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


Be Metallica, Not The Eagles …

I was recently in a client meeting where we had a discussion about ‘scale’.

The person in question was suggesting – as many do – that the only way to achieve it was to make sure you offer something for everyone.

Now there’s two ways you can do that …

Literally offer something for everyone or be so bland that you don’t alienate anyone.

And when we had this discussion, it reminded me of the Ferdinand Porsche quote that – paraphrased – reads something like:

“Be everything to someone not something to everyone”.

But it was early in the morning for me.

I was talking to clients in America.

So instead, I gave the worst analogy I may have ever used …

I pointed out The Eagles are the best selling American band in history.

That their ‘easy listening’ songs were designed to literally appeal to the widest audience possible. That their repetitive approach has been used to reinforce their position.

Or lack of one.

However the second best selling American band of all time is Metallica.

OK, I’m biased, but no one can say their music is designed for mass appeal.

Even their more ‘audience friendly’ albums still targeted a particular type of music fan. A fan that is anti-mainstream and anti-easy listening.

And yet Metallica’s fierce focus on who they are and what they believe – matched with their desire to continually explore and experiment with formats and approaches for their music – has resulted in them attracting ever bigger audiences rather than chasing them.

But its even more than that …

In the fickle, fast-changing world of music, Metallica haven’t just been able to maintain their credibility and authenticity, they have managed to still be seen as a contemporary band.

A band that is more popular now than they’ve ever been, while not changing who they are, what they believe or who they’re for.

I finished this rant off with the words:

“Be Metallica, not The Eagles”.

Fortunately, given I was doing this call at stupid o’clock, people let it pass.

However, while the analogy may be bollocks, the reality isn’t.

We live in an industry that is increasingly falling into rules of how things should be done.

And there are some – without doubt.

But we are in danger of ignoring the power of culture and creativity in favour of box-ticking and formulas and yet it’s the brands and bands like Nike, Metallica, SKP-S, Kanye, Liquid Death who not only hold – and set – the cultural attention and narrative, but continue to fast-track growth and profit compared to a category who blindly follow a system designed to play more to the ‘safety’ of the middle rather than the power and influence of the edge.

I’m not saying it’s easy.

I’m not saying it’s not without risk.

I’m not saying it happens in a smooth, straight line.

But when you do it well … when you know who you are, who you’re for and what you believe, it’s definitely worth it, against pretty much every metric you can measure it against.

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Punk Progress …

Recently I came across this photo.

I have to be honest, I absolutely love it.

Two extreme sides of society coming together.

Or that’s what I first thought because after a bit of consideration, I realised that maybe they’re not that different.

Because while the context, history and day-to-day realities they faced were very different, they shared a desire to break a system actively working against their recognition, individualism and progress.

Similar to when the LGBTQ+ community supported the miners strike in the UK in the 80’s … and then, later on, the miners came out in force to back the LGBTQ+ community in their fight for rights and a future.

Different Worlds brought together by a common objective/enemy and realising the power both bring to each other in their goal.

Now the reality is all the groups mentioned in this post continue to face challenges and oppression from the establishment. They continue to be dismissed and attacked by the powers-that-be.

But while you could argue that means this approach doesn’t work, I disagree.

Because even when the result doesn’t go the way you want – or at least, in the timeframe you want – knowing you are supported goes a long way.

It keeps you believing.

It keeps you fighting.

It keeps you hoping.

And the more people who see what you’re fighting for is simply a different context to things you are fighting for, the more the momentum of change can swing.

I get this may sound idealistic.

I get the World right now is pretty shite.

But in the last few years we have seen issues that were previously ignored by companies and governments, gain awareness, acceptance and advocacy.

From mental health, to the climate crisis to trans-rights to countless other issues … change is happening that not long ago was not even recognised as an issue worth talking about.

We could do with more of this.

Because when we recognise the issues being faced rather than get distracted by the individuals involved, we may just see we are far more alike than different.

And then the establishment can’t blindly and wilfully ignore change that threatens their control.

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If A Video Game Company Can Do It, What’s Your Excuse?

For all the talk about diversity and inclusion being spouted by companies, I don’t see much diversity and inclusion.

I still see companies mainly filled with people like me and where there is diversity, it tends to not be at the management level.

And on the rare occasion that it is, you then see the media go after these people with a zeal rarely seen towards anyone white. Or male.

Of course, diversity is more than simply heritage … though companies often use that as a convenient excuse to not hire People of Colour, ignoring that – SHOCK HORROR – People of Colour can also come from low income areas, have physical disabilities, be members of the LGBTQ+ community and/or have any other number of ‘minority’ characteristics you wish to throw at me … which is why I am so excited by a new video game that deals with diversity head on.

Forza Horizon 5 is a brilliant racing game on XBox.

The graphics are amazing.
They’ve introduced a ‘story’ mode to the game.
And the world you get to explore is almost limitless.

But … and it’s a big but … the really brilliant thing is the level of customisation they allow you to make of your character.

Look at this …

And this …

How amazing is that!

You can customise your identity and add prosthetics.

No doubt, this will cause huge offence to presenters on Fox News for succumbing to ‘wokeness’ which makes it even better … but they’re missing the point in 2 fundamental areas.

1. Being called woke means being called someone who considers the context and needs of others so they can live a similar life in terms of opportunity as you. For me that’s a compliment, not an insult.

2. The option is not to get headlines – though it does, because of its rarity – but to allow people who are minorities, feel seen and valued and celebrated for who they are, not who they aren’t. Anyone who thinks that’s a bad thing to do can basically go fuck themselves.

The gaming industry has a bunch of issues – from how it operates to the storylines of the games it makes – however they seem to be far more committed and focused on making change than so many of the companies who talk about their D&I programs on social media and in magazine articles.

People can accuse Forza Horizon of jumping on the woke bandwagon all they like.

They can shout that they’re only doing it because they don’t want to alienate potential customers.

They can say it’s a ‘one off’ and should be treated as such.

People can say what they like … it’s still more than most have done and will mean far more to the millions of people who have been ignored by companies for decades for no other reason than simply being a bit different to supposedly ‘common’ characteristics.

And I can tell you, that will mean more to them than some press release about a companies D&I program that doesn’t change a damn thing.

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Thank you to James Whatley for letting me steal his screen shots, even though I own the game myself. THAT’s how lazy I am. Not that you didnt know it.



Unmotivation …

A while back I wrote about how some companies offer incentives and bonuses to their staff to try and boost morale when the reality is all the employees actually want is the company to act in ways they can be proud of and believe in.

Values.
Standards.
Behaviours.
Ambitions.

The most depressing part of this is that in many cases, the companies know this but just think it’s easier to try and ‘buy staff off’, than to change how they act.

But if you think that’s bad, there’s some who are even worse.

The ones who believe their staff will be inspired and impressed by any gesture the companies shows towards them … even if it is an act that shows how little they really think of them.

Acts like this …

Or this …

Seriously, what on earth were they thinking???

Even if they were giving away a bunch of bananas rather than a single one, it would still be bad … but a postage paid envelope, that reiterates this is a ONE TIME act of generosity.

Either the people behind these ‘gifts’ are evil or utterly delusional … which is why the best leaders I’ve ever worked for have been the ones who are transparent and honest, whether for good news or bad.

There’s something really reassuring of knowing where you stand. Where there is constant dialogue with where you’re at and where things are. That even in bad times, you know what is going on, what needs to change and some suggestions how to do it … because the person telling you genuinely wants you to succeed. Not simply to make their life easier, but to help make yours bigger.

While there are a lot of benefits to management, it can’t be denied it’s a tough gig.

You’re dealing with a bunch of moving parts all at the same time.

Egos.
Colleagues.
Team development.
Individual growth.
Client satisfaction.
New business requirements.
Company reputation and profit.
And then your own, personal satisfaction and growth.

In some ways, each of these moving parts can act as a barrier to the other being successful … and that’s when a manager can get into real trouble, because pressure means they can end up choosing what ultimately makes their life easier rather than what makes everything better.

Now I am not saying I am a great manager.

While I think I am OK, I definitely have my failings.

However over the years – and with some excellent mentors and role models – I’ve definitely learnt there are some ‘rules’ that I believe can help companies ensure managers create an environment where good things happen can happen, for the work … the clients … the individuals … the team … and the company as a whole.

1. Stop promoting people simply because that’s the only way to give them a pay rise.

This is more than just about managing staff cost ratios – or keeping salary bands in line – it’s the reality that some people are just much better at doing their specific job than managing other people doing their specific jobs. Often they know this, but feel they have to accept the promotion ‘opportunity’ to get the money they want. The great irony of this approach is it ends up costing everyone more in the long term. Because the promoted person ends up stopping doing the work that made them – and the company – stand out and other talented people leave, because they are being badly managed. Until the day the company realises their mistake and lets the person go who didn’t really want the job in the first place, but did it as it was the only way to get fairly valued for their talent and experience.

2. Stop thinking being good at the job means you are naturally good at managing

Being good at a job doesn’t automatically mean you are going to be good at managing others doing it. Not only that, being good at your job doesn’t mean your approach will – or should – translate to how the entire department operates. Sadly, too many companies don’t think this way. Instead they promote without consideration to the ways of the individual or the needs of the department and company. Of course, sometimes the reason for that is because it’s a way to ‘keep’ talent from going to another company or because doing it makes things more ‘convenient’ for the company when someone has resigned. What makes that approach even worse is they then place huge expectations and judgement on people so that when things don’t go exactly as planned, they start adding additional stress and barriers. The reality is you don’t make good managers through a title, you do it by giving them training and time.

3. Every level needs training

It doesn’t have to be formal. It doesn’t have to be academic. But it does have to happen.
Not just in terms of learning the company processes and org charts … but in terms of learning how to actually manage. What to look out for … how to engage … how to encourage and motivate. Not from a book. Not from an online course. But proper training with people who have done it very well rather than people who just hold the title. There are so many great managers who never got to realise that simply because they were thrown in the deep end and then kicked out because they weren’t given the support and time to train for their new position.

However I know the things I’ve suggested won’t be common, because too many companies see personal training as an expense and judge success as getting stuff done, regardless of the cost. Which is why after all the years I’ve had doing it, I still rely on 4 huge lessons I learnt from Dan Wieden and Chris Jaques.

+ When your focus is the work, every decision becomes easier.

+ Brilliant work sorts out almost every problem,.

+ Honesty and transparency is the greatest gift you can give someone.

+ The best way to stop complicity is to create an environment of openness and debate.

Sure, none of these are as easy as giving a banana or even a paid-return envelope … but I guarantee the positive effect will last a hell of a lot longer.



The People We Have To Be Most Afraid Of Are The Ones Who Think They Are Strong …

I’m reading and hearing more and more people position themselves as some sort of elite force … because the pain, hardship and obstacles others face, didn’t affect them.

Except – as the tweet by Daniel above shows – it did.

It’s happening everywhere.

From that prick Piers Morgan claiming he is in someway responsible for the brilliant achievement of Emma Raducanu through to certain members of the marketing community who acknowledge there’s many barriers people face in the industry, but then add how they were still able to succeed … unsubtly insinuating their talent is so exceptional, they got to the top despite all the obstacles others say “holds them back”, conveniently ignoring the fact they’re white, educated to hell and privileged as fuck.

I’m over it.

There’s so many people out there who face challenges the majority of us will never appreciate.

Never understand.

And while that doesn’t mean the achievements of anyone should be dismissed, the assumption that everyone is playing by the same rules and contexts is total bullshit.

Which is why those who put others down by saying ‘they faced challenges and they turned out alright’ are missing the point … both in terms of the effect their actions and behaviours had on their wellbeing and the definition of what success has to be.

We’re all fighting demons and challenges only we know about.

So by all means be proud of what you’ve done, but don’t use that to then backhandedly dismiss the achievements of others – especially when they’re not really comparable in terms of context, category or celebration.

Past or present.

Have a great weekend.