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


Got Your Hooks In You …

In 2016, I started the inaugural Kennedys at Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai.

9 strangers – only united by a love and talent for creativity – spent 9 months having to deal with me pushing, challenging and giving them a safe place for creative danger and stupidity.

We did a lot over that time.

From bleaching hair to making an arcade game from scratch to filming a movie about Romeo and Juliet featuring bananas and apples as the lead characters to name but a few.

In fact, over that 9 months, they graduated having made over 140 pieces of wonderfully bonkers creativity … which you can read/see and learn more about it here.

In many ways it was one of the most special times of my life, let alone at Wieden.

To think I only ended up agreeing to start/run it because I didn’t like/trust the person they were going to ask if I said no to it, blows my mind – especially as it had a major impact on what my ambitions and plans for the future were.

I think a lot of you know I thought I was going to do something with MIT who were incredibly generous to me in terms of letting me ‘train’ while still working at Wieden. But after seeing how much I loved guiding the chaos of pure creativity, I realised that journey was not for me … which ultimately led me to things I never imagined could ever have happened, from Metallica and Billionaire street fashion owners to Colenso and NZ.

Anyway, a while back, I received this …

That pic features 5 of the guys from The Kennedys who still live in Shanghai.

Quentin, Felix, Meng, Wenshu and the amazing Juni, who not only humoured my stupid ideas for assignments, but found ways to make them happen and not get anyone arrested.

They met up for dinner and I have to say, it made me so happy.

Not just because I miss them and it was great to see their faces, but because they went through an experience that few could ever imagine or hope for … so to see it result in bonds that last – despite them going on all manner of creative tension rollercoasters – is especially pleasing, as that was one of my unspoken hopes for the program.

Contrary to what a lot of people may think, while you meet and work with a lot of people in the industry – you don’t always make deep bonds.

A lot can be quite transitory so when you do find it, you really treasure it.

I’m fortunate I have that with quite a few people I’ve worked with.

Bonds built on respect, experience and working together to get out of the tightest corner in the most provocative, creative, interesting of ways.

It’s why so many of those people are folks I worked in China with.

Because you found yourself in very strange situations there.

All. The. Time.

And while it was stressful and mad, it was also exciting, infectious and utterly amazing and I hope that’s part of the reason why the guys at The Kennedys have that.

The Kennedys is a very special thing.

If you have the chance to apply, especially in Amsterdam or London, you should.

It’ll change your life.

It definitely changed mine.



Perfect Fucks You Up …

A while back, I did a presentation for the Brazilian APG about the dangers of perfect.

Or more precisely, the boredom of it.

It was my usual rambling mess of random pictures that goes off on tangents a protractor would find hard to calculate … but I still liked the underlying point that perfection stops possibilities whereas acts others may view as stupid … creates them.

[If you’re mad, you can see a static version of the presentation here]

I say I liked the underlying point until I saw this.

I really, really like this.

I love the idea that flaws help us connect.

I love that imperfection can make us feel normal. That it is something to aspire to.

Of course, the reality is perfection is just an illusion.

One persons definition of what is the ultimate expression of an idea.

A temporary moment, where they believe nothing better has been explored or revealed.

The problems start when that definition starts being challenged.

While some embrace it – seeing it as a way to push the boundaries of what they thought was possible – many fight it.

Using their definition to control, limit or devalue the work of the challengers.

Sometimes it’s due to ego.
Sometimes it’s due to money.
But everytime it aims to oppress rather than liberate.

It’s happening everywhere.

From technology processes to agency ‘proprietary’ tools.

And while there is a lot to be said for being proud of what you have done, when you use it to stop people creating their own version, it’s not.

I’ve seen too many people in too many companies follow the orders of their bosses simply because it’s easier to do that. Where they know expressing a different point of view will be seen as an attack rather than an attempt for everyone to be even better.

So while perfect might be nice and shiny and make you feel good, it also has the power to stop progress.

Or as the brilliant chart at the top of this post states, stop feeling you can relate.

Not because it’s so far ahead, but because of the speed society evolves, it’s too far behind.



Happiness Isn’t Perfect …

I recently read an amazing interview with the actor Ethan Hawke.

There’s many reasons he’s a fascinating person, but one of the main ones is that despite being hyped up to be as big as Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon, he didn’t get there.

However this is not because he failed or came off the rails … it was because he made an active choice not to go down that path.

There are many reasons for this.

One is because his Mum pushed him “towards a British understanding of acting as a craft and away from American ideas of celebrity” and the other is seeing what happened to his friend, River Phoenix.

And while many would deviate from their resolution the moment they saw the benefits available to them, Hawke has been steadfast in his resolve.

One of the ways this manifested itself was him never moving to LA.

Having lived there, I get it.

On face value, it’s a spectacular town.

A stunningly beautiful place where dreams can literally come true.

And there’s a bunch of truth in that. Kinda.

Because while it makes you feel more welcome than almost any place in the World, it comes at a price. And once it feels it has gotten its value out of you … or had all its fun with you … or simply got all the benefits out from you, then it will spit you out, forget you were there and move on to the next in the blink of an eye.

For me, you go to Las Vegas to gamble with your money to make it big.

But in LA – at least to a certain degree – you go there to gamble with your life.

I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s true.

What’s more, it’s all there in plain sight. The issue is people – especially those chasing the Hollywood dream – like to ignore it because, let’s be honest, people like feeling special or lucky or smart enough to not let that shit happen to you.

And that’s why the way Ethan Hawke sums up LA is – as much as I enjoyed my life there – pretty damn perfect.

People think getting what you want will make you happy, but a sense of self, purpose and love don’t come from the outside. You can’t get distracted by this culture that celebrates things that sometimes aren’t what they seem”.

So why am I saying all this.

Well, contrary to how I’ve made it sound, it has nothing to do with my respect for Ethan Hawke. Or my cynicism to Los Angeles. It’s because recently, someone sent me this and said it reminded them of me.

I have to say, when I read it, I felt a bit overwhelmed.

Overwhelmed because it really did capture how I think about things.

Overwhelmed because it meant someone got me, rather than believed I was just a nosy prick.

OK … so there’s a selfish element to why I’m like this.

You see, if my colleagues or team mates have issues or worries, then it means they’re not able to perform as brilliantly as they usually do. Which means the work they do won’t be as brilliant as I want, need and expect from them. So wanting to give them an environment where they can feel safe to be open and vulnerable while also actively wanting to help, listen and change situations for them, has as much to do with my needs as there’s.

I know, what a selfish prick eh?!

But it’s not all for self-serving reasons.

Because ultimately I am a big believer people should be able to express how they feel.

That we all have good and bad days and you should never feel bad for how you are.

I was incredibly fortunate to be brought up in a house that followed this belief and I will continually advocate it.

Even when people think I am being a nosy prick.

But it does have benefits beyond just personal, emotional wellbeing.

It means you can connect better to others.

It means you can be open and honest rather than political and wary.

It means you can disagree in ways that never become personal or destructive.

It creates something special.

A bond where deep trust is formed.

It doesn’t happen every time.

It doesn’t always happen in the same way.

But if you’re lucky, you will meet some people on your professional journey who this approach will end up having a profound affect on both of you.

Not just in terms of how well you click. Or work together. But a deep understanding and acceptance of who you are without criticism or ridicule.

They will make you better and be someone you want to be better for.

United by a deep respect and belief in what each other brings to the table while still allowing you to argue, debate and challenge without it ever being personal or destructive.

When that happens, what you can create together – either in collaboration or just through each others support – is amazing.

You feel a real honour to know them, work with them and understand them.

I’m very fortunate I’ve had a few people in my life, but one of them is the brilliant Paula Bloodworth … who I first had the privilege of working with at Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai.

And that’s why receiving that quote from her was so, so special to me.

I hope you all have a Paula in your life.

Someone you deeply connect with and yet disagree with all at the same time.

Because not only does it make your work better, it makes you a better person.



Finally, I Give You A Way To Shut Me Up …

When you’re my age, you get to look at your career and see the different phases that it passes through.

I remember one year at Wieden, we seemed to make more beautiful, highly-crafted physical books on culture than we did ads.

Now I’m a huge fan of these – and still do them – but that year I think we made about 10, which was frankly ridiculous.

Then there was the year I got told I’d spoken at more conferences than anyone at Wieden.

It wasn’t said as a diss, more a fact – though I do remember Luhr looking at me with the face of someone who couldn’t work out why anyone would want me to talk at their event.

He wasn’t wrong.

Then there was the year I seemed to be in every bloody Asian marketing book or article and then of course, The Kennedys.

It happens. It’s rarely an intentional thing, but the nature of the business means it can be like that … and while I’ll always prefer to be involved in creating stuff, it does let you feel things are evolving and that’s a good feeling.

Well this year is another one of those years.

Part of this is because of the situation the World is in and part of it is because of the situation I have found myself in.

However, whereas previous years have seemingly had singular focuses, this year has had two.

Icons of culture and podcasts.

Both have been pretty awesome.

Musicians … Fashion superstars … Gaming Royalty … Billionaires.

Frankly people who should know a lot better than to ever want me to work with them … and yet, for reasons I don’t understand but am utterly grateful for, they have.

It’s certainly very different to the work I’ve done in the past, but it not only is introducing me to a whole new world of creative expression – from developing new concert experiences to video game design to stuff that is genuinely almost impossible for me to describe as it’s just plain beautifully bonkers – it’s letting me work with people who are recognised as being the best in their field so to be in this position … and to have Colenso to look forward to in addition … feels like winning the lottery.

I know this all sounds like humble bragging – but that’s not the intent.

To be honest, it’s more about me writing it down so I never forget this feeling.

This moment.

Because as tough as it is for people all around the World, I am very, very fortunate so many good things have come my way.

But that’s not what this post is about, it’s about the other thing I’ve been doing a lot of.

Podcasts.

I’ve done a ton this year.

[Here and here and here for example]

Why people want to hear from me – especially when I write so much bollocks about my life on here – is another thing I don’t get … but it’s been fun.

Recently the lovely/stupid people at Colenso had chat with me for their Love This podcast …

We cover all manner of subjects … from running a planning gang to developing creativity in a pandemic to how to be a fucking idiot … so if you’re bored, an insomniac or are jealous of Colenso’s brilliance and are looking forward to the pain they’ll experience with me in the building, you can listen to it at one of these places.

Apple.
Spotify.
Soundcloud.



It’s Not Just What You Say, It’s How You Say It …

I have always loved pitching.

I love the drama, the nervousness, the tension, the creativity.

I also love that it’s a chance to reinvent how the agency is seen every single time.

Because of this, I’ve always embraced using a pitch to try new ways to present your work.

I’ve done a lot of stuff over the years.

Some has – without doubt – been an unmittigated disaster, but far more often, it’s been successful.

Not because we’ve used gimmicks or theatre, but we’ve found an interesting way to get our point across without [hopefully] repeating what every other agency they’ve seen has said.

Some of my favourites have been when we won the launch of Disneyland Shanghai when we were the 18th agency to pitch and I had inadvertently insulted the head of procurement when I accidentally wrote ‘retards’ instead of ‘regards’.

Mind you, they got their own back when they fired us after 2 years – and just before some truly amazing work was going to be made.

Then there was the time we won the SONY global business based on a photo I’d taken of a sign they had in their HQ.

It was an arrow pointing to the right to show you where reception was … and I used that as the basis for our pitch which basically said SONY spent so much time looking at what their competitors were doing, they’ve forgotten the need to forge their own path.

And then there was our winning pitch to Virgin when they were going to start their F1 team.

The reality was they were unlikely to ever win a race – or maybe even a point – given the gulf in investment and technology between them and their competitors.

So our strategy was to model themselves on tennis player Anna Kournikova … because even though she never won a grand slam, she was one of the most recognised, supported and wealthy tennis players in the tournaments.

That was fun.

But recently I found a photo that reminded me of a time we were pitching for BEATS by Dre.

I was at Wieden Shanghai and we had a meeting to talk about the China market.

Instead of a presentation about culture or music or fashion, I had one slide that said, “If You Don’t Define Who You Are, Someone Else Will’ and then I gave them all a set of the fake headphones that are the photo at the top of this post.

And we won.

Some say what we did was ballsy … but it wasn’t really.

When you realise the client is going to be sitting through a bunch of meetings that often say the same thing – or worse, just talk about the agency rather than the client – you realise having a strong POV that can form the foundation for work that will resonate with culture is the most sensible thing you can do.

Of course it takes just as long to come up with that as it does writing the 1000 page decks of boredom, but when it comes to delivery … it not only helps you stand out, it helps ensure they remember your point of view rather than get confused with countless pitches that talk a lot but say nothing.