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

The Hammer And The Feather …

One of my pet hates is when people think the best way to brief creativity is to say what they want to see, not the problem they need to be solved.

Whether it was where I worked … or who I worked with … I didn’t encounter this much at the beginning of my career. But as marketing lost its clout – and so standards increasingly fell – I’ve seen it happen a hell of a lot more.

I wish I could say I deal with this sort of situation well, but let’s say there is ‘room for improvement’.

Oh I can hear Andy as I type this.

“If they don’t know how to do their job, you can do your job anyway you choose” … but fights don’t solve anything other than a temporary moment of relief.

I know … you’re wondering who am I?

Don’t worry, I did say I have room for improvement because frankly, I still suck at dealing with this sort of thing, even if I’m way better than I used to be.

One of the worst situations I ever encountered was in Malaysia when a client complained about the way an actors hand looked in a print ad.

I should point out the ad wasn’t about hands, didn’t focus on hands and the hand in question was perfectly normal … but for some insane reason, he wanted it reshot – at our cost – suggesting it would ruin everything.

I genuinely thought they were joking when they first said it, so laughed.

And then he looked at me like I’d just smashed his mother in the face and asked ‘what the hell was I laughing at?’

I’d love to say I responded in a calm, professional manner … however, well, you can guess.

That said, I also put a proposition to him that said if there was commentary about the hand when the campaign launched, we would not only pay for a re-shoot, but we would refund 25% of our costs to him. However if nothing was said, then he had to pay us an additional 50% of our costs.

He lost interest in his argument after that and – surprise surprise – there was absolutely no commentary about the freak hand that wasn’t freaky whatsoever.

I say this because I recently read about the 1994 movie, Street Fighter, featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme and errrrrm, Kylie Minogue.

The film was rubbish [though it’s now seen as a camp classic, like the Queen soundtracked ‘Flash Gordon’ that preceded it] and the making of it was a rollercoaster but writer/director Steven de Souza makes a comment that is not just insightful, but highlights how creativity not only solves problem … but can do it in the most bombastic or gentle of ways.

It’s a lesson we could all do with remembering.

Especially those who dictate what outcomes, not identify their problems.

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Learn From Winners Not Just Players …

A while back I was in conversation with a very successful football team manager.

In many ways, they’re the managers, manager.

When I asked how – or who – they used to look to for guidance, inspiration or technical advice, they immediately responded with:

“Learn from winners, not players”.

And when I asked why only winners … they replied:

“Because winners face greater challenges than players and still come out on top”.

Interestingly, later in the conversation, they indicated their definition of ‘winner’ was more than simply someone who has achieved success in a league or a tournament … but someone who has achieved success in multiple league or tournaments, because – to paraphrase an old Nike campaign I did – it’s easier to get to the top than to stay there.

Which made me think about my industry …

Because when I look at who we can turn to, to evolve the standards, abilities and skills of our people, I feels there’s more players than winners.

Of course, being ‘a winner’ is much harder to define in our industry …

+ Creativity is as subjective as fuck.
+ Awards have become as much about how you enter as what you enter.
+ Success is defined by more factors than simply scoring more goals than the opposition.
+ The environment we operate in – and who against – is always changing at rapid rates.
+ You can be respected for your opinion without ever having made work that is respected.
+ Blah blah blah blah.

What bothers me most is how much of the industry outsources its training to people who are good players, but often not great players. And by that, I mean people who never made great things, even if they have great opinions on things.

Some may question why it’s important to have actually made things …

Well it’s simple. Anything is easy when you don’t have to do it, so those who have, have better advice than those who don’t.

That doesn’t mean they don’t have things of value to teach, but to paraphrase the manager I interviewed – those who have made work of note, have better lessons to give than those who have simply an opinion on making good work.

That said, it’s not players fault they’re being paid by companies to train their staff. What is far scarier are the reasons why they’re being asked:

One. It’s cheaper for companies than investing in on-going, personalised training for staff.

Two. Few companies have their own philosophy towards work, so having broad training schemes work for their needs.

Three. You are only as good as the people you are exposed to, and many companies confuse billings or popularity with craft and quality.

I know our industry faces many challenges from clients who value different things. But fundamentally, this issue was caused by our industry selling the value of creativity and understanding society down the river. By focusing on ‘players rather than winners’ to drive our standards and knowledge … we’re not moving putting ourselves back in contention, we’re just delaying our downfall.

To leave this post with a final football punditry reference.

We need to get back to playing to win, not playing not to lose.

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Some Strategy Leaves The Worst Taste In Your Mouth …

Somewhere along the line, the strategy discipline went from judging what we did by what it achieved, to what process was followed.

I get it, process matters – but as I pointed out a while back, the vast majority of strategic models out there say and do the same thing, just with additional layers of complexity and/or ego huff-puffery.

But as much as purposefully making things sound like it’s rocket science is tragic, it’s the one’s that are patronisingly simplistic that are almost even more offensive.

Recently I saw one that left one of the worst tastes in my mouth.

It’s called, ‘the beef burger’ strategy.

Here it is …

Terrible eh.

I mean, proper horrific.

But that’s only the aperitif, because each one of those shapes is ‘an ingredient’ and the creator of this has written out a recipe of how it ‘all goes together’.

I should point out, I have purposefully removed the name of the person who developed this.

I don’t know them.

I don’t know the background to them.

I don’t know if they’ve come to their senses and disowned this.

Plus I accept their reason to do it was to try to help and that is worthy.

However …

Look at that.

Look at it.

And what’s worse, I can imagine LOADS of people liked it.

Probably said “it makes sense of the complex in ways that are ‘digestible'”.

Well it does if you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. The overly simplistic definition that lets people immediately think they’re experts when they’re literally going to miss the point of each and every ‘layer’.

And what’s worse is there’s a lot of this stuff out there. Portraying accessible expertise when it’s really just Emperor’s New Clothes.

Strategy is in danger of forgetting what it’s supposed to do, which is see the future.

A future of commercially valuable opportunities.

Stuff that’s not been made yet, but can be.

And yet these days, it’s treated like some superficial, ineffective glue.

A superficial, ineffective glue used to lightly hold some creative bullshit ‘wrapper’ on whatever blinkered thinking a company has convinced themselves is Einstein standard of brilliance.

And everyone loses because of it. Everyone.

Especially strategy.

Because instead of helping companies take giant leaps, it’s just shuffling it’s feet and it’s stuff like the ‘beef burger strategy process’ that is bringing it down.

Playing to the lowest common denominator rather than the highest.

Letting certain organisation claim they’re developing their teams skills when they’re really destroying their potential.

Allowing ‘guru’s’ who have built their own brand more than they’ve ever built anyone else’s, churn out Morph-strength, strategy landfill.

Strategy is more than a bunch of bland and ambiguous terminology.

More than a condiment in a sea of condiments.

Strategy is imagination.

A way of looking forwards to see opportunity, possibility and value.

It’s not some shitty, unsatisfying burger made by instructions, regardless of context or hunger … and anyone who thinks that or eats that, deserves all the indigestion they’ll get.

Crikey, that’s some post isn’t it … and I’m not even in a bad mood.

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Rose Tinted Glasses, But With The Wrong Lenses In …

It’s easy to look at the past with rose-tinted glasses.

There’s few who do this better than the ad industry.

So many saying everything was better then. More interesting. More creative.

And while there’s an argument more culturally iconic work was produced in the past than the present – driven by factors such as marketing having a greater influence in the C-Suite right through to a lack of alternative options for driving business – we can’t forget the past also produced things like this …

Look at it.


On the positive, it shows the flex of the material in ways you won’t forget, but on the negative …. errrrrm, where shall we start?

Elton John recently said something that I really liked about looking back.

In essence, he said if you always look at the past as the time where everything great happened, you may as well give up.

He didn’t say those exact words, but it was kinda-like that.

His point was desire, context and openness change everything.

And while that shouldn’t mean just because you do new work – or have the ambition to do it – it’s automatically better than everything that went before, neither does it mean something from the past is automatically better than whatever came after it …

What people forget is it takes hard work to be good.

Even for the most gifted and talented, it requires real effort and graft.

Doesn’t matter if it’s past or present … doing something of note means putting yourself out there and waiting to be judged.

That’s an incredibly vulnerable position to put yourself in.

To choose to put yourself in.

To be forced to put yourself in.

And while there are ways to increase the odds of a positive outcome, there’s no guarantee it will work which is why there’s two things worth remembering …

First is whether creating something for yourself or others, make sure you enjoy [and be allowed to enjoy] what you’re doing and what you’ve done because – as Rick Rubin said – if you don’t, then it’s pretty certain others won’t either.

Second is if someone hates something simply because it’s new, then remember that means they probably like the ad above and suddenly their comments mean jack shit and should be treated as such.

That doesn’t mean you can phone any shit in. [See point 1]

But it does mean you can ignore their rose-tinted bullshit too.

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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.


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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