Archive for the ‘MediaComment’ Category

Tired ? Take a break from yourself

Friday, September 17th, 2021

deniro

Sympathy is exhausting.  Empathy gives you energy.

What is sympathy?

Sympathy is feeling pity and compassion, and it’s can be exhausting.

What is empathy?

Empathy is actually feeling what someone else is feeling.

It is not imagining how someone is feeling by putting yourself in their shoes.  It’s a nice thing to do of course. But it is different from real empathy.  The phrase many people use is imagine walking a mile in their shoes.  I heard one CMO say that he took some shoes that his customers might wear to a board meeting so that the senior management could try them on.  It is a worthy thing to do, and it does take some effort.   But it is not empathy.

The example I use in our book Belonging to illustrate this is of a pet cat.  Pet cats like to bring their owners presents.  The best way that they can show their love for their owner is to bring them a present that they themselves would love to receive.  Usually this is a dead bird or a dead mouse.  It is of course usually received with horror by the recipient.  This is a superb example of a lack of real empathy.

A cat with empathy would never bring a present like this.   (A cat with empathy would clean your house for you, or bring you new trainers.)

Empathy is really stepping into the skin of the other person, into their head, its close to being possessed temporarily by them.  And that’s why it is energizing, because the real act of empathy is taking a brief holiday from being yourself, and your natural self-obsession.

American writer David Foster Wallace said: ““Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence.”

To stop doing this even for a few moments gives you a break from yourself.  And a break as many of us appreciate even more this year when we have been not just working from home, but living at work, is as good as a rest.

We have a technique that we use at MediaCom for this in particular – Method Insight.  Named (by my colleague Steve Gladdis) for the technique that actor Robert de Niro famously used to prepare for his Oscar nominated role in Scorsese’s film Taxi Driver.  In order to get into the right mindset to play Travis Bickle for Taxi Driver, DeNiro literally took to the New York streets in a yellow cab. For two weeks prior to shooting, DeNiro trawled the streets day and night, developing a feel for life from the driver’s seat in the seedier areas of New York. It was essential preparation for his job.

This was not only an arduous undertaking that showed off the star’s willingness to put in the hard yards required to achieve a great performance, but it was also downright dangerous. The areas around Precinct 75, where he would patrol, were notorious crime hubs and, often, that would spill from the streets into the backseat.

De Niro says: “I look at it from the character’s point of view”.  Not his own, but really inhabiting another person.

How does this apply to planning?

We ask every planner to live the experience of the business they work on – this might mean going on a shopping expedition with the target audience.  It might mean delivering groceries; delivering sofas; spending time with sales leads and at call centres.  We ask them to be conscious and aware of paying attention to what they observe and not consider it from their own point of view but by inhabiting the point of view of others.  From this comes the insight that leads to great work.

Really being open to other peoples lived experiences, not seeing them from an ad agency bubble, allows you to have real empathy and not just sympathy with the brand and the buyers.  It’s essential preparation for the job.

Sympathy is tiring.

Empathy gives you energy.

It’s as if you are going on holiday from yourself.

 

 

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“We could all use a little less suffering”

Tuesday, September 7th, 2021

bowie bookTo be match fit your mental and emotional wellbeing is as crucial as your physical health.

Recent events in the Olympics have highlighted this truth.  It shouldn’t be so surprising should it?

Yet when Simone Biles – four-time Olympic gold medallist, multiple world champion and arguably the greatest gymnast of all time – withdrew from the team and all-around events at the Tokyo Olympics, it was headline news across the US and the world.

As Sam Quek, 2016 Olympic hockey medallist, speaking on BBC TV puts it mental & physical health are equally important.  He added: “As the story unfolded .. I was getting more and more frustrated. I’d see these headlines popping up saying how Biles was weak, she wasn’t mentally strong enough to deal with the pressure.  On social media, people were accusing her of using it as an excuse to pull out of the vault because she wasn’t performing as well. I just think its absolute nonsense.  She said she wasn’t in the right mental frame of mind to go and perform well enough and that she could have caused herself some damage. Every sports person knows that if you go in half-cocked, you’re going to cause yourself an injury: none more so than in gymnastics.  She has laid down a foundation for so many athletes and people around the world to say: ‘In this moment in time, inside, something didn’t feel right’. She had the bravery and the courage to pull out of the event.”

MediaCom global COO Josh Krichefski has introduced mental health allies at MediaCom to prioritise people taking care of themselves emotionally as well as physically at work, a move made doubly important by the events of the last year.  It is intended to ensure that no-one is overwhelmed, and always has someone to talk to.

Yet it’s still much easier for many to say that they are sick with a tummy bug than that you cannot come to work because of the state of your mental health.  Why on earth should one be more acceptable than the other?  Just as you don’t always have a doctor’s note for your absence for physical health, you may not have a diagnosis of your mental health either.  Though I must caveat this by acknowledging the difficulties that people with a mental health diagnosis face in the workplace are very different to being overwhelmed by stress and your emotions on a particular day.

We know from research conducted by Dynata for our book Belonging, that people who have been diagnosed with mental illness at work are subject to bias, harassment and inappropriate behaviour to a greater extent than the workforce in general.  Overall 18% of workers have been diagnosed with a mental health problem, and this rises to 32% of under 25s. Of the respondents reporting mental health problems, Mind reports that 89% said that these affect their working life. We also know from extensive interviews that you don’t need to have had a mental health diagnosis to feel vulnerable and unable to work at the pace that most businesses in our sector require as business as usual.

Olympian, and chair of UK Sport Dame Katherine Grainger commented recently that there have been huge changes since the last Olympics in terms of openness.  We’ve seen athletes who are clearly physically at the peak of fitness (or they would not be in Tokyo) own their mental health unfitness in a way that she says would have been unthinkable 5 years ago.

We must ensure that those changes and that openness is true for our industry too.  As Ruby Wax puts it: “Your insides don’t know what your outsides do for a living”.  Compassion for someone’s inability to run a marathon with a broken leg should be no different to compassion for someone’s inability to face workplace challenges with mental health issues.

We can only expect peak performance from people who we expect and encourage to really look after themselves, in every respect.  We all need resilience at work and in life in general.  Writing in the “Tao of Bowie,10 lessons from David Bowie’s life to help you live yours” Mark Edwards points out: “We could all use a little less suffering”.

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48 ways to transform creativity #2

Tuesday, August 24th, 2021

DarkPhoenixThere are 48 techniques that can transform the creativity of the work that you do.  Here’s one of them.  The power of burning bridges.

Stan Lee was the co-creator of Spiderman, the X-Men, Thor, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, Ant Man and the Wasp, Nick Fury and more Marvel household names.  He was born in 1922 and started work at 17 as an assistant at Timely Comics.  The interesting point of his career came in the early 1960s, a time when most of the characters that are famous household names now, came into existence.

Until this point comics were highly disposable and aimed at 7 year old boys, this was the standard and profitable business model.

Stan Lee spent years churning them out, and didn’t really love them or believe in them.

No-one in the business wanted comics the way that Stan Lee wanted to write them, with flawed characters who were far from all American perfect heroes.  And nobody wanted comics drawn as the peerless artist Jack Kirby wanted to draw them (he had been fired from DC for not sticking to their traditional vision).

Stan had had enough.  He was on the point of quitting a job that was increasingly boring and mind numbing and deep down he still thought he was going to write the great American novel (an ambition since childhood).  (He certainly did write great human stories, just not in novel form).

His wife said to him: “If you’re going to quit anyway, why don’t you first do what you really want to do with the comics.  What is the worst that can happen?  They can only fire you, and you are on the point of quitting anyway.”

Stan burnt his bridges.  He developed a comic series like no other.  A comic series that broke all the rules of the existing genre and business model.   The first creation with Kirby was the Fantastic Four.  It wasn’t aimed at 7 year olds, it was aimed at anyone who had ever suffered, ever struggled, ever needed hope.  Spiderman soon followed, a character whose owned selfish mistake (trying to exploit his powers for financial gain), led to his uncle’s murder.  He might have had super powers, but he also had guilt, remorse and teenage impulses.  He was not an all American hero.

My personal favourite comic series, X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga, is one of the best descriptions of teenage girl turmoil I have ever read.  When I met Stan Lee, in the 1990s over dinner, I was proud to thank him for that work, which had helped me through difficult times.  Again, the lead character was far from perfect.  Flawed characters, real consequences, and team members that fought with each other before coming together to work against a common enemy.

Sometimes at work, you can become very pragmatic about your career.  You may reach a point where it is easier to second guess what the client wants from you rather than challenge the brief or push the boundaries of creativity.  You only need to look at most of the advertising and comms that surrounds us to see a sea of conformity.  Where all the advertisers in a sector all follow one route to market (tv ads showing cars driving down a mountain road or through a city scape) and the only distinguishing feature is the logo at the end.  Our role in agencies is to drive competitive advantage.  If you follow the crowd this is not what you get.

Sometimes you should go with the flow, sometimes (more often than most people do), you should burn your bridges and follow your heart. Excelsior! (as Stan Lee himself was fond of saying)

That was the second of the 48 ways to transform creativity.  The others I will come back to in future blogs.

 

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Adland needs to reinvent, rebrand and reimagine when it comes to inclusion

Monday, August 9th, 2021

To be match fit your mental health is as crucial as your physical health.

Recent events in the Olympics have highlighted this truth.  It shouldn’t be so surprising should it?

Yet when Simone Biles – four-time Olympic gold medallist, multiple world champion and arguably the greatest gymnast of all time – withdrew from the team and all-around events at the Tokyo Olympics, it was headline news across the US and the world.

As Sam Quek, 2016 Olympic hockey medallist, speaking on BBC TV puts it mental & physical health are equally important.  He added: “As the story unfolded .. I was getting more and more frustrated. I’d see these headlines popping up saying how Biles was weak, she wasn’t mentally strong enough to deal with the pressure.  On social media, people were accusing her of using it as an excuse to pull out of the vault because she wasn’t performing as well. I just think its absolute nonsense.  She said she wasn’t in the right mental frame of mind to go and perform well enough and that she could have caused herself some damage. Every sports person knows that if you go in half-cocked, you’re going to cause yourself an injury: none more so than in gymnastics.  She has laid down a foundation for so many athletes and people around the world to say: ‘In this moment in time, inside, something didn’t feel right’. She had the bravery and the courage to pull out of the event.”

MediaCom global COO Josh Krichefski has introduced mental health allies to prioritise people taking care of themselves emotionally as well as physically at work, a move made doubly important by the events of the last year.  It is intended to ensure that no-one is overwhelmed, and always has someone to talk to.

Yet it’s still much easier for many to say that they are sick with a tummy bug than that you cannot come to work because of the state of your mental health.  Why on earth should one be more acceptable than the other?

We know from research conducted by Dynata for our book Belonging, that people who have been diagnosed with mental illness at work are subject to bias, harassment and inappropriate behaviour to a greater extent than the workforce in general.  Overall 18% of workers have been diagnosed with a mental health problem, and this rises to 32% of under 25s. Of the respondents reporting mental health problems, Mind reports that 89% said that these affect their working life. We also know from extensive interviews that you don’t need to have had a mental health diagnosis to feel vulnerable and unable to work at the pace that most businesses in our sector require as business as usual.

Olympian, and chair of UK Sport Dame Katherine Grainger commented recently that there have been huge changes since the last Olympics in terms of openness.  We’ve seen athletes who are clearly physically at the peak of fitness (or they would not be in Tokyo) own their mental health unfitness in a way that she says would have been unthinkable 5 years ago.

We must ensure that those changes and that openness is true for our industry too.  As Ruby Wax puts it: “Your insides don’t know what your outsides do for a living”.  Compassion for someone’s inability to run a marathon with a broken leg should be no different to compassion for someone’s inability to face workplace challenges with mental health issues.

We can only expect peak performance from people who we expect and encourage to really look after themselves, in every respect.  We all need resilience at work and in life in general.  Writing in the “Tao of Bowie,10 lessons from David Bowie’s life to help you live yours” Mark Edwards points out: “We could all use a little less suffering”.

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Do you always know exactly what you are doing?

Tuesday, July 27th, 2021

Know what you are doing, do what you don’t know.

You have all read lots about the Euro 20 final.  Let’s look at another game that has lessons for us at work.

Spain versus Italy in Euro 20 was a football lesson about the importance of a balance between clarity and chaos.

Both teams played very characteristic football.  Both teams scored once during the 90 minutes and Italy won on penalties (sounds familiar).

The Spanish football was beautiful to watch – a case study in their trademark tiki-taka play.

We wrote about the spirit of their game in our case study about Xavi in our book Belonging.  Describing his role in the game in one of the humblest utterances

from a world-class footballer, Xavi said it was simply: “Receive,

pass, offer”:

  • Receive the ball.
  • Pass the ball to a teammate.
  • Get yourself into a position where that teammate can pass the ball

back to you.

We used this as a great role model for leadership in the office to create a culture of Belonging where everyone can thrive.  Let’s put aside the brilliance of being able to describe everything that you do in three simple words. Focus instead on what that means for every other member of his team. Xavi’s role here was not focused on scoring goals or on tackling the competition, nor specifically on defence. It’s certainly not about him looking good. It was entirely to be at the service of his team members. “Truly if you played for Barcelona

at its peak, there was always someone to pass the ball back to, so you didn’t run the risk of being the idiot that let go of possession to the striker from the other team who might score the winning goal.”  And for most of the Italy Spain game on July 6th 2021, this kind of football was on show whenever Spain had the ball.  Now, you may or may not have a Xavi in your team at work.  But in the likely case that you do not, what if instead you create a culture of Belonging, where the whole success of the business is more important than individual stardom or each person crushing their own KPIs? If you can galvanize the culture in this way, the chances of success

over the competition are much greater.

But as we saw, this strategy alone is not always enough.  Fans of Barcelona, with long memories, may recall the game in when 2012 Chelsea played Barcelona in the semi-final of the Champions League.  It’s probably fair to say that most people who watched the game on the TV in the UK, excluding Chelsea fans, were rooting for Barcelona, home of some of the most beautiful football in the world at that point.

I watched my partner watch the game.  At the end of it he was yelling “Just stick it in the mixer!”

I had to ask him what that meant.  He said that Barcelona were renowned for their passing game and maintaining possession of the ball.  They knew what worked, and what didn’t work, and played to a system that made them extraordinarily successful, and conquered all before them.  A system that they refined all the time, but that they didn’t like to deviate from.  Unfortunately for Barcelona fans (or anyway non-supporters of Chelsea) the only people who understood Barcelona’s system better than Barcelona were Chelsea.

Their fans were desperate for Barcelona to deviate from their system of keeping the ball in possession and take some chances.  To stick it in the mixer (goal area) and not worry about the chance of giving the ball away.

How many glaring opportunities are passing by because the rigour of the media playbook means that they can’t be proved to work in advance of trying?

There needs to be a balance between following the rules and justifying actions on the basis of known data, and taking a leap into the unknown.  Sometimes, most of the time, sticking to the tried system is good and proper.  Yet this is based on what we know we know, and as economist John Kay and former Bank of England chief Mervyn King write in “Radical Uncertainty”: “Good strategies for a radically uncertain world avoid the pretence of (certain) knowledge.. they acknowledge that we do not know what the future will hold.”  Or as we might conclude from the beautiful game:  Sometimes you need to stick it in the mixer for any chance of a win. Know what you are doing, but also be clear about what you don’t know and when to try something where you cannot predict the outcome.

 

 

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