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

Why We Need More John Deacon’s …

Once upon a time, I wrote a post about why we should be like Freddie Mercury in the boardroom.

To be honest, I also wrote about how we should be more like Freddie Mercury fullstop.

I still think that … but I also think there is another member of my favourite band we should embrace.

Not Brian May with his degrees, poodle haircut and home built guitar.

Nor drummer Roger Taylor … with his rock star smile, lifestyle and notches on the bedpost.

No, I mean the bassist … John Deacon.

On first impressions, John is a typical bass player.


Comfortable in the background.

Doing everything to not bring attention to himself.

Yes … I appreciate there are a few exceptions to this rule – Flea, Nikki Sixx, John Entwistle, even Level 42’s thumb slapping maestro, Mark King – but John is not one of them.

I once had him driving behind me in London and he was in a Toyota Yaris.

But behind the introverted persona was someone who was most definitely exceptional.

Not just in terms of writing some of the bands biggest hits – from Another One Bites The Dust to I Want To Break Free.

Nor do I mean in terms of still being married to his first love and having a bunch of kids who all live happily in Putney.

[His son used to have a great Youtube channel but sadly he took it all down a while ago]

No … what I mean by calling him exceptional is that he’s 10000% his own person.

Not in an arrogant rockstar way, but in his own way.

Have a look at this …

I bloody love that photo.

Love it.

Not just because it’s Queen live on stage.

Nor because Freddie is in his magnificent prancing poser phase.

But because despite being on stage, playing at deafening and blinding volume and wattage to tens of thousands of adoring fans, standing behind one of the most flamboyant and iconic rock stars of all time as – at the time of that photo – a member of the biggest band on the planet … John looks like he’s just come from his job working as an insurance salesman at a building society in Norwich.

Put simply, John didn’t give a fuck.

He loved the band – at least the majority of the time – but not enough to change who he was.

Where many would have succumbed to the pressure of being more ‘rock star’, John simply wanted to be more him.

Whatever ‘him’ was on any given day.

And what I love as much is the band didn’t give a fuck about it either.

Despite the other 3 members embracing their rock god characteristics – at least on stage – they accepted John for who he was.

Not that they could have got him to change if they tried.

Because while it has been well documented that John was a fragile soul – suffering from depression and always feeling slightly disconnected given he was the last member to join the band – John was as stubborn as a mule.

Not in terms of not listening to reason, but in terms of knowing who he was and what he believed.

At a time where the word ‘authenticity’ is banded about like it’s confetti … no one deserves that label more than John Deacon.

And while I am sure that led to all manner of tension in the band, they obviously trusted and respected him, even to the point they let him take control of the bands financial dealings … which not only resulted in them becoming multi, multi, multi millionaires, but – for a couple of years – becoming the highest paid company directors in the World.

We live in times where complicity is not just expected, but often demanded.

Where the rule of thumb is you fall in line with whatever the whim of whoever calls the shots.

But John Deacon didn’t follow that path.

Not because he was a rock n’ roll rebel … but because in his quest to be as good as he could be, he didn’t want it to come at the cost of losing who he was.

And while that may have resulted in John Deacon being one of the most underrated bass players of his time, we cannot forget it also resulted in him becoming one of the most successful musicians of all time.

And richest.

Despite never fitting in …

Be that with his choice of stage attire or the expectations of others.

Which leads to the point of this post …

Too often we feel we need to be like others to be accepted by others.

Adland is typical in this, but then so many other industries operate the same way.

It’s like group-think oppression … a clique that you feel you have to be a part of to stand a chance of being seen for yourself.

Which is mad and shit and rarely works out.

Which is why John Deacon should be a role model for us all.

Someone who never lost sight of who he was, what was important or what he expected from those around him.

Forever working hard but never taking anything for granted.

Including himself and his family.

From the outside, Queen may not come across as the poster child for ‘healthy working environment’.

And John Deacon doesn’t appear as the most natural of role models.

But as role models go – it may not be very rockstar – but it is very good advice to follow.

So wherever you are in your life or your career, be more John Deacon and find a job where they accept you like a member of Queen.

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To Be Innovative, You Actually Have To Be Innovative …

A few years ago, my wife – a designer – was working for a company on a freelance project.

She met them for the briefing and they told her, “We want people to see us as innovative”.

To which she replied, “I think the only way you do that is by doing innovative things”.

Now she wasn’t saying this to be an asshole, she was trying to be helpful … but, of course, they didn’t see that, even though she was absolutely right.

OK, some companies get away with it.

There’s one I know very well who position themselves as progressive … but look a little deeper and you see the innovation is more in their language and wrapping than anything truly ground breaking. And what’s more, they do the same thing – albeit with a different skin – for different companies time and time again.

To be fair, some of what they do/did is truly progressive, but that is most definitely the exception rather than the rule because their current business model appears to be far more about duplication and replication than innovation.

And that would be fine … except they position themselves as innovation pioneers.

It works because nothing attracts conservative companies than the ability to pretend/think they’re innovative or disruptive when – as Lee Hill once brilliantly observed – all they’re really doing is simply ‘modernising to the times’.

Or said another way, they’re simply catching up to where everyone else is, rather than leaving them behind.

It’s a commercial co-dependency.

They talk to you so you can think you’re innovative and you pay them to allow them keep thinking they are.

The reason I say all this is because I recently saw this in Pudong Airport …

It’s for Austrian/American chef Wolfgang Puck and his restaurant chain.

Now Wolfgang has achieved a great deal in his life …

He is the only chef awarded the ‘Outstanding Chef of the Year’ award on multiple occasions.
His 1982 restaurant Spago – which was a revelation – created the concept of the open kitchen.
He is responsible for serving celebrities a special banquet after the Academy Awards.

All good and grand.

However for all the ‘innovation and success’ Wolfgang has achieved, his Wolfgang Puck chain is anything but … exemplified by the fact that this hoarding claims, “To be truly original is to invent the future of food … to question, to experiment” and yet all the pictures accompanying this statement are about as basic as my dress sense.

Prawn salad.

Now I am not saying this food won’t be tasty. But I am saying it is not original and it most definitely is not inventing the future of food.

Of course, there is a lot of [bad] marketing that is underpinned by exaggeration and hype. And I totally appreciate China loves the superlative … however, as exciting as the people behind this restaurant may be about this concept and regardless how ‘new’ this may be to China [clue: it’s not] they’re selling the illusion of innovation rather than the reality of it.

And why do I care?

Because people are falling for this shit.

And while that is their issue, the result of this is the systematic downgrading of standards and ambition.

And truth.

Where more and more people are falling for average because it’s been sold to them as exceptionalism.

And it is convenient for them to believe that because it doesn’t challenge or question, it just comforts with convenience.

The result being those who are being innovative … the ones who are trying to do things differently … are met with immediate distain and dismissal. Judged, insulted and dismissed.

Please note I am not in any way claiming to be one of these people. But I know those who truly are. And so many have failed to achieve the impact and success they deserve because the business of illusion innovation is easier to buy than actual innovation.

And while I could say that is their problem, a lot of it is because of what they refuse to do.

Like guarantee results.
Or sell one-size-fits all process.
Or blindly accept the opinion and views of people because of their title.
Or follow research methodologies that are designed for totally different scenarios.

But that happens a lot. I’ve seen it. We all have.

Which is why I think the best thing that can save marketing is maybe to stop marketing.

Stop playing the games of how so many operate.

Stop valuing convenience, complicity and popularity in favour of truth, action and change.

Stop judging people on how much cash they bring in and more on what they’ve done/do.

Stop playing down to a price rather than up to a quality.

This industry is littered with brilliant creative, innovative, progressive doers and thinkers.

They’re everywhere and yet they rarely seem to be championed or celebrated.

At best they’re viewed as a novelty. At worse, a destructive force.

The Emperor’s New Clothes may get short-term economic results.
It may keep people employed and give the C-Suite big, fat bonus cheques.
But what it is also doing, is ensuring we fall backwards.

Not just killing our credibility, but denying a future to those who could bring us back.

And as acts of corporate hostility go, I find that one of the worst of all.

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When Words Are Worthless …

I’ve been a customer with Natwest Bank since 1987.

It was the first bank I ever had a salary put into and continues to be a bank account I use regularly, despite no longer living in the UK.

On top of this, since 1995 I’ve had the privilege of never needing to use the overdraft facility they gave me.

It’s only ever been 500 pounds, but I’ve never once needed it.

Anyway, due to some stuff we’re doing, I’ve withdrawn all but a few hundred pounds from the account over the past few days.

It is only temporary as this is the account where a bunch of different things get money paid into them … but it’s telling that on the 4 days there has been the least amount of money in it for almost 30 years [because I definitely used my overdraft when I was younger, on a monthly basis] I get this.

So despite never once going overdrawn …
Despite never once being late for a payment …
Despite never once asking them for help …
Natwest decided NOW is the time to lower my overdraft.

On one level, I shouldn’t care – I don’t use it and I’m in the incredibly fortunate position of not needing it – but there’s 2 things that bug me.


It feels they’ve chosen this time because they’ve seen my balance basically disappear and fear I may be in financial hardship.


Like NIKE – who said they were always looking for ways to benefit their customers, before announcing they were pulling out of NZ – Natwest are trying to say this is for my own good.

That they’re doing ‘what’s right for me’.

What’s right for me?

More like what’s right for themselves.

Because for all their talk of wanting to be there for their customers.
… for all their claims of being there if anyone is facing financial hardship.
… for all their proclamations of wanting to be a financial partner to their customers.
You can’t help but feel they’re making sure they reduce any exposure to customer debt as is physically possible.

Not that they are in debt. Or face any risk of it.

Last year they made almost 5 billion in profit pre-tax … up a third on the previous year.

And let’s not forget the taxpayer bailed them out to the tune of 45 billion pounds in 2008.

As I said. I’m in the incredibly fortunate position of no longer needing to use my overdraft … but I know there’s lots of people who do. And if they will do this to someone who has been in credit for almost 30 years, what are they doing to those who haven’t?

The reality is, I’m fine with them reducing my overdraft limit … what I’m not fine with is their attempt to claim they’re doing ‘what’s best’ for me, when it’s painfully obvious they don’t give a toss about me.

They could have said, ‘you’ve never used your overdraft so we’re getting rid of it’.

Or ‘you’re not using it so we’re reducing it so we can provide more help to those who need it’.

Hell, they could have just kept everything the same because nothing has changed, even if my recent bank balance has.

But they didn’t do any of those things …

Instead they chose to basically bullshit so they could feed their ego and pretend they’re saviours all while making a decision designed to protect themselves from a financial situation, that they – in part – encouraged because of decisions and actions over the past few years.

Banks have an important role in society.

They could be seen in favourable terms by society.

But time and time again, their actions defy their advertising claims.

And yet they wonder why they find it hard to build trust and value with customers.

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WeDon’tWork …

Warning. This post is topical.

In fact, it may be the most topical post I’ve ever written on here for 20 years.

Please read, while sitting down in case shock overwhelms you.

This is the end of this public service announcement.

So over the years, at Wieden and R/GA, I had a few dealings with WeWork.

And while I admit at the very beginning I thought it was a genius idea – specifically the way they were creating a business that dramatically profited from sub-letting space that was designed to appeal to a particular audience who felt they deserved to work in a particular kind of environment – after I met them, I started thinking something didn’t quite add up.

Please don’t think I am trying to suggest I had any idea of the level of craziness that was going on because I didn’t … I just couldn’t understand why they kept talking about themselves as a tech company and experts in work environments and culture when they were just a new generation of business space renting organisation.

But billions were poured into them and they were the darling of so many – especially those investor/companies who love to talk about ‘disrupting categories’, despite the fact most are about as conservative as you can get.

But over time – as numerous books, documentaries and news reports have documented – WeWork was proven to be a case of Emperor’s New Clothes.

And founder ego and delusion.

Specifically one founder … because on the few occasions I met him, Miguel seemed decent and grounded, whereas Adam most certainly didn’t.

Zoom forward to today and the company has filed for bankruptcy protection.

All that money and they still fucked it.

Worse, the delusional, ego-maniac that is Adam Neumann – who took a good idea and killed it with his God complex – got to walk away with a level of wealth that will last a thousand lifetimes.

Multiple billions.


But this isn’t a post about unfairness or WeWork’s craziness – I’ve written loads about that – this is about the challenge to encourage new thinking while not being blinded by it.

We live in divisive times.

Everything seemingly turns into a war.

Those who believe and those who don’t … and that extends to new ideas.

The amount of time I’ve seen people immediately dismiss new concepts or thinking simply because they are not as perfect as something established that has had years to work through issues and train people to conform.

But by the same token, I’ve also seem people blindly back a new concept or thinking because they seemingly want to associate themselves with the topical.

We saw this last one on a grand scale with so many people on Linkedin suddenly announcing themselves as AI experts, in a desperate bid to exploit the market interest and the market lack of knowledge.

Which gets to the heart of this post which is the importance of independent, critical thinking.

Where you are supportive of new ideas and thinking but know it is OK to ask questions about actions and decisions. Not to tear things down, but to better understand what is being done.

Starting from a position of ‘they could be right’ rather than ‘they’re obviously wrong’.

Focusing on the business not the hype … which, as Lee Hill once told me … is often as simply as acknowledging ‘profit is sanity, turnover is vanity’.

Critical, independent thinking isn’t celebrated enough.

Oh we may think it is, but what often we’re seeing is blinkered ego thinking.

Not enough understanding.
Not enough knowledge.
Not enough homework.
Not enough questions.
Not enough patience.

WeWork has cost millions of people billions of dollars … and yet you can’t help but think it didn’t have to be that way.

Their original business idea was a good one.

But the promise of trillions seduced people to lose their ability to think.

Critically and independently.

I wrote about this years ago with a lesson from the master conman, Bernie Madoff:

“I succeeded because when you offer people a deal that’s too good to be true, they never want to look too hard into the facts. They say it’s because of trust. I say it’s because of greed.”

We need to encourage positive pessimism.

The ability to champion new ideas without blindly being seduced by them.

To want to help people succeed without falling into being an accomplice for any delusion or slight of hand.

It’s not hard … but the more we promote blinkered ‘framework and eco-system’ thinking, the more we lose the value of independent thinking and then everyone loses in every way possible.

Especially those who have exciting new ideas that just need our encouragement and time.

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It’s Not Your Fault Your Perspective Is Small. It Is Your Fault You Do Nothing About It …

OK … so yesterday I said the posts this week were all superficial shite, but that was until I read an article that has pissed me off.

Have a look at this headline:

On one side, it’s from the Daily Mail – so this sort of divisive headline is to be expected – but what made me especially angry is the daughter in question is not ‘rebellious’, she has dysgraphia and dyscalculia … so she finds writing, reading and maths incredibly difficult.

NOT because she isn’t smart or capable, but because she has a neurological condition so she learns in a different way to the one the education system is set up to teach.

To be fair to the school in this article, it sounds they tried to help … but it also sounds they were so stretched that the way they approached it was more about giving them time off school rather than adapting their approach to schooling.

I’ve written about this in the past given Otis has dysgraphia and his school has been active in trying to adapt to help. Even then it’s not been easy – or perfect – but at least Otis knows he’s seen, heard and valued … which is more than the woman in this article probably feels.

Imagine being neurodivergent and having a national newspaper refer to you as rebellious and having your own Mum be OK with that.

Worse, the Mum makes it all about her and ‘her struggles’.

Yes, it can be hard … and yes, it can be stressful … but it’s a fuck-of-a-lot worse for kids going through this sort of thing. They feel stupid. They feel left behind. They feel discarded and useless. So the last thing they need is a parent – and an education system – labelling them rebellious or lazy when what they’re dealing with is neurological. To make matters worse, this neurological challenge doesn’t impact their capacity to learn, just the way they do learn … so they have huge amounts of potential but with too few people wanting to see it, recognise it and liberate it.

This article could have been about the need to relook at how we educate. It could have been about the importance of needs rather than standardisation. It could have been about progress rather than judgement. Instead this ‘newspaper’ decided to write a piece that shows they view compassion and encouragement as weakness and unfairness.

Shame on them.

Shame on the mother for allowing this headline.

Shame on the people who commented negatively without understanding.

You have to be pretty fucking vile to be jealous some kids need special attention from their schools.

It’s not elitism you pricks, it’s dealing with an issue not of their making and helping them stand a chance of having a life that is bigger than the one people like you want for them.

Fuck you. All of you.

You’re welcome.

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