Ep 208: Phil Adams – Applying First Principles Thinking And Storytelling to Solve Brand Problems and Reimagine Democracies

Ep 208: Phil Adams – Applying First Principles Thinking And Storytelling to Solve Brand Problems and Reimagine Democracies

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The Impossible Network
Ep 208: Phil Adams - Applying First Principles Thinking And Storytelling to Solve Brand Problems and Reimagine Democracies


My guest this week is Phil Adams. Phil is an Edinburgh-based independent brand strategist, consultant, writer, and documentary filmmaker.

I briefly crossed paths with Phil in the mid-90s at the legendary Edinburgh ad agency, Leith.

Phil is not your average ad guy. The fusion of his engineering-first-principle problem-solving ability, high emotional intelligence, and an intuitive ability to simplify complex issues make him a masterful storyteller. This manifests in his day job by helping businesses get their story straight to ensure their brand does justice to their vision and culture, and outside of his day job through his documentary filmmaking, where he delivers powerful stories of radical democracy in action to inspire belief that we, as citizens, can achieve excellent outcomes on even the most complex political issues.

We cover a lot of ground in this episode, from his insights into strategy, creative ideas, the type of people to hire, and cultivating opportunity, to his perspective on AI, his views on democracy, how we reimagine capitalism, and the Shakespearean power of Freddie Mercury’s lyrics.

I doubt anyone listening to this episode will walk away without feeling uplifted and gaining a broader perspective on the world.

Now, over to Phil.

What We Discuss 

00:00 Intro

01:50 Who is Phil Adams?

05:45 Who or what made Phil who he is, and how his curiosity and love of books were nurtured?

08:30 The serendipitous event that changed his trajectory and broadened his horizons.

13:15 His values of adventure and opportunism, Phil explains the importance of taking opportunities when they emerge.  

15:45 Phil discusses having an act of faith and a strategy of life when dealing with uncertainty.

18:00 Phil discusses his youthful recklessness and rebellion. 

21:00 The serendipity that led him to pivot from a path of engineering to life in advertising and the actions taken to create opportunity.

25:45 Phil explains his pragmatic and focused approach to the direction he took.

27:00 I ask Phil about his superpowers or talents. 

30:15 The underrated talent of post-rationalizing a creative idea as a problem-solving solution to win pitches. 

33:55 Phil explains his perspective on how the best creative minds combine logic and magic to render a brand in surprising ways and the role of planners to identify the essence of an idea and then express the campaign value. 

38:20 What Phil values others professionally and why hiring people better than you is important. 

41:20 The importance of ‘trust’ with friends and when building teams.

42:30 What is he complimented for; his ability to understand a client’s business and culture and his clarity and ability to simplify.

47:30 Phil describes how his engineering first principle problem-solving ability led him to strategic planning. 

50:00 I ask Phil for his insights on being an entrepreneur

51:45  What is Phil working to achieve in life?

54:10  How he deals with uncertainty through faith, effort, and curiosity and his advice to others.

57:10  We discuss AI, its impact, and risks, and Phil cites Marshall McLuhan.

01:03:15  I ask Phil to explain why he writes love letters to lyrics.

01:06:00 Phil explains the power and Shakespearean quality of Freddie Mercurys We Are The Champions and links it to Greek Philosopher Hermogenes’ insights on writing

01:09:15  We discuss Jim Steinman. 

01:10:50  Phil talks about the origins of his documentary-making NGO All Hands On and its work to educate people about better paths to democracy and be more hands-on with political issues. 

01:16:00 Phil describes the films they have made from London to Athens to Milawi on citizen assemblies and the drive to more democratic governance.

01:28:50 I ask Phil to reflect on the role and power of the Ad industry to imagine and affect a more positive and impactful capitalist economy and system.

01:34:45  Phil describes platforms for more deliberative democracy. 

01:36:15 – Phil describes who has had the most impact on his journey and the value it delivered on his ability to understand neuroscience and the power of branding and advertising. 

01:39:40 Phil’s life lessons.

01:41:00 The principle of the asymmetry of favors.

01:45:00 We wrap up discussing who I interview next and the power of reframing our consumer story to a citizen story. 

Social Links 


Links in Show

Gordonstoun School Motto  ‘Plus est en Vous’ 

Ewan Paterson 



Marshall McLuhan 

Firestarters Neil Perkin 

A Longing Look

Hermogenes  On Types of Sttyle

Fraudcast News book

All Hands On 

Constituency Development Funds 

Rutger Bregman 

Audry Tang 

Robert Heath -The Hidden Power of Advertising: How Low Involvement Processing Influences the Way We Choose Brands

John Alexander Citizens

My Dinner with Andre 

Don’t Stop Here

More To Explore

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