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


Wanted. Liars With Straight Faces …

The industry likes to talk a lot about purpose.
The supposedly unwavering commitment to its higher purpose, even if it only turns up in marketing.

It likes to talk about agility.

The ability for a company to change focus to maximise opportunities even, if often it’s done to hide a lack of strategy.

And let’s not forget pivoting.

The ability to shift from one area of expertise to another, even if the reality is its because you need to survive rather than you are forward thinking.

Now of course, there are some companies who have purpose, agility and an ability to pivot without using it as an excuse to hide their shortcomings. Companies who have embodied and expressed all these traits, often before it became another marketing or business buzzword.

Or – in the case of pivoting – there are some companies who openly admit why they did it. That if they didn’t, they wouldn’t exist any longer. Netflix for example.

But there’s some organisations who see the writing on the wall, but ‘pivot’ to such an extent that they literally show themselves for the lying, cheating, manipulative organization they have always been.

The best example of this I’ve possibly ever seen is cancer champion – Philip Morris.

You see the tobacco company has decided that their core cash cow doesn’t have the same profitable future as it once did so have decided – to loud fanfare – to pivot.

“What to?” I hear you ask?

Hold on to your hats, because it’s a Health and Wellness company.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

No, that’s not a joke … well, it is, but they don’t mean it to be.

Yep, Phillip Morris – owners of brands including Marlboro are supposedly pivoting to a health and wellness company.

It’s the equivalent of the Trump Organisation becoming an international aid charity.

Or kids TV show, Playschool pivoting to a rival of Pornhub.

How can they say this with a straight face?

They’re even lobbying for a ban on cigarettes within 10 years.

This is worse than poacher turned keeper.

This is an attempt for death to turn doctor … conveniently ignoring all the shameful acts they undertook – and still undertake – to keep their tobacco business killing its customers.

Look I get they have to continue making money.

I get a lot of ‘health and wellness’ companies are as questionable as a cigarette company.

But come on …

Apart from their bullshit being utterly transparent and sickening … what about all the scientists and doctors they paid off, bullied and sued to keep their kill sticks in market.

Do they think they’re just going to nod and think, “hey, we won?”

Will there be a follow up to the Michael Mann movie, The Insider … where Russell Crowe spends 2 hours saying, “I was wrong, Philip Morris are lovely guys really and I forgive them for trying to crush and threaten my life.”

And that’s before we get to the scientists and doctors who work for Philip Morris who must be wondering how a company committed to tobacco can just expect them to change their focus to fixing the illnesses they helped cause in the first place.

But do you know what the sickest part of it all is?

The markets won’t care.

They won’t cast doubt or suspicion.

As long as they make money they will support them.

They’ll call them a poster child for ‘purpose’ and ‘wellbeing’.

It will see the CEO, Jacek Olczak, celebrated and revered by the business press.

It will see him earn millions from bonuses, consultancy and speaker engagements.

We’ll watch holding company CEO’s jostle for position.

We’ll see even more agencies pitching for their business.

We’ll read fawning editorial about their shift in industry magazines.

We’ll hear strategists talk about them as proof of the power of pivoting.

And it will make me hate even more people for the willingness to support hypocrisy for profit.

Philip Morris. You can say you are a health and wellness company, but we all know the only health and wellness you have ever cared about is your own bank balance.



Niche Business Is Still A Business …

Recently I did a talk with a client of mine, the brilliant Hankook Kim – founder of the brilliant Gentle Monster.

For those who don’t know who Gentle Monster is … in simple terms they’re a street culture, luxury eyewear brand who do some of the most brilliant – and crazy – collaborations you’ve ever seen. From World of Warcraft to their own brand of cake shops to pretty much everything in-between.

Anyway, we gave a presentation to a bunch of venture capitalists called Mosquitos Annoy The Fuck Out Of Giants and it highlighted the short-sightedness of their scalability investment model.

For example, Gentle Monster were initially turned down by a lot of VC’s because they saw them as only ever having a small retail presence, literally ignoring the fact he started the company with the goal of having an outsized cultural impact … whether that was through the design of his stores, the collabs he would do or the focus on making eyewear for Asian facial structures – when most other manufacturers based their product on larger Western physical features.

Obviously in all of this, Mr Kim brought the credibility whereas I just brought the punches … but it was a huge amount of fun, regardless if we convinced the VC’s or conflicted them.

The reason I say this is because I recently got sent the ad above about the beatboxing funeral musician.

On first glance you may wonder how many people would want that, but then you think about it and you realise that maybe quite a few do.

Not just because they like beatboxing, but because they want to go out with fanfare.

A few years ago I wrote about the songs I want played at my funeral, and while most remain the same [though I’ll be adding Myles Kennedy’s Love Can Only Heal, to it] … I’ll still have Europe’s classic ‘The Final Countdown’ to end proceedings.

Now I appreciate some will see that as a highly inappropriate song choice, but that’s kind of the reason for it.

To make sure whoever bothers to turn up is sent off with a smile.

To ensure my last ever act one has a glint of cheekiness and mischief.

To say thank you to everyone who made my life better than I ever imagined it could be.

And while this may all sound like I’m a delusional fool, the reality is it is important to me and I would be willing to pay a premium for it – especially if it’s the last thing I’ll ever pay for – which is why this is a reminder that before you judge, [1] remember it’s not whether you like it, but whether others do and [2] your definition of success may not be the same as theirs.



Forever Connected By An Invisible String …
March 9, 2021, 7:30 am
Filed under: Comment, Death, Family, Love, Mum, Mum & Dad

When Otis was young, we bought him a book called The Invisible String.

It’s a delightful book about family … love … and connection … and helps kids understand the idea of being together even when their parents aren’t around. Whether that’s because they’re at work or have sadly passed.

I write this because 6 years ago today, my wonderful, beautiful Mum died.

It seems so long ago and yet I can remember every second of that day.

From waking up early to see her before her operation … to the rise of worry as she was in theatre for longer than the person before her … to the relief when she came out and I could sit by her side … to the confusion I felt when the nurse asked me to sit somewhere else as an alarm started to sound … to the horrible, painful moment the doctor and nurse told me the worst thing that could happen, had happened.

And like when my Dad died, the memories of her are consumed by the moments of this day.

However, also like my Dad, I know that will eventually pass to be replaced by the moments of love, happiness and wonder I shared with her.

She was an amazing woman.

Her capacity for compassion knew no bounds.

I felt – like with Dad – loved and supported, even at my most ‘difficult’ times …

Her loss was – and still is – a huge hole in my life.

She never got to meet Otis.
She never got to know we had moved to America … then England … and now NZ.
She never got to see the beautiful garden at our house in Herefordshire or the mad treehouse in Auckland.

But I know she would be happy about it all.

And that makes me happy for very different reasons.

Because while for her, it would be that her only son was enjoying his life, for me it would be that I am making my Mum proud.

That’s all I want to do.

Always.

I miss you Mum.

I can still feel our string.

I hope you’re holding hands with Dad and laughing at my jetlag.

Love you.


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Loyalty Is Demonstrated By Time, Not Just By Actions …

Over the past 9 months, we’ve heard a lot from companies talking about loyalty.

Whether that’s loyalty to their staff, loyalty to their shareholders or loyalty to their values and commitments.

Sadly, in a lot of cases, this has been nothing more than a PR statement.

Something that looks good and makes the C-Suite feel good, without having to actually be good.

Of course there have been the exceptions, but in many cases, that’s all there is.

Now I am not naive.

I know in a commercial organisation, tough decisions need to be made every day … but the reality is, in many cases, it’s not that tough for them. Or it shouldn’t be given how often they do it. Though I do find it surprising how many companies are OK with letting people go but don’t like it when their employees let their employer go. Funny how they see that as an act of betrayal.

But that’s by-the-by, because this is about what real loyalty means and it revolves around Metallica.

So when the band started, there were 4 members.

James Hetfield
Lars Ulrich
Kirk Hammett
Cliff Burton

On September 27th, 1986, the band were in their coach travelling through a rural part of Sweden. They were there as part of their tour supporting their ‘Master of Puppets’ album.

It was a long and gruelling tour and sleep was in short reply. The band members had been complaining the sleeping arrangements on their bus were unsatisfactory so to decide who received the pick of the bunks, Hammett and Burton played cards.

Burton won and said to Hammett he wanted his bunk … leaving Kirk to sleep up front near the driver.

Around 7am, the bus flipped over onto the grass in Kronoberg County.

Cliff Burton was thrown through the window of the bus, which then fell on top of him, killing him instantly.

While there is debate on whether the accident was the result of black ice or the driver sleeping at the wheel, the reality is Burton – a much loved, highly talented musician – was dead.

So where’s the loyalty?

Well it’s true the band decided to continue rather than split up – like some other bands who had suffered the loss of a member.

And it’s true the bassist chosen to replace Cliff, Jason Newsted, faced a lot of tension from a band still grieving for the loss of their friend.

However, it’s the connection the band maintained with Cliff’s father – and the support Cliff’s father gave to the band – that is something to celebrate.

From the moment Cliff died, his Dad – Ray Burton – encouraged the band to continue.

Despite being in unbelievable grief, he was adamant the best way he could honour his son was having the band go on.

To play the music he helped create.

To let his name, talent and spirit continue even though he is no longer here.

And while the band probably didn’t need that endorsement to make their decision, they treasured it.

But more than that, they treasured Ray Burton.

In their mind, he was a part of the band because he had fathered the guy who helped father the band.

It was a mutual love … based on respect, compassion and a love of Cliff.

I know that sounds like the sort of cliched ‘bro’ statement you would hear from a band or brand in a desperate attempt for a PR headline, but in Metallica’s case, it’s true.

Demonstrated and proven by the duration this relationship has been celebrated, nurtured and expressed.

What’s wonderful is they always managed to do it in a way that was respectful yet positive.

Whether that’s having Ray join the band on stage to be conducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of fame, or just having him come to whichever band gig he chooses.

And then celebrating his attendance on stage.

But Ray also plays a big part in keeping this relationship healthy.

Because while he loves the acknowledgement the band and the fans give his beloved son, he also wants to ensure the memory of Cliff doesn’t overshadow or become a burden to his replacement. Or the band.

He loves the music and wants that to be the focus.

And that gives the band the freedom to keep moving forward.

Which, of course, makes them love and support him more.

Which is maybe why their loyalty is so strong and positive.

Because where many [read: companies] believe loyalty is about compliance regardless of situation, Metallica and Ray see it as being founded on openness, honesty and positivity.

They can’t change what has happened.
They can’t live in the past.
But they can celebrate where something they created is going.

Sadly, Ray died recently, aged 94.

The band’s loyalty to him still lives.



The Last Month Of 4.0 …

So today is June 1.

In 11 days, I wave goodbye to my forties and enter a decade that seems impossible for me to fathom.

50.

FIFTY.

Seriously, how did this happen?

I still remember sitting on the hill outside Erica’s newsagent with my best mate Paul around 1978, when we worked out that in the year 2000, we would be turning 30.

But here we are, 11 days from 50.

[Though it’s 15 days for Paul, who will LOVE those 4 days where he can bang on about how he is a decade younger than me … though he will also moan that my present for him isn’t like the full page newspaper ad I got him when he was 40, but a Forest shirt signed by all the members of the 1980 European Cup team. Asshole. He knows about this present as I bought it for him years ago so I’m not ruining anything for him. But I still have a surprise for him. Oh yes.]

Turning 30 bothered me a bit.

I was totally fine with becoming 40.

But 50!

I’m both bricking it and utterly casual about it.

And while there are some practical reasons for the shitting myself part – health, work, life in general – the fact of the matter is the older I get, the better my life has become.

I totally get the privilege of that statement, I don’t take it for granted at all, but it is definitely true.

Personally, professionally, emotionally …

Sure there have been some bumps along the way – some terribly hard and emotionally destructive ones – but looking at the big picture, the reality is my life has generally been on an upward trajectory.

Now even I know that it can’t keep going like that forever … but it doesn’t mean I have to stop trying.

The fact is, the older you get, the more you discover …

From what you like, what you don’t … to what you didn’t know and what you want to know.

And what makes it even more amazing – and annoying – is that every step you take, in whatever direction, reveals a whole host of other possibilities you would like to explore and investigate.

The problem is time is now officially, not on your side … so there’s a point where you have to accept you won’t get to try, play, experiment with all you want to do, so while that might put some people off, it kind of makes me want to try and pack more in.

And I am … because on top of work, Metallica, the school with Martin, I’ve already agreed to do a couple more projects that are intriguing and – frankly – ridiculous.

But there’s another reason for this attitude and it’s because my Dad died at 60.

Death is something I’ve talked a lot about over the years – mainly due to both my parents passing away.

I’ve talked a lot about the importance of taking about it, but I must admit, I’m scared of it.

I’m in generally good health, but fifty is still 50 and my Dad still died just 10 years on from this age.

Now of course it doesn’t mean I will … and I’ve come to this completely unscientific view that I should live till I’m at least 71 because if you take away my Dad’s age of dying [60]from my Mum’s [83] … that leave 23 years. Halve that … add it to Dad’s age … and voila, I will live till at least 71.

But then that means I only have 21 years left.

TWENTY ONE.

That’s nowhere near enough.

My wonderful little boy is only 5 for fucks sake. 26 is way too young to lose your Dad … hell, that’s even younger than I was when I lost mine.

Years ago, an old boss I looked upto said that if you can’t feasibly double your age, that is when you know you are – at best – middle aged or – at worst – the last stage of your life.

Well I suppose I can still feasibly double my age – even if it’s against the average age of death for a man in the UK [79.2] – but the reality is where I’m going is shorter than where I’ve been.

But shorter doesn’t mean less interesting.

And arguably, I have more exciting things in my life now – both personally and professionally – than I have ever had.

It also helps I am insanely immature with a desire for mischief, experimentation, creativity and adventure.

And I intend to fill it up with even more.

Fortunately I get that from a number of sources.

My wife.

My son.

My job.

My other jobs.

My friends.

My mind.

A while back, Pete said something I found pretty profound.

He said the narrative of strategy tended to focus on the importance of curiosity when discovery is far more valuable for driving the standard of the work you create and the adventure you go on.

Now I’ve written a lot about how I hate when planners talk about curiosity – as if they’re the only people who have it – but I really, really like that idea of the hunger for discovery.

I absolutely have that.

I owe so much of what I have to that.

The countries I’ve lived in. The people I’ve worked with. And most importantly, the family I am fortunate to have.

So while I enter a new decade, I will continue to live like it’s the old one.

Not in terms of dressing like I’m younger than I am – mainly because I have always dressed like I live in 1986 – but with the hunger, ambition and desire I’ve always had.

I genuinely believe my best work is still ahead of me.

Truly believe that.

And the goal of this decade is to achieve some of that while discovering new things that make me believe even better work can still lie in my future.