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


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.



You Can’t Say You’re Curious If You Want To Stay Where You Are …

Living overseas is something people often say they want to do, but don’t.

I get it, it’s a big thing, and for some people – they have obligations and responsibilities that mean there is no chance of being to embark on an adventure, even if they were able to.

But there’s others who are in a totally different situation.

Where there is nothing really holding them back but don’t because they spend their time focusing on what they’ll leave behind rather than also appreciating what they’ll gain.

One of the things you get from taking the leap – beyond the incredible experiences, lessons, values, creativity and madness – is friends.

And that’s why a few weeks ago an English/Italian, Russian/Australian and Taiwanese/American – who all met and worked together at Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai but now all live in different countries – were able to meet in London for a steak, a laugh and a glorious bitch session.

This would literally not have been able to happen if we all had individually chosen to stay in our home countries rather than embrace the unknown and the uncertainty … but we did and a lifelong friendship were formed.

I say lifelong, but as they are both now bigwigs of strategy at Apple, I bought them each one of these special edition ‘Apple Watches’ …

… so there’s a good chance I may never see or hear from either of them again.

Which is why if this story isn’t the best ad for planners to go and experience and explore working in other countries, then I literally don’t know what is.



It’s Nice To Be Hated …

A few weeks ago, I woke up to the photo above appearing on my phone.

The 2 people are both ex-planners of mine from Wieden and I admit it was nice to see them.

Then I realised they were never at Wieden at the same time – and even though they’re now both bigwigs at Apple – I suspect there reasons for getting together [and making sure I knew about it] was more to talk shit about me than to discuss the launch for the next iPhone.

Eitherway, I’m as proud as fuck about them and for them … and not just because I’m hoping for freebies.

As I’ve said many times before, I believe the role of a boss is to help develop your people so when they leave, they get a better job than they could ever of hoped for.

Of course, they have to do all the hard work.

They have to want to see where their potential could take them.

But by pushing them, developing them, giving them opportunities to grow and just overall helping them believe in their talent and where it could take them beyond where they currently are, you have a chance to play a small role in creating their future.

And that’s why, seeing David and Rodi lead Apple strategically across the entire Asia region [and for some perspective, just the iPhone business in China is bigger than the entire NIKE company worldwide] makes me so happy.

Not for what I did for them.

But what they did for themselves.

Now please give me the new iPhone or I’ll ask Baz to fire you.