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


If You Want Sustainable Success, Don’t Hold On Too Tightly …

Brands love to say they know their customers.

They love to go on about the research they do to ‘get’ the needs of the people who use them.

And some genuinely do. Looking to understand how people live not just how they use, choose or buy their brand or a competitive product.

But sadly this group seem far more in the minority these days … with the preference being to outsource research needs to a ‘for profit’ external partner, who are asked to provide answers to drive immediate sales rather than to build long-term understanding.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a massive fan of research, but I’m reading far too much that seems to be about telling the client what they want to hear rather than what they need to understand.

To be fair, that is also true of agencies as well, and so much of that is because a lot of companies have already decided what they want to do and say and they expect everyone else to fall in line with it. And I get it, in a quest to streamline process and maximise productivity, that makes perfect sense.

Except it doesn’t.

Because as George used to say ALL THE TIME, it’s like going to the doctor and prescribing your own medicine. And as much as people/brands may think they know what’s wrong, that doesn’t mean they know how to fix it …

Agencies and research companies should be paid for their independent thinking and approach to solving problems NOT paid to execute what someone else wants the solution to be. The great tragedy of brand communication these days is that somehow, independent thinking has been labelled as dangerous when the real danger is when there isn’t any.

When solutions are decided by financial hierarchy rather than expertise – and by expertise, I mean that in terms of what an organisation is actually an expert on, rather than what they think they are – you tend to end up with a pile of shit that then ignites a game of blame storming.

Here’s a perfect example of it …

Now I appreciate printer, photocopier, fax [?!!!] sales must be very difficult.

I get companies may only give them a second thought when they go wrong or run out of ink.

But … but … who the fuck approved this shit?

I mean, it’s bad enough they say they know what we need – which makes them sound like some sleazy office colleague – but then they come out with this gem of bollocks.

“Like twins who understand each other completely”.

What??? WHAT???

Apart from the fact it’s utterly, utterly pants. if they really had a telepathic understanding of ‘what we need’, surely they wouldn’t have to pay to have this shit printed in a magazine and they’d just turn up at their customers office with the requirements of their machine – even before their customer knew they needed it.

But that’s not the case because they don’t know their customers, they don’t know what they need and they sure as shit don’t know how to communicate to them.

I get people think communication and creativity is easy.

I get people think they know their customers better than anyone else.

I get they want everything to be as efficient as is physically possible.

But if anything should tell them what they think and what is true are very different, it’s rubbish ads like this. And while I appreciate this is especially bad, there’s a whole lot more expensive versions of this wherever you look.

Great creativity and research is born from independent thinking.

A desire to create value by giving you what you need not what you want.

Which is why companies who place greater value on what they can make their agency partners do – including how they do the job, how many people can do involved in job and how long they’re allowed to do if for – the more complicit they are when things are less effective than they could be.

I’m not saying agencies and research companies are perfect.

And they sure-as-hell aren’t all the same standard and quality.

But they’re much better when they can give you truth and possibilities than blind complicity.

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The Difference Between Interested And Committed …

I love Roy Keene.

I know people say he could start an argument in an empty house, but I have the upmost respect for him.

Not because he used to play at Nottingham Forest.

Nor because he has always spoken respectfully about at the City Ground … especially with the legendary Mr Clough.

But because he has always been utterly committed to what he does and what he believes.

The reason I find that worthy of note is because too many people confuse interest with commitment.

Interest means you will change when something else comes along.
Interest means you’ll take a shortcut when easier options become available.
Interest means you will priorities ideas that offer more popular possibility options.

But commitment is different.

Commitment is a stubborn, steadfast, obsessive focus on what is the most important.

No shortcuts. No distractions. No deluding yourself or others.

Many may find that annoying. Especially colleagues.

They’ll likely – probably rightly – read it as you making a judgement on their values and priorities. They may freeze you out or just question your sanity.

But commitment doesn’t mean you’re not open to new experiences or new ideas.

Nor does it mean you are out-of-date or a stick in the mud.

It simply means you’ll never let someone call you out for never giving your all to what you do.

You may make mistakes.

You may be seen as decisive or confronting.

But you’ll never be accused of not giving your all to all you do.

I’ve worked with a few people like this over the years.

All – without doubt – made me better in a multitude of ways.

And while I don’t deny they weren’t always easy. They were always worth it.

In a World where we celebrate the interesting. Let’s not lose sight of the importance of the committed. To make sure you know the difference, watch this. All of it. It’s brilliant.



Some Kind Of Motivation …

On the 10th September, Metallica launched their Blacklist album – a reissue of their iconic ‘Black album’ from 1991.

It’s a very special album because not only is reissuing a 30 year old classic something to be handled with great care … it also features their songs being sung by a greater assortment of artists than you’d find in a packet of Bertie Basset’s Liquorice Allsorts.

From Elton John and Miley Cyrus through to Depeche Mode and Yo-yo Ma.

Add to it that each track sold goes to a specific charity of the artists choice, and you can imagine it was quite a complex beast to make sure it all ran smoothly.

I had a small part in that.

Specifically the charity management and distribution for the artists.

Getting closer to the launch date, the amount of details that needed to be finalised was pretty intense. What made it even more complicated – at least for me – was that by being based in NZ, I’m a full 16 hours ahead of NYC, so trying to co-ordinate timings with HQ became a bit of a logistical nightmare.

Or should I say, a mathematical one.

The night before, things were particularly tense so to make sure we stayed motivated and focused for literally the final hurdle, the band and record company management sent out some individual emails to various members of the team to inspire them to the finish line.

When JFK was in this situation, he asked America to think about what they could do to help the nation change and progress.

When Al Pacino’s character in the movie ‘Any Given Sunday’ needed to motivate his team to glory, he unleashed his iconic “inches” speech and watched them dig deep to record an unlikely win.

This is what I got.

While it may look like they’re taking the piss, I think there’s a really valuable lesson to learn from their approach.

Motivation isn’t just about what you say – or even how you say it – it’s knowing the people you are trying to motivate so well, that you know exactly what will connect with them.

Not many leaders do that.

Hell, not many leaders even understand that.

But those who do – whether its rock band management or the iconic Brian Clough – achieve loyalty and incredible performance out of all who work with them and for them. Though I appreciate I could be saying all this to ignore the other possibility of why they chose to send this meme to me. Hahaha.

You can buy something very special – that will literally and directly help tens of thousands of people around the World – here and learn more about the project and artists involved below



Teamwork Makes The Screams Work …

Teamwork.

A word used so much, by so many, to ironically control others into doing what they want them to do. It’s often got far more in common with production line subserviency than teamwork.

Then there’s the other version.

Where people spout teamwork with a big smile on their face while openly trying to fuck others over so they look better to the people who matter most. The boss, for example.

But what is even worse is when people are called out for not being a team player simply because they have a different opinion.

The great irony is they’re not doing it to be a pain or problematic or to express an ego. It’s to try and offer a viewpoint they think may help get an even better outcome so literally everyone wins.

But no.

They’re criticised, belittled, undermined and made to feel like they’re the problem.

Of course teamwork is important.

It can make a huge difference to the end result.

An exponential difference.

But to do that it’s not simply telling people to practice teamwork.

It’s about having the right people in the mix – by discipline, standards and character. It’s about ensuring everyone has clarity on what they’re all working towards beyond their individual discipline. It’s about ensuring everyone knows what is expected of them and how that works in relation to those around them. It’s about giving them the freedom to use their talent to push the standards and capabilities of what they are responsible for creating, while remaining true to the overall goal everyone is working towards achieving.

I learnt that last bit from the film director Michael Mann.

I found myself with him in a meeting so asked him how he makes films given the amount of different people and disciplines involved.

He told me he starts every project by sitting with the entire production team and explaining his vision for his movie.

The story he wants to make.
What is really important to him.
What he wants people to feel watching it.

He then added this vital element:

“I want everyone to use their talent to make this film better than I could imagine. But it’s has to be my vision of the film. Not one they think I should be making.”

I love that. I love it because his version of teamwork is encouraging everyone to play up to a standard rather than down to a tick box. Which all goes to show that real teamwork is so much more than just sticking a bunch of random people and companies in a room and expecting them to “be a team”.

But that’s what so many companies and managers do.

Either because they’re lazy or just want overall control.

Once upon a time a very good friend of mine went into his annual review.

He had done incredibly well and was hoping he would be recognised for it.

Instead he was bollocked …

Bollocked for having opinions.
Bollocked for asking questions.
Bollocked for not being a ‘team player’.

He listened patiently before replying with what is still the best fuck you, power play I’ve ever heard to that accusation.

“Oh I’m a team player …”, he said, “… I’m just the captain of the team”.

Forever proving – as the pic at the top of this post shows – that as much as people may try to tell you otherwise, there is most definitely an ‘I’ in team.

Legend.



Listen To Yoda …

while back I read an interview with film director, voice of Yoda and countless muppets and expert puppeteer – Frank Oz.

It was a beautiful interview … a story of friendship, loyalty, creativity and compassion, so I urge you to read it … but there was one thing that really stood out to me and it was this:

Now it’s fair to say it’s no longer just corporate America who don’t understand the value of the things they’ve just bought. In some respects, we see it every day from clients who dictate and demand changes to a piece of creativity that an experienced professional has custom made for their specific situation … right through to companies who blame talent for circumstances and situations that they were directly complicit in creating and encouraging.

As I see it, the problem is three fold.

1. People judge output without any appreciation of how it happened.
2. People wildly overestimate their own talent.
3. It’s easier to look like you’re doing things than doing things.

None of these should be a surprise.

It’s why we tend to lavish our attention on individuals who are associated with ‘results’ rather than recognize the people around them who made it possible. It’s why we talk about wanting to follow similar paths to others but dismiss the pain, hardship and conflicts they endured to get there. It’s why companies build in-house creative departments without understanding the importance of objective viewpoints that lead to the work they want to replicate. It’s why people dismiss what others have done despite never having done anything of note themselves. It’s why companies talk about the importance of experience but see them as an expense. It’s why industries talk about D&I but don’t change the situations and contexts that make it an issue. It’s why companies talk about teams but have departments of exactly the same sort of people. It’s why companies become obsessed with proprietary processes even though the work and results it produces is nothing special. It’s why many consultants tell you what is wrong but never take responsibility for making it right. It’s why someone I once worked with on an airport project said – no word of a lie – “why don’t we push out the architects, because we could do a much better job”, despite the fact he wasn’t an architect and our role had little to do with it.

I could go on.

And on and on and on.

The reality is we’re all complicit in some way.

And the irony is if we learn to value what it takes to get the results we want – rather than simply focusing on the speed, power and control of ownership – then we’d all stand a much greater chance of achieving the things we want.

Or said as the wonderful Lee Hill once said to me …

Hire well.
Pay well.
Brief well.
Value well.
Trust well.

Have a good weekend.