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August 2020

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People interview me from time to time.

Podcast people.

Radio stations.

Things like that.

And they reference my ‘successes’.

Success.

First, they reference the Creative Agency agency I founded.

Having never run a Creative Agency before.

That won 70 awards with around the world.

Second, they reference the Brand Consultancy I founded.

Having never run a Brand Consultancy before.

That attracted senior Saatchi and Nike seniors to work alongside me.

Third, they reference the Clothing Brand, Always Wear Red I founded.

Having never run a Clothing Brand before.

That is relaunching in September 2020 and creates the best hand knits in the world.

And fourth, they reference the online blog I write, 50odd.

Having never written a daily blog before.

That between 5000 an 10000 people a day read.

And it always feels strange to me when interviewers label these things as successes.

Because I don’t see them like that at all.

How To Become Really Good At Almost Anything.

The way to become really good at almost anything.

Is to pick something you want to do.

Almost anything.

Then.

Decide to become really good at it.

Beyond that.

You already know what to do.

Read about it.

Develop good habits around it.

Work.

Fucking hard.

Get rid of distraction.

Learn who is leading the way at doing what you want to do.

Then learn from them.

Then stick at it.

Through thick.

And through thin.

And that’s just about it.

If anyone ever asks me how I became ‘successful’ at things.

This is all I ever say, really.

Just decide to become really good at it.

Because beyond that.

Really.

You already know what to do.

One big world.

That’s all we have.

And this one big world looks so different to each and every one of us.

I am interested in other people’s perspectives.

Because what others see.

That I do not.

Can be so surprising.

Perspective. 

And let’s face it.

If I wasn’t interested in other people’s perspectives.

Then I’d never have tuned-in to my 4 year old Izobel telling Lisa about seeing me firing bullets at a clock.

And I’d never have dug deeper to understand what Izobel had seen.

That I had not.

And I’d never have smiled so much when I realised what she was referring to.

One Big World.

One big world.

That’s all we have.

And this one big world looks so different to each and every one of us.

I am interested in other people’s perspectives.

Because what others see.

That I do not.

Can be so surprising.

Like Izobel describing her daddy firing bullets at a clock.

When in actual fact.

I was doing something far less storyful.

I was playing darts.

Here’s a new word for you.

‘Wullshit’.

It’s short for Wishful Bullshit.

Wullshit.

You’ll recognise Wullshit when I explain what it is.

It’ll feel familiar.

And it may even bring a smile to your face as it sidles up beside you once again.

And gives you a cuddle.

Wullshit is the Wishful Bullshit that punctuates unrealistic and/or fictitious business objectives that some brand and marketing consultants set for brands.

Wullshit very often includes words like ‘disruptive’ and ‘transformational’.

When calmer (and more realistic) descriptors such as ‘reinforcing’ or ‘reassuring’ would be better, more manageable and more achievable.

And all of this is Wullshit is then framed within a ‘vision’ when the word ‘objective’ would have done the job perfectly well.

That’s Wullshit, too.

So there you go.

A new word for you to shout out at meetings.

Or at the very least mumble under your breath.

For when people like me start randomly Wullshitting.

In isolation from a sensible, simple, clear and common sense plan.

You’re welcome.

Adapted from a passage in the excellent ‘How Not To Plan’ by Sarah Carter and Les Binet.

I suppose I’ve always known the importance of attitude.

My attitude.

And the attitude of people inside teams I’ve built.

Attitude. 

Attitude is part of that 3-sided thing isn’t it?

That 3-sided knowledge, skills and attitude thing.

Knowledge being what we know.

Skills being how well we apply what we know.

And attitude being how arsed we are.

That’s how I interpret the 3-sided knowledge, skills and attitude thing, anyway.

And my view on the ‘being arsed’ bit.

The attitude bit.

Is that attitude is much more important than the knowledge bit and the skills bit.

Because knowledge and skills are mostly taught.

Attitude isn’t.

At least, that’s what I thought until very recently.

And it was Fred Rogers that changed my mind.

Fred Rogers.

Fred Rogers.

Creator of Mr. Roger’s Neighbourhood.

Died in 2003.

Tom Hanks played him in the 2019 film.

‘A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood’.

And at first, I thought that Mr. Rogers agreed with me that attitude could not be taught.

And in a way he did.

But with a twist.

And here is that twist.

Because Mr Rogers said this about attitude:

It’s caught.

Not taught.

Fred Rogers said that by showing children how obsessed and how happy you are doing what you do.

They’d follow.

And I think there’s something about all leadership in this observation.

So I agree with Mr.Rogers completely.

The attitude of the people you lead.

It’s caught.

Not taught.

Here are a few sentences I hear from time to time.

All with the word ‘someone’ in them:

Someone should help them get back on track.

They might just need a little bit of support or something.

And:

Someone should have a word with him.

He’s just lost his way a bit.

And:

If someone just gave them a chance, they’d be brilliant.

And:

If someone just sat down with her and told her how good she was, she might commit – properly.

And:

Someone should back her.

Put a few quid in.

Take a punt.

And:

Someone needs to do something about him treating her like that.

And:

Someone should tidy it up.

It’s a bloody eyesore.

And:

Someone should just listen to them.

They talk sense.

They probably just feel a bit left out.

Someone.

And here’s something else.

Something that someone like you.

Could say to anyone you like:

Hey.

That someone you’re talking about.

That someone could be you, you know.

(And the someone you say it to.

It could be yourself).

I think that the second best reason to go to Polytechnic.

Is to learn.

The first best reason to go to Polytechnic.

Is to be at Polytechnic.

(These days it’s ‘University’.

But you know what I mean).

Business.

And I think that the second best reason to start a business.

Is to make money.

The first best reason to start a business.

Is to be in business.

Mr. Rice.

One of my first dads.

Was Mr. Rice.

My art teacher.

My actual dad had fucked off when I was about 10.

Because it was cheaper for him to not see me and avoid maintenance.

Than to be my dad and pay.

So as a young teenager.

I chose Mr.Rice to be my dad.

(Even though Mr. Rice never knew he was my dad.

In my head.

He was).

University. 

Mr. Rice knew my early teenage home life was crap.

I’m not sure how he knew.

But he knew.

So when Mr. Rice answered me in his soft, scouse drawl.

After I asked whether he thought I should go to Newcastle Polytechnic.

Or stay in Derby where the sad stuff was.

I listened.

Lad.

He said.

Leave Derby.

Go to Newcastle.

Not for the course.

Do whatever course you want.

Go to Poly.

To be at Poly.

And because Mr. Rice was my dad.

(Even though Mr. Rice never knew he was my dad).

Off I went.

Newcastle Polytechnic.

Newcastle Polytechnic was three wonderful years.

In a world of hundreds of wonderful clones.

Everyone young.

Everyone skint.

Everyone stupid.

Everyone scowled at by the Geordies for being a ‘fucking student’.

And everyone as sex-scared and sex-starved as each other.

It was great.

The First Best Reason.

And Mr. Rice is right, of course.

The first best reason for going to University.

Is to be at University.

And it’s the same for business.

The first best reason to start a business.

Is to be in business.

Business.

I’ve run businesses for 25 years.

I learn every day.

And the more I learn.

The more I learn there’s even more to learn.

I have fun each day.

At least, if I remember to allow myself to have fun each day I do.

I feel the highs and the lows.

I still find it hard to anticipate the highs and the lows.

But I certainly feel them.

Some days I am confident.

Some days I am on my knees.

Some years I have money.

Some years I don’t.

Some days I’m clear.

Some days I’m confused.

But whatever’s happening.

I still think that the first best reason to start a business.

Is to be in business.

And I also think anyone that has ever pondered doing it.

Even for a moment.

Should.

And with a bit of luck and loads of hard work.

Running a business might just make you feel whole.

And you never know.

It might just make you a little bit of money, too.

If I’m not careful.

I could become a prisoner of my past.

Househunting.

We’re house hunting right now.

And there are issues.

Some places are too small.

I know this because I used to live in a 1 bedroomed flat in Tynemouth.

Some places are too big.

I know this because I used to live in a 5 bedroomed house in Hirst Head.

Some places are no good because they only have a yard.

I know this because where I live now only has a decked area.

Some locations are too remote.

I know this because I love the community I’m in right now.

Some locations are too noisy and buzzy.

I know this because I’ve lived in the city centre.

Some places are just too smart and new.

I know this because there’s nothing much to discover in the new builds I’ve lived in.

Some places are too old are worrisome.

I know this because I’ve lived in very old property.

We’re house hunting at the moment.

And as you can tell.

There are a few issues.

The Prisoner. 

Or maybe that’s rubbish.

Maybe there’s just one issue.

Maybe I just need to remember to look forwards.

Instead of backwards.

And maybe this would lead me to make decisions based on what is possible.

As opposed to what is probable.

Because let’s face it.

Today’s me is a different me altogether.

And the future?

Well, it hasn’t happened yet.

Paralysed.

The past is the past.

If I think about all of my experience.

I feel paralysed.

Because there’s so much information.

The past is an indicator.

A form guide.

But not a blueprint.

And I need to remember that.

Because if I’m not careful.

And I forget which way to face.

I could become a prisoner of my past.

Invest in different.

Because honestly.

It really is better to be different.

Than it is to be better.

Consumers.

Because consumers like to be surprised.

Consumers like to discover new things.

And consumers like to feel part of something interesting and fresh.

Something that stands out.

Something.

Well.

Just different.

Quality.

Quality is important of course.

So there’s definitely a place for ‘better’.

But don’t build a whole strategy around ‘better’.

Because it’s imprecise.

Because it’s a sliding scale.

Because it’s interpreted differently by different people.

Because it’s less emotional than ‘different’.

And because it can be beaten.

Choose Different.

Choose different.

Because if you are truly different.

That means you’re more likely to get noticed.

Which means you’ve at least got a chance of being remembered.

And that means you’ve at least got a chance of being chosen.

Invest in Different.

So honestly.

Invest in different.

Because it really is better to be different.

Than it is to be better.

Leadership.

At the end of the day.

A big part of it is just fucking guessing.

Isn’t it?

And the best guesser wins.

Leadership.

Someone has to lead.

At least in good organisations they do.

And if that leader is a good leader.

They’ll be informed.

Talented.

Appropriately skilled.

Driven and hard working.

Confident and brave.

Supported by enthused and appropriately capable people.

In appropriately allocated and beautifully coherent roles.

Because they.

The leader.

Will have made all of that so.

Guessing.

Nevertheless.

With all of that said and done.

When push comes to shove.

In many trying times.

And in many of the most pivotal moments.

The leader of the organisation has to make important decisions.

And a significant percentage of them will be pioneering decisions.

Particularly if the organisation is ambitious.

The leader will be making decisions that are future-facing and future-shaping.

So there’s no case study.

No manual.

And no formula.

Because things are new.

And that’s why I say.

What I say.

Leadership.

At the end of the day.

A big part of it is just fucking guessing.

Isn’t it?

And the best guesser wins.