Why I encourage people to fight in the office.

Designing an office space that fits your company culture is like creating a clubhouse. When we signed the lease on our new office space a year ago I couldn’t wait to give it a serious makeover.* The drab office we leased was move-in ready for a lobotomy clinic. That wasn’t quite the vibe we were going for at The Weaponry, the advertising and idea agency I launched the year before. So as soon as we got the keys to the office we began transforming the space to match our personality.

A Sign Of Things To Come.

One of my favorite features of our office is the large sign that now greets you when you first come in the door. The bright red and white, 5-foot by 5-foot sign invites you to, in no uncertain terms, Fight With Your Brain.

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Business Is War

I love this statement. because at The Weaponry, we believe that business is war. To win the war of business you need to outthink the competition. You win with strategic thinking and creativity. You win by summoning your intelligence and accumulated knowledge. In fact, your brain is your most powerful weapon in any battle, whether you are talking about business, board games or back alleys.

The Double Entendre

As much as I love the obvious meaning of this statement, I love the second meaning even more. The next level message encourages you to fight against your brain. It is a call to resist your brain’s tendencies. It is a reminder to fight your brain whenever it attempts to follow a well-worn path. To default to habit. To think too small. To simply follow others. Or to delete the last sentence in a paragraph (phew, that was close).

Fight With Your Brain is a warning to resist the feeling that you think you already know the answer. It is a call to fight against assumptions. Fight the belief that there is only one right way to approach a problem.

We want you to fight with your brain when it wants to reject a new process, procedure or plan. Fight with your brain when it wants the old version of an app back (I know you know what I mean).

You must also fight against negative thinking. You need to fight self-doubt. Fight unwarranted feelings of insecurity. Fight against giving up. And fight your bad habits. In fact, you should fight against anything that limits your thinking. Except maybe city hall. Because come on, it’s city hall!

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We have also created Fight With Your Brain pins. If you want one leave me a message in the comments section. 

Key Takeaway

By fighting, while using your brain, you develop better strategies and ideas. By fighting, against your brain, you keep your thinking flexible and adaptable. You keep your emperor organ positive and prepared. It is the best way to keep new and valuable ideas flowing. Which is what makes the brain the most innovative research and development lab on Earth. So keep it cranking. Because when you fight with your brain you will be amazed at all the good you can produce.


*In 2017 I chronicled The Weaponry’s search for an office in a 3-part mini series that shares what the process of finding, negotiating and leasing office space is like for startups. My agent believes he can get the trilogy made into a movie series and have it distributed at every Blockbuster Video store in the country! Until then, you can find the story of our journey at these links:

  1. Looking for office space: A startup story.
  2. Looking For Office Space Part 2: The Messy Middle.
  3. Looking for Office Space Part 3: We Have An Office!
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How eulogies can help you live a better life.

Yesterday I watched the touching tributes to President George H.W. Bush during his  presidential funeral at the National Cathedral in Washington DC. The highlight was George W. Bush’s eulogy, honoring his father, our 41st president, not as the Commander-In-Chief, but as a caring family man.

W’s thoughtful and tearful tribute brought back powerful memories of my grandfathers’ funerals. My Grampy Sprau, a Navy veteran, died in 2009 when he was 92. Three years earlier, in 2006, I lost my Grandpa Albrecht when he was 89. Both men left great human legacies. By that, I mean they left behind a lot of great humans as their legacies. In total, the two men had 21 children. Which means that they dutifully obeyed God’s command to go forth, be fruitful, and multiply.

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My Grandpa Alton Albrecht, Grandma Judith, and their kids from left to right, Robert (my Dad), Paul, Pat, Linda, Jerry, John, Tim, Mary, Tom and Chuck.

The Honor of Honoring

Yet somehow, despite all those children, and nearly 50 grandchildren, when my Grandfathers each died I was given the honor of delivering their eulogy. In full disclosure, no one else wanted the job. It is very difficult to talk at a funeral. So I volunteered for the job. I was told that the only reservations my family had about me speaking was that once I had a microphone and a captive audience I might not stop.

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This is how I imagined my Grampy Sprau laughing at his own funeral. 

The Great Lesson

delivering a eulogy is an incredible honor and responsibility. But writing my first tribute for my Grandpa Albrecht also taught me one of the most important lessons of my life. Because writing a eulogy forces you to look at an entire life from the very end. It is how you complete the story of an adventure on Earth. And as I looked at Grandpa Albrecht’s entire life, from the very end, it forced me to think about my entire life from the closing curtain.

The Eulogy View

This view-point, makes you think about your life as if it were a book, movie or play. It makes you think about the plot, the characters, the obstacles and setbacks. It makes you think about the achievements, the risks, the rewards and the adventures. It makes you think about your contributions and your relationships. Your responsibilities and your regrets. It makes you think about wasting time and making time and taking time and the scarcity of time.

As I wrote my Grandfather’s eulogy, I realized that sooner than I would like, I too will be done with my own story. And if I wanted to make a difference and create a great tale for someone else to tell, I had to do it now. I had to get busy doing the things I would regret not doing. I had to choose my own adventure. I had to live a story worth sharing.

Valuing Our Time

I began seeing more value in each day. I started taking more pictures and documenting my own journey. I began contacting friends and family more. I took on bigger challenges and big changes in my career.  Within 6 months I moved to a new state. I advanced two positions along my career path, and nearly doubled my salary.

I planned more vacation time with my family, instead of letting vacation days vanish at the end of the year. Because I had learned that those vacation days represented the pages  of my story.

Write Your Rough Draft

Following my Grandfather’s funeral I began writing down more plans and goals. In fact, I spent the last hour of my 39th year writing about all that I wanted to do in the decade ahead. I knew I would have major regrets if I never tried to start my own advertising agency. Because when I looked at my life from the end, that was part of my story.

Two years later I launched my own agency. I called it The Weaponry.  At the same time I  started sharing the things I have learned along my journey in this blog. I try to share my insights and observations whenever I think they may add value to others. But lately I have noticed that I am offering the same piece of advice to others over and over. That advice: Look at your story from the end. Because from the end we can clearly see what we could have done, and what we should have done.

Key Takeaway

By using the end-perspective in your early decisions, you can actually steer the course of your life to align with your personal legend (#TheAlchemist).  That’s exactly what I am trying to do. It’s what I encourage you to do. In the end, the very end, this lesson was the greatest gift my Grandfather every gave me. And I wanted you to have it too.

What would you look like as a Venn diagram?

Last Saturday I received a very interesting text message. It was from a former client of mine who was the CEO of a popular American brand. The text said that she wanted to talk about potentially working together on a new marketing campaign. She wanted to know if I could talk the next day. Which, for those of you familiar with calendars, was Sunday.

I have always really liked this woman. She is smart, savvy and aggressive. But what made her text particularly interesting was that I hadn’t seen or spoken to her in 5 years. That’s right. 5 years. So I was quite surprised to hear from her. Pleasantly surprised, yet surprised nonetheless.

Sunday afternoon we jumped on a call (actually there was no real jumping). She told me that about the exciting things unfolding at a new company that she is now leading. She said:

The work we need to do requires someone who is passionate, strategic and highly creative. And the first person I thought of that fits that description is you.  -Former Client

That may have been baloney. I may have been the 5th person she thought of. Or the 50th. Or 500th. But the thing that struck me was the Venn diagram she referenced.

Venn Diagram

Venn diagrams are like filters, sorters or separators. They are like visual algorithms. They help identify people places and things that have a specified combination of required attributes. And based on her evaluation, I fit into the small space at the intersection of strategic, creative and passionate.

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A favorite Venn diagram…

Flattered

I was flattered, honored and appreciative of her comments. And when I quieted my own humility, I had to agree with her evaluation. I have worked very hard at developing both my strategic and creative skills for decades. They are areas of relative strength. And I am a naturally passionate human. However I don’t take any credit for that. Because baby, I was born this way.

Personal Brands

Our personal brands are nothing more than Venn Diagrams. We are sorted and remembered for our distinct combination of traits and abilities. It is how we quickly summarize and categorize each other.

Following that phone call I thought a lot about my own VD (um… maybe we should stick with Venn diagram). I wondered about what venn diagrams I had created in the other people’s’ minds. I wondered about the good, the bad and the ugly. I thought about my strengths and weaknesses. I thought and the various impressions I have made along the way. I thought that I should ask for feedback from other people to better understand my venn diagram.

Key Takeaway

Do you have a strong brand image? What unique combination of assets or liabilities describes you? Do you get sorted into the groups you want to be in?  Do people think of you at all?  If not, it is time to develop your own Venn diagram. Work on sharpening your strengths. Put them to great use. Add value. And let me know the next time you find yourself in a satisfying venn diagram. We could all use a little more of that in our lives.

A simple, effective approach to conflict resolution.

Do you like arguing? I don’t. I think it is the lowest form of communication. Because it is not really communication at all. Arguing is like being in a boxing match. Because in an argument you hurl your point of view at another person, then defend yourself from their response. If your aim is to win an argument you’re fighting a losing battle. 

Understanding

What we should be doing is discussing to understand. We should demonstrate that we are listening and hear each other. It is the best way to make friends, build stronger relationships, earn trust, and become more likable. 

Conflict Resolution Technique

My wife, Dawn and I learned about a great conflict resolution technique early in our marriage. We were watching an Oprah special on relationships, and a guest on the show introduced a technique to help couples come to a mutual understanding. Dawn and I intuitively understood why this was such a smart technique. We began using this when we needed to resolve an issue. I expect this technique is pretty standard in couples counseling. But we haven’t been to counseling. We just watch Oprah together.

The 4 Steps

Try these simple steps the next time you find yourself in an argument, disagreement, dispute or any other word the thesaurus says you can substitute for conflict.  

  1.  The 1st person speaks, uninterrupted, until they have said everything they have to say.
  2. The 2nd person plays back what they heard, to show that they listened and understand the 1st person’s position.
  3. The 2nd person then speaks, uninterrupted, until they have said everything they have to say.
  4. The 1st person plays back what they heard, to show that they listened and understand the 2nd person’s position.

Being Heard

Through this process, everyone gets to say all they want to say. Even better, everyone has their feelings and perspectives acknowledged. At the end of the day, this is all we really want. Once we know that we have said what we want to say, and have been both heard and understood, we can stop arguing our point.

Professional Application

I use this approach in my personal relationships. But I also use this technique in my professional relationship with clients, coworkers and vendors. It is the best way I know to resolve a dispute or misunderstanding. It shows that you care. It improves customer service. And it can save you significant money in lost revenue, lawyers fees and alcohol therapy.

Key Takeaway

No one wins arguments. We win through understanding. Listening without interruption is one of the greatest gifts we can offer each other. Being heard and understood is more enjoyable than being fed grapes while being fanned. Try this simple technique the next time you find yourself in a conflict. You’ll see that everyone comes out ahead, when you stop arguing like a behind.

Why you should mind your own business.

In 2016 I left a comfortable job to start my own business. After working in the advertising industry for two decades I had a clear vision of what the perfect advertising agency was like. I used that vision as a blueprint to create a new agency called The Weaponry. At the same time, I began writing The Perfect Agency Project blog to share my experience and learnings along the way. And in case you didn’t notice, I just created a link to this blog, in this blog. Which may technically be the silliest thing I’ve done in 219 posts.

The Perfect Agency

I have thought about every aspect of the perfect advertising agency. From the dress code (which is only 9 words long), to the way we respond to client requests (always explore them), to the way we deliver invoices (singing telegram*), we are creating both the agency I would want to hire to create my advertising, and the place I want to work.

Competitors

But one thing I haven’t done since launching The Weaponry is think about our competitors. In fact, I don’t even know who our competitors are. We are not trying to win a geographical area. We are not trying to win a singular discipline, or serve a niche industry. So it’s hard to find another agency to throw in a cage match with us.

We are focused on building a machine for developing great creative ideas, delivering excellent customer service and providing a fun experience for everyone involved. That’s it. Oh, we’re also drinking a lot of chocolate milk. 

Occasionally in an RFP (Request For Proposal) we are asked who we compete against in various services. I always respond by saying we compete against everyone who offers those services.

But I don’t pay any attention to those supposed competitors. I don’t worry about what other agencies look like. Or what their websites say. I don’t go to awards shows to see their work. There is not a thing I can do about how they conduct their business. I am not trying to hurt them or steal their business. I am solely focused on us handling our business and delivering against our client requests.

In fact, there are only two agencies I think about at all.

  1. The Weaponry in its current state.
  2. The fully formed version of The Weaponry.

I am focused on closing the gap between the two, and making the business we work in today look more and more like the ideal.

Key Takeaway

Mind your own business. Don’t become distracted by what everyone else is doing. Understand what your customers and your employees want, and work diligently on delivering that at the highest level. It’s the shortest path to success.

This same principle hold true for us as individuals. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, or how they are doing it. Focus on what you believe in. You can never go wrong doing what you know is right.

(*Okay, so we haven’t fully implemented the singing telegram invoice delivery system yet. But let me know if you would like to be part of the beta test.) 

What happens when you start asking a total stranger all the right questions?

One of my favorite games to play is Connect The Dots. Not the game we played when we were kids, where you drew lines between numbered dots to form an image of a kitty or  Jack-In-A-Box. The version I like to play is with humans.

It’s pretty simple. When you meet someone new, you try to discover their dots and connect them to your own. This helps build a bridge or a common bond between two people. Note, I use the term ‘dots’ symbolically to represent someone’s key facts, personal history, experiences and friendships. I don’t usually draw lines connecting someones moles and freckles. Although I am not above it.

Madtown

Two weeks ago, after watching our local high school win a state championship at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin, my daughter Ava and I attended a UW Madison track and cross-country reunion hosted by The National W Club. There were over 200 alumni gathered on the eve of the NCAA Cross Country National Championships in Madison. I saw dozens of former teammates and friends. But I also met new people. And we played Connect The Dots.

A Young Couple Walks Into A Bar…

Ava and I were standing near the entrance to the bar, when a nice looking young couple walked in. I recognized the woman immediately as Taylor Amann, a recent UW graduate and an All-American pole vaulter from Arrowhead High School in Hartland, Wisconsin.

I had connected with Taylor in the spring, after I saw her LinkedIn profile and recognized that I may be able to assist her with some career connections based on her interest in fashion and retail.

We had exchanged a few emails, but had never met in person. So I approached her and introduced myself. Taylor was very nice, and acted as if she totally remembered our email exchange. She talked about her great new job as a buyer at the UW Bookstore. We talked about the interesting challenges of transitioning from college to the real world, and discovering our new identities after the end of our athletic careers.

Plot Twist!

Then I started talking to her boyfriend. And that’s where things got really interesting. His name was Clay. And since we had never emailed each other before, I started playing Connect The Dots.

I asked him where he was from. He said Ohio. This was a very good start. Because Ohio is dot-rich territory for me. I asked Clay where he went to college. I learned that he was a recent graduated from Ohio State, where he also played football.

I asked, ‘Where in Ohio did you grow up?  He said, ‘Dublin.’ Boom! I said, ‘We lived in Dublin for seven years.’ I asked, ‘Where did you go to high school?’ He said, ‘Coffman.’

At this point I knew we would have at least 2 connections. Because my friend Mike Ulring is the principal at Coffman High School. And I figured that Ava’s former babysitter, Rachel Weber, would have been in high school with Clay.

But I kept asking questions.

I asked, ‘Where did you go to Middle School.’ He said. ‘Karrer.’ That was the school our neighborhood went to, not far from where we lived in Dublin. So I told Clay that we lived across from Avery Park, in Hawks Nest subdivision. His eyes got wide and he said, ‘The stone that says Hawks Nest on it was in my yard!’ I asked, ‘Did you live on Jacana Drive.’ He said, ‘Yes!’  I said, ‘I have been on your roof!’

It turns out Clay Raterman and I lived 3 houses apart. And as soon as we connected the dots I knew exactly who he was. Not only did he remember me, he remembered Ava as a little girl who was always playing outside. We talked about our neighbors the Philbins, Sherbuns, McGoverns and Ashs. We recounted a legendary neighborhood story about Clay and his brother who ding-dong-ditched our next door neighbors, who found little humor in the prank. (The boys had painted a marshmallow to look like dog poop and left it in an unlit bag on the porch).

We also talked about the time when hurricane Ike hit Columbus and took part of the roof off of Clay’s family’s home. Mike Sherbun and I climbed on the roof to nail down a large corner section that had been blown off by the wind. We scrambled to cover the section with a tarp donated by my neighbor, Phil Turner, before nightfall came, and rain wreaked havoc on the exposed home.

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Ava, Adam, Clay and Taylor walked into a bar…

Two ships in the night.

Clay and I may have spent the evening within feet of each other and never talked. Or we could have said a pleasant hello and left it at that. We would have had no idea just how much we had in common, and how many people and places we both knew. We talked about Donatos Pizza and Jeni’s Ice Cream and other favorites Columbus originals.

There is something wonderful about discovering our common bonds. It makes us feel connected. It makes us feel like someone else knows us and understands us. Networking is nothing more than building your own safety net. When I play connect the dots, I am trying to make each of our nets a little bigger, and a little stronger.

Key Takeaway.

Get to know as many people as you can. Discover your common ground. We all have it. It’s just a matter of whether or not we find it. Turn strangers into friend. Make the world feel smaller and friendlier. You never know who you may be able to help along the way. Or who may be able to help you when you need it most. Like when a hurricane hits central Ohio, and dark is closing in. Or when you are a Buckeye, and you walk into a bar full of Badgers.

Your mistakes are your most important milestones.

I read as much as I can. I am always searching for knowledge, wisdom, inspiration, perspective and a good laugh. Because I am always searching, I often find what I am looking for.

DaVinci

This morning I was reading Walter Isaacson’s biography on Leonardo DaVinci. On page 59, Isaacson describes the flaws in DaVinci’s painting, The Annunciation. The painting depicts the moment when the angel Gabriel breaks the news to the Virgin Mary that she is going to become the mother of Christ. And Mary is all like ‘WTF!?!’

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‘Hey Mary! How’s it going? Um, God wanted me to tell you that he wants you to have his son. Oh, and you get to ride a Donkey!’

Flawed Genius

The painting isn’t perfect. Because Leo was trying out some interesting new moves. The magic of this painting is revealed when you look at it from the angle he wanted you to see it from. But I think the real magic comes from Isaacson’s commentary:

‘In the process, he made some mistakes. But even the mistakes, which came from innovating and experimenting, heralded his genius.’ – Walter Isaacson from Leonardo DaVinci

Way To Grow!

I love that. I like to think that my mistakes are evidence that I am trying. That I am pushing beyond what I know how to do well, into areas of growth, improvement and innovation. I am more afraid of not growing that I am of messing things up.

Key Takeaway

Don’t be afraid to try. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You, your skills, and your abilities are iterative. Don’t stop at You 1.0. Try more. Learn more. Innovate and experiment more. Push yourself as far as you can. Discover what You 100.0 is capable of. And if you do, someone may write a book about you too.