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


Hello LaLaLand …
September 23, 2022, 8:15 am
Filed under: America, Attitude & Aptitude, Colenso, Confidence, Creativity, Culture, LaLaLand, Metallica

For reasons even America doesn’t deserve, I’m going to be in Los Angeles – and SF – next week.

And while I’m supposedly there for working reasons [with he common thread being the letter M] – that’s not why there’ll be no posts until I return. Nor is it because I’ll be catching up with old friends or buying the latest Apple gear because I can’t be arsed to wait till it gets to NZ.

OK, there is an element of truth in that …

But the real reason is because I’ll be trying to work through the menu of my favourite restaurant there in the whole wide world.

The Cheesecake Factory.

A restaurant with a menu that is thicker than the bible and tastes that belong in the 1980’s.

Apart from Sammy’s [RIP] in Manhattan Beach that we would go to every Friday night … the Cheesecake Factory was THE restaurant for me.

Yes there’s your In & Out Burgers and your Taco/Tacky Bell … but nothing could beat the bad taste of a good meal at the Cheesecake Factory.

Though – ironically – I never did eat any of their cheesecakes.

It’s going to be weird going back to LA.

Yes, I popped in on my way to see Forest in the premiership final.

And yes, I went there when we were living in England – pre-pandemic.

But while my time in LA was not my favourite time of my life or career, there were a lot of brilliant friends I made and experiences I had – even the weird ones – which means I’m quite excited to be going over and reconnect to the things that made a lasting impression on me and the people who changed my life.

So I’ll see you when I’m back. Possibly having had a heart by-pass. Either way, if you’re in LA and want to catch up, you know where to find me.

See you in 10 days or so.

Comments Off on Hello LaLaLand …


Time Machines Suck …

I’ve written this blog consistently for 15 years.

FIFTEEN!!!

My god …

But it gets worse.

Because bar a few weeks of holiday, it is something that has been written every single Monday to Friday.

That means there has been over 3,900 posts of utter gibberish for over 780 weeks.

And as tragic as that all sounds, there’s an awful lot of people who comment on here who have been here pretty much all that time.

LOSERS!!!

Now, I have to say there are some lovely benefits to long term blog writing.

In some ways it’s like a diary … capturing what I was thinking or doing at any given time.

It also is a lovely way to see how my opinions and thoughts have evolved over time.

Plus there’s the hope that when I’m gone, Otis will still feel his Dad is close.

OK … OK … there are some posts I definitely DON’T want him to read, but there’s others I’d be glad for him to keep going back to.

Putting aside I basically write the same 3 or 4 posts over and over again … there is a lot of my life contained in these pages.

From getting married to losing my Mum to having my son.

Proper life-changing stuff … and that doesn’t even cover the moves to different countries, jobs and homes.

The best and worst of my life is detailed here which is why – despite all these big life events being sandwiched between endless amounts of shit – I still like it.

Occasionally I randomly click on a date and just see what I wrote.

Recently I did this and was reminded what a little shit I was.

OK, can be.

It’s this.

Yep, it’s the time I tried to auction off Martin Sorrell’s business card so people could send him stupid messages or texts.

On the plus side, I was offering to give any money to charity.

On the negative, I was working for WPP at the time.

If you think that’s stupid, there was the time I wrote a post featuring a photo of Sir Martin with a picture of Toad of Toad Hall under the caption ‘Spot The Difference’.

And the weird thing is that while I don’t agree with his approach to creativity, I do respect him. I have met him on a number of occasions and he was very, very impressive.

Though it’s fair to say that respect was only one way, Especially when there was an agency Q&A and I asked him ‘what do you spend all your money on?’

So Sir Martin … even though I know you would never read this blog [more proof you’re clever] I would like to take this opportunity to apologise for my stupidity. It was ridiculous … but if it’s any consolation, at least it wasn’t as bad as this.

I know … I know … this was a terrible post even by my standards.

So celebrate in the fact that tomorrow is Good Friday so I’m off till next Tuesday and you’re not going have to deal with any more of this shit till then.

I don’t know about you … but it’s the sort of news that makes you almost believe in God, doesn’t it.

Happy Easter, enjoy the sugar rush.



A Boy Named Ben …

So I’ve decided to do a little thing every month where I write about a planner I love.

Full disclosure, the vast majority will be people I’ve worked with because I can then say honestly I know all their bad bits as well, hahaha.

Today I’m going to write about Ben Perreira.

I first met Ben when I moved to LA and worked with him at Deutsch.

Or at least I thought I did.

About 6 months in, he told me that he had written to me when on April 11th, 2014 … I put a post up on my blog asking if anyone was interested in working with me on NIKE at Wieden.

Embarrassingly I couldn’t remember him writing to me – though it was well over 3 years later by that point – but fortunately, I had apparently written him a very nice return email saying that while I liked what he was up to, I didn’t think he was quite what we needed at that moment.

As an aside, that is the job that led me to the brilliant Paula Bloodworth and so I don’t think anyone would feel hard done by losing out to her – given she’s one of the top 5 strategists on the planet. Probably higher than that.

But that doesn’t mean Ben isn’t amazing.

He is.

I liked him pretty much as soon as I met him.

And that’s quite amazing given he was a surly, petulant prick for our first few get-togethers.

Arms folded.

One word answers.

A lot of, “why would you ask that?”

But Ben’s problem was I’d seen that behaviour before.

When I joined Wieden, one of the people who would eventually be in my team, Rodi, was a carbon copy.

Same reaction.

Same responses.

And that was in the interviews.

But I soon discovered it wasn’t because they were assholes – well, not real ones – it was because they wanted to see if my standards were going to be high enough. If I was going to fight my corner or try to just be liked. To check if I was worthy of the gig and they may learn something from me or I was just a token figurehead who just wanted an easy life.

So when I saw Ben doing the same thing, I found it amusing rather than disturbing.

Which meant I just kept asking him more and more personal questions. Digging into his character before he could dig into mine.

Oh how awkward he found it. It was wonderful. Hahahaha.

Now you would have to ask him if I ‘passed’ his test, but he certainly passed mine.

Because what I soon learned – and loved – about Ben was he just wanted to do great things.

He didn’t want to take the easy path.
He didn’t want to just be liked for saying yes.
He didn’t want to simply churn out the same thing over and over again.

And I loved that.

I loved the questions and the debates we’d have.

I loved the way he dug into the business details to pull out the possibilities.

I loved the way he was a fundamentally good human, despite his dating escapades.

I miss Ben.

Not just because he’s disgustingly handsome, but because he’s a good human who happens to be smart.

He has high standards and wants people who have the same.

And if he feels he has that, he’ll go into any battle because he wants to make a difference.

Not just to the work, but the people doing it.

Lots of people will say that, but for him, it’s in his DNA.

In some ways, I imagine Ben was a natural leader from the day he was born.

He gives a shit about others.

He wants to see them succeed.

He won’t manage up simply for optics … and in the insanely hierarchal corporate structure of America, that’s not just rare, but beautiful.

Christ, the things I saw …

And yet Ben didn’t fall for that.

One or two others tried to do that shit, but never Ben.

In fact, I remember one day being told by someone my team were out of control.

Too full of opinions with too much desire to debate.

And when I said, “I know … isn’t it great!”, it was made pretty clear to me they didn’t share that perspective.

Hahahahahahahahaha!!!

Normally I wouldn’t feel proud about that.

I shouldn’t, because a planners job is to be a well-intentioned, pain in the ass.

Someone who pushes clients to be great not to be average.

But I found in America that wasn’t always the attitude.

I met far too many people there who told me “saying yes” – regardless of the ask – was far more valued by their managers than saying, “I think we can be better than this”.

I don’t know if Ben likes me.

I hope he does.

And if he does, I know the exact moment it happened.

He’d been in a huge meeting that had gone well.

The ECD sent an all agency email updating everyone on what had gone on and thanked Ben for [I think] ‘preparing the room for the meeting’.

I kid you not.

What was even more pathetic was I knew how much Ben had put into this.

How much blood, sweat and tears he’d poured into the project to give us a chance to make something great.

So I decided to respond with an all agency email reply.

Basically pointing out that as the planning department were apparently ‘so good at setting up rooms for meetings’ … if anyone had anything else they need us to do – from fixing a TV to washing clothes – just drop us an email and we’ll be there in the blink of an eye.

It didn’t go down well with anyone, except Ben.

And that’s all I cared about.

Because he’s smarter than he realises and kinder than he likes to admit.

I’m glad I didn’t miss out working with him when the Wieden gig didn’t work out.

I’m even more happy that he’s still in my life.



A Badge Of Honour. Kinda …

For some reason, I like having badges made for my colleagues.

Or anything a bit daft.

Of course, it started with the stickers I had made when I left Wieden.

600 of the buggers, hidden throughout the office – and buildings of interest – which they’re still finding to this day.

Then there was the packing tape of Jorge and the guy who is in Love Actually – which is a massive compliment even though he thought it was a huge pisstake.

Then there were the Zaid badges, made and bought on a snowy night in Boston.

Then my leaving Deutsch badges.

Followed by the pencils for Mike and Sam.

And the ‘don’t mess with me’ badge for Meg … after watching how disgusted she was at a presentation she had to attend.

Thanks to COVID, apart from the ‘you’re a twat’ sexual harassment badges we had made and sent to men who had made inappropriate comments to women in the workplace, I’ve been nothing but mature.

Until now.

Lizzie is in my team.

She has many qualities.

She’s fiercely smart. An incredibly talented, multi-instrument playing, musician. Community soup maker.

Basically, she is everything I’m not … but there’s one quality that she has that shines above even those bright lights.

She can see a dark side in everything.

I don’t mean in a depressing, mean, nasty way …

Nor do I mean in a hurtful, inconsiderate, selfish way …

I mean that in certain circumstances, she sees the worst case scenario in things.

Of course, she will claim she is simply being a realist – and there is a lot of evidence to suggest she’s right.

For example, when lockdown happened, we were having a bet on when we’d go back to work.

Most said early October, a few early November … but Lizzie swooped in and said,

“We won’t be going back till the new year”.

We laughed at her, until we didn’t and realized she was right.

Again.

Damnit.

Which is why I decided to commemorate her insightfulness with this ….

And while some may say this is not the nicest thing a boss could do for a colleague, I see it a bit differently. To me, I see it as an investment in my team – an investment at the price of my sons inheritance – which means I’m basically boss of the year.

Sadly, that year in 1953.

Happy 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.