What’s a degree?

Don’t ask me.

I saw another interesting video today. It was of Sir Ken Robinson, speaking at a TED event in 2006. You can see it here. It’s a funny and heart-warming talk, in which Sir Ken talks about our current education system, and how it’s only really designed to produce academics. He also considers how education has been diluted, as of late. Everyone now has a degree, and a degree isn’t worth as much now as it was some time ago. Most importantly, he talks about the educational hierarchy (sciences, before humanities, then arts) and how children are discouraged from studying what they’re really passionate about, because what these children are passionate about is not seen as a ‘real’ subject. As an English graduate, I couldn’t agree more.

I really, really enjoyed my time studying English. I honestly feel that I couldn’t have chosen a better degree. In terms of a degree choice in the context of the entire educational hierarchy, however, it wasn’t looked upon that highly within other disciplines, or by my peers studying those disciplines. I knew that it was a brilliant degree, and so did those studying and teaching it. In my last year, especially, we were inundated with lectures on how we could promote, or ‘pimp’ our skills to employers. We did our very best, short of taking our pants off and wearing them on our heads, while shouting through a megaphone that we were all extremely talented individuals, to try and get this message across. In some cases, it worked, and a great many of my friends from the course have either gone into employment or training. Many of us, however, including myself, have gone into further education, potentially highlighting the diminished value of an undergraduate degree in this day and age.

My parents were, gladly, very supportive of my wish to study English, but I know that this is not something shared by other parents. Even so, this hierarchical behemoth still affected, in some way, my decision to study marketing at postgraduate level. When I decided that I wanted to work in the marketing/advertising/communications industry, I spent a considerable amount of time trawling job sites and graduate schemes, and what I found was that getting into marketing (ignoring the advertising/communications) demanded a degree in a business-related subject for them to even consider you. I had no chance, with my English degree. I ask you, what would the fact that I have an English degree have to do with a failure to perform, or possess the necessary requirements for a career in marketing? Indeed, it does imply that I enjoy thinking creatively, but it certainly does not mean that I can’t think logically. On the contrary, it’s essential for English students to think logically too. It also doesn’t mean that we can’t ‘crunch numbers’, although it is my personal opinion that marketing should be less time spent with numbers, and more time spent with people. Is this unfair? I admit that some, career-specific degrees are needed to procure employment in some professions (medicine, etc.), but that’s a strict minority.

I hate this wraith of educational bigotry, and feel that it definitely contributes to what I’d like to refer to as ‘skill bias’. More than that, as the video states (you should really watch it; it’s great), who says you have to be ‘good’ at school, to be bright, or intelligent? I wasn’t ‘good’ at school, and it’s done me well, thus far. Other than denying me the right to apply for various jobs/making me a generally unattractive option to employers/making me feel stupid. That’s a completely different blog, though, and I shall leave it for another day.


On the up

I re-read yesterday’s blog, and I must admit, I used the word ‘love’ far too much in the first paragraph. Take from it what you will.

I’m not sure if I like the new direction this blog is taking, but it’s rather therapeutic, nonetheless. So, here’s more ‘me’:

Today was a better day than yesterday. Having said that, I hope that tomorrow is an even better day than today. Every day that passes, I seem to get a better hold of things that bother me, and how they’re affecting me. Things are still dire, in some cases, but at least I’ve admitted this to myself. It at least gives me something to work upon.

One of the many things bothering me at this point in time, is my course. It’s not that my course is necessarily bad, it’s just made me think hard about whether or not I really want to still go into marketing. I like marketing, or at least I think I do, or did. I like to think I liked what I think is, or was, marketing. I love people. All people. Even the smelly ones, and even the annoying ones. I generally love people. I like hugs, and smiling, and being nice. I also like nice people. I decided from an early age that when I grow up, I’m going to make people happy, and my life thus far has been a progression towards that goal. So, I don’t know where I’m headed, exactly, but I know what I’m going to do when I get there.

I established pretty early on that I love communicating. One of my first ever phrases was “READ IT”, which I used to bark at my parents whenever I wanted them to read me a story, which was often. I couldn’t yet read, but was eager and hungry for knowledge. So, I learnt to read, and I learnt to regulate my voice (somewhat), and then learned to listen. I was very quiet, when I was younger. Well, I think that I was, at least. I’ve always liked listening to people, and their stories, perhaps more than I enjoy talking. My later teenage years were spent as a sounding board, listening to the teenage woes of my friends. Listening to tales of first loves, first kisses, first break-ups, and that sort of thing. My dad used to refer to me as the ‘father confessor’. It was around this time that I decided that I might like to be a counsellor, before I realised that I’d get much too personally involved in the worries of my patients. It’s certainly a skill, to become involved in someone’s life, and still keep from getting attached, but it’s something I don’t think that I could do.

As well as listening, I’ve always loved speaking, and performing. I’ve been lucky enough to act a lot, in my time. I remember the first play I was in was called ‘Barney’, in Year Two. I played Mr Gruber, an irate organist, who was constantly rattled by the efforts of a mouse, Barney, who lived inside his organ, and kept muffling the sound coming out of it. It’s okay, they ended up being friends. Originally, I was meant to narrate the play, but on being cast as such, I voiced my concerns to my mum. I had been cast as a narrator since the Nativity play in Nursery, I believe, and I was fed up. So, I complained to my mum, and my mum complained to my teacher, Mrs Philips, who re-cast me as this Mr Gruber type. I was so happy, and proud. I remember I was so excited that I learnt all of my lines in one sitting. That hasn’t happened since, even though I’ve carried on acting.

It’s not just acting I love. No. I even had a brief singing career, believe it or not. I started to learn to play the guitar in Year Three. One of the first songs I learnt was Elvis’ ‘Hound Dog’. I have very vivid memories of performing to family, and friends, whenever they’d come to my house for dinner. I used to have a thick denim jacket, which was far too big for me, and some big, dark sunglasses, which I used to don whenever I’d perform. I’d pretend I was cool, like Elvis, which I blatantly was, and I’d sing my heart out.

It didn’t stop there, but I feel I’m getting my point across sufficiently. Whatever it was, whether public speaking (I used to absolutely adore English ‘speaking and listening’ assessments in secondary school), reciting poetry, stand-up, and now magic, I’d take the greatest pleasure in standing up in front of groups of people, and putting on a show.

I’d genuinely say that discourse is a hobby of mine, then. This is what pushed me towards marketing. The thought that I’d be listening to, and talking to people. Finding out what they’re like, what they want, and what they need, then giving it to them. I wish that marketing was less about numbers, and less about averages, and more about actually talking to people and getting their opinions on things. I’m not a huge fan of market research. As a person myself, I find it annoying, irritating, and quite often, if I’m being completely honest, I only complete market research surveys because of the incentive offered for doing so. I also don’t really complete the things to the best of my ability, either. Indeed, sometimes picking out certain options only means more questions, and more time spent taking an irritating, and somewhat irrelevant survey. If I’ve specified that I mostly drink one brand of beer, or chew one type of chewing gum, I don’t appreciate a thousand other questions about another brand of beer, or gum. One of the few lessons I remember from college, was the GIGO theory I learnt in ICT. It’s another wonderful acronym (marketing is unfortunately plagued by acronyms) which stands for Garbage In, Garbage Out, and sums up how computers work quite well. Computers are great tools if you know how to use them, but fill them with a load of rubbish, or a load of unreliable information, and you’re going to get nothing other than a load of rubbish. Why, then, do marketers insist on relying on these dated forms of information gathering? More than that, since when do you get a precise, accurate response, when you ask someone directly of their opinion on something?

I’ve been taught that marketing is changing more now than ever before. It’s a revolution! Marketing is transforming from traditional ‘push’, to ‘pull’ models, etcetera, etcetera! Indeed, the impact of digital on the marketing sphere has certainly mixed things up, and cannot be ignored. However, with great change, comes great responsibility. Walls of silence have been broken down, and have redefined what an organisation is. These ‘walls of silence’ once impeded people from talking to organisations, and stopped organisations communicating with people. It’s sort of paradoxical, I think, seeing as organisations are simply large groups of people, trying to communicate concepts to other people. It’s great that people can now see that organisations are simply other people, just like them, and I think that this can be of great benefit to both parties, if we can even define them as two differing entities.

I saw a very interesting video today. You can see it here: http://www.researchtalk.co.uk/rt/2009/07/06/faris-yakob-be-nice-or-leave/.
Faris Yakob, on the odd chance that you’re reading this, I love your hair. Also, thank you. For those of you who haven’t looked already, you really should, especially if you’re into marketing, or being human. Before I saw this video, I was going through a crisis. I was unsure as to whether I’d lost all faith in marketing. This video has inspired me, however, that there still is room for nice people in the marketing industry. People who don’t have to wear suits, at least not all the time. Sometimes they make me feel a bit like James Bond. I have terrible trouble finding suit trousers that are of the correct length, that fit me, however. Hips don’t lie, apparently.

Returning to my original dilemma, I wasn’t quite sure, as of late, whether I was barking up the wrong tree, with this whole marketing gig. I like being a nice person, and I like talking to people. We’re all social creatures; some more than most. As such, I can’t dream of being stuck in a standard 9-5 job, being confined to a desk, and made to type things all day, like letters, and numbers. Who knows, maybe some day I’ll be allowed to write letters about numbers. I really don’t want to end up there, and I’ve surprisingly only given a great amount of thought to it recently, with the prospect of applying for many ‘standard’ marketing jobs. I’m not saying that I’m a slacker. I know that work needs to be worked on, but I see no reason why work can’t be fun. If work is fun, doesn’t the natural order of things dictate that the people the ‘work’ is designed for will enjoy it more? Cast your minds back to any innovative, amazing adverts you’ve seen. For me, I’ll always remember the old Malibu TV adverts, set in the Caribbean. Seriously easy going. Those ones. Imagine how much fun they must have been to make. I just want to know how Malibu lost their way, resigning themselves to promoting a club night in Wandsworth continuously through Spotify. I hear that ad at least five times a day, and if anything, it’s really put me off the brand. They’re just plain irritating, and the frequency with which they’re played is just frustrating. If you’ve heard it once, and don’t profess an interest in the club night being advertised, then what sense does it make to assume that bombarding that same person with hundreds more advertisements is going to change their mind? It’s irritating, and just goes to show what can happen when you don’t listen to people.

For my final, and most contentious point, you’ve probably picked up that I’ve intentionally been using the word ‘people’ instead of ‘consumer’ or ‘customer’. Sure, they’re called customers because ideally, at the end of the day, a transaction of some kind takes place between them and an ‘organisation’, or, as I shall now refer to it, people collective. That makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is treating these people just as customers, or consumers. Defining them only by their function as people who buy things. Once we accept this, we start to forget about little Jimmy, or Tina, or Alfonso, or whoever, and start only recognising these people through what they buy and can buy from us. We assume that they are only a consumer; a leech, and that their only purpose is to buy, buy and buy. Being suitably duped, we then start only catering for the weapon of mass consumption (to use a term coined by Lily Allen) we see this person, or these people as being.

What I’m trying to say, despite taking so long to get here, is that people are people, and should be treated as such. Nothing more, and nothing less. It sounds so simple, and it’s so painfully obvious, staring back at it, but it seems so foreign amongst some of the marketing theories that have been thrown my way recently. It’s like I almost forgot who I was, for a bit.

I hope this has been an interesting read for you. It’s certainly been enlightening to write.

A terrible month for blogging

I never did write that story.

I returned this morning from a brief trip to Swindon, to see a good friend of mine who I studied English with last year. The trip itself was lovely. Swindon seems very quaint, from what I saw of it. It was lovely and wintery, as is the general case with things around this time of year. We passed the time mostly by drinking coffee, talking, watching magic DVDs and brainstorming business ideas, and magical concepts. We also made the most amazing vegan sushi. My friend doesn’t have a TV, or the internet, which was refreshing in a lovely way. I love my internet breaks, and being disconnected from everything, every once in a while. Indeed, we talked and bonded much more than we would have done if he did have either of those aforementioned bits. My friend himself has moved on, and grown up in a big way. He’s now living in his own flat, and working towards a PGCE in secondary teaching. I’m proud of him. He’s contributing back to the society that helped him become the person he is today. I don’t deny that I’m envious.

While I was there, I couldn’t help but ask about his job every couple of minutes. What was it like? Were the children nice? Did he think he would teach for the rest of his life? I suppose this curiosity was borne from the fact that I’m very unsure of where I’m going with my life at the moment. A few months ago, if you asked me where I was going, I could tell you exactly what I wanted to do with my life, and where I want to go. However, the closer I got to this goal (not really that much closer at all), I realised very quickly that I didn’t have a clue about what I was getting myself into. It’s funny, almost. A year ago, people commended me for having such a sense of direction. These people are now much further along the line than I am. For the first time in a long time, I am not happy with my life, and this is no one’s fault but my own. I am in a very fragile mental state.

I’ve gotten where I am today mostly through a series of hurried decisions, which I haven’t really pondered on. Perhaps I’m paying the price for it, now. I don’t know. I don’t really know anything at the moment. I think this is illustrated by the fact that my blogs have become horribly self-indulgent as of late. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been updating as much. Whatever the case, I apologise.

I’d like to end this with a positive spin, because I’m that kind of a person. I think. So, what can we learn from this? Swindon is good, and Swindon with good friends is excellent. I think this has already been established. What moral can we derive from this, however? I think it’s important to recognise the importance of work, no matter how rudimentary. I feel like a Chekhov character. It’s great to have some kind of purpose, and to know where you’re going with things, and to actually be contributing to something, whether a child’s education, or something different entirely. I think that while employment is important, it’s also important to remember how we, as friends, can affect one another. It’s very hard to lose track of things when you feel alone, which is something I believe I’m guilty of. Perhaps it’s that we all have a purpose, bestowed upon us all by those we love, and those we care for. A reciprocal purpose of dependence. Yes, I think that’s it, and I say that with a smile.


For the longest time, I’ve been trying to find some indisputable proof that things happen for a reason, and that there’s some purpose in everything we do. Maybe I just can’t comprehend, or want to justify the fact that in the past, I have known to be a lazy sod. I really used to believe in fate, though, and I still wish I did. Perhaps I still do, but am deluding myself, or perhaps I’m deluding myself that I’m deluding myself about fate. This is confusing. The way brains work scare me, in a way, especially my own brain. Suffice to say, I’m quite a Romantic; at least, I think I am, or I once was. Eh. I think I may need to reassess my life, a bit.

Today has been a strange day. I went to a lecture on ‘digital marketing’, which happened to be, in reality, a lecture on how Google AdWords can be used as a tool for market research. It was interesting nonetheless. After this, I returned home, and found another rejection e-mail waiting for me in my inbox, from another advertising agency. I think this is where the ‘fate’ thing comes in. I really think I’m trying to avoid the truth that really, I am a rather unemployable person. This exact same thing happened to me last year, with numerous rejections from numerous employers. I approached my applications with new vigour and insight this year, however. My applications last year were rather bland and generic, in a, “Give me a job, I have a degree from a good university, and have some extra-curricular experience,” kind of way. This year, then, I decided to give them the ‘real me’. I’m not sure how many of you have met the ‘real’ me, but he seems to manifest himself best in my writing, I believe. In fact, this actually may not be the ‘real’ me at all, but a persona I have manufactured of how I’d like to be perceived. Whatever the case, it seems that me, including the ‘real’ me, and what may or may not be the ‘real me’ isn’t all that employable either. Grumble.

After this, I received another e-mail informing me that my first ‘proper’ assignment, the one mentioned in my last blog post, had been marked and was ready for collection. I then went to pick it up, after toying with my option of picking it up today, or tomorrow, after my lecture. Being impatient, I chose to pick it up today. Now, I wish not for this blog to turn into a personal diatribe of my every move and thought, in fear of putting off what few readers I already have. Suffice to say, I barely passed. I met many of my peers outside the admin office as well, who were in a very similar position. I am taking this up with the management.

On my way back home, feeling slightly deflated, I ran into my old seminar tutor, for my ‘Writing the Novel’ course last year. You know, the one who really turned me into a writer. The one who told me my writing isn’t unfit for human consumption. Great guy. He seemed well. Again, the thought dawned on me that, very uncharacteristically of myself, I picked my current degree based on what seemed logical, and not what I’m passionate about. I made this man write my reference for my current degree. Before he did, he told me that he believes the world of business would push me even further towards my writing, as a form of escape. I think he was right.

It’s funny how things line up like they do. Maybe there is, and maybe there isn’t some sort of fate that controls everything in the universe. Then again, if these notions of fate drive us to do good things, and make us strive to better ourselves, is there any point debating its existence?

I don’t know, but I’m off to work on a story.