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


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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Why Business Needs To Be More Seinfeld …

I was never a fan of Seinfeld.

Then I’ve never been much of a fan of Jerry Seinfeld either.

I always found him a bit of condescending, self-righteous prick.

Oh I get he is smart.

His observational skills are almost unparalleled.

But you can be a genius and still be an asshole. Step on down Elon Musk.

However recently I read something Jerry said that made me dislike him less.

Not simply because he didn’t know who McKinsey were, but because of what he highlighted is the problem with them. Or more specifically, the problem companies who use them, have.

Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate this paints Jerry as a control freak.

And I also acknowledge that many companies hire McKinsey because they think the challenge they face is hard – rather than easy.

But what I do like about what he says is he won’t outsource his responsibility.

Sure, he could trust those around him more … and sure, his words smack of egomaniac … but to be fair to him, the product he sells is himself – his personality, his character, his humour – so it makes perfect sense he is obsessive about what goes out under his name because he cares deeply about his reputation, values and his quality control.

And that’s a major problem these days.

Too many don’t.

Oh they’ll say they do.

They’ll run internal and external communication that reinforce they do.

But then they’ll go and outsource their responsibilities and decisions to ‘for profit’ external organisations. Either because they don’t want the pressure … the issue is beyond their abilities … or they want someone to blame if things go wrong.

And the issue with this is the external organisation who are now responsible for answering this challenge, often do it with little to no consideration of who they’re doing it for.

How their clients look at the world.

The nuances and quirks that define who the company is and how they act.

So they provide a solution that does exactly what has been asked of them and nothing more.

Solutions agnostic of client values, beyond some superficial characteristics.

And this has resulted in a world filled with identikit functional solutions. Solutions that answer the issue, but at the cost of commoditisation. And all because senior people – who are paid handsomely to be responsible for their organisations wellbeing and growth – decided to outsource their responsibility to another organisation, even though they know they will never care as much about them as they should care about themselves.

Of course not everyone is like this.

Some are as committed and obsessive about how they do things as what they do.

But there are far too many who look for quick wins.

Easy answers.

Less pressure or responsibility.

Which is why I have always thought whether you are a shareholder or an employee, knowing how much the most senior people understand, value and protect the standards, nuance and quirks of the company they represent – not simply the balance sheet – acts as a good indicator you’re with a company who respects the value of their own value.

Not simply in terms of profit.

Nor in reputation.

But in the standards and values that drives all they do and create.

Which is my way of saying that while I still think Jerry Seinfeld is a bit of a dick, I now respect him for knowing where his responsibilities lie.

To both himself, his future and his fans.

Now if only there were more companies and brands who lived by the same mantra.

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Planets And Suns …

Running a company is hard.

There’s so many things that influence and shape how it runs, it’s no surprise they end up being such complicated beasts.

Different departments.

Different responsibilities.

Different requirements and budgets.

A bunch of different planets all operating by their own gravitational pull.

But here’s the thing … they shouldn’t be.

Because while each of those planets needs to circle the sun.

To be part of something bigger than themselves.

In our industry, the sun would be the creative work.

Or said another way … each and every department in an agency is there to enable the best creative product to be consistently created.

That’s it.

Doesn’t matter if you’re in Finance, HR, IT, Production, Planning or Creative … your purpose is to assist the creation of great work.

And while there are people who are more directly involved in the creation of that work, I don’t mean them …

I mean the end result.

The thing all that energy, tension, time, thinking, travelling, hiring, accounting, system managing, fee negotiating and creative developing has produced and will be judged by.

But sadly that is happening less and less … because on top of there often being a lack of clarity on what ‘great work’ is, as infrastructures grow, different departments end up believing they’re the sun.

The most important ingredient.

The element that decides failure or success.

And while we cannot deny each discipline plays an important role in the operational ability of an organisation … when they think – or are allowed to think – they’re the single most critical part in the whole process, that’s when it all goes to shit.

Which is another reason why independent agencies have a huge advantage over corporations.

Because they have the power to ensure their business is designed to specifically serve the work … ultimately driven by the belief great work delivers great profit whereas a focus on profit diminishes the value of the work.

And it’s true … though that doesn’t mean all independent agencies live up to that – just like not all corporations are ignorant to it – however in the main, that’s generally how it turns out.

Which is why I keep going back to what the film director Michael Mann told me about producing excellence.

He said that when he starts a movie, he talks to everyone in the production team.

Everyone.

He explains his vision for the story … his goal for it … what will be really important to him.

Then he tells them he needs them.

That they all play a critical part in the fulfilment of quality.

That he wants them to help make his vision even better than he could imagine.

But – and it’s a huge but – its about what HIS vision for the movie is, not theirs.

And that’s the key.

Freedom within a vision.

Planets going around the same sun … not going in whatever direction they want.

Remembering your role is to help make something bigger than you better, rather than just caring about how you look.

Working to enable your colleagues to succeed rather than get in the way with needless process or ego.

Making decisions based on what helps serve the ultimate goal, not just your personal preference.

And while I accept protocol and policy will impact our lives and jobs, that’s where leadership comes in.

Ensuring the things that are adopted – or have to adopted – don’t get in the way of what you’re all there to create.

Or said another way, it’s asking one simple question: Will it make the work better?

And that’s why who you hire is so important.

Not just in terms of ability … but in terms of their standards, values, vision and focus.

Because your goal is to build potency not simply capability.

Because the reason a focused company is often a better company is simply because people don’t waste so much of their energy dealing with the internal bullshit of departments who have been allowed to believe they’re the sun, rather than a planet.

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People Who Think They’re Genius, Probably Don’t Know Their History …

A company in the UK was recently invited to be part of a big pitch in China.

A very big pitch.

Because I know the founder of the company – and she knows my history with China – she asked if I could cast my eye over what they were proposing.

She’s a good friend so I said yes.

So over a few hours on zoom, they took me through all their work.

They’d been very busy …

Huge amounts of research.
Huge amounts of analysis.
Huge amounts of thinking.

It was really good, there was just one problem.

It was all wrong.

Not because what they’d discovered wasn’t true or accurate, but simply because they’d fallen for what I call, the planners achilles heel: What you think is interesting and new, isn’t interesting or new for the audience you want to engage’.

Look around and you see it happening everywhere.

From people who think they’ve discovered a new brand that’s been around for years, to consultants who proclaim they’ve invented a new business model that other industries have been using for decades to adfolk spouting theories their predecessors were applying before they were even born.

And while I get there can be innocent reasons for this happening, the inconvenient truth is it’s driven by a pinch of arrogance here … a sliver of laziness there … and a big dollop of the issues that continue to undermine the value and potency of the discipline of strategy within business and agencies.

There is craft in what we do.

A set of practices, standards and values that are designed to help us do better and be better.

Practices, standards and values that were developed over time by brilliant women and men.

Now that doesn’t mean we can’t add to it … play with it … challenge it or reinvent it …but it seems the goal for many is less about what is created and more about how they appear.

Hey, I get it …

We all like recognition and right now, the industry rewards that more than it rewards those who create the work that gets the recognition. Which is utterly terrifying.

But while I would never want to stand in the way of people making a truckload of cash, the desire to satisfy our ego is having an adverse, negative effect on the work we make and the audiences we serve.

Put simply, we’re boring them to death.

Because what we think is cutting edge innovation – whether in creativity or consideration – has been seen before, done before, known before and replaced before.

Or said another way …

Regardless what we want to believe, dDuplication is not innovation and degrees of change is not revolution.

I genuinely believe this industry can be great, innovative and valuable.

But it won’t happen if we continue to ignore rigour and reality in favour of believing if it’s new to us, it must be new to everyone.

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Collabs Are Becoming A Circle Jerk …

Before I start, I’ve been a huge fan of collabs over the years. Seeing what happens when two different artists or brands or artists and brands come together has been fascinating.

And for every terrible LG x Prada phone, there’s a Nike x Ben & Jerry’s sneaker.

But … but … it feels we’ve moved from collab to labelling.

Where it isn’t about what two parties can create with each other, but just renting space for another brand to slap their logo on.

Take these Travis Scott x Playstation x Nike sneakers …

Jesus Christ.

Where the Ben & Jerry’s felt crafted and cared for this is just … well, put it this way, it feels more like a bad promotional item than something that represents a true collab.

And the thing is, this approach is happening more and more – across all manner of categories – which is why I kinda love what Nobuaki Kurokawa has done with their first product launch from their CUGGL label.

Let’s be honest, they’re taking the piss.

Like, blatantly and unashamedly.

Not only does it look like it say’s Gucci, by making the design resemble graffiti, it feels like they’re also sticking two fingers up at the terrible and contrived Gucci/Balenciaga collab.

The Gucci x Belenciaga is especially horrific because individually, they’ve not really laid a foot wrong in building the value and position in culture of their brands. And then they do this.

Lazy.

Fake.

Obvious.

Out-of-date.

Dad at the disco rubbish.

Basically, the fashion industry version of this.

Which is why I like what CUGGL have done so much.

Punking the brands pretending to be punking fashion.

Of course, Diesel did something like that before – though their mischievous eye was aimed at the counterfeit industry [even though it kinda said ‘fakes may be real’, which is the last thing they needed to do] however in terms of greatest accolade for mischief, that prize should have gone to the band Blink 182.

I say ‘should have’ because they ended up pulling out of potentially the greatest burn ever.

In the early 2000’s, Axl Rose was making a new Guns’ n’ Roses album.

It was unique because the only original member of the band was Axl himself.

He had fired all the band and was basically at his most indulgent ego best.

The only thing he’d announced was the album was going to be called ‘The Chinese Democracy’.

For years and years nothing came out.

The album postponed time and time again.

At one point, his record label, Geffen, pulled funding … and yet the recording still went on.

Enter Blink 182.

They announce they were recording a new album and guess what they were going to call it …

That’s right, The Chinese Democracy.

Better yet, because Axl was taking so long to release his version – they could be sure they’d be first, so history would always make it look that Guns n’ Roses copied Blink 182.

Alas they went cowardly on the idea, which is a shame … because that would have set a benchmark CUGGL and Diesel could only dream of reaching.

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