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


Play Up To Potential, Not Down To Average …

A few weeks ago I wrote about Otis and his love of the Rubik’s cube.

His ability to solve them blindfolded.

How he’s found the cube community to be nurturing and inclusive.

Well recently Otis reminded me of kids endless capacity to be more than just curious … but committed.

You see over the past few weeks, two new things have entered his world.

Yoyo’s and Table Tennis.

I don’t just mean passing interest, I mean a full commitment to see what he can do with it.

Now I appreciate this is a bit easier for him than it was in my day … because he has YouTube to help educate and inspire him.

But my god, his focus and energy has taken my breath away.

In a matter of weeks, his abilities have gone crazy. I appreciate this is the sort of thing you would expect a Dad to say about their kid, but I promise I’m being as objective as I can be.

I’ll have to write about his Yo-Yo chops another day … but it’s unbelievable what he can do [though the innovation of the product is also mind-blowling] however it’s his love of table tennis that is a sight to see.

Part of this is because he’s not really into sports.

He does like tennis, but has no interest in things like football or – that school nemesis – cross country.

But what is great about loving sport that involves hand/eye co-ordination is that it develops his motor skills, which will be permanently affected because of his diagnosis of dysgraphia.

For a while, he’s been hitting a table tennis ball against a window at home with a bat.

So far so good.

But this weekend we took him to the NZ Table Tennis association so he could see what it is like on a full sized table.

And rather than be intimidated or nervous, he loved it.

More amazing, after a bit of getting used to the new dynamics and environment, he was pretty good at it.

Of course I’m talking about the basics of table tennis, but it is his ability to throw himself into things and desire to get better that is fantastic … not so he can beat others, but so he can see how good he could be at something.

I’ve written about this before, but there’s far too many adults who are focused on speed rather than substance.

A desire to take short-cuts to move up than to build a solid layer of ability and experience.

I don’t blame them for doing this – the system is against them – but it also means the people who will be in-charge of the next generations development will be people who may not fully appreciate what development really is. Or can be.

And that’s why I’m proud of Otis. He wants to do it right.

He gets massively frustrated when his ability doesn’t match his ambition … but he works at it till it surpasses it.

His focus and desire is a joy to witness.

His pride of achievement.

His fast-track of growth through the unrelenting focus and commitment of an 8 year old. An 8 year old with dysgraphia.

And while his neurological situation may mean he has to learn in ways that are different to normal approaches, that does not mean his abilities or potential are less.

Not in the slightest.

And that’s what I wish schools and governments understood.

That some kids learn – or have to learn – in personalised ways.

Sure, a lot of schools find that hard because of a lack of resource … but there’s still too many who see teaching about group standardisation than individual potential.

At a time where there is a lot of talk of kids being lazy or under the spell of social media [which is not necessarily true but convenient for older generations to use to mitigate blame] … maybe it’s worth remembering that by not creating and funding a system that recognises, appreciates and encourages individual needs, it’s not their fault they don’t want to follow a path that works against them, its ours.

Add to that the disappointment and disillusionment they see in the adults who blindly followed this ‘one-size-fits-all’ system and ideology, and I’d argue they’re smarter than us.

So while Otis is just doing what he loves, I hope one day he realises he’s a quiet revolutionary … one who shows his focus, dedication and desire to be better can break down barriers.

For him. And the millions of kids who have so much to offer and give, like him.

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Remember, We’re All Living In A Hollywood Set To Some Degree …

I’ve been watching a lot of movies that made a big impression on me in the late 80’s/early 90’s.

What a massive mistake.

Apart from Die Hard, Terminator and Point Break … everything else has been pretty horrific.

Seriously, either we had really, really, really low standards back then, or someone was putting something in the water.

Face/Off, Bad Boys and The Rock are particularly bad.

I LOVED those movies when I was younger. I thought they were amazing … but zoom forward 30 years and you want to scrub your eyes and brain with a wire brush.

It’s not the bad effects – I can understand them being rubbish – it’s everything else.

The lack of subtlety. The horrific dialogue. The insane levels of over-acting.

It is obvious that directors back then thought audiences were as thick as shit because the way they signpost every moment in the movie with overt ‘clues’ is insane.

From clunky dialogue that attempts to explain the implausible, to off-centre camera angles to highlight the ‘bad guy’, to music that blatantly tries to communicate how you’re supposed to feel or what you should be ready to experience.

One of the worst of all the moves I’ve seen recently is the 1991 Julia Roberts movie ‘Sleeping With The Enemy’.

I remembered this movie as one that tackled domestic violence at a time where it was hardly ever discussed.

That might be the only bit of it I remembered correctly.

Quite simply, it’s pants.

Filled with more holes than Edam cheese and more over-acting than an episode of ‘Crossroads’ from the 70/80′ … the only positive elements are the name of the film, Julia Roberts amazing smile and the house that features heavily in it.

What makes it all worse is the trailer doesn’t give any of that away.

I know trailers are designed to do exactly that, but the difference between what they set up and what you get is dramatic.

Here’s the trailer.

OK, so you either have to trust me this is setting you a false experience or you have to watch the movie for yourself and know it with all certainty … but none of this is actually the point of this post.

You see when I watch movies, I have this annoying habit of having to investigate their history while watching it.

The thing that caught my eye when I was watching Sleeping with the Enemy was that house.

Look at it.

So grand. So imposing. So much a symbol of wealth.

And while I saw places like that when I lived in the US, I was surprised to learn it was made just for the movie.

Of course I know this happens, but they tend to be on a set, not on a real beach … but here we were, with that exact situation.

And while it looks the home of the wealthy from the front, when seen from behind – it left a different impression.

That’s right, it looks like the sort of rubbish they used to make on Blue Peter with some cardboard and sticky black plastic.

And while this shouldn’t surprise me, it does highlight how much of life is an illusion.

From the social media we read to the pitches we embark on to the relationships we forge to the jobs we covet.

Of course, not everything or everyone is like this.

Some are like the famous Steve Jobs quote, “paint behind the fence”. … where their standards, values and attitude means they will do things others may not ever know or see, but is important to them as it not only gives them confidence of a job well done but let’s them feel they’re working for a company they can believe in.

However they are sadly the exception, even if they should be everyone’s ambition.

So as we enter 2021 with our hopes and dreams, it may be worth remembering so much of life is like the Sleeping With The Enemy house. Where what we are asked to see is not a true indication of what it going on.

And while that doesn’t mean it’s all bad, it does mean you can go into things with open eyes, you can avoid disappointment, you can set some boundaries, you can identify the real opportunity that will excite you, you can stop feeling bad if you have questions or doubts and you can be OK if you’re not living up to what others claim they’re living up to.

Because when we talk about a healthy work/life balance, it’s worth remembering it’s not just about time, it’s about attitude.



A Conversation About Living. And Failing.

A few weeks ago, my friend – Philippa White, the founder of TIE – spoke to me about my life.

While many would say that is the single worst idea anyone could have, Philippa – for reasons that still escape me – thought differently.

TIE – or The International Exchange – is an amazing thing.

They link people from the commercial world [from big organisations to people from BBH and W+K] with social initiatives around the world, providing unique opportunities that will transform the lives of both parties.

It’s an absolutely amazing organisation and the people who have done it talk about how it has had a profound affect on their lives – for the experience they had, the realisation that their skills can benefit people in different ways that they ever imagined and the lessons they learnt about what they’re good at, what they want to be good at and the future they can now envision for themselves.

I have not done TIE, but Philippa and I bonded when we met over the power of overseas experiences and learning and for some reason she wanted to talk about my journey.

We cover a whole lot of topics, from family to friendship to failure and while it may only be interesting to those looking for a cure for insomnia, if you’re looking for development, growth and having more meaning and value from your life … I can assure you TIE is definitely going to be of interest to you.

Thank you Philippa. Thank you TIE.

You can be disappointed by it here.



If You Are Uncomfortable Talking About Race, It Means You Are Comfortable With Racism And Are A Shit Planner …

So last week, I was invited to talk at GroupThink’s planning conference.

I like the people there and said yes.

Originally I was going to take people through an old presentation because I didn’t really have much time to write something specific for you. They were OK with it and so wrote it into their program.

Then the situation with George Floyd happened.

Following so shortly on the heels of other racist motivated murders, like Ahmaud Arbery – who was murdered in cold blood by a father and son while out jogging.

At this point, quite frankly, the idea of doing a presentation on strategy seemed so utterly pointless.

So 2 days before the day of the event, I wrote something new.

Something that was about why Black Lives Matters is the only thing that really matters to me right now.

How the ad industry HAS to change.

How the ad industry may talk a lot about diversity and inclusivity but its actions are racist.

I’m not saying that is their intention or that they even realise it, but it’s racist.

And I’ve been complicit in that.

Again, not intentionally, but still done it.

Anyone who is white has … because we’ve let our privilidge create a gap between our actions and our self awareness.

Finally, I talked about 6 things people could do TODAY to make a positive difference to any person of colour … whether that’s through education, responsibility, judgement or action.

Now I must admit I was scared to write this presentation.

Not because I was worried it would make people feel uncomfortable, but because I’m a white male who has had every privilege going and the last thing I wanted to do was come across as if I was claiming to be an expert on this matter or whitesplaining anything.

Which is why I didn’t write the presentation.

I co-wrote it.

In addition to capturing some of the lessons I learned from the brilliant people of colour I’ve worked with and known over the years [which is a lot given how long I spent in China and Asia], the main bulk of the presentation was put together – after seeking their permission – with the irrepressible, wonderful and take-no-shit-from-anyone-especially-me … Maya Thompson, Breanna Jones and Chelsea Curry.

I’ve written and talked about them a lot.

They changed my life.

Literally.

I genuinely believe I can never thank them enough, but one way I try is to take on the issues I should have taken on years ago but thought not being racist was enough.

It isn’t.

So here it is … it’s my usual picture rubbish, but hopefully the bits that are there will make sense to everyone.

The real presentation starts at page 28, the previous slides were linked to the talk I was going to give so I could lull people into a false sense of security so they would get comfortable before I talked openly, emotionally and plainly about an issue that should be the focus of every human right now, but isn’t for a whole host of unimportant or self-serving reasons.

Should anyone want to know more about the presentation, please get in touch.

But most importantly, please act.

Black. Lives. Matter.

Slides 1-5: Just introducing me and why I am happy to be invited to present.

Slides 6-10: How the standard of work being created is generally very poor and how we are all contributing to it in terms of the things we are talking about. Which isn’t the standard of the work and sounds more like us trying to be clients than people valuable to clients.

Slides 11-23: Insights matter because people matter and if you want to make work that is intriguing, interesting, provocative and fresh, you have to care about people, culture and subculture or you’ll get nowhere.

Slides 24-27: I talk about how I was going to talk about the wonderfully crazy project we’ve recently done in China and how understanding sub-culture made building something specifically designed to look like ‘future Mars’ was perfectly sensible but ….

Slide 28: I need to pause the topic of the talk because frankly, the events of the past week have really upset me – specifically the reaction of many agency leaders – and I want to talk about something that matters more to me.

Slides 29-31: Black Lives Matter. There’s many lives that matter, but right now – for me – Black Lives Matter is the only one that matters.

Slides 32-34: Lived around the World, eventually moved to America and then met 3 brilliant women who changed my life. Maya Thompson. Chelsea Curry. Breanna Jones.

Slides 34-39: This is how they fundamentally changed my life for the better by helping me see how blind, stupid and complicit I’d been and then [with some values my Mum taught me] the journey we went on – and still go on – together.

Slides 40-49: Announce this deck has actually all been co-written by Maya, Breanna and Chelsea. Three main reasons for this. I don’t have credibility, I don’t want to come across as whitesplaining and I want any advice I give to be genuinely valuable to people of colour, not a white persons interpretation of what is valuable.

Slide 50: How my industry is racist. Doesn’t want to be. But is. And I use a recent ‘challenge’ put out by Cannes as an example. For the record, they launched a competition on how to attract more diversity into the industry and gave a media budget of ¬£100,000. That’s right they were committing an amount of money most agencies would spend for dinners during Cannes for a topic that they claim is hugely important to them. They don’t intend to be racist but they – like the whole industry – is acting in ways that are.

Slides 51-58: What we have to do to stop being a racist industry including letting go of everything we thought we knew and starting again.

[Please note slide 54: Lots of people say they’re ‘colour blind’. By which they mean they claim they treat everyone the same. The point of this slide is that while we should absolutely treat and value everyone the same, we should do this in a way that acknowledges individual backgrounds and beliefs. Not doing this can result in one of 3 things. [1] We treat everyone the same but based on our definition of what ‘same is’. Which is often white, which means we expect people of colour to adapt to us and our standards. [2] We generalise groups for our convenience, so we call [for example] everyone who is black, “black” … ignoring the vast range of backgrounds, beliefs and nuances they could have BECAUSE PEOPLE OF COLOUR DO NOT ALL COME FROM THE SAME PLACE!!! Or [3] because of being ‘colour blind’, you see everyone the same [which we don’t, let’s be clear on that] so you end up making the same work for everyone thinking it will be resonant with everyone. It isn’t. See how Rihanna highlighted this when she launched her Fenty cosmetics and simply added colours for African American skin, fucking up the big cosmetic companies who had ignored this for decades]

Slide 59-60: Highlighting when you start from scratch it can work, because my son Otis is living proof of it. He has lived in 3 countries and loves them all equally, while accepting and respecting their individual differences.

Slide 61: If you need a commercial reason for why Black Lives Matter [and if you do, you’re a prick] it’s because people of colour can make this industry great again because on top of all influential culture being born from black culture, people of colour understand nuance, values, struggles and humanity better than anyone as they have to deal with this shit every day.

Slide 62-63: Thank you to all the people of colour who helped co-write this presentation – especially Maya, Chelsea and Breanna – and justice for George Floyd.



The First Rule Of Marketing …

… is know your audience.

The second rule is let them know you know them.

For all the millions spent at agencies and consultancies, this food vendor at the recent Chelsea v Everton match. shows they get it more than most.

Now you may think, ‘who would shop at a place that publicly identifies them as a chubby’?

And I get it …

In these highly visual times, no one wants to associate with anything deemed socially negative.

But apart from the fact there are some people who take great pride in their unhealthiness, the reality is there’s something incredibly lovely about that name.

If you’re hungry.

If you need something to eat.

If you want something that’s going to make you full.

What better place is there than a food cart with the name Chubby’s.

Chubby’s suggests big portions. Lots of flavour [read: fat] Value for money.

But it’s more than that.

This is a food cart at a football match.

Food and football is never supposed to be fancy.

It’s supposed to be piping hot and insanely substantial …

This means even the most healthy minded individual can justify buying from there.

“It’s just this once” … they’ll say.

“It’s part of the footballing experience” they’ll claim.

And then, to make themselves feel less greedy, they’ll do what was the basis of one of my favourite ever campaigns – a bloody radio ad no less – they’ll go and order a Diet Tango to wash it all down with.

The weak and delusional fools.

[Cue evil laugh]

So while I doubt any naming consultancy would ever come up with such a choice of name for a football food establishment, I would say the owner of this cart is a better marketer than most of the agencies and consultancies put together.

And his hot dogs were a delight.

That is not a euphemism.