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


Excuses For Complicity …

Adland – and most companies for that matter – love to talk about their commitment to diversity and inclusion.

And while they tend to be most vocal about it when there is a global news story that highlights the racism and oppression People of Colour experience EVERY SINGLE DAY, I do believe it is something many companies care about.

The problem is, very few seem to be doing anything other than caring about it.

No change.

No new decisions.

No policy shifts.

Recently I saw a poster advertising a conference in Australia about Africa.

This was it …

Notice anything?

Yep … a conference in Australia about Africa without a single Person of Colour being represented. Not one.

A conference in Australia about MINING in Africa without a single Person of Colour being represented.

[Though someone who saw it suggested the conference organisers may try and suggest the blank speaker space could classify as a Person of Colour]

Now I appreciate mining is hardly the most ethical industry, but even then the lack of representation shocked me so I tweeted about it saying this was a perfect demonstration of how much companies still had to learn about D&I.

“Surely no one could disagree” I thought …

Oh yes they could.

Rather than just go, “that’s bollocks”, some people tried to defend it … accusing me of having no context.

My 2 favourite comments were this:

“Let’s not jump to conclusions. I personally feel after a 2-second Google they have their intentions in the right place – well apart from the plundering of natural resources, but that’s a different outrage post. If anything they are guilty of crappy comms and maybe BBDO in Oz (or Africa) might like to say G’day?

“As organisers of Africa Down Under (ADU), Paydirt Media acknowledges the comments on social media and the interpretations which may be drawn by the advertised preliminary line-up for the in-person element of this year’s ADU,” the organisers said in a Twitter thread.

“As the premier forum for Australia-Africa business relations, ADU has always strived to ensure its programme is truly reflective of the diversity of African mining. In 2019, the last event before the pandemic, the programme featured 24 African presenters and 15 female presenters. “Ongoing travel restrictions mean we will be unable to welcome our African-based colleagues in person this year but once the full programme – including virtual participants – is released we are confident balance will return.

“We look forward to announcing participants from the African continent – including Australian-based African diplomats – in the coming weeks.”

And then this one …

Are these specific companies spouting anything about diversity and inclusion though?”

Right there is the typical corporate response to these things.

Protecting the company behind it.

Suggesting you are jumping to conclusions.

Saying that they’re good and this is a misunderstanding.

Yeah … yeah … if I’ve heard it all before, imagine how People of Colour must feel.

Which is why my responses were as follows:

“This is the sort of excuse churned out year after year to justify acts like this. A conference about Africa without a single Person of Colour as a speaker is not about difficulty, it’s about complicity, so maybe you’re looking at it from totally the wrong perspective.”

and for the second comment …

“Ahhhhh, so you’re saying companies that don’t talk about D&I don’t have to care about it which is why it’s fine to have an all white speaker group for a conference on Africa. Is that your point?”

I know people make mistakes … but this is not one of those, this is a deliberate act. There is no excuse for this. They can say they asked hundreds of People of Colour to be a part of the even and they said no – it still won’t wash. Because even if that was true, it would surely suggest there was something wrong with the whole premise of the conference if people from Africa didn’t want to be part of a conference in Africa.

“But maybe there aren’t many People of Colour working in the mining industry based in Australia, Rob?” I hear a prejudiced, white privileged individual ask.

And while I don’t know the answer to that, I do know if that’s the case, why are there so many bloody white people working in the African mining industry based in Australia?

It’s all bollocks.

And what is worse is the justification some people try and give this shit – with special focus on the organisers and their desperate attempt to look like they have tried really, really hard to make it more inclusive. Despite NOT ONE Person of Colour being included as a headline speaker.

As I wrote a while back about female leadership, change doesn’t even require white people/men to give up their seat … they could just make room for someone else to join them, but apparently even that is too much to ask.

We all are complicit..

We can all do more.

We all need to do more.

Hell, when white supermodels can use their privilege to create space for People of Colour to win [not just be seen, but win] the least we can do is exactly the same.

So to the people who will claim what I’m doing is promoting ‘woke cancel culture’, I would respond with this:

1. Yes I am.
2. Being referred to as woke is not bad as it means you have compassion for others.
3. You are the problem and you’d better be prepared for me to push back with the same energy you have adopted over years to maintain your privilege and power.

Anyone who defends this sort of shit is insane.

There is no excuse for it.

Ever.

Even having 5 People of Colour on that huge poster of faces would be too few, so to take the side of the organisers for NOT HAVING A SINGLE PERSON OF COLOUR is an act of prejudice.

You may not relate to being called that.

You may not accept being called that.

But your actions reveal it … because nothing says privilege than thinking your experience is everyone’s experience.



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.



The Middle Is A Dangerous Place …

So this is the end of the week so this is the final Rules of Rubin.

To be honest, I’ve got at least another 3 weeks worth of posts I could do, but I want to write about some other stuff.

Yes, less valuable, less relevant, less interesting stuff.

Hey, this blog hasn’t got to where it is by writing stuff that is good. That’s why where this blog is, is at the bottom of everything.

But in all seriousness, maybe I’ll write more about the lessons from Rick later – I’ve certainly enjoyed it – but if you are interested, below is the list of quotes I’ve used and if you click here, you can read my write-ups on all of them.






However this last one is one of the most important.

One of the things I’ve never understood are brands consistently playing to the middle.

I get their thinking.

It’s a mass audience.

It’s a relatively safe audience.

It increases the odds of scalable success rather than risk.

But the thing is, playing to the middle is just the illusion of safety.

Apart from the fact lots and lots of brands are all playing there, all you’re actually doing is – at best – staying where you are, but more likely going backwards.

You might not notice it at first.

You may think everything is fine and dandy and slap yourself on the back for being so brilliant and successful.

But what starts off slow eventually turns in the blink of an eye as the brands or people who play and push to the edge take away all the safety you thought you had.

And what’s worse is because you’re high and dry and left far behind, your legacy and capabilities are impacted.

You’re tainted with being part of the past rather than the present, but even worse than that, your operational capabilities have been built around optimising rather than advancing so the best you can achieve is to play catch up.

This is a nightmare situation, based on one simple reality.

When you are playing catch up, your starting point is where everyone else is. But the problem is that by the time you get there, everyone is even further ahead and you’re back where you started.

A bit like Kyle in this episode of South Park

Of course it doesn’t have to be that way.

Some get that the only way to truly catch up is to leap frog current standards to set the next standard, but few companies have the courage to do that, let alone the money.

Oh they’ll suggest they can.

They’ll make all the right noises.

They’ll invest in some new technology, research or corporate ‘tagline’

They’ll even hire the odd new person from a new discipline with new ideas [though in many cases, they’ll then get moved on with the excuse ‘they weren’t the right cultural fit’] … but the reality is they’ll remain in this endless cycle of catch up.

I’ve seen it.

Hell, I’ve worked in some companies that have practiced it.

Because for all the desire to not get left behind, nothing feels as good as feeling in control.

Even if that’s just an illusion.

Because doing this means their position is protected.

It means they don’t have to look at their entire business model.

But more importantly, it means they don’t have to take a long hard look at their contribution for being in this situation.

So while I totally get why choosing to stand still may sound like the wisest option for so many, the problem with it is that it ignores one pretty vital consideration.

Culture never stops moving.

If you don’t want to get left behind, always play to the edge.



Being Positive Means Nothing If You’re Denying The Truth …

Toxicity.

It’s a great word to describe a terrible thing.

It perfectly captures the strategy so many companies, people, governments have adopted to get ahead regardless of the cost.

But what a cost it is.

As the stories of Corporate Gaslighting highlight, it is destructive, debilitating and harmful and its rightfully being called out more and more.

However one of the byproducts of this rightful shift has been the increasing number of companies and agencies who will only accept ‘the positive’.

I’m not talking about them wanting to offer optimism in a challenging world, I mean they are actively dismissing or ignoring anything that they deem as bringing negativity into the conversation.

Questions about decisions.
Realities about their audiences.
Considerations about the categories.

No … no … no … no … no!!!

It’s the ultimate sign of privilege. Not to mention arrogance. An ability to simply close eyes and ears to the realities millions face every single day, just so they can continue living in their own Disneyland of the mind.

Actually Disneyland isn’t right, because their stories involve struggles and challenges … so we’re talking about organisations who make Disney look negative.

Jesus Christ!!!

And yet in the same breath, they will wax lyrical about wanting to have ‘deeper connections with their customers’ as well as ‘living their brand purpose’.

Of course it’s complete bollocks.

Deeper understanding equates to ‘how can we sell more stuff to them’.

And brand purpose is …. well, you know my view.

Can brand purpose have value?

Absolutely.

But brand purpose isn’t something you can ‘invent’ on a whim.

Nor is it a marketing tool to drive sales.

And it absolutely isn’t about saving the world.

It can be.

For some.

But it probably isn’t for most.

Which is why pharmaceutical companies saying stuff life, ‘We exist to rid the world of pain’ … makes me laugh so much I get a headache.

The reality is pain makes these companies oodles of money. The last thing they will ever want to do is rid the world of it.

And you know what … I’m cool with that.

Pain happens and they help it stop.

Cool.

But to say they want to get rid of it all?

Forever?

Are they forgetting how pain can actually be useful to people.

How it can help us understand our limits?

Can guide us to better decisions?

Without pain, can you imagine the trouble we would be in?

Which all explains why I – and shitloads of the planet – don’t believe a word they say when they, and countless other companies in countless other categories, go on about ‘their purpose’, especially when it’s obviously the total opposite of what funds their business?

And yet this delusional positivity of purpose is everywhere.

And what’s worse is we’re seeing more and more companies and agencies actively celebrate it, encourage it and demand it.

I cannot tell you how many planners I’ve spoken to about not being allowed to bring truth to their meetings and conversations.

I talked a lot about this – and the reasons behind it – in my rant at WARC, but it still blows my mind that companies and agencies expect planners to adopt this approach when it’s literally the opposite of what our jobs are about.

Planners are not blind cheerleaders.

We liberate through filter-free truth.

That means we’re supposed to question, challenge, have a hint of cynicism, push buttons.

Not to be dicks, but to help you be better.

It you want a planner to just accept whatever alternative reality you live in, go hire a bunch of Alexa’s.

You can say as much as you like that …

“We don’t really have competition”.

Or

“We don’t like negative insights”

Or

“We don’t want to talk about negative comments about us”

… but that doesn’t mean we should just accept it.

I don’t get why some people have this belief questioning is wrong.

At its most basic level, questioning is about wanting to understand more and surely that’s a good thing.

And even if we challenge what we’re hearing … it’s not to cause upset, it’s to get to truth.

Real truth, not corporate.

The truth that helps create great work. Not just in terms of creativity and cultural resonance … but commercial value.

If you don’t want to hear that, then frankly, you don’t want to grow. Or evolve. Or do something that can genuinely mean something.

Anyway, the reason for this post is because I was recently talking to a couple of creative mates of mine and they introduced me to the most perfect expression for this new attitude of only wanting and accepting ‘the positive’.

It’s this …

Oh my god, how good is that!!!

I cannot tell you how much I love it.

Not just the expression of Toxic Positivity, but the definition.

“The belief no matter how dire or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset. It’s a “good vibes only” approach to life.”

Both are utterly, undeniably, absolutely bloody perfect.

Because both are utterly, undeniably, absolutely bloody true.

When I heard it, it immediately helped explain why I found so many things in LA, so annoying.

Don’t get me wrong, there were amazing people there. And the country is amazing in many ways.

I absolutely feel a deep sense of gratitude for the experience my family and I got to have there.

However quite a lot of people I met had this ability to blatantly ignore reality in favour of repetitively repeating some superficial and delusional positivity while trying to look like they weren’t annoyed when I asked what the hell they were talking about.

Even the mere suggestion that everything was not quite as perfect as they are trying to claim was met with an icy smile.

I think I’ve written about it before, but America taught me the difference between truth and honesty.

For me, truth is often uncomfortable.

It doesn’t mean it’s done to be harmful, but it does force situations to be seen, explored, discussed and dealt with.

But honesty – at least the version of it I experienced in the US – was different.

Honesty there, was truth with so many layers of sugar-coating on it, you didn’t taste any bitterness or sharpness.

What it meant was everything was designed to be easy to swallow … to give the impression of openness without being open.

Silicon Valley are particularly good at this approach.

White people – dealing with issues regarding race – are exceptionally good at this approach.

An ability to ignore reality by communicating an alternative version of it.

One that bursts with positivity and happiness. And if they could add a Unicorn to it, they would.

But it seems Toxic Positivity is becoming more and more prevalent.

And while the picture above shows Zuckerberg, it’s not specifically about him.

It’s about any organisation who deals with the raw realities of life with a thin, pained smile while they slowly and calmly explain to you everything is great and everything their company does is great and to even suggest otherwise – even if it comes from a desire to help make things better – is an act of intolerable aggression.

As much as toxic negativity is a dangerous act, so is toxic positivity.

It denies the truth for the people who need it the most.

And while I get why some companies would rather not deal with that, actively shutting it down to spout some inane and delusional ‘happy clappy’ message is equally as destructive, debilitating and harmful as it’s more negative cousin.

The reality is truth and transparency makes things better.

Nothing shows greater respect than giving someone objective truth for the single reason you want them to succeed more powerfully.

I appreciate it might not always be easy, but it’s always worth it.



Here’s To Those Comfortable With Uncomfortable …

I recently saw the above quote in The Athletic magazine.

The idea that Manchester City – albeit during their less successful period – had to provide ‘rain charts’ to show potential signings that their city was not wetter than London surprised me.

Then I came to my senses.

Society has an incredible knack of trying to lift themselves up by putting others down.

Obviously racism is the work example of this, but we do it everyday in lots of little ways.

From blanket attitudes such as …

“People from the North are backwards”.

To city affirmations such as …

“Manchester is the musical capital of England”.

To hierarchy comparison such as …

“I may be from Nottingham but at least I’m not from Derby”.

It’s not only bollocks, it’s also often stated by people who have never gone anywhere near the cities/countries they are negatively judging. Now I know people will say it’s all a bit of a joke – and I appreciate between mates, it can be – but there’s a lot of perceived truth in those sorts of statements, which has been exploited by all manner of organisations, especially politics.

When I lived in China, I was shocked how hard it was to recruit people from outside of Asia to come and work at Wieden+Kennedy.

OK, it may have been because they didn’t want to work with me … but even then, the amount of people who started off claiming to be interested and then said ‘it wasn’t for them’, was incredible. [Though maybe you will still find it understandable. Bastards. Ha]

There was a time where I almost gave up wanting to hire people from outside the region due to it being so much hassle. But the reality was I always felt it important to have a real mix in the gang. Sure, the vast majority of them had to be from the country/region – but by incorporating people from outside of it, I felt it created a tension that led to better and more provocative thinking. In addition, it could also help stop the blind and blinkered views we kept seeing and hearing from the West … because the more Westerners we got to experience the crazy, infectious magic of the nation, the more positive voices we would infect the rest of the world with.

But many people we talked to weren’t interested in changing their blinkered opinion.

So many didn’t even bother to investigate more about China, they were just happy to keep making their false judgements.

Oh they were all very happy to work for Wieden+Kennedy, they just didn’t want it to be in China and would often say, “but if you could connect me to people in London/Portland/NY/Amsterdam” etc.

And if they were really interesting and had a valid reason to not leave their country, I would.

Didn’t happen often.

I find it amazing that people – especially planners – don’t want to explore the World.

Planners go on about curiosity but what they mean is they are curious under certain conditions of personal comfort.

Behind a desk.
Surrounded by people and things they know.
Never venturing outside of the bubble they’ve created.

Of course not everyone is like this, but there’s a lot who are. Viewing the world and passing judgement on it via Twitter rather than experience.

In the case of China – as with anywhere I’ve lived – if the issue became about the country we were in, it probably wasn’t going to work. Of course it was OK to have concerns and questions, but if I sensed you saw it as a hardship rather than an opportunity or you thought you knew everything when you would have to relearn everything, you were not going to be someone I wanted on the team.

I was, and still am, eternally grateful to everyone I’ve had the honour to work with – and I’ve been incredibly fortunate with the incredible and diverse talent I’ve inherited and nurtured – however those in China will always have a unique place in my heart.

Because whether they were from China, Asia or further afield, all of them knew what they were taking on with the job. Not just in terms of the standards and expectations of Wieden+Kennedy, but the inherent perceptions, prejudices and lies that existed in society – and the ad industry as a whole – towards China and Asia.

And it’s for this reason that I fucking loved seeing them do work others could only dream about, especially when the industries perception was ‘China doesn’t do great work’ or ‘there’s no good planning in Asia’ … often muttered by people who have neither been to China or done great work.

But even that doesn’t make me as happy as seeing where they have all ended up …

Not just in terms of the level they’re at – from running departments, big pieces of business or companies – but the actual organisations they work with or have worked with.

Nike. Ideo. Tik-Tok. Wieden. Mother. 72. Anomoly. Supreme. Playstation. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Facebook. Google. Net-A-Porter. Instagram.

Not just in China but in countries that include America, Taiwan, Holland, UK, Singapore and Australia. Not forgetting the mob who decided to start their own thing and are now working on a bunch of fascinating projects from gaming to research.

I’m not just proud of them, I’m excited for them … because I truly believe they will do stuff that is interesting, intriguing and valuable for the rest of us.

And while most of their achievements are down to their talent and graft, another part is because of what China gave them.

Unique knowledge, experience and understanding of people and situations.

Some will never understand that.

Some will never value that.

But for those who were there – and the companies who hired them – they absolutely do.

Because while some make choices based on not wanting to leave things behind, this group of wonderful fools made their decisions based on what they could gain … and they didn’t need a rain comparison chart to convince them.

Thank you to all of them.

Thank you to anyone who runs towards the challenge not the comfortable.