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

Nothing Shows Respect Like Letting Someone Argue With You …

A career is a funny thing.

I mean literally, as a concept – it’s quite bizarre.

The idea of working in one industry and hoping to move up a fictional ladder and somehow hope that by the time you’re pushed off it – and we’ll all be pushed off it at some time – you’ve built up enough reputation or cash to keep you going through till the bitter end.

Hahahaha … Mr Positive eh!?

Anyway, by hook or by crook I’ve somehow managed to have what I’d call a career.

Admittedly, I fell into it – but overall, I’ve had a pretty good one.

I’ve worked at some amazing places.
I’ve got to live literally all around the World.
I’ve met people who have literally changed my life.
I’ve been part of work that still excites me years later.
And somehow, I’m still doing all those things, which is insane.

But as wonderful as all that is, one thing I am particularly proud of is how many of my old team mates are now at some of the most highly regarded creative companies in the World doing all manner of interesting things.

Of course, I had little to do with it – it’s all their talent – but the bit that makes me proud is that they are forging their own careers based on their own ideas and their own opinions and their own voice.

About 2005, I realised how lucky I had been with previous bosses.

All of them encouraged me to find my own voice rather than duplicate someone else’s … and while that often got me in trouble, they never strayed from their path of encouraging independent thought.

Now I appreciate a lot of companies say this, but this wasn’t some PR bullshit they could spout in a magazine, they lived it – openly and actively welcoming, encouraging and igniting debate.

And they never ‘pulled rank’.

It was always a discussion of equals – which was one of the most empowering and liberating professional feelings I ever had.

It showed trust. It showed respect. It showed value.

And even though I’m an old fuck who has done OK in my career, I still get that same feeling when I am working with others who embrace the same value.

As much as rockstars and billionaires may have a reputation for demanding diva’s, I can honestly say the ones I’ve been working with have been amazing in welcoming opinion. They may not always like what is said, but they always value why it has.

And that’s why, when I saw a shift in planning from rigour to replication … challenge to complicity … and individuality to impotency [driven by the global financial crisis of 2008] I realised the best thing I could do is encourage my team to be independent in thought, voice and behaviour.

I should point out this was not selfless. By having great creative and cultural thinkers in my team, they would help make even better work and that would have a positive effect on me too.

I know, what a prick eh.

And of course, I acknowledge not every planner was following the replication path. Nor was every agency. But it was definitely happening and arguably, this is why Australian planners have risen in position more than those from other nations [ie: Tobey head of planning at Uncommon, Paula global head of Nike planning at Wieden, Andy head of planning at Wieden Portland, Rodi, head of strategy at Apple South East Asia and Aisea MD at Anomaly LA to name but 5] because – as much as the Aussie government may like to say they suffered – the country was largely unaffected, which meant training continued, standards continued, creativity continued.

So while there was a bunch of other values we continually encouraged and practiced, the desire to develop independent thinking, openness and debate were a real focus of mine and have continued to be.

Whether I was successful is up to the people who had the awkwardness of dealing with me, but I distinctly remembering being in a meeting at Wieden in Shanghai after Sue, Leon and Charinee had just challenged a bunch of things we had just talked to the agency about.

One of the global team was there and said, “they’re very outspoken”.

And while normally that could be read as a diss, it wasn’t … it was more of a surprise because many people in China – especially the young – tend to keep very quiet, especially in front of people who are at a more senior level to them and this mob had gone to town.

To which I replied, “I know. It’s a wonderful headache to have”.

And it was.

And it is.

Which is why I will continue to believe the best thing any head of planning can do is encourage independent thought and respect for debate and rigour … because while it can creates moments where it’s a right pain in the arse, the alternative is far more disagreeable.

Have a great weekend.

16 Comments so far
Leave a comment

ive argued with you a fuckton but its never meant i respected you campbell. just to be fucking clear.

Comment by andy@cynic

It’s how he post rationalises the fact everyone disagrees and argues with him.

Comment by DH

once a post rationalist always a fucking post rationalist.

Comment by andy@cynic

for a post about planners this is less shit than i thought it would be.

Comment by andy@cynic

The ultimate accolade.

Comment by Rob

If you want more wonderful headaches, just give me a call Rob. You’re welcome.

Comment by DH

What a birthday present to look forward to.

Comment by Rob

Promoting your birthday early this year.

Comment by DH

That’s a very interesting point about Australia and the impact it had on the talent of their strategists. I had not thought of it that way but when you say it and then point out the names, it is a very good point.

You are very good at building teams. Or gangs as you prefer to refer to them. I think part of your skill is you want to earn your colleagues trust rather than simply expecting it as part of your position. There’s more to it than that, but I’ve always admired it and the success of your alumni is testimony to how well it works.

Comment by George

I have to try and earn it because lets be honest, I sure-as-shit can’t expect it. Hahahaha.

Comment by Rob


Comment by DH

Stop being humble Robert. It is a very powerful and valuable skill that very few have.

Comment by George

Well said George.

Comment by Lee Hill

“I should point out this was not selfless. By having great creative and cultural thinkers in my team, they would help make even better work and that would have a positive effect on me too” = user.

Comment by Billy Whizz

was that ever in fucking doubt.

Comment by andy@cynic

This is such a good post Rob. I felt it when I worked with you and I see it in the connection you have with the planners who work with you now. What you offered was a protected space to think and develop to a high standard rather than push a proprietary process everyone had to adopt. I don’t know if there are many people who run teams like that anymore. This post explains why they should. Good one.

Comment by Pete

Leave a Reply