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


See The Beauty In The Creative Messiness …

A few years ago, almost 60 hours of unseen footage of The Beatles recording their final album was discovered.

Peter Jackson was hired to clean it up and put it together to make a program that would give a glimpse of the inner-workings of the band that almost no one had seen.

The result is Get Back … a 6+ hour show that reveals a band who couldn’t help being creative even when they were on the cusp of breaking up.

Someone I know described the show as basically watching one long creative review – and they’re right.

The whole show is full of the review rollercoaster.

Tension.
Judgement.
Protection.
Scepticism.
Debates.
Comments.
Ideas
Body language.
Pushing.
Encouragement.
Muddiness.
Clarity.
Excitement.

But there’s one bit in the whole documentary to me that best sums all that up … that best sums up the whole creative process.

Watch this:

What you’ve just watched is Paul McCartney plucking the song, ‘Get Back’ – one of the bands most famous songs – out of the air.

Literally pulling it from out of nowhere.

One second he’s stumbling in the dark trying to find some sort of a melody, the next second he has just written one of the bands most recognisable songs.

That’s a level of magic even Harry Potter couldn’t pull off.

OK, so McCartney probably had a loose idea of a loose idea … but in 2 minutes 20 seconds, we get to see the magic of the creative process unfolding in-front of our eyes.

Where we go from a distant galaxy, where you can’t really see where things are … to one that you feel is inside of you.

No warning. No indicators. Just landed with all its engines roaring in harmony.

And this reveals a truth about creativity people are seemingly trying harder and harder to deny.

It’s messy.

You have to try things. Get past the obvious things. The ‘alright’. The ‘makes sense’.

The reality is coming up with something that does the job is relatively easy, but coming up with something that has the energy that takes the idea to somewhere else, isn’t. But that should always be the goal. An idea that has the energy to pull others in … that lets them sense and see the possibilities of what is being created. That gets them on board to push things further and sharper.

I say this because we’ve seemingly become obsessed with forcing creativity into processes, frameworks and eco-systems.

Where the ambition appears to simply be ‘does it say what we need it to say’?

And while I understand the pressures of business means time has a competitive advantage … thinking anything is OK as long as it’s quick is a false economy.

Now the normal response to that sort of statement is …

“… but that situation is so rare, it’s a better use of our time to say what we need to say and move to the next”.

But most of the time, that’s more a convenient excuse than a true reflection of reality.

Because the reality is the reason the work doesn’t get to the standards they want is because they don’t let them happen.

There’s a ton of reasons for it – from not briefing properly to wanting to someone rather than talking to everyone to not knowing who they really are or where they’re going to not valuing quality but speed – but underpinning all of it is not understanding how creativity is born.

You see while there is absolutely a place for processes, eco-systems and frameworks … the most valuable thing creatives can have is the time, space and openness to explore and find the energy in the idea before they start crafting the idea.

I get that can be annoying to people.
I get that it may result in putting pressure on some other areas of the business.
But in my experience, if you give creatives that gift, they not only can work pretty quick with everything else … they can give you something that is great rather than OK.

So said another way, more ‘Get Back’ than ‘You Know What To Do’ … a song so bad, they never even released it while they were a band.



How To Stop The Smallest Minds In The Room Create The Biggest Headaches …

I recently read an article in the Guardian about the launch of the X-Box.

Given the brand has been part of gaming culture for the past 20 years, it’s easy to forget what an achievement this has been for Microsoft.

Let’s remember back then, the brand was far more synonymous with office computer programs than gaming … so to come from such a negative space and place to become the powerhouse it is today, is nothing short of incredible.

But it wasn’t all plain sailing.

Sure, their cause was helped by SONY seemingly forgetting everything that had made the original PlayStation launch so successful … but even with that, Microsoft were still coming from pretty much a standing start.

It’s a great article that’s well worth the read, but there was one part that really stood out to me.

This:

Let’s be honest, we’ve all been there …

Where someone chooses to ignore a statement of obviousness and instead, attempts to turn it around so you look like you’re making a potentially dangerous assumption.

Don’t get me wrong, we shouldn’t blindly assume common sense is common sense, and – without doubt – there’s been a lot of unsubstantiated assumptions that have ended up being the backbone of ideas and campaigns all around the World, but this sort of behaviour is nothing but an act of petty cowardice.

However, let’s assume for a moment the person who wanted proof that people did expect DVD quality to be better than the crunched-up shit that was on screen, was right.

Let’s assume that we didn’t know that DVD brands had been communicating ‘improved image quality’ to the general public for years.

Even if all that was true, the real issue was still not being addressed.

And that is facts doesn’t mean standards.

So rather than fall into a ‘fact inflation fight’ that no one was going to come out of well – even though I get why they were triggered – they should have asked Mr Petty if the image on the screen reflected the quality of product and performance he – and the company – wanted to globally be associated with?

Quickly followed up by enquiring whether Microsoft had the technology to dramatically improve the current standard of performance?

By doing this, they not only side-step the pointless barrier being placed in front of them and refocused the conversation to values, standards and ambition.

I’ve seen this situation happen so many times.

Where political point scoring derails ambition, potential and standards.

Where the company starts focusing on the ‘minimum viable product’ rather than what could drive the brands perception.

And while these situations have also seen me lose my shit – A LOT – I always remember my Dad telling me the real way to win these sorts of arguments, which is to elevate the discussion to reputational standards not down to petty point scoring.

He was brilliant at it.

Me? I’m still working on it.



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.



The Fine Line Between Entrepreneur And Parasites …

By now, everyone will have heard about Squid Game.

It is – if not already – Netflix’s most watched show.

Ever.

There’s many planners who are writing ‘thought pieces’ on why this happened … but at the heart of it, it’s a greatly entertaining – and incredibly dark – story, with brilliant production values topped off with fantastic characters and acting.

Over the past few weeks, there’s been all manner of news stories coming out about the impact the show has had on broader culture … from sales of white, slip-on Vans – that feature in the show – going up 7800% right through to their instagram going up from 410,000 to 16 million in a matter of weeks.

That said, my favourite ‘proof of impact’ is this insta from one of the stars on the show:

But none of this is the point of this post, the point is related to the picture at the top of this post.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve just been seeing more and more brands – and agencies, specifically TBWA – exploiting the success of Squid Game for their own benefit.

Worse, the vast majority of these brands and agencies have absolutely nothing to do with the show – or Netflix – whatsoever.

Now I shouldn’t be surprised … this sort of thing has been going on for donkey’s years. However, whereas once ‘hijacking’ was a new and exciting way to get ahead of the pack and drive awareness and attention … this approach has now become so expected that any element of ‘surprise’ has gone.

In fact, the overall impact of this act is either seen as desperate or just ignored.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

If people are willing to forgo their laziness for a second, they can look for ways where what they are ‘borrowing’ adds to the culture of the community rather than just stealing from it.

Better yet, they could collaborate with the people who actually created the idea and make something even bigger for culture to enjoy.

But that rarely happens because we live in an industry where speed is seen as being better than substance and stealing is viewed as being more valuable than building … and while there are short-term ‘benefits’ to that approach, all it does is continue to destroy the value of creativity … which is ironic, given all of these approaches are feeding off the power, value and influence of it.

There’s a saying that says ‘genius steals’.

While I know where it came from and what they were trying to say with it … it’s obvious that term is no longer valid.

Lazy pricks, steal.

While finding ways to help our work – and our clients needs – will always be important, if we want to be taken seriously, let’s be the creators, not the parasites..



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.