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


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.



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.



Behind Every Tough Guy Is A Broken Boy …
September 16, 2020, 7:30 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, Childhood, Culture, Education, Fatherhood, Parents

I recently read an interview with ex-England Rugby Captain, Will Carling.

It’s a fascinating interview because in some ways, Will was David Beckham before even David Beckham.

Young.

Handsome.

Talented.

Successful.

A glamorous wife.

A media ‘celebrity’.

But in addition to this, he also faced incredibly scrutiny, destructive rumours and the wrath of the media for acts – as we learn in the interview – that were simply not true.

For example he was labelled as money obsessed as he would do public speaking … but what was not discussed was that it was his only source of income as he gave up his well-paid job at Mobil so he could concentrate on his [amateur] rugby fulltime.

But the most telling part of the interview – and the readers comments underneath it – is how he was sent away to boarding school at the age of 6.

SIX.

Separated from his parents to live in a dormitory, surrounded by other boys – many much older than him – all on his own.

The most heartbreaking part of the interview is this:

“Every night during those first weeks I would go into a ball at the bottom of the bed. You didn’t want anyone to hear you crying. It was unbelievably lonely.”

Otis is 5.

The thought of choosing to send him away … to see him maybe once a year … is beyond my comprehension.

It is, in my opinion, an act of utter cruelty.

The psychological damage to the child must be incredible … which may go some way to explaining why people like Boris Johnson and mob have this compulsion to be popular and can lie without hesitation.

Maybe it’s less they’re just out and out bad … and more the methods they learnt to survive from being sent to live in a boarding school at an age where no kid should be separated from their family, friends or home.

The fact there are places of ‘education’ that are OK with letting kids from the age of 6 not see their parents for months on end makes me so angry and reinforces my view that so much private education is designed to create complicity rather than individuality.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know who Will Carling is.

Or if you don’t have kids.

Or if you hate rugby.

It’s a fascinating article about success, family, media, team mates and integrity and I am sure you will come out of it realising that the toughest men are hiding the most brutal pasts.

You can read it here.



When You Only Serve Those Above You, You Become The Enemy Of Those Around You …

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a police officer.

I was OBSESSED with becoming a police officer.

I read books. I talked to the coppers on the street. I looked up to them literally and metaphorically.

And while I absolutely believe the Police do an important job that is often undervalued, I also think the system they are made to operate in encourages behaviour that is not representative of the values and standards we have all been told they follow.

That is not a justification for wrongdoing – if they do the crime, then they should experience the full force of the law with absolutely no leniency whatsoever – however as police wrongdoing is happening on such a consistent basis all around the World, it does suggest the environment they are being asked to work within, is contributing to the situation in some way.

Which is why I found this comment on twitter interesting …

Now, I would imagine it was said with mischief in the eye … but there is truth in it.

Because where the Police are supposed to protect us, they have evolved into something that often feels more about controlling us … often for the good of the wealthy or the powerful.

I can’t imagine how difficult the job is … it must be a thankless task, especially with government leaders encouraging them to execute aggressive action rather than community integration … but something is obviously broken deep within.

Are all Police bad?

Of course not, just like criminals don’t follow the cultural or economic stereotypes the media, government and white people like to present us with.

And while blaming individuals or entire groups of people may make us feel better … safer … superior … more in control … the reality is so much of what goes on is because of the systemic and institutionalised systems so many people have to live and work within. Until that is accepted, investigated and fundamentally changed – rather than brushed aside as some sort of ‘liberal nonsense’ – we’re going to continue experiencing this pain, and quite frankly too many people have needlessly died and too many families have been needlessly destroyed to not accept there is a problem.

However much that puts the people in control in fear.

However much that shines a light on what we’ve all been complicit in creating.

However much that means governments become scared of the people rather than vice versa.



Whose House Are You In?

If you work in a company that claims to have D&I systems and processes in place, I’d like to try and explain why I believe that might not be enough.

And if you don’t have D&I practices in place, I’d like to try and highlight why you could be part of the problem even if you think you‘re open and none-racist.

If you find it useful, then please share it or steal it.

You see while I wrote it, it’s not my property – I learnt this from my life in China and specifically in America where the brilliant, amazing and wonderful Maya, Chelsea and Breanna [not to mention some spectacular people of colour] helped me see things I was previously – and arguably consciously – blind to.

And while this came from experiences in China and America, the reality is this situation happens everywhere so hopefully it will have some use wherever you are.

Now obviously I don’t have all the answers – and it means nothing if we don’t actually do something to change something – but thanks to conversations I’ve had with my friends, it is clear some of the problems people of colour face in our work environments are problems we create and cultivate even if we‘re trying to do the right thing.

OK, here we go:

‪When you walk into someone’s home or office for the first time, there’s always that feeling of needing to hold back.

To play to the hosts standards.

To ‘manage’ your authentic self.

Conscious they’re looking at your every move. Judging.‬ ‪

The clear but invisible line between you & them … reinforcing you’re in their space, not yours.

Uncomfortable isn’t it?

That feeling of your presence being squashed. Less valued. That the only way to be allowed to stay is to act like you’re them rather than you. The distinct feeling of being tolerated rather than welcomed. ‬ ‪

This is what people of colour face and experience EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

Entering white spaces with white expectations and white rules.

And even if you don’t think that’s what happens at your place, ask yourself – who owns the house you are inviting people into?

What colour is the CEO?

Who created the company?‬

How many people of colour are there?

What levels of authority do they have? ‪

Diversity and inclusion isn’t about allowing people of colour to act like white people.

It’s about allowing people of colour to be themselves. Their authentic self. Not judged or devalued for who they are, but welcomed, respected and rewarded for who they are. ‬ ‪

So instead of pointing at your D&I practices and thinking that is enough, ask yourself one question:

Are you asking people of colour to step into your house or are you going to let them equally own, create and build it?‬

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