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


Stealing Doesn’t Make You A Genius. It Makes You An Imposter …

I once interviewed a young planner who spent the whole time confidently telling me how ambitious they were.

The whole conversation was literally about how far they were going to go.

And that’s admiral … except they never once talked about their rise in relation to the work they would do, but simply the objective they had.

I told them that while I love their ambition, I felt their priorities were different to what I valued.

They seemed to be focused on speed of progress whereas I cared about standards.

Of course they argued that’s what they wanted to, but by then we were done.

I’m not doubting they were good, but the quality of work was secondary to the speed of promotion and in my experience, that is never a good scenario.

I say this because I recently saw this:

I’ve got to admit, this triggered me.

Don’t get me wrong, everyone is a ‘magpie’ to a certain degree.

Taking things they’ve learned and heard and incorporating it into their thinking.

But this is not that. This is laziness.

Oh I know some will call it ‘smart’.

Or an example of hustle culture or some other bollocks.

And maybe the person in question just said it to be provocative.

But whatever the reason, it’s parasitic behaviour. Literally feeding off the talent of others.

It’s why I always favour people who have done interesting stuff rather than just know interesting stuff. It means they have skin in the game. It means they were willing to explore and experiment. It means they were willing to fail in the quest to do something good. It means they’ve learned stuff.

It’s a major reason why I believe in going down rabbit holes rather than playing to be precise.

It’s why I believe in graft not hustle.

It’s why I believe in standards, not just speed.

Don’t get me wrong, I apperacite we all want to progress.

I totally accept there are massive benefits gained from promotion and I don’t want to stop anyone from achieving that. I also think it’s outdated thinking to only give substantial payrises when attached to promotion. I understand why companies do it, but it means people often get promoted before they’re ready, and then aren’t even helped in learning how to be good at it.

But while speed of progress may appear attractive from the outside, it can be limiting on the inside.

Because promotion can get you many things, but it doesn’t automatically get you respect.

Oh you may think it does.

Or you may not give a shit either way.

But if you want a career or the ability to use your talent in other ways you find interesting … then at some point, you’ve got to have done stuff that goes beyond simple career progression. Stuff that is known and noticed for what it did and how it did it. Stuff that is for people and brands of repute, not just people or brands who pay your invoice.

Because without that … well, you may find your career starts like an Olympic sprinter but ends like the slowest of tortoises.

And as I said, maybe some are fine with that.

Or maybe some – as I’ve met a few times – are genuine freaks of brilliance who were seemingly born to go to the very, very top.

But the thing to remember is the latter is both rare and defined by what others think your capabilities are, rather than what you think about yourself.

Which may explain why the planner I interviewed all those years ago has not achieved their goal of being the King of the Universe.

On the positive they are a head of planning.

But it’s for a small agency in Seattle.

A sales promotion agency.

Where there appears to be only one other planner in the place.

And while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of that – I did it for a short time, and learnt a ton of stuff I still use now – it’s quite different from what they told me their ambition was. Maybe their circumstances changed. Or their ambitions changed. And maybe they’re happy as can be. But I can’t help but feel they could have fulfilled their aspirations if they’d just valued standards a bit more than they valued speed.

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Petty Happiness …
November 28, 2022, 8:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, Music

As some of you know, a few years ago I was fired by the Red Hot Chili Peppers from a project I was doing for them.

My crime? Disagreeing with them.

OK, I accept I could have maybe disagreed with them in a slightly better way, but I wasn’t doing it to be an asshole … I was doing it because I thought they were making the wrong decision and I wanted them – as I want everyone I work with – to succeed in a way that is better than they imagined.

To be fair, three quarters of the band were fine.

Nice even.

The problem was their singer, Kiedis – but then he has form with reacting badly to people questioning the stuff that comes out his mouth.

Anyway, their actions post our dalliance prove I was right – not that they’d ever admit it – but rather than be sad I was let go, I wear it like a badge of honour.

I was fired by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

How many people can say that?

Well, if you’re a guitarist – quite a few people – but let’s not go there right now.

Anyway the reason for this post is I recently saw a post on instagram from drummer Chad Smith wishing his band mate, bass player Flea, a happy birthday.

Nothing wrong with that. In fact it’s lovely … especially after being in a band together for 34 years. However what is slightly confusing is that despite being together all that time, he had to steal a photo from Getty Images to show them together.

Mind you, given the stuff I learned about them from my short stint working for them, I can say there are many reasons this could have happened.

Of which none are, “it’s just us being crazy Rockstars”.

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When Life Gives You Angostura, Make A Cocktail …

Recently I read the story behind Angostura’s strange bottle.

For those of you who don’t know what Angostura is, it’s a bitters used in cocktails.

For those of you who don’t know what is strange about their bottle, it’s this:

Yep, that’s their normal product.

A bottle, hidden inside fucking massive packing.

The story – as told by Abraham Piper – is the business was taken over by the founder’s sons in 1870.

To help grow its awareness, they decided to update the ‘look’ and enter the finished product into a competition in the hope the exposure would drive the business.

They didn’t have much time so to maximise efficiency, one brother designed the label and the other, the bottle.

One slight problem … they didn’t discuss the size.

Another slight problem … they didn’t realise until they brought both sides of their work together and by then, they didn’t have enough time to alter things before the competition was due to commence.

So they decided to enter it anyway.

Unsurprisingly, they lost.

Except one of the judges told them they should keep it exactly as it was because no one else was going to be stupid enough to make that sort of mistake … which means it was unique and would stand out.

So they did.

And that dumbass mistake – the sort of dumbass mistake that captures Dan Wieden’s classic Fail Harder philosophy, perfectly – was the foundation of a business that continues to evolve and grow to this day.

Now there is a chance this is not true.

They don’t mention it in their history timeline on their website for example.

But history is littered with happy accidents … from making Ice Cream to making Number 1 hit records … so there’s just as much chance it is.

And if that is the case, I’d bloody love it.

Because in this world where everything is researched to within an inch of its life, the products/brands that gain a real and powerful role and position in culture – not to mention whatever category they operate in – are increasingly the ones who keep the chaos in, rather than actively try to filter it out.

Whether that’s because they know it’s better to mean everything to someone rather than something to everyone is anyone’s guess. There’s a good chance they’re just lucky-accident dumbasses. Or they might understand the value of resonating with culture, rather than being relevant to the category.

Whatever it is …

The brands with the strongest brand attribution, assets and audience are increasingly the ones who never have to talk about it, let alone spend their marketing dollars trying to create it.

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Is Adland Turning Into Liz Hurley. Or Dan Bilzerian?

As many of you know, I HATE the band, ‘The Smiths’.

Hate. Hate. Hate. Hate. Hate.

However, I recently saw an old article from their guitarist – Johnny Marr – that I really like.

I should say that I’m not saying this because he also now hates the racist prick that is Mr Miserable Morrissey … or that he lives in Portland and has been known to play with some old W+K’ers … but because I absolutely love the last line of this quote:

Maybe I like it because I’m reacting to the many people in the industry who are achieving acclaim for not actually doing anything other than repeatedly spouting very deliberate, very self-serving soundbites … or said another way, for being famous for being famous … but the idea of someone working hard at something for the sheer desire to be good at something seems a relic of the past.

I know, I sound the grumpiest of grumpy old men.

The reality is I don’t begrudge anyone who is doing what they can to make a living.

Even if it’s utterly strategic and contrived in its motivation.

And I also know there’s people out there who do have a ‘work hard to just be better at something I want to be better at’ work ethic … people like Maya Thompson and Joel Goodall to name but 2.

But the bit that bothers me is the industry is placing so much value on people who shout stuff rather than do stuff that it is actively encouraging more people to behave this way.

Being good at something – just because it feels good to be good at something – seems to becoming more and more of an outdated concept.

In some ways I get it.

Just because you enjoy something doesn’t mean you’ll be good at it. Or good to the level that it could serve you well. So why would you put in all that effort when it may not move you forward?

I also appreciate I am the last person who should be talking about this.

When I learnt the guitar, I did it because I wanted to be a rockstar.

Sure, I also wanted to write songs and play them with my bandmates, because I loved doing that … but the ‘benefits’ of stardom were definitely a major influence in my decision to pick up the 6 string.

I used to look at old guys playing in bands [ie: people who are my current age] as pathetic.

I used to think they were hanging on to dreams they’d never achieve and it was all a bit sad.

But now I’m at their age, I realise it’s no longer about that, it’s about pure enjoyment.

That regardless of what might – or probably might not – happen, the joy of doing something you love, like and are quite good at, is fulfilling enough.

Sure, there are better guitarists out there than me.

Guitarists who will achieve success, money and fame … but that’s OK, because just being able to play to a good standard is OK with me.

It’s a demonstration that I committed myself to something.

Didn’t take the easy option.

Didn’t give up.

It’s the fact I can play the guitar that makes me happy.

Of course it’s nice if others recognise that, but that isn’t important.

Neither is the case that a long time ago, I played guitar for a few semi-famous people.

In fact, given I no longer play for any semi-famous people, you could argue I’ve got worse … except I don’t think that way. Not just because so much of that is down to luck, but because I am happy that I found something that gave me – and gives me – pleasure through a constant feeling of challenge and achievement and that is not to be underestimated.

A gift that has lasted 38 years and counting.

Throughout my life I have met people who have planned their life so well.

They knew their next step … they knew the skills they needed to acquire to get where they wanted to go … they worked everything out in excruciating detail.

I used to sort-of envy these people.

I used to wonder what was wrong with me because I sort of bumbled along, choosing things that interested me rather than necessarily rewarded me.

Please don’t think I am claiming to be a saint, but I can say that money was never the driving factor in my choices – except once, which led to one of the most soul destroying periods of my life which reinforced that my way of making decisions – however stupid – was perfect for me.

In fact, I realise more and more that what works for me is less about efficiency of progress and more about emotional satisfaction.

And that’s why I love that Johnny Marr quote, because he captured that while people who have gained the highest job title or have been put on the highest hype pedestal are good … the real stars are the folk who simply get on with what they do.

Who take pride in a job well done because that’s the standards they operate by.

Not for progress or cash incentives, but because they believe that’s what’s right.

They view it as a testimony to their hard work and experience.

That being good at something is – to a large extent – good enough.

Sure, some of these people also sit at the top tables of companies … but most tend to be people who let other people shine through their abilities at doing something well.

I am not one of these people.

I want to be.

I try to be.

But I’m not.

I write a blog and court attention.

I try to do it for the right reasons – I genuinely do – but, let’s be honest, I also do it because for some mad fucking reason, it’s also become quite good for my career.

To be honest, that’s pretty sad and pathetic.

And that’s why I am so glad I play the guitar.

Because while my reasons to pick it up may have been flawed, it was the sheer joy of wanting to get better at something that gave me sheer joy that kept me going with it.

I hope everyone finds that thing.

We will all be better for it.

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Why Business Needs To Be More Seinfeld …

I was never a fan of Seinfeld.

Then I’ve never been much of a fan of Jerry Seinfeld either.

I always found him a bit of condescending, self-righteous prick.

Oh I get he is smart.

His observational skills are almost unparalleled.

But you can be a genius and still be an asshole. Step on down Elon Musk.

However recently I read something Jerry said that made me dislike him less.

Not simply because he didn’t know who McKinsey were, but because of what he highlighted is the problem with them. Or more specifically, the problem companies who use them, have.

Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate this paints Jerry as a control freak.

And I also acknowledge that many companies hire McKinsey because they think the challenge they face is hard – rather than easy.

But what I do like about what he says is he won’t outsource his responsibility.

Sure, he could trust those around him more … and sure, his words smack of egomaniac … but to be fair to him, the product he sells is himself – his personality, his character, his humour – so it makes perfect sense he is obsessive about what goes out under his name because he cares deeply about his reputation, values and his quality control.

And that’s a major problem these days.

Too many don’t.

Oh they’ll say they do.

They’ll run internal and external communication that reinforce they do.

But then they’ll go and outsource their responsibilities and decisions to ‘for profit’ external organisations. Either because they don’t want the pressure … the issue is beyond their abilities … or they want someone to blame if things go wrong.

And the issue with this is the external organisation who are now responsible for answering this challenge, often do it with little to no consideration of who they’re doing it for.

How their clients look at the world.

The nuances and quirks that define who the company is and how they act.

So they provide a solution that does exactly what has been asked of them and nothing more.

Solutions agnostic of client values, beyond some superficial characteristics.

And this has resulted in a world filled with identikit functional solutions. Solutions that answer the issue, but at the cost of commoditisation. And all because senior people – who are paid handsomely to be responsible for their organisations wellbeing and growth – decided to outsource their responsibility to another organisation, even though they know they will never care as much about them as they should care about themselves.

Of course not everyone is like this.

Some are as committed and obsessive about how they do things as what they do.

But there are far too many who look for quick wins.

Easy answers.

Less pressure or responsibility.

Which is why I have always thought whether you are a shareholder or an employee, knowing how much the most senior people understand, value and protect the standards, nuance and quirks of the company they represent – not simply the balance sheet – acts as a good indicator you’re with a company who respects the value of their own value.

Not simply in terms of profit.

Nor in reputation.

But in the standards and values that drives all they do and create.

Which is my way of saying that while I still think Jerry Seinfeld is a bit of a dick, I now respect him for knowing where his responsibilities lie.

To both himself, his future and his fans.

Now if only there were more companies and brands who lived by the same mantra.

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