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


Stealing Doesn’t Make You A Genius. It Makes You An Imposter …

I once interviewed a young planner who spent the whole time confidently telling me how ambitious they were.

The whole conversation was literally about how far they were going to go.

And that’s admiral … except they never once talked about their rise in relation to the work they would do, but simply the objective they had.

I told them that while I love their ambition, I felt their priorities were different to what I valued.

They seemed to be focused on speed of progress whereas I cared about standards.

Of course they argued that’s what they wanted to, but by then we were done.

I’m not doubting they were good, but the quality of work was secondary to the speed of promotion and in my experience, that is never a good scenario.

I say this because I recently saw this:

I’ve got to admit, this triggered me.

Don’t get me wrong, everyone is a ‘magpie’ to a certain degree.

Taking things they’ve learned and heard and incorporating it into their thinking.

But this is not that. This is laziness.

Oh I know some will call it ‘smart’.

Or an example of hustle culture or some other bollocks.

And maybe the person in question just said it to be provocative.

But whatever the reason, it’s parasitic behaviour. Literally feeding off the talent of others.

It’s why I always favour people who have done interesting stuff rather than just know interesting stuff. It means they have skin in the game. It means they were willing to explore and experiment. It means they were willing to fail in the quest to do something good. It means they’ve learned stuff.

It’s a major reason why I believe in going down rabbit holes rather than playing to be precise.

It’s why I believe in graft not hustle.

It’s why I believe in standards, not just speed.

Don’t get me wrong, I apperacite we all want to progress.

I totally accept there are massive benefits gained from promotion and I don’t want to stop anyone from achieving that. I also think it’s outdated thinking to only give substantial payrises when attached to promotion. I understand why companies do it, but it means people often get promoted before they’re ready, and then aren’t even helped in learning how to be good at it.

But while speed of progress may appear attractive from the outside, it can be limiting on the inside.

Because promotion can get you many things, but it doesn’t automatically get you respect.

Oh you may think it does.

Or you may not give a shit either way.

But if you want a career or the ability to use your talent in other ways you find interesting … then at some point, you’ve got to have done stuff that goes beyond simple career progression. Stuff that is known and noticed for what it did and how it did it. Stuff that is for people and brands of repute, not just people or brands who pay your invoice.

Because without that … well, you may find your career starts like an Olympic sprinter but ends like the slowest of tortoises.

And as I said, maybe some are fine with that.

Or maybe some – as I’ve met a few times – are genuine freaks of brilliance who were seemingly born to go to the very, very top.

But the thing to remember is the latter is both rare and defined by what others think your capabilities are, rather than what you think about yourself.

Which may explain why the planner I interviewed all those years ago has not achieved their goal of being the King of the Universe.

On the positive they are a head of planning.

But it’s for a small agency in Seattle.

A sales promotion agency.

Where there appears to be only one other planner in the place.

And while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of that – I did it for a short time, and learnt a ton of stuff I still use now – it’s quite different from what they told me their ambition was. Maybe their circumstances changed. Or their ambitions changed. And maybe they’re happy as can be. But I can’t help but feel they could have fulfilled their aspirations if they’d just valued standards a bit more than they valued speed.

Comments Off on Stealing Doesn’t Make You A Genius. It Makes You An Imposter …


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.

Comments Off on Why Business Needs To Be More Seinfeld …


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.

Comments Off on Planets And Suns …


Welcome To The Industry Of The Deliberately Ignorant …

I write a lot.

It may be rubbish, but I still churn it out.

Every week day, coming up to TWO DECADES.

Jesus Christ.

And yet despite that, a lot of it seems to be popular.

Or should I say popular in relation to the quality of the writing and what I deserve and expect.

Now over the years I’ve written about all manner of topics.

Death.

Queen.

Birkenstocks.

The impressive standing of my best friend’s penis.

You name it, I’ve probably written some rubbish about it.

And yet for all the stuff I put out, there’s one topic that never seems to capture the imagination like all that other stuff … and yet it is arguably, the most important and serious stuff I write.

It’s about diversity and inclusion.

Or more specifically, how we can, need-to and should do more.

Whenever I write about that, there is a noticeable decline in ‘engagement’.

Not just in terms of people commenting, but reading.

I find that fascinating and terrifying.

Why is this happening?

I may understand a lack of commentary but a lack of reading?

+ Is it that there’s so much on this topic that despite the changes not happening fast enough, people are over it?

+ Is it that people know they’re not doing enough and don’t want to read something that reminds them of that?

+ Is it that people think I’m trying to position myself as some sort of expert and don’t respect my opinion?

+ Is it that people think I’m just trying to be ‘woke’ and don’t want to encourage me?

+ Is it people just don’t give a fuck?

A few years ago my beloved friend, Chelsea, noticed this also happening on my instagram.

Same situation as this blog …

More likes/comments than I deserve up until I post something serious about race.

Then – at best – a murmur and – at worst – silence.

I don’t know the reason for this, but it is happening.

It even happened recently on two articles I wrote for Little Black Book, promoted on Linkedin.

The first – about the process of strategy – received a combined 1121 likes, 99 comments and 55 shares. But the other – promoted exactly the same way, but about the importance of making space for People of Colour to be themselves and respecting that value that brings – received 17 likes and 2 comments.

SEVENTEEN!!!

A topic far more important than how strategy is up its own arse got seventeen likes.

I am not an expert in this stuff.

I’ve made – and make – more mistakes than I should.

But I am committed to change and creating change and for all the talk of the industry wanting to do the same, it seems it only suits when they decide it suits. Of which there is no better definition of privilege.

None of this will surprise People of Colour.

They face this two-faced bullshit everyday of their lives.

I don’t care if people think I’m being woke.
I don’t care if people don’t read what I write.
I don’t even care if people don’t respect me.

This is about people talking a lot about the most serious issue facing our industry but doing practically nothing. Or worse, doing a small thing and then deciding it’s a big thing because it suits their agenda, even though they haven’t once asked the people it’s supposed to be there to help. It’s pathetic. Fucking pathetic.

I’d rather hear people say they don’t care or believe in D&I than talk earnestly about its importance but don’t do anything about it. Not even use their platform or position to keep the topic, top of mind.

The problem with our industry is it’s increasing lack of relevance and resonance with business, creativity and culture. The great irony is the most influential, interesting, and commercially powerful things in business, creativity and culture are born from People of Colour communities, especially Black/African American culture.

At the very least white culture should care because it can keep them earning a living.

But no. They think they are good enough to do it. Good enough to understand things they can never quite grasp as it comes from a lived experience they have never had to face. So they miss the nuance, the heritage, the soul.

Or maybe it’s not that at all.

Maybe it’s something else.

Fear.

Fear of being left behind by the knowledge, understanding and context of People of Colour.

Because unlike them, People of Colour see culture from the inside, the outside and deep within its creative soul. This not only helps them understand what’s influencing culture better than most white people, it means they understand white people better than white people.

So they can offer more insight and understanding.

More creativity and opportunity.

More openness and authenticity.

Giving them knowledge that not only puts most white people to shame, but can put most white people out in the cold.

That’s probably the reason.

White people want to keep People of Colour down.

Not all. But that doesn’t matter … because that many do creates this situation.

Continues this situation.

And while I’m not saying everyone who reads my posts – or should I say, doesn’t read them – are racist, I am saying maybe we all need to think about what we’re doing … because we can’t say we don’t know about the issues regarding diversity and inclusion just because we avoid reading about it.

Comments Off on Welcome To The Industry Of The Deliberately Ignorant …


Don’t Let Your Job Title Fool You Into Thinking You Have Respect …

One of the best pieces of advice I was taught was ‘always earn your right to be trusted’.

By that, they meant …

+ Lead by example.
+ Open doors for others to walk through.
+ Be fierce with maintaining standards.
+ Always protect, defend and grow your team.
+ Be transparent in your actions and interactions.
+ Encourage debate and independent thinking.
+ Create the conditions for everyones success.
+ Recognise the individual, not just the group.

That seems a lot of things doesn’t it, but that’s what real leadership is.

Or what I was taught it is.

Now whether I’m good at any of that is open to debate, but it definitely shaped my approach to things – even when I get it terribly wrong.

But my worry is a lot of people entering management today don’t get any advice whatsoever.

They’re plucked from being good in their job and told they now lead a team. Which basically sends out the message ‘do whatever it takes for the company to succeed, regardless of the cost’.

We’ve read the damage of this attitude in Corporate Gaslighting and yet it doesn’t have to be that way.

Of course a manager/leaders job is to do things for the benefit of the company they work for. But if they create an environment where the individual and the team can also succeed – not just financially, but in terms of growth, opportunity and possibility – it’s amazing how much everyone benefits.

But to do that well requires more that authority, but trust.

Trust you will lead them to somewhere better.
Trust you will look out for them not just yourself.
Trust in their opinion, not just your own.

The older I get, the less I see of this.

Instead of trust, companies put in hierarchy.

Where the expectation is to blindly follow what the more senior person demands.

I saw that when I lived in America … the most hierarchal place I’ve ever worked.

And while it may appear to work, it doesn’t really.

It either creates an echo-chamber of blinkered opinion – which is reframed as ‘company culture’ – or it relies on people who are in the terrible position of not having the choice to get out of where they are, with ease.

Which is why the other piece of advice I got – from my Dad – compliments what I said at the top of this post. Because if the goal of a manager or leader is to always earn trust from their team … then the role of the team is to “only respect authority that has been earned over time … not given, bought or provided by privilege or misinformation”.

It’s a lovely thought …

Proof not expectation.
Earned not just given.
Consistent not occasional.

It also explains why I must have been an absolute nightmare to the bosses I had who expected my loyalty rather than earned it. There weren’t many – thank god – but there were a few. And while I’m sure they were good people [probably], they definitely made the fatal error of thinking their job title demanded trustworthiness, when literally the opposite is true.

And with that, I’ll sign off with a link to an article I wrote for Little Black Book that sums this all up. It was – and remains so – one of the most valuable lessons and mistakes, I’ve ever had.

Comments Off on Don’t Let Your Job Title Fool You Into Thinking You Have Respect …