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


The Rise Of Keep The Problem Alive …

So I know I said last week was the last of the Rules By Rubin … but then I did also say there may be some more in the future.

Well consider this the future.

Shit isn’t it?

Don’t worry, it’s just for today and tomorrow then we go back to normal.

So just as shit. Sorry.

Anyway this is about the state of the creative industry.

Whereas once, it was filled with companies all wanting to create wonderful things to put into the world – regardless of their individual discipline or expertise – the emergence of consultancies has led to the industry now falling into 2 groups

Those who can’t help finding ways to put creativity out into the world in interesting ways and those who seemingly do all they can to never put anything out whatsoever.

While I sort-of understand the theory why agencies would like the idea of being like a consultancy, what I’ve found especially bizarre is that in doing that, they’re seemingly happy to dismiss making any actual creativity at all.

At first I was really confused how they thought they’d stay in business.

I mean, there are as many competitors as there are in adland.

Their entire model is designed around making actual creative work.

The lack of C-Suite engagement is more individual than entire industry.

Then I thought maybe I was completely wrong.

That they did want to make work.

After all, why else would their excellent strategists continually write 100 page decks filled with charts, ecosystems, frameworks and playbooks to every single client meeting?

Surely that is a sign of a company actually wanting to make something.

But then on closer inspection, I saw a lot of those decks had no creativity mentioned in them whatsoever.

And the conversation around audience was simplistic, generalist and utterly contrived.

In essence, they talked a hell of a lot but actually said very little.

“What the hell was going on?” I would ask myself.

And then on a cold night one Wednesday, I worked it out.

Those planners aren’t writing strategic decks, they’re creating remuneration landfill.

Thank fuck for the others.

The ones who know who they are.

The ones who push rather than pander.

The ones who create opportunities not wait for them.

The ones who run to the edge rather than run on the spot.

The ones who finish interesting things to start making more interesting things.



Here’s To Those Comfortable With Uncomfortable …

I recently saw the above quote in The Athletic magazine.

The idea that Manchester City – albeit during their less successful period – had to provide ‘rain charts’ to show potential signings that their city was not wetter than London surprised me.

Then I came to my senses.

Society has an incredible knack of trying to lift themselves up by putting others down.

Obviously racism is the work example of this, but we do it everyday in lots of little ways.

From blanket attitudes such as …

“People from the North are backwards”.

To city affirmations such as …

“Manchester is the musical capital of England”.

To hierarchy comparison such as …

“I may be from Nottingham but at least I’m not from Derby”.

It’s not only bollocks, it’s also often stated by people who have never gone anywhere near the cities/countries they are negatively judging. Now I know people will say it’s all a bit of a joke – and I appreciate between mates, it can be – but there’s a lot of perceived truth in those sorts of statements, which has been exploited by all manner of organisations, especially politics.

When I lived in China, I was shocked how hard it was to recruit people from outside of Asia to come and work at Wieden+Kennedy.

OK, it may have been because they didn’t want to work with me … but even then, the amount of people who started off claiming to be interested and then said ‘it wasn’t for them’, was incredible. [Though maybe you will still find it understandable. Bastards. Ha]

There was a time where I almost gave up wanting to hire people from outside the region due to it being so much hassle. But the reality was I always felt it important to have a real mix in the gang. Sure, the vast majority of them had to be from the country/region – but by incorporating people from outside of it, I felt it created a tension that led to better and more provocative thinking. In addition, it could also help stop the blind and blinkered views we kept seeing and hearing from the West … because the more Westerners we got to experience the crazy, infectious magic of the nation, the more positive voices we would infect the rest of the world with.

But many people we talked to weren’t interested in changing their blinkered opinion.

So many didn’t even bother to investigate more about China, they were just happy to keep making their false judgements.

Oh they were all very happy to work for Wieden+Kennedy, they just didn’t want it to be in China and would often say, “but if you could connect me to people in London/Portland/NY/Amsterdam” etc.

And if they were really interesting and had a valid reason to not leave their country, I would.

Didn’t happen often.

I find it amazing that people – especially planners – don’t want to explore the World.

Planners go on about curiosity but what they mean is they are curious under certain conditions of personal comfort.

Behind a desk.
Surrounded by people and things they know.
Never venturing outside of the bubble they’ve created.

Of course not everyone is like this, but there’s a lot who are. Viewing the world and passing judgement on it via Twitter rather than experience.

In the case of China – as with anywhere I’ve lived – if the issue became about the country we were in, it probably wasn’t going to work. Of course it was OK to have concerns and questions, but if I sensed you saw it as a hardship rather than an opportunity or you thought you knew everything when you would have to relearn everything, you were not going to be someone I wanted on the team.

I was, and still am, eternally grateful to everyone I’ve had the honour to work with – and I’ve been incredibly fortunate with the incredible and diverse talent I’ve inherited and nurtured – however those in China will always have a unique place in my heart.

Because whether they were from China, Asia or further afield, all of them knew what they were taking on with the job. Not just in terms of the standards and expectations of Wieden+Kennedy, but the inherent perceptions, prejudices and lies that existed in society – and the ad industry as a whole – towards China and Asia.

And it’s for this reason that I fucking loved seeing them do work others could only dream about, especially when the industries perception was ‘China doesn’t do great work’ or ‘there’s no good planning in Asia’ … often muttered by people who have neither been to China or done great work.

But even that doesn’t make me as happy as seeing where they have all ended up …

Not just in terms of the level they’re at – from running departments, big pieces of business or companies – but the actual organisations they work with or have worked with.

Nike. Ideo. Tik-Tok. Wieden. Mother. 72. Anomoly. Supreme. Playstation. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Facebook. Google. Net-A-Porter. Instagram.

Not just in China but in countries that include America, Taiwan, Holland, UK, Singapore and Australia. Not forgetting the mob who decided to start their own thing and are now working on a bunch of fascinating projects from gaming to research.

I’m not just proud of them, I’m excited for them … because I truly believe they will do stuff that is interesting, intriguing and valuable for the rest of us.

And while most of their achievements are down to their talent and graft, another part is because of what China gave them.

Unique knowledge, experience and understanding of people and situations.

Some will never understand that.

Some will never value that.

But for those who were there – and the companies who hired them – they absolutely do.

Because while some make choices based on not wanting to leave things behind, this group of wonderful fools made their decisions based on what they could gain … and they didn’t need a rain comparison chart to convince them.

Thank you to all of them.

Thank you to anyone who runs towards the challenge not the comfortable.



The Same People Take You To The Same Place …

Yesterday I wrote a post about the 4 mistakes we make when evaluating new ideas.

As you can see from the photo above, I am doubling down on that … except instead of talking about new ideas, I’m talking about leadership.

Well, I say talking about it … but what with Bill Gates quote and the post I wrote a few weeks ago that details what I think Bill is talking about, I think it says all I need to say.

But I will leave you with this.

There are some incredible leaders out there.

I’ve been lucky to work for and with a bunch of them.

But I guarantee you the ones who think they are, generally aren’t.

Not because they’re not clever.

Not because they’re not successful.

But because they place greater importance on how they look than those around them.

They believe only they have the answers.

They believe only they know how to write the deck.

They believe only they have the client relationship and trust.

And while that be true in the short term, that approach rarely lasts the distance.

Not just because clients change and business changes … but because you simply can’t keep moving forward if you don’t let new ideas come to the fore.

To push you. To challenge you. To excite you.

But generally these leaders won’t and don’t allow that.

In fact, they will actively reject and eject other views.

Because they think they know it all.

And know it better.

And did it first.

And while many may interpret this as the behaviour of someone fearful of their future – desperately trying to prove some sort of relevance to those around them – they’re wrong.

Because the leader Bill Gates describes in his quote is someone who thinks they’re a master of the Universe. Someone who is always right. Someone who is better than those around them. Someone who is the only one who can make things happen. Someone who holds the keys to everyone’s success.

And maybe for a time they are.

Until that stops.

And that’s when things get really scary.

Which reminds me of something my Dad use to say about how he chose which lawyers to hire:

“The people who need to show how intelligent they are, aren’t.”

Or said another way, the moment you think you can’t lose. You’ve lost.



Maybe 2020 Is The Most Important Year …

OK, let’s get the obvious out the way.

Even if 2020 is the most important year, it’s still been a shit year.

But the point being made is a good one.

To be honest, when I first read it, it felt very much like an ad for NIKE.

Taking what we think and forcing us to re-imagine it.

To feel the words rather than functionally jump to conclusions.

And while there may well be a lot of good that comes out of this.

There has been a lot of pain to lead up to this point and then get to this situation.

However as much as many of us probably wish to put all this behind us, it reminds me of something my Dad once told me.

My Dad changed careers quite a lot in his life.

And when I say ‘changed careers’, I mean it.

From the RAF to insurance to a photographer to law.

Fortunately for the family, my Mum was much more stable … hahaha.

But one day I asked my Dad why he did it … why he didn’t just change job, but dramatically and radically changed industry, even if it meant he had to retrain and re-qualify.

And he gave me the best answer I’ve ever heard.

It went like this:

“I love you and your Mum. If I’m going to spend so much time away from you every single day day, I owe it to you to be doing something I love because nothing would be more insulting than being away from the people I want to spend all my time with, doing something I hate”.

I have always taken that to heart.

Fulfilment over contentment.

It’s what has helped me make decisions that others thought were mad.

It’s behind the jobs I’ve taken, the countries I’ve lived in and the projects I’ve embarked on.

And while there were times it opened up challenges that made me question what I was doing, it always was worth it.

The best things always are.

And while I’ve experienced a fraction of the pain others have had to endure in 2020 – both in terms of the impact it has had on them and the duration it has lasted for them – this is the moment where we need to see change through … to get to the other side rather than try to go back to where we were.

Because on the other side of all this shit, is a chance.

A real, once-in-a-lifetime chance to make things right.

Not just in the US, but everywhere.

Where the systemic and systematic prejudice and racism that is embedded and integrated into our whole way of life is changed.

From education to higher government.

Where people of colour are given the equal rights that the rest of us have enjoyed our entire life.

And let’s be honest, if we do that, we still get the easy job.

There’s people out there who have fought for generations for this moment.

To be seen … heard … noticed … valued.

Which is why we have a moral duty to see this through … to keep fighting to the very end … because nothing would be more disrespectful to the people we say we stand with than walking away at the point we have the chance to make sustainable, effective change.

And if you need any other reason – which you shouldn’t, but just in case – there’s the fact that if we force equality – real, actionable, sustainable equality – into our everyday lives, the people of colour community will lift us all higher.

Take us somewhere better. For absolutely everyone.

Which is why we have to choose fulfilment over comfort.

We over me.

To make 2020 the most important year rather than the worst.



Mr Zuckerberg Needs A Different Argument …

So I, like many of you, have been pretty appalled by Mark Zuckerberg’s stance towards President Trump’s hate filled, violence inducing commentary.

I say his ‘stance’, but the reality is he doesn’t have one, preferring to claim he is an advocate of free speech.

While there’s many reasons we know this is rubbish – from Facebook selling people’s data, to trying to win favour with governments to counter the next wrong doing that is just waiting to be discovered, to trying to get back into China and countless more – the example that always sticks with me was one I wrote about a while back.

Basically, it’s this.

Not that long ago, that photo of that woman breast-feeding her baby was flagged on my Facebook page as potentially causing offence.

A photo.

Of a woman.

Breast-feeding her baby.

One of the most natural acts of humanity you can get.

Now I appreciate it was less Zuck and more his AI that flagged this, but if it can [wrongly] identify imagery, surely it can also identify factually incorrect claims and/or words that incite violence.

Or it could if Zuck wanted it too.

For me, the fact this photo was censored highlights Zuck’s double standards, reinforced by the speed he criticised Twitter for doing possibly the best thing they’ve ever done and the amount of [senior] people in Facebook who have broken rank to say Zuckerberg is wrong

It won’t make a jot of difference.

Because Zuck is about Zuck.

And for all his claims of being torn, he is actively choosing to remain ignorant.

For money and ego … and absolutely not for freedom of any speech.

#BlackLivesMatter #SilenceIsViolence