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


Another Year On This Blog Is Officially Done …

So this is it, year 15 of this blog is officially over.

YEAR 15!!!

Christ, this might be the most I’ve ever been committed to anything. What a shame this blog is basically worth nothing, hahahaha.

But we’re here.

A year that the World hoped would represent huge, positive change after the hell of 2020 … but ended up being more of the same.

For us, of course, this was a year with a huge difference – namely we now live in New Zealand.

Moving countries can be a pain in the arse at the best of times, but doing it in a pandemic adds a whole lot of stress that no one needs. However, despite that … despite saying goodbye [or should I say, au revoir] to the beautiful house we had just bought … despite not being able to physically see my beloved Paul and Shelly before we went … despite the hassle, broken furniture and time to get settled in … it’s been amazing.

There’s many reasons to that.

From the 2 week quarantine we had to do, which let us – and Rosie, the cat – get acclimatised to the obscene time difference to the kindness and generosity of the people here. To the fact we had bought our beautiful home – and cars – before we arrived, which made things so much easier. To the covid vaccinations we received. To the community we have found ourselves in. To the outdoor life – excluding the insane rain and 4 month lockdown – we have been able to enjoy.

So much.

But it would be wrong for me to not mention the role Colenso and, specifically my team, have had in it.

Everyone of these talented souls has been wonderful.

Not just to me, but Jill and Otis as well.

Plus there’s the fact my team have [generally] put up with my ‘ways’ … and we all know how painful that can be. I’ve always been incredibly fortunate with the teams I’ve been a part of and this lot are no different.

Sure, they’re mouthy bastards with no end of opinions, ideas and considerations but that’s – as you probably could guess – is exactly why I love them.

We’ve only been together 7 months but I’ve seen enough to be excited about what damage we can do in 2022 – reinforced by the fact we finished this year being named Agency Of The Year by the Effies organisation for a whole host of work that solved problems in interesting ways.

So to Lizzie, Henry, Teresa, Emma, Gi, Augustine, Amy and Liam … thank you for everything.

You’ve given me laughs, headaches, pride, lessons and things to ponder … and I couldn’t be more grateful for all of it.

[And extra best wishes to Lizzie who gets married during the holidays. Made extra perfect because she had to postpone it due to Covid and this way she gets to make the holiday season even more wonderful for all her family]

But while NZ has been the major change in my year, there have been some other notable moments.

In some respects, it was a year of music.

From my Rick Rubin project to getting fired by the Red Hot Chili Peppers to the best passive aggressive endorsement ever seen in the history of mankind.

Given I’ll be working for The Black Keys, Muse and – weirdly – Journey in 2022, I can only hope the musical rollercoaster will keep me on my toes as much.

Talking of celebrity …

I met Noel Edmunds at a business ‘do’ in Auckland – which surprised him as much as it did me – and I got to hug Jacinda Ardern, albeit committing social faux pas when I interrupted her during a dinner she was having to say hello.

That I’m still allowed in the country is testimony to New Zealand’s humanity.

Then there was the Tokyo Olympics …

An event a year late from its original plan … met with global apathy, especially in their home country … only to win us all over and turn us back into fans.

Seeing young kids win medals in skateboarding will stay with me for a very long time.

In fact, having skateboarding in the Olympics may have just done more to get kids wanting to do sport again than any number of NIKE ad campaigns.

That’s how good it was.

Best ad of the year goes to the amazing MacMillan cancer ad.

I must have watched it a couple of hundred times now – hell, I’ve even built a presentation around it that I give clients – and I still cry when I see it.

Not because of sadness – though there’s plenty in it – but because of the human emotion it triggers.

As I wrote at the time, it has this incredible ability to take me back to the times I lost my parents but make me feel closer to them. Extraordinary.

I could go on …

I could talk about certain posts I wrote in the year, like Toxic Positivity, but let’s face it … you can’t be bothered to read it and I can’t be bothered to write about it.

So I want to say some thanks …

To everyone who reads, writes and insults me on this blog … I am eternally grateful – and surprised – you come here. Many of you have been coming here for almost as long as I’ve been writing it and I have to say I find comfort in knowing that whatever I’m facing in life, I can come here and all of it just fades away. So for that, thank you … I really appreciate it.

I also want to say thank you to everyone who has reached out to check on how we’re doing. You didn’t have to, but you did and that means a ton.

Extra special thanks go to Paul, Shelly, Martin, Paula, Amelia, Martin B, Meg, Rach, Mike, Sam, Mr Ji, Peter and Cliff … who all made me feel like you were just around the corner, even though you were thousands of miles away.

And finally, a special thanks to Jill, Otis and Rosie.

None of this would be possible without you and I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else.

You make me a happier, better person than I believed was possible … and while you may rightfully think I can be a total pain-in-the-ass, I can just tell you I’d be even worsr without you.

So thank you.

For everything,

I can never fully tell you how much I love you and am grateful for you.

The way you handle all this change is extraordinary …

Nothing sums this up more than something Otis chose to do recently.

As you all know, Otis has beautiful, gorgeous, stunning long hair …

Well a few weeks ago, he suddenly announced he wanted to cut it off so it could be donated to kids with cancer.

We asked if he was sure as it was a big thing and he said, “he wants to and is determined to”.

Then he added he will continue to do this until he’s 18.

Grow his hair.
Donate his hair.
Grow his hair.
Donate his hair.

So that evening, his Mum got scissors and a hair razor out and starting cutting 35 CENTIMETERS OF HAIR.

THIRTY FIVE!

Throughout the cutting he kept saying how excited he was.

How it was changing his life.

How much ‘lighter’ his head felt.

And afterwards, the little champ looked like this …

A new sort of rock n’ roll.

I thought it was impossible to love him anymore. I was wrong.

To have the capacity to be so compassionate and considerate at 7 years of age is incredible.

Even more so when he has had so much change in his life.

Four countries in 6 years.
New homes, new schools, new friends.
Almost 18 months of lockdown.

And yet he still has it in him to think of others.

Definitely his Mum’s son.

But proudly mine too.

Hell, he even offered me a chance to remember what it was like to have hair …

… though it could also have been to take the piss out of me.

So to Otis … Jill … Rosie … everyone I know and people I don’t but somehow have still come into my life this year, I wish you a wonderful festive season.

I really, really hope 2022 is much better for everyone than the previous 2 years.

I hope we have a year where everyone can have hope for the future.

I don’t know if it’s possible with the machismo bullshit of politicians, but let’s hope so.

Thank you again for everything, have a great time … just not better than me. Please.

See you on January 31st.



Hiding Behind A Mask …

Recently I was interviewed by 2 creatives who have set up a podcast about imposter syndrome.

As I wrote a while back, imposter syndrome affects pretty much everyone in the industry and can be utterly debilitating.

In that same post, I suggested one way to deal with it, is not to hide from it, but to embrace it.

Because in some circumstances, imposter syndrome can help your career.

Seriously.

It means it never let’s you phone something in.
It means it always demands you push your talent further.
It means it will force you to keep exploring possibilities.

I’m not saying that isn’t painful, but it may change your relationship with it … because instead of undermining your career, maybe you can use it to build it.

Maybe.

Anyway, I was interviewed about this and a bunch of other issues connected to imposter syndrome and if you want to listen to that – or the much better ones, such as Nils from Uncommon – then you can go here and find out more about something that more people than you’d imagine have to deal with.



If Everything Is An Experience, You Better Make Yours Great …

I’ve written a lot about experience in the past.

How important it is.

How it can drive brand value and growth.

How it can create distinction and differentiation in crowded categories.

I’ve also talked about how badly so much of it is done.

That it’s more about consistency than excellence.

That it isn’t a new approach, just a new profit centre.

That many aspire to everything average than some things spectacular.

It blows my mind what some agencies and companies think is ‘an experience’.

Especially when you compare it to people who genuinely ‘get it’.

Whether it’s certain luxury brands or my client, SKP-S in Beijing.

Which is why I love the picture at the top of this page.

At the time, the person on the runway was 62 years old.

SIXTY TWO.

This was taken on the first of 3 nights of performing to 68,000 paying people.

So over 200,000 in total.

In South America.

Think about that for a second.

OK, so the person in question is Brian Johnson … lead singer of rock band AC/DC.

But let’s also remember we’re talking about a group of pensioners.

Literally.

Yes, I appreciate there are all-sorts of factors/considerations/contexts/excuses you could use to explain why they can achieve that sort of response when brands – with all their experience models and big budgets – can’t.

But the one thing AC/DC understand is if you want to keep people coming back, you need to focus on creating a seminal moment for your audience not average consistency.

It’s why I always ask ‘experience strategists’ about their life rather than just their work. I want to know what their frame of references are for experience. Because frankly – and I appreciate I’m being a massive snob here – if it doesn’t include festivals, theatre, art, music, retail, museums … then I don’t know if we’re ever going to share the same ambitions.

Because while I appreciate ‘average but consistent’ has value to some organisations, I would rather drink bleach than advocate that as a brand goal.

Not simply because I have an aversion to average.

But because when you do experience right – which means knowing who you are and who your customers are – the profits extrapolate. See, I’m not totally selfish.



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.