purpose have value?

Absolutely.

But brand purpose isn’t something you can ‘invent’ on a whim.

Nor is it a marketing tool to drive sales.

And it absolutely isn’t about saving the world.

It can be.

For some.

But it probably isn’t for most.

Which is why pharmaceutical companies saying stuff life, ‘We exist to rid the world of pain’ … makes me laugh so much I get a headache.

The reality is pain makes these companies oodles of money. The last thing they will ever want to do is rid the world of it.

And you know what … I’m cool with that.

Pain happens and they help it stop.

Cool.

But to say they want to get rid of it all?

Forever?

Are they forgetting how pain can actually be useful to people.

How it can help us understand our limits?

Can guide us to better decisions?

Without pain, can you imagine the trouble we would be in?

Which all explains why I – and shitloads of the planet – don’t believe a word they say when they, and countless other companies in countless other categories, go on about ‘their purpose’, especially when it’s obviously the total opposite of what funds their business?

And yet this delusional positivity of purpose is everywhere.

And what’s worse is we’re seeing more and more companies and agencies actively celebrate it, encourage it and demand it.

I cannot tell you how many planners I’ve spoken to about not being allowed to bring truth to their meetings and conversations.

I talked a lot about this – and the reasons behind it – in my rant at WARC, but it still blows my mind that companies and agencies expect planners to adopt this approach when it’s literally the opposite of what our jobs are about.

Planners are not blind cheerleaders.

We liberate through filter-free truth.

That means we’re supposed to question, challenge, have a hint of cynicism, push buttons.

Not to be dicks, but to help you be better.

It you want a planner to just accept whatever alternative reality you live in, go hire a bunch of Alexa’s.

You can say as much as you like that …

“We don’t really have competition”.

Or

“We don’t like negative insights”

Or

“We don’t want to talk about negative comments about us”

… but that doesn’t mean we should just accept it.

I don’t get why some people have this belief questioning is wrong.

At its most basic level, questioning is about wanting to understand more and surely that’s a good thing.

And even if we challenge what we’re hearing … it’s not to cause upset, it’s to get to truth.

Real truth, not corporate.

The truth that helps create great work. Not just in terms of creativity and cultural resonance … but commercial value.

If you don’t want to hear that, then frankly, you don’t want to grow. Or evolve. Or do something that can genuinely mean something.

Anyway, the reason for this post is because I was recently talking to a couple of creative mates of mine and they introduced me to the most perfect expression for this new attitude of only wanting and accepting ‘the positive’.

It’s this …

Oh my god, how good is that!!!

I cannot tell you how much I love it.

Not just the expression of Toxic Positivity, but the definition.

“The belief no matter how dire or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset. It’s a “good vibes only” approach to life.”

Both are utterly, undeniably, absolutely bloody perfect.

Because both are utterly, undeniably, absolutely bloody true.

When I heard it, it immediately helped explain why I found so many things in LA, so annoying.

Don’t get me wrong, there were amazing people there. And the country is amazing in many ways.

I absolutely feel a deep sense of gratitude for the experience my family and I got to have there.

However quite a lot of people I met had this ability to blatantly ignore reality in favour of repetitively repeating some superficial and delusional positivity while trying to look like they weren’t annoyed when I asked what the hell they were talking about.

Even the mere suggestion that everything was not quite as perfect as they are trying to claim was met with an icy smile.

I think I’ve written about it before, but America taught me the difference between truth and honesty.

For me, truth is often uncomfortable.

It doesn’t mean it’s done to be harmful, but it does force situations to be seen, explored, discussed and dealt with.

But honesty – at least the version of it I experienced in the US – was different.

Honesty there, was truth with so many layers of sugar-coating on it, you didn’t taste any bitterness or sharpness.

What it meant was everything was designed to be easy to swallow … to give the impression of openness without being open.

Silicon Valley are particularly good at this approach.

White people – dealing with issues regarding race – are exceptionally good at this approach.

An ability to ignore reality by communicating an alternative version of it.

One that bursts with positivity and happiness. And if they could add a Unicorn to it, they would.

But it seems Toxic Positivity is becoming more and more prevalent.

And while the picture above shows Zuckerberg, it’s not specifically about him.

It’s about any organisation who deals with the raw realities of life with a thin, pained smile while they slowly and calmly explain to you everything is great and everything their company does is great and to even suggest otherwise – even if it comes from a desire to help make things better – is an act of intolerable aggression.

As much as toxic negativity is a dangerous act, so is toxic positivity.

It denies the truth for the people who need it the most.

And while I get why some companies would rather not deal with that, actively shutting it down to spout some inane and delusional ‘happy clappy’ message is equally as destructive, debilitating and harmful as it’s more negative cousin.

The reality is truth and transparency makes things better.

Nothing shows greater respect than giving someone objective truth for the single reason you want them to succeed more powerfully.

I appreciate it might not always be easy, but it’s always worth it.