Tag Archives: failure

Celebrity Big Bother

It’s not been a good week for masculine sexuality. Celebrity Homo Erectus proving, as ever, that he can’t keep it in his trousers.

But, even though they’re always misbehaving, most celebrities are pretty boring, aren’t they ?

Celebrities are just a way of extending our social circle to people we have no obligations to. Read more on Celebrity Big Bother…

A little bit of cockiness

It was good to see a picture of Martin Boase in Campaign the other day because I can remember having a slash with him in about 1992.

We’d been judging some awards thing. It was a time of great change in the industry because personal computers were just appearing at work. At HHCL we put a computer on everybody’s desk and gave everyone 10 hours individual tuition. I reckon we “got” digital before people even used that phrase.

When I mentioned this to Martin, he dismissed the whole thing as a passing fad.

He’d picked the wrong time to tell me, because I was so astonished that I nearly wet both our pairs of shoes.

I thought he might be joking, but when I asked some friends at BMP, it emerged that they had only invested in one computer, “for the art directors to play on”.

Now the thing is, I just love that attitude.

As anyone who knew him could tell you, Martin Boase was charm, assurance and persuasiveness personified.

He was so confident in his and his agency’s ability that he could afford to be like that.

And that confidence is much more of an asset than a liability.

I remember reading a book on Japanese management techniques, which said that “a bad decision on Monday is better than a good decision on Friday”.

It’s a fascinating point.

If you have the courage of your convictions, you do stuff. If you shilly-shally, and see both sides of it, and weigh up all the pros and cons, you’re nearly always going to be wrong because you’ll be too late.

When you’re as self-assured as Martin was, you could get it wrong, but decide a year later that computers were a good thing, and you’d still be ahead of most of the dilly-dallying belt and braces merchants.

But if he hadn’t had that self-confidence, he never would have built one of the three greatest British advertising agencies of all time.

My old partner Rupert Howell had that kind of confidence too, and I loved it.

I remember when we pitched for “Fruit of the Loom” t-shirts once. We had a brilliant idea which involved throwing a t-shirt to the baddest gang of street dogs you could find – to prove how tough the shirts were.

One of the clients looked worried and said that the t-shirts really weren’t that strong.

Rupert thumped the table with his fist and assured us all that Fruit of the Loom t-shirts were amazing and could easily withstand such a torture test.

The clients loved his attitude and gave us the business.

As it turned out, Rupert was wrong about how strong the t-shirts were.

But, who cares ?

Better to be confident and possibly wrong than to be always anxious and possibly right.

I was thinking of all this as I did a day’s mentoring at the wonderful School of Communication Arts. Marc Lewis, the principal there, is a man who gets things done and worries about the details later.

And I can’t think of a better guiding principle for his students.

I thought the same thing when I went to a Creative Social event, the launch of a book called Digital Advertising.

The party was like most book launch parties, in that it just involved a bunch of people getting pissed, although in this case it was enlivened by Flo Heiss and Graham Fink attacking a pile of the books with two chainsaws.

But the book itself is a fantastic reminder of what fuelled the rise of the digital agencies.

Like any creative movement of any worth (and I’m also reading Nick Kent’s wonderful book “The Dark Stuff” about music industry iconoclasts) it was driven by anger, frustration, and a cocky belief among the people involved that they were right and everyone else had got it wrong.

And that sense of defiant experimentation is right at the heart of the internet. Dot-com boom gets followed by dot-com bust gets followed by web 2.0.

As Andy Sandoz says of the dot-com bust – “this founding and spectacular failure … set the tone of the internet as a place of experimentation”.

Believe, do something, doesn’t matter if you’re wrong, do something different.

It gets really interesting when you realise, as Shaun McIlrath told me recently, that that’s how it works in retail.

Try something, fail, try something else.

I reckon that would make the perfect model for advertising.

Of course I may be wrong.

But so what ?

Read more on A little bit of cockiness…

Teenage kicks

There are bits of my portfolio life which I obviously can’t talk about. For instance, the time when I helped Sir Martin Sorrell structure a complex 10-year reverse buy-out of a research facility in Pyongyang. (As it happened, it was just someone’s front room).

It’s a shame really, because some of the most interesting projects are out of bounds. In the TV world, I once advised Simon Cowell to start a TV show in which he just laughed at some mentally deficient people, but I don’t know if he followed my advice.

But there are bits I can talk about. Like the breakfast hosted by Albion last Thursday to discuss Gen Y and ask the question – “Is this the end of youthful rebellion ?”

Jesus, I f*cking hope not. Is there nothing worth fighting against these days ?

That just makes me so angry.

It reminds me of when Adam Lury, the greatest planner who ever lived, used to say that there was no point in doing research groups in Birmingham. He said the people there never hated or loved anything, they just went “yea well it’s allright, innit” about everything you put in front of them.

I hoped the same wasn’t true of Gen Y.

The morning started brilliantly when we met Eliza Robeiro – a spectacularly self-possessed and eloquent 17-year-old. She talked about fighting knife crime – something she set up a charity organisation to deal with, at age 13. Get that. This young woman was doing something amazing to change the world for the better, at an age when the rest of us were just figuring out why sex was going to dominate our lives for the next 60 years …

We met Robin Klein, a serial entrepreneur, who works with a lot of Gen-Y-ers. Robin claimed to be from Gen X – but I reckon that like me he scrapes into the bottom of the “Baby Boomer” group. And while I’m not normally a fan of bottom-scraping, I do think Boomer is better than X; the Boomers changed stuff and set agendas. Sure they screwed up massively, on a global scale, in a way which has probably f*cked the planet for ever – but hey, anyone can make a mistake. And unlike Gen X, they weren’t content just to get the mortgage paid and buy too many iPods.

We met Emi Gal, an immensely impressive 23-year-old winner of this year’s Seedcamp, something which Albion takes a key interest in.

He talked about his attitude to failure. He told us of one company he’d set up which “went successfully bankrupt” – a good joke which the VC guy then picked up and said was absolutely crucial. Gen Y doesn’t mind failing. In “the Valley” apparently, they say – Fail fast, fail often.

We met Mike Butcher, editor of Techcrunch, who told us the now familiar provocation that Facebook is “the people you used to know” and Twitter is “the people you want to know in the future”. I always want to add – “and Linked-in is the unemployed people you wish you didn’t know”.

He also told us that journalists need to “get off the stage and into the crowd”.

Sadly he didn’t take his own advice, since it would have been great if he’d mingled among us. We could have patted him on the back and offered him a sticky bun.

If I had to sum up Gen Y, I’d say that they are massively into collaboration and doing stuff without waiting for permission.

They’re also into failing.

I like that a lot. Experimenting without having the paralyzing fear of failure is at the heart of all true creativity.

But for me the most poky thought came from Robin, the guy with the grey hair.

He said he was always looking for the next disruption. That nothing was interesting unless it disrupted the market. This is a guy who invests money in exactly that attitude and makes a fortune doing it.

That’s a belief I’d like to see a lot more of in Gen Y.

Not just wanting to make money for its own sake – I hope they’re smart enough to get beyond that.

But the idea that you have to be willing to upset the applecart.

More than that, actually. You have to be actively looking for applecarts to tip over.

Which is another way of saying what Marlon Brando said in that old film when someone asked him “What are you rebelling against ?”

And he replied “What have you got ?”

Read more on Teenage kicks…

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