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


The Wall Is Your Friend …

Many years ago, we were working on a NIKE project about inspiration for China.

China and sport had a weird relationship because it was either seen as a distraction to academic success or a ruthless and relentless act to achieve a pre-determined goal.

I still remember spending hours looking for any photo where we saw a parent or a teacher or a coach encouraging a kid doing a sport … but it was hard. Not because adults didn’t care about the kids in their charge, but because there was this attitude that encouragement encouraged laziness.

Tough love indeed.

But when we talked to kids who loved sport for no other reason than loving sport, the thing we found fascinating was how one of their great inspirations was a wall … or a court … or a park somewhere near where they lived.

This would be where they could kick, throw, hit, head or play against hour after hour … day after day.

This was where they could play without judgement or expectation … but with plenty of competition.

Because walls don’t get tired.

They don’t show sympathy.

They’re always ready to play.

We all have a wall.

They may look like others.

But there is one that is yours and yours alone.

For me, it was the wall of a Church opposite Erika’s sweet shop at the Top Shop.

It was up the road from my childhood home.

I would go up there every night over summer.

Sometimes by myself. Sometimes with friends.

And that would be the arena and the competition for all manner of games.

From playing footie with empty cans … playing cricket by throwing tennis balls as hard against the wall as we can to just practicing our skills of tennis or keepie-uppie. And then on a Friday evening – after school – a bunch of the kids from where I lived would gather by the field next to the church and play a massive game that drew all the girls from school to watch us.

That wall was a major part of my childhood. Of my love of sport. It helped me connect to where I lived, to the people who lived there and just what I wanted to do.

Sport was deeply entrenched in the place I grew up.

Not in terms of a formal team – though we had that and we also had Nottingham Forest doing well at the time – I mean as an outlet for kids to do shit.

Now I’m not sure if that is still the case.

We live in gentrified times.

Where noise is challenged with authority.

Where parks are placed on the outskirts of towns, not the centre,

Where sport is becoming more about the quest for fame rather than enjoyment.

It’s one of the biggest thrills of living in New Zealand.

It’s still an outdoor culture.

Otis has done more running around and visited more parks here than he ever did in the UK. Which has helped him meet more friends than he could ever have hoped to in his time here.

Given the year he had in lockdown, the impact on him has been huge.

And that’s why we should encourage sport to be played as much on the streets as in the parks and schools. Because sport adds to communities in ways that makes communities.

Let the wall be culture’s best inspiration and competitor.



Why Tears Show Leadership …

A few weeks ago, in a supermarket in New Zealand, there was a terrible incident where a man entered a store in Dunedin and stabbed people.

While no one fortunately died and the assailant was apprehended, the reality is there were a number of people’s lives that were changed forever – specifically a number of the staff who were working at the Countdown store at the time.

Obviously this would be news anywhere in the world, but in New Zealand – a place where there is an overall feeling of safety and humanity – it’s a major story.

When the manager of the store – Kiri Hannifin – appeared on the nightly news … rather than present herself in the emotionless, beige voice of the corporate mission statement, she did something different …

She cried.

Not the fake tears of Matt Hancock … but real, raw emotion.

She was devastated her colleagues had been hurt.

She was distraught she felt she had let them down because as their manager, she believed her job was to protect them.

She was tormented that the pain of the tragic events would be felt by families throughout the community.

At a time where so many companies look at employees who express their emotions and feelings as weak or a pain-in-the-arse … the honesty of Kiri Hannifin was a welcome change, despite it being born from such a horrible reason.

In addition, the comments that accompanied her interview were almost entirely positive – which compared to the tsunami of hate that tends to follow good news stories in the UK and US – brought some hope from a tragic situation.

While I don’t know her, Kiri Hannifin appears to be a brilliant human and a brilliant manager. And Countdown – which is, let’s not forget, a supermarket – seems to value and employ people who value people.

So to all those companies who want to ‘connect’ to the public, maybe you need to hire more people like Kiri rather than faceless execs who are media-trained to within an inch of their life.



The Power Of Pettiness …

Of all the types of revenge you can get, petty revenge is one of my favourites.

The beauty of it is that it’s petty. Meaning it’s for something the aggressor doesn’t even realise they have done. At least not until they experience the act of revenge.

The other wonderful thing is that the pettiness often extends to the act of revenge.

In most cases it’s about forcing some sort of ‘inconvenience’ upon the victim … even if organising it took longer than the actual inconvenience lasted.

It’s why the question asked of many revenge makers is, “was it worth all that time just to do that?”

And almost universally, the answer is “yes … it most definitely was”.

Over the years I’ve embarked on a reign of petty revenge terror. Seeking to even the score against people who have either inadvertently- or consciously – tried to fuck me or a mate over.

This has resulted in all manner of acts.

From stealing a single wheel from their desk chair so it was annoyingly lopsided … to having stickers printed so I could put the word “last” over all their out-of-date ‘agency of the year’ posters … to placing a ‘honk if you hate the police’ bumper sticker to the back of their car to having badges made that said “I’m a sexist twat” that we sent to every male boss who had harassed my female friends to – in the very old days – changing the keys around on their laptops in the knowledge they couldn’t touch type so every time they wrote words like ‘they’, it would type a very different word.

I would like to point out 3 things:

1. They all deserved it.
2. This was all a very, very long time ago.
3. I’m much more sensible these days.

Well, I say that, but when we lived in London, a neighbour denied they had taken delivery of my Amazon order – despite me being sent photographic evidence of them accepting it – so I spent 2 days signing them up to every catalogue I could find and I hope they’re still getting them. I added a nice touch by addressing it to, ‘Ima Lyer-Antheef’.

But compared to my friends, I’m still an amateur. The stuff they’ve done is incredible in it’s pettiness and time consumption.

There’s one involving a famous cereal manufacturer – that I can only say when on my death bed – that still raises a smile even though it occurred 16 years ago.

But all that pales into insignificance compared to this …

They say heroes wear capes.

Well sometimes they wear their pettiness on their sleeve.

All bow down to a true master at work. Bravo. Bravo. Bravo.



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.



There’s Three Types Of Old Person …

Contrary to the quote of Oscar Wilde above, I don’t think the young think they know everything.

Sure there’s some … but the vast majority seem to simply be curious to explore and learn. It’s why I have far more faith in the future of the planet in their hands than my peers.

In fact, I meet far more older people – normally white men – who have the attitude of being the font of all knowledge.

In fact, they all fall into one of 3 distinct groups …

Those who think they know everything.

Those who know they don’t know everything,

And those who do know everything.

Given the last group consists of one person – Mr Martin Weigel – that means the vast majority fall into one of the first 2 camps.

The scary thing is that there seems to be far more who think they know everything versus those who are open to keep learning. I do sort-of understand. A life lived is a life experienced. Except it isn’t … plus life is constantly moving and evolving so to come in with some condescending, self-important. “I know it all” attitude is literally the worst thing you could do.

And yet so many still do it.

The funny thing is, because they come in with an attitude of forcefulness, they rarely have people speak up against them so they go off thinking they’re right while everyone around them whispers how stupid they are.

My Mum – as usual – had it right.

She was always open to the new.

It didn’t mean she liked it.

It didn’t mean she understood it.

But she felt if it mattered to them, it should matter to her.

And that’s why she went out of her way to watch, listen and learn.

What’s even more wonderful is that people who saw her being interested in them were then interested in her.

She loved the idea that she could mess with the expectations people had of an elderly Italian woman.

Not so she could pretend she was young, but so she could feel she still was an active member of society. Someone who still had something to offer, even if that was to stop older people blindly discounting what was emerging in culture.

God I miss her.

Which is why her, “be interested in what others are interested in” should be something we all follow. Young, old, rich, poor … because the more we understand, the more we can actually create change rather than conflict.