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


Listen To Your Audience More Than Your Ego …

Congrats, you survived my first week back.

OK, so it was only 3 days, but I’m still impressed.

But I don’t want you to heading into the weekend thinking you’ve already mastered the art of dealing with my rubbish, so here’s something to test you.

Good news.

It’s not about Queen.
Or Birkenstocks.
Or Nottingham Forest.

Bad news.

It’s about gadgets and cats.

You see a while back, I had to fly to the US and it just so happened to coincide with Jill and Otis being in Fiji [as you do]

While they were coming back the day after I’d left, it did mean Rosie the Cat would be on her own for a night.

Now she’s been on her own for a night before.

Hell, she was on her own for 15 nights when she had to do her quarantine when we moved to NZ – and that was after a hellish 26 hours in the cargo hold of a plane – but I still felt guilty about it.

So despite leaving more bowls of water and food to keep an army going for a year, I still wanted to know she was doing OK … which is where my love of gadgets comes in.

Putting aside the fact my plane had wifi – which is incredible in itself – I was able to use that wifi to connect to a camera in the house and see this …

There she is.

In NZ.

While I’m 40,000 feet in the air, somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.

But seeing my cat in real time while being so far away, surrounded by nothingness is not even the most impressive bit.

You see the reason her eyes are glowing as she looks directly at the camera is because she’s hearing my voice as I talk to her. TALK TO HER!!! LIKE I’M IN THE BLOODY ROOM. And that’s after I used an app on my phone to lower the blinds so she could feel more comfortable.

Go back just 25 years and doing this shit would be considered witchcraft. But here we are, able to do this wizardry without much effort or expense.

Madness.

Now I appreciate this topic has been discussed before and by people more articulate than I’ll ever be – for example disgraced comic, Louis CK with his ‘simpler times’ speech – however when you experience it, you realise the impact is far more powerful than words can say.

I loved being able to still look out for Rosie while I was far away.

Or at least, feel I was doing that.

Which is why for all my love of tech gadgetry, convenience and weirdness, its real power is realised when it enables your feelings rather than celebrates its function.

I know this is not new, but it’s amazing how few companies get that.

Even Ring – who literally made this happen for me – don’t seem to get it, which gives me the chance to reuse my fave Lucille Ball quote [and Colenso strat team sticker] to kind-of highlight one of the great issues with a lot of people working in marketing. And tech.

And for people who don’t know what the hell I’m trying to say, it’s this:

Listen to your audience more than your ego.

And with that, congrats on surviving this week and have a great weekend. To make things a bit sweeter, there’s no post on Monday because – drumroll please – THERE’S A HOLIDAY IN NZ.

I know. I know. We just had the World’s longest break, but not only is there one this Monday, we had one last Monday as well. Personally that would be my government campaign to attract talent to the country, but maybe that’s just me.

Beter go. Jill and Otis are in Australia, and as much as I miss them, I have countless true crime documentaries to catch up on.

Have fun.

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Why Wrong Reveals The Systems Limitations Rather Than The Participants …

I recently saw this piece of brilliance …

Isn’t it awesome?

Of course some people will think it’s cute … but wrong.

Whereas others may think it’s cute … and smart.

Putting aside the fact the responsibility for clarity of communication is with the communicator, not the recipient – which means the exam board have to accept their role in the answer given – it also highlights how one persons ‘normal’ is another persons ‘lateral thinking’.

I know that sounds a big leap for what is a young kids incorrect/correct answer to an exam question … but at a time where the British PM wants to kill the arts and freedom of expression for kids in schools – in favour of even more logical and rational studies – it’s a sign how early we try to destroy/control/devalue the imaginations of the young.

What I find ironic about the British PM’s stance is that he seems to be of the belief that having people study maths for longer will make everything better.

Putting aside the fact that much of the UK’s global influence – ignoring the violent invasions of other countries – has come from the arts, that’s a big call to make.

Even more so when you consider the financial mess the UK is in right now, has come from the hands of the very people he wants to encourage more of.

As a parent this situation is very difficult.

Of course we want our children to be set up to embrace life. But if they’re all being taught the same thing … in the same way … without consideration of what their own personal talents, interests and abilities are … then are you actually preparing them to thrive or simply survive?

Recently Otis got diagnosed with a learning difficulty.

I say difficulty, but really it’s a complication.

It’s called Dysgraphia.

While this doesn’t affect his ability to learn, it does affect how he does it and what he may be able to do because of it.

We are incredibly grateful the school he goes to – Birkenhead Primary – not only embraced this situation by changing the way he could engage and present his schoolwork. They did it by specifically tailoring their classes and approach to ensure Otis could participate in ways that actively played to his strengths while maintaining the pace of everyone’s learning. And if that wasn’t impressive enough … they were the ones who first noticed there may be an area of challenge for him and were proactive in acting on it.

The impact of this approach on Otis has been enormous.

Not just in areas of his schoolwork that were being impacted because of dysgraphia, but in his overall confidence, enjoyment and willingness to participate.

He has always been a kid who tries hard and wants to do the right thing [so definitely more like Jill than me] … but thanks to his teachers, he now feels he can express himself fully rather than having to become a smaller version of himself in an attempt to find a way to get through certain areas of class that challenged him because of his dysgraphia rather than his ability.

Frankly I doubt this would have happened if we were still in the UK.

Not because the teachers aren’t as good, but because the system doesn’t allow the sort of deviation of approach that Otis’ school created for him.

What’s scary is Sunak’s attitude towards education will only make this situation for kids like Otis, even harder.

Either actively leaving them behind or setting them up for a life of anxiety, guilt and feelings of inadequacy. And yet it doesn’t have to be that way.

So many of these complications aren’t barriers to learning capacity, just accessibility.

A bit of flexibility can unlock the full potential of a child, especially with the power of technology these days.

But the schooling system is increasingly about ‘targets’ rather than learning.

Preparing you for exams rather than life.

Systems rather than needs.

And while I totally accept creating an education system that caters to the masses as well as the edges is incredibly difficult, having a one-dimensional system that ‘succeeds’ by forcing compliance and oppression is not the solution either.

What the British PM needs to understand is making kids study maths for longer isn’t going to solve the UK’s economic woes. But maybe designing an education system that enables teachers to help kids learn how to play to their strengths, is.

Or to paraphase Sir Ken Robinson … see creativity and imagination as a strength, not a weakness.

We’re so lucky Otis’ school values potential rather than parity … but I can’t help but wonder how many other clever kids are out there who have been written off simply because the system would not allow for them to be recognised, embraced and helped.

When will certain governments understand an educated generation is a successful nation?

Probably when they understand school should be about learning not teaching and it’s an investment rather than a cost.

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Insights And Sinsights …

Insights.

That single word that causes so much debate.

What they are.

How you get them.

When you know you have a good one.

It may not be fashionable, but I’m still a big believer in them.

Sure, there’s rarely one single silver bullet insight that stands the test of time, but they still have a valuable role to play for effectiveness, creativity and possibility.

Or they do if they’re done right. And used right.
And not made to say stuff that they’re not saying.

I say this because I saw this brilliant tweet recently …

I have to be honest, I laughed and laughed.

Until I remember a long time ago, reading an award submission that said something like that.

Except they were serious.

Something that tried to connect Facebook likes with human motivation.

No … I’m not joking.

And what was scary was people didn’t call it out. They didn’t even question it.

Which explains why some people may read the tweet above and want to enter it into an Effie whereas others will want to enter their face with a fist.

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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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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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