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


Why I Am Eternally Grateful For Anthony Hopkins Eyes …

I’m not back.

Not properly.

But today is the 24th anniversary of my Dad passing away and I couldn’t – and wouldn’t – let this pass without mention.

24 years means I’m fast approaching him not being in my life for half my life.

And yet he is always there.

Maybe not always in the spotlight of my life, but always on the stage.

A warm presence.
A secure presence.
And sometimes, a surprising presence.

You see there are times where Dad appears seemingly out of nowhere.

From deep in the shadows to centrestage of the light.

Anything can trigger this.

A song.
A place.
A situation.

But the most common of all is a pair of eyes.

Specifically these pair of eyes …

As the title of this post reveals, those eyes belong to Anthony Hopkins.

And while the life of him and my father could not be further apart in so many ways, his eyes could easily belong to my Dad.

Not just for their shade or shape, but their character.

They are welcoming. They are warm. Caressed by lines around each eye that shows they have seen and they have lived. A journey that has led them through fields of pain, fear, laughter and love. And while you’re left in no doubt they have the power to make you feel fear or guilt with just a glance … that the lines around the eyes curve upwards, reassures you their resting condition is to let you in.

And that’s what my Dad gave me.

The power to always be let in. Even when I disappointed him.

Yes, there were times later in his life – when he was ill – that became a little harder, but even that was just temporary.

Because his main focus was for me to feel his love and support not his fear or wrath.

And his eyes were his way of reinforcing that.

I still remember a moment towards the end …

Dad had had many strokes by that time which had robbed him of his ability to talk and walk.

One day I got a call in Sydney – where I lived – telling me he’d been rushed to hospital and may only have 24 hours left to live.

I caught the first flight home and after a traumatic journey from the other side of the planet, I was with him … relieved he was alive, devastated he may die at any time.

At some point Mum and I were told we should get rest and go home.

Their house was literally 10 minutes from the hospital and they assured us they’d ring if anything happened.

Reluctantly we agreed and as I was saying goodnight, we looked at each other.

A firm, focused gaze into each others eyes.

I can still feel the intensity of that moment.

How the feeling of love was almost breathtaking in its power.

Because I knew exactly what those eyes looking back at me were saying.

What those eyes looking back at me were saying for him.

He loved me.
He was proud of me.
He was so glad I was there.

But it was even more than that …

It was him trying to take in my face.
Every line. Every mark. Every detail.
To ensure he remembered how I looked in case what we both knew was going to happen, happened while we were apart.

I remember how I felt my eyes were overflowing with water as I looked down on him in his hospital bed.

Our hands gripped so tight with me kissing his over and over again.

Holding back the tears in an attempt to express what I wanted to say.

That feeling you’re trying to lift a huge weight in an attempt to not break down.

Massive pauses between words to not let any cracks take hold.

And I managed it.

I told him, “I know … I know … and I love you so, so much my dear Dad”

Then there was a pause as I wondered if I should finish what I wanted to say.

And then I decided I would, just in case …

“And you have to be here tomorrow. You have to be Dad. Please be here”

And as we walked out of that ward, with me constantly turning around to meet his gaze with my eyes, I hoped that was not the last time I would ever see him.

It wasn’t.

Despite us going through a similar rollercoaster 3 months later … a time where he would sadly not be able to find the strength to yet again surprise his Doctors, Nurses, wife and son … he did then.

And I still remember how we knew he was feeling stronger from the moment we walked into that ward.

Because my dad – that wonderful orator – had mastered another skill. This time, the ability to talk … through his eyes.

A million words and emotions passed perfectly through a look from his beautiful, blue, kind, warm eyes.

And while you may think that when I see Anthony Hopkins I get upset, you’d be wrong.

Because when he appears on the screen – even when I’m least expecting it – I am grateful.

Because he doesn’t reinforce the loss, he lets me feel like I’m close to my Dad again.

My wonderful, warm, supportive Dad.

Which after 24 years apart, is a gift.

So thank you Mr Hopkins.

And thank you Dad.

I miss you.

Give Mum a kiss from me.

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Why Wrong Reveals The Systems Limitations Rather Than The Participants …

I recently saw this piece of brilliance …

Isn’t it awesome?

Of course some people will think it’s cute … but wrong.

Whereas others may think it’s cute … and smart.

Putting aside the fact the responsibility for clarity of communication is with the communicator, not the recipient – which means the exam board have to accept their role in the answer given – it also highlights how one persons ‘normal’ is another persons ‘lateral thinking’.

I know that sounds a big leap for what is a young kids incorrect/correct answer to an exam question … but at a time where the British PM wants to kill the arts and freedom of expression for kids in schools – in favour of even more logical and rational studies – it’s a sign how early we try to destroy/control/devalue the imaginations of the young.

What I find ironic about the British PM’s stance is that he seems to be of the belief that having people study maths for longer will make everything better.

Putting aside the fact that much of the UK’s global influence – ignoring the violent invasions of other countries – has come from the arts, that’s a big call to make.

Even more so when you consider the financial mess the UK is in right now, has come from the hands of the very people he wants to encourage more of.

As a parent this situation is very difficult.

Of course we want our children to be set up to embrace life. But if they’re all being taught the same thing … in the same way … without consideration of what their own personal talents, interests and abilities are … then are you actually preparing them to thrive or simply survive?

Recently Otis got diagnosed with a learning difficulty.

I say difficulty, but really it’s a complication.

It’s called Dysgraphia.

While this doesn’t affect his ability to learn, it does affect how he does it and what he may be able to do because of it.

We are incredibly grateful the school he goes to – Birkenhead Primary – not only embraced this situation by changing the way he could engage and present his schoolwork. They did it by specifically tailoring their classes and approach to ensure Otis could participate in ways that actively played to his strengths while maintaining the pace of everyone’s learning. And if that wasn’t impressive enough … they were the ones who first noticed there may be an area of challenge for him and were proactive in acting on it.

The impact of this approach on Otis has been enormous.

Not just in areas of his schoolwork that were being impacted because of dysgraphia, but in his overall confidence, enjoyment and willingness to participate.

He has always been a kid who tries hard and wants to do the right thing [so definitely more like Jill than me] … but thanks to his teachers, he now feels he can express himself fully rather than having to become a smaller version of himself in an attempt to find a way to get through certain areas of class that challenged him because of his dysgraphia rather than his ability.

Frankly I doubt this would have happened if we were still in the UK.

Not because the teachers aren’t as good, but because the system doesn’t allow the sort of deviation of approach that Otis’ school created for him.

What’s scary is Sunak’s attitude towards education will only make this situation for kids like Otis, even harder.

Either actively leaving them behind or setting them up for a life of anxiety, guilt and feelings of inadequacy. And yet it doesn’t have to be that way.

So many of these complications aren’t barriers to learning capacity, just accessibility.

A bit of flexibility can unlock the full potential of a child, especially with the power of technology these days.

But the schooling system is increasingly about ‘targets’ rather than learning.

Preparing you for exams rather than life.

Systems rather than needs.

And while I totally accept creating an education system that caters to the masses as well as the edges is incredibly difficult, having a one-dimensional system that ‘succeeds’ by forcing compliance and oppression is not the solution either.

What the British PM needs to understand is making kids study maths for longer isn’t going to solve the UK’s economic woes. But maybe designing an education system that enables teachers to help kids learn how to play to their strengths, is.

Or to paraphase Sir Ken Robinson … see creativity and imagination as a strength, not a weakness.

We’re so lucky Otis’ school values potential rather than parity … but I can’t help but wonder how many other clever kids are out there who have been written off simply because the system would not allow for them to be recognised, embraced and helped.

When will certain governments understand an educated generation is a successful nation?

Probably when they understand school should be about learning not teaching and it’s an investment rather than a cost.

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People Who Think They’re Genius, Probably Don’t Know Their History …

A company in the UK was recently invited to be part of a big pitch in China.

A very big pitch.

Because I know the founder of the company – and she knows my history with China – she asked if I could cast my eye over what they were proposing.

She’s a good friend so I said yes.

So over a few hours on zoom, they took me through all their work.

They’d been very busy …

Huge amounts of research.
Huge amounts of analysis.
Huge amounts of thinking.

It was really good, there was just one problem.

It was all wrong.

Not because what they’d discovered wasn’t true or accurate, but simply because they’d fallen for what I call, the planners achilles heel: What you think is interesting and new, isn’t interesting or new for the audience you want to engage’.

Look around and you see it happening everywhere.

From people who think they’ve discovered a new brand that’s been around for years, to consultants who proclaim they’ve invented a new business model that other industries have been using for decades to adfolk spouting theories their predecessors were applying before they were even born.

And while I get there can be innocent reasons for this happening, the inconvenient truth is it’s driven by a pinch of arrogance here … a sliver of laziness there … and a big dollop of the issues that continue to undermine the value and potency of the discipline of strategy within business and agencies.

There is craft in what we do.

A set of practices, standards and values that are designed to help us do better and be better.

Practices, standards and values that were developed over time by brilliant women and men.

Now that doesn’t mean we can’t add to it … play with it … challenge it or reinvent it …but it seems the goal for many is less about what is created and more about how they appear.

Hey, I get it …

We all like recognition and right now, the industry rewards that more than it rewards those who create the work that gets the recognition. Which is utterly terrifying.

But while I would never want to stand in the way of people making a truckload of cash, the desire to satisfy our ego is having an adverse, negative effect on the work we make and the audiences we serve.

Put simply, we’re boring them to death.

Because what we think is cutting edge innovation – whether in creativity or consideration – has been seen before, done before, known before and replaced before.

Or said another way …

Regardless what we want to believe, dDuplication is not innovation and degrees of change is not revolution.

I genuinely believe this industry can be great, innovative and valuable.

But it won’t happen if we continue to ignore rigour and reality in favour of believing if it’s new to us, it must be new to everyone.

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Respect Is Through Actions, Not Words …
October 18, 2022, 8:15 am
Filed under: Attitude & Aptitude, Authenticity, Brand, Culture, Death, England, Respect

So enough time has passed for me to post this.

Let me be very clear, the delay was not about respect, but just because I wanted to avoid being lumped in with all the other posts stating: ’10 Things You Can Learn About Brands From The Queen Passing’.

Despite being 96, the death of the Queen stopped the World.

As as I said at the time, I’m not even a royalist, but her passing affected me way more than I imagined.

And while brands all over the World expressed their sorrow – with some adopting a very as a broad interpretation of appropriate, it was impressive to see Apple drop their entire sales pitch – as they did with Steve Jobs passing.

What made this even more impactful was they had only just revealed their new iPhone, iWatch and AirPods the day before, so it was a big move on their part.

The picture at the top of this post was taken from a mate of mine, Ian McDonald.

It’s his compilation of the top 20 brands [according to Interbrand] homepages.

It’s interesting that for all those 20 brands claims of values and beliefs, only Apple and Google adapted to the news.

At least to that extent.

At least on that day.

And while there are a lot of issues and complexities relating to the Royal Family – as a concept, let alone as people – what Apple did was a class act.

Because in that moment, they – more than anyone else – showed they understood there are times where respect trumps self-interest.

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Why Big Doesn’t Mean Better …

Scale.

A single word that has become the barrier to so much.

How big can you get it?
How much can you make it worth?
How do you plan to expand, expand, expand.

Now I get it …

If you want – or need – investors, they want to feel their cash will grow.

But the by-product of this is that scale has now become the measure we define ourselves by.

If it’s not big, it’s not worth it.
If it’s not the largest, it’s not the greatest.
If it isn’t known around the world, it’s not worth caring about.

And I’m not just talking in terms of investment, but in so many fields.

Advertising is one of them.

And I certainly have been guilty of it.

Thinking working on global brands meant I was somehow better than those who worked on more local clients.

But thankfully, I quickly learned that was bollocks.

Because on top of everything else, far too often global brands are a shitshow of politics and hierarchy.

Wading through pools of treacle.
That are located inside a maze.
Constantly being moved around.
In the dark.
All in a bid to delay making a decision.
Because not pissing off your boss is more important than creating value for customers.

Which is why for all the NIKE’s, Spotify’s and Metallica’s there’s a whole lot more … well. let’s just say there’s a whole lot more of those other sort of global clients.

And while I’ve been luckier than most with the global clients I’ve worked with – which is fortunate given most of my career has been working with them – the reality is it’s got nothing to do with their scale and everything to do with the values and aspirations of the individuals you’re working with.

That doesn’t mean they don’t want to grow … of course they do and that’s what they’re paying you to help them achieve it.

However growth and scale are different things.

Growth is building, evolving, creating and changing.

Scale is power, speed, conformity and consistency,

And that’s why people focused on scale, can tend to get blinkered …

Focusing on speed and size rather than standards and substance.

And before you know it, they’re churning out all manner of communication landfill, because they believe being something for everyone is better than being everything to someone.

Which is why I love this small hole-in-the-wall store I saw not so long ago.

I have no idea how many people need a quick buttonhole service …

I appreciate the sign is a ramshackle mess.

And yet it made me so happy because the shop looks like it’s been there for a long time which suggests the owner has built a position and value within the community they serve.

Where ‘quick’ is more a by-product of their experience rather than the objective of why they’re in business.

Maybe.

And while I could be completely wrong about them, the reason I love it is because it reminds me that we should celebrate business who wish to live up to a standard not down to a scale.

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