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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Goodbye 2022. Hello Peace And Quiet …

So this is it, the last post of 2022.

Again, I want to say a big thank you to everyone and anyone who has read or commented on my ranting rubbish.

I have to say, I miss the comments.

I know it was my choice to stop them, but I do miss them – so maybe I’ll have to bring them back, even though I’ve become waaaaaaay more productive since they’ve been turned off as I don’t have to spend vast amounts of my time checking what insults have been written to me and about me, hahaha.

But lack of comments aside, it’s been a big year … mainly because it has been the first year in a couple of years without any lock-down. And yet I still find it bizarre seeing people not wearing masks and being able to get on a plane again.

To think of the isolation, suffering and pain so many people suffered, the speed of the bounce-back has taken my breath away. Of course there are still people enduring tough times … but given the horror of the pandemic has seemingly been replaced by the threat of nuclear war and economic collapse, maybe COVID wasn’t so bad after all.

That said, I’m so grateful for the ability to travel again as it meant I was able to go on a trip that I’ll never, ever forget.

A trip where I got to see my beloved Martin getting married in Portugal.
A trip where I got to see my beloved Nottingham Forest getting promoted at Wembley.
A trip where I got to see my beloved Queen in concert with a ticket I bought 2 years earlier.
A trip where I got to see my beloved Paul, after the longest time we’ve been apart in 52 years.

It was, without exaggeration, one of the most special times in my life … with stuff I thought I may never see – or see again – so you will understand why I still feel so grateful to be able to have experienced it.

But beyond that, there were many other things that made this year memorable.

We did some fun work including Beyond Binary, Rick and Morty, Phone It In and Give Up On Humans. Our agency Christmas gift was interesting too. I say interesting, but I mean ridiculous, especially compared to last years more sophisticated Restraining Order, haha.
I wrote a pretty decent April Fools post that conned a few people.
And then, more seriously, I wrote some posts about my dalliance with depression, fulfilment, prejudice and respect that seemed to mean something to people, which made me feel happy it helped in some way.
I worked with Metallica, Miley Cyrus, Muse and Journey, to different degrees of success and enjoyment, hahaha.
We produced Dream Small … which I’m not only very proud of, but has led to conversations and change I never imagined we could have.
The way Otis – and his school – dealt with his dysgraphia diagnosis.
I celebrated my Mum’s 90th.
I got to see the wonderful Maya and Bree again, after years.
I was somehow featured in a book.
My Bohemian Catsody office mural … featuring Rosie amongst others.
I laughed myself stupid about Gi’s shit explosion while also being proud as punch of my wonderful team with our WARC/Cannes Global Grand Prix for effectiveness … followed up with us winning the same achievement at the NZ Effies … followed up by us winning the Global Grand Effie a few weeks later.
Renovating the old Colenso table to give it – and the irrepressible, unmistakeable Kate Maitland – the respect and recognition they deserve.
Lizzie and Amy’s news.
And Paula’s wonderful ray of sunshine.
Then finding the brilliant Briar and Shelly … with Martin and Meg arriving in Jan. [Which in Meg’s case, is almost 2 years in the waiting]
And last – but certainly not least – seeing Boris get pushed out quickly [literally and figuratively] by Liz Truss, even though the evil Tories somehow remain in power.

Of course there was some sad and disappointing stuff.

The loss of the irreplaceable and wonderful Dan Wieden.
Queenie … which hit me far more than I ever imagined it would.
Ben. Who left us too soon.
Mike’s motorcycle accident.
Henry, Liam and Robin left the team.
My first dalliance with COVID. And Jill too.
The bullshit that Simon P was forced to deal with and face.
Not to mention the horrible situation one of our clients was exposed to by the worst of society.
And then too many terrible global events, with the situations in Ukraine and Iran being possibly the worst of them all. What makes these last two even more disturbing is how the media only pay lip service to them. As if they don’t deem the horrors ‘relevant’ enough for their viewers and readers so they hide it on pages 5 and 6 … behind articles on energy bills, political scandal and sports scores.

I know it’s Christmas, but instead of having that one extra drink or buying that one shitty pressie, donating that money to organisations who offer support and help would be amazing. Two of them are this for Ukraine and this for Iran.

2022 has reminded me how privileged and comfortable my life is.

While compared to many, I have only experienced that sort of life, there have been times that have challenged me.

1999 was horrid.
As was 2015.
And last December was arguably, the worst month I’ve ever faced.

But this year, from a purely personal perspective, has generally been pretty special for me and one of the biggest reasons for that is my family.

I know we’re all supposed to say that, but it’s true.

Not just for who they are, but because for some reason, I feel we got even closer.

Emotionally.
Supportively.
Connectively.

To be honest, I thought we were already as close as you can be, but I discovered there’s actually no limit to the level of connection you can feel with loved ones and that has left me feeling a bit overwhelmed.

Maybe it’s because NZ is so far from everyone, we feel closer to each other. Maybe it’s because we don’t see the people we love so often, we have become more reliant on each other. Maybe it’s because we just have gone through some stuff that it reinforced how special we are to each other. Maybe it’s for reasons I’ve not wanted to admit before because it challenges the priorities I’ve lived by before.

Who knows, but what I can say is I love my ramshackle collection of Campbell’s.

Including Rosie, of course.

They’re not perfect.
They can drive me nuts.
But they’re mine and I adore every bit of them.

Which is why I want to sign off by saying to them – and to the rest of you – that whatever you do over this period, I hope it gives you all you want and all you need. I am grateful for everything every one of you put in my life and I hope 2023 – as scary as many are suggesting it will be – will surprise us all with its happiness and fulfilment.

Just as long as mine is happier and more fulfilling than yours.

Hey, I may be getting more tolerant in my old age, but I’m still as only-child demanding as ever.

Have a great one. Back Feb 1. I hope to see you in 2023.

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Unexpected Friends …

A couple of years ago, I wrote about one of the best pieces of advertising I’d seen.

EVER. SEEN.

And you know what, I still feel the same way about it.

The MacMillan Cancer ad continues to have a powerful and emotional impact on me.

I still cry because of it.

I still talk to people about it.

I still feel closer to my parents because of it.

In my opinion, it is one of the best pieces of work ever made by AMV. It’s that incredible.

As you have guessed, I adore it. Truly adore it.

Which is why I was somewhat surprised and confused when I saw this …

Now don’t get me wrong, anything that raises money for charity is good.

But …. errrrm, what the absolute fuck?

A knife?

A Stanley knife?

As brand associations go, this is possibly one of the most unexpected I’ve ever seen … and I once wrote about Ducati lending their name to a bloody external memory card brand.

How did this happen?

Why did this happen?

I’m utterly intrigued and can’t help imagine there’s an amazing story behind this.

That said, I hope it raises Macmillan a ton of money because they one thing I can say for this colab is you definitely bloody notice it.

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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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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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