What we can all learn from the Best Picture snafu at the Oscars.

What we can all learn from the Best Picture snafu at the Oscars.

When I woke up Monday morning my iPhone was practically on fire. It was glowing and crackling with texts, tweets and push notes. The world was dying to tell me about the disaster at the Oscars. The wrong movie had been announced as Best Picture. OMG!  Hollywood had been embarrassed on national TV! Those poor, wealthy celebrities…

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I couldn’t wait to see the clip. (You can see the whole thing by clicking here. You’re welcome.)

It did not disappoint. The seven minutes of crazy was even better than I could have imagined. It was a train wreck. I squirmed through Warren Beatty’s confusion. I cringed through Faye Dunaway’s quick scan of the card. I felt terrible for La La Land’s la-cast and la-crew celebrating, and thanking, and feeling honored, before having their pants pulled down on stage in front of the world.

I felt even worse for the Moonlighters, who couldn’t really celebrate. After all, they just lost. Now, they didn’t know if they were coming on stage just to have their pants pulled down, before being forced to hand their hand-me-down awards to Manchester By The Sea. I watched it all several times. I will remember those seven minutes of award show infamy longer than I will remember the movies.  

What we can learn.

However, it is important that we take away more from this than the uncomfortable entertainment. Following the debacle I heard many people exclaim, “Someone should get fired over that mistake!”  Let’s think bigger.

We now know that the presenter, Warren Beatty, was handed the wrong envelope by a Price Waterhouse Cooper accountant. PWC has done this for 83 years. Which means a new gremlin was introduced that exposed a flaw in their process. As the founder of the ad agency The Weaponry, I see Envelopegate as a welcomed reminder that we should all use our mistakes to help improve our processes. Not to punish the mistakers.

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In the book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (yes, I really read a book about checklists) Atul Gawande, a renowned surgeon, champions checklists as a way to ensure processes are implemented that help save lives in hospitals. He also cites checklists for having done more to prevent airplane crashes than any other innovation. If a checklist helps save lives in hospitals and on aircraft, certainly a checklist could be used to help save some unfortunate moments at The Weaponry and in Hollywood. And probably when you leave a restroom.

Simple Solution

A simple checklist used by the PWC accountants backstage, and the award presenters, would have prevented the mistake.

  1. Ask presenter what award they are announcing.
  2. Check run of show list to make sure the award they are scheduled to present matches answer.
  3. Read the award category written on announcement envelope aloud to make sure it matches before handing it to the presenter.
  4. Make presenter read the category on the announcement envelope aloud to make sure it matches before allowing them on stage.

Boom. Done. Bonnie and Clyde get away.

A Story

Once upon a time I was shooting a TV commercial in Indianapolis for Donatos pizza. When we arrived at the production company’s office for the wardrobe fitting, I was shocked to see the wrong actress there, trying on clothes. After a quick and panicked huddle we understood what had happened. It seemed that once the client signed off on our talent choices for the commercials, a message was relayed to the production house that we would be using all of our first choice talent. So the production company called, and hired, all the first choice talent. However, the first choices were not the same on both the agency’s list and the production company’s list. Yikes!

That afternoon, the production company made magic. They tracked down the actress who should have played the lead, and got her on a flight that night from Iowa City (which is where you go when you don’t think you got the lead in a pizza commercial) to Indianapolis. The next day we shot the commercial and it turned out great. More importantly, we improved our process. After that, my teams have always confirmed the talent choices by name, not first choice or backup.

What you can do now.

Today, I encourage you to watch the clip from the show again. Because it reminds us that mistakes happen. Mistakes are great at indicating flaws in our systems and processes. If we respond correctly, we come out stronger, with a better way of doing things and a lower chance of that same mistake happening again.

Through better processes we can save more lives, we can avoid plane crashes and we can prevent a lot of embarrassment. Getting angry doesn’t prevent a mistake from happening again. Getting better does. There is no need to fire anyone. I think we can all agree that the person responsible for the Best Picture goof will never, ever make that mistake again. Just as Steve Bartman will never again interfere with a fly ball.

If you have a process improvement story spurred by a mistake please share it in the comment section. You may help others avoid the same mistake. Or maybe you’ll just make us laugh. I’ll take either.

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So I MC’d a luncheon: The follow up.

So I MC’d a luncheon: The follow up.

Recently I posted about being asked to MC a fundraising luncheon. Based on the popularity of the post I expect there are people who read the post who wondered how it went. I also expect some people liked the post without even reading it. I’ll take what I can get.

To quickly recap, my friend Stacy Sollenberger asked me a HUGE favor, which was to serve as the MC for Emerge Scholarships’ annual fundraising luncheon and celebration in Atlanta. Emerge Scholarships, as the name would indicate, offers scholarships to badass women who have had their educations interrupted by all sorts of challenges that life has thrown their way.

I am thrilled to say the event was a great success.  I didn’t trip or fall off the stage (although I was prepared with a line in case that happened).  There was very little booing.  However, there were some boo-like sounds when I dropped this line in my welcoming remarks:

‘This will be a great event if you are out of here by 1pm. I will make that happen. Because everyone knows that in Atlanta, we don’t like it when our events go into overtime.’

Stacy told me I would meet some amazing people at the event. And I did. The co-chair and Keynote Speaker,  Jill Ratliff of Empowerhouse Leadership Consultancy is a total powerhouse who rocks lavender streaks in her hair. The woman in charge of pulling the event together, Latasha Smith-Emeri, from Coca-Cola, was so badass and bulletproof in her planning and organizing of the event that I would raise my hand to work with her, anywhere, anytime. Stacy, who is a total professional and an amazing friend to everyone, was special to see in action. She was thoughtful and kind to everyone involved (she also treated me to a Frito Burrito afterwards, so bonus points for SS). Amy Critzer of Meeting Expectations met every expectations in taking care of all the random things that needed to be done to pull off the event.

But best of all, we did what we set out to do. Which is raise money to help provide more scholarships. We set a goal of raising $30,000.  As the final bell rang at 1pm we had raised $33,300. Donations have continued to come in. The current total is over $35,000.  You can see the latest total here.

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Me talking to special donor, Dr. Kym Harris about why she contributes to Emerge Scholarships.
It was extremely rewarding to help these strong, determined and inspiring women and such a great cause. I was proud to see so many of my friends at the event, getting involved and contributing. I encourage you to get involved in something bigger than yourself. Something that pays you back internally. And maybe in the next life. Thanks again to Emerge Scholarships for asking me to play. Now let’s cut this off before it goes into overtime.

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A few of my great friends who attended the luncheon: Betty, Anne, Stacy, Melinda, Jill, Amy and Christy.

The one thing you need to know to effectively work a room.

The one thing you need to know to effectively work a room.

We’ve all been told not to talk to strangers. But I love strangers. The stranger the better. This may be because I have moved a lot. Which means I’ve often found myself amongst people I don’t know. But most people are less comfortable with total strangers than I am. This is probably a good human survival mechanism. A mechanism I lack.

As the Founder of The Weaponry, I know that the ability to talk to strangers is critical for entrepreneurs. If you don’t talk to strangers you are not growing your business. Or helping  anyone else grow theirs. When I meet a potential new client, it is our ability to connect as humans first that leads to us working together.

I believe in building on my strengths. So recently I listened to the audio book How To Work A Room by Susan RoAne.  I figured I would find a valuable new nugget or two.  And I did.

The most important thing I learned from the book is this:

When people find themselves with other people they don’t know, they adopt one of two behaviors:  1. A guest mindset. or 2. A host mindset.

The guest mindset adopts the attitude of the outsider, of the person who waits for others to make the first move. They wait to be introduced, or welcomed or fed. They wait to join or participate until they receive an invitation. If you have a party full of guest-mindsets, you don’t have a party.

The host mindset means you initiate. You welcome others, introduce them, offer them food or drink or a crack at catching the greased pig (depending on what kind of event you typically attend).  You activate the party. If you want to feel at home and enjoy any group of strangers, take on a host mindset.

This is what I do. I just didn’t have a name for it. I don’t wait for someone else to decide whether or not I am worthy to talk to (I probably am not).  I make the first move. I create the introduction. I act as if it were my job to make people feel welcomed.

I’ve found that when you don’t worry about rejection you don’t get rejected. Think of it like a Junior High dance. You just have to walk up to someone and say, ‘Stairway to Heaven is a sweet tune. Let’s dance. And let’s not worry about the fact that this song will gradually speed up, and we’re going to go from a slow dance into a full-on rock song, and we won’t know when we should stop holding on to each other.’ Remember the Stairway analogy. Because holding on to one person too long at a social gathering also becomes awkward.

If you want to enjoy a room full of strangers more, lose the Stranger Danger, and act like it’s your party, your wedding, your conference or luncheon.  Start by introducing yourself to others. Ask people about themselves. So, where are you from? What do you do for work? Where did you go to school?  How do you know the homeowner?  Why are your palms so sweaty?  Why the neck tatttoo?

There are people at every gathering who are just dying for someone else to make the first move. They don’t know they should be doing it. Because they never read this blog. Or How To Work A Room. Or danced with me in Junior High. Help them out. Be a host. They may be extremely interesting or valuable to you. They’re just not comfortable initiating. So you have to be. And you’ll enjoy the rewards.  You never know when that total stranger may have the kindness, connection or kidney you need.

How do you respond when someone asks for a HUGE favor?

How do you respond when someone asks for a HUGE favor?

I recently received a cryptic text from my good friend Stacy Sollenberger in Atlanta. It simply said, ‘Do you have a few minutes to talk? I have a HUGE favor to ask you.’ My curiosity was piqued. What could Stacy’s huge favor possibly be? Does she need me to take in one of her brainiac kids for a summer to teach them what a non-brainiac parent is like? Does she need a kidney? Does she need bail money? (I figured it was bail money). Either way, huge favors are interesting. Because having to ask someone for a huge favor is an inherently awkward situation.

Which begs the question, how do you respond when someone asks you for a huge favor? Do you lean in and want to help any way you can? Do you open up your excuse case (the buck-passing cousin to the suitcase) and pull out a good excuse because you are not into offering favors? Do you worry that the favor, and therefore your personal sacrifice will be too great? Or does it all depend on who is asking?

Now, back to the story.

Stacy called the next morning and revealed the favor…

Stacy co-chairs a remarkable organization called Emerge Scholarships. They offer academic scholarships to women whose educations have been interrupted, who are doing everything they can to better their lives, despite facing and overcoming some ridiculous obstacles. The kicker: to earn the scholarship you also have to be giving back to your community.

Stacy asked me if I would be willing to MC Emerge Scholarship’s annual celebration luncheon. What The What? This was no HUGE favor. This was a HUGE opportunity for me to help a great organization in its efforts to help others. Not to mention it’s an opportunity to dust off my powder blue bell-bottomed tuxedo.

She said, “We want the event to be fun, and uplifting and a good time for everyone.”  Which was perfect, because I triple majored in those areas in college.  I was all in on this favor. So we began planning.

The more I heard about the women Emerge Scholarships helps the prouder I was to be involved. I heard story after story of inspiring  women who had faced things that would cause others to throw in the proverbial towel on their dreams. Disease, divorce, abuse, poverty, etc. Yet these women were determined to complete their education in order to become the person they had always envisioned, and provide a better future for their families. On top of that, the eligible women were all helping others, despite facing real struggles themselves. This is a special sub-set of human.

The vetting process is so thorough, and the candidates so worthy, that this doesn’t even feel like a charitable organization. It feels like an insider-trading deal.  They type of thing Martha Stewart would want in on.  Betting on these women is a sure thing. They are absolutely determined to make the most of the opportunities they have been given. If you are looking for an idea for an inspirational book or movie, talk to one of these women. And my agent. #FindersFee

Emerge Scholarships is the story of strong women who have had great success in life helping other strong women who know that their success is waiting for them, just on the other side of their college degrees.

So I have a HUGE favor to ask of you.

Find a cause you believe in and dedicate a portion of your time every month to helping others who need it. If you are looking for a great cause, and you are in the Atlanta area, and you are a human between the ages of 2 and 122, check out emergeluncheon.swellgives.com. Consider attending the event on Thursday, February 16th. It’s at the Cherokee Country Club in Buckhead (if they will let me in the place, anyone can get it). If you can’t attend, it would he helpful to donate a couple of dollars or offer a quick share of the event on The Twitter or The Facebook.

We should all remember that the more we give, the more we shall receive. And it is immensely enjoyable to give. Especially to those who deserve it, appreciate it, and do their part to amplify the contributions of others.

Thanks for the opportunity, Stacy.  Oh, and I’m not really wearing a blue tuxedo.  An event like this deserves the orange one.

The most inspiring statistic in Super Bowl history.

The most inspiring statistic in Super Bowl history.

Wow! Originally I thought I would post something today about the Super Bowl LI commercials. But I barely remember them. The fragments I do recall are only because I’m trying really, really hard to come up with something. As if I’m being interrogated during a crime investigation.  Um… there was the Skittles spot. Um… then Alfa Romeo showed up for some reason. Justin Timberlake referred to an old NSYNC song. And Terry Bradshaw was a mess. I’m sorry. I’ll go back and watch them later to see what I should have remembered.

Last night was all about the game. It was hyper-relevant to me and my social circles because I grew up in New England as a huge Patriots fan. But I recently lived, and still own a home, in Atlanta. I have great love for my Atlantans and the way they embraced the Y’Albrechts.  I didn’t want either fan base to lose.

But I wanted the Patriots to win.

I won’t recap the entire game. FOX, ESPN and the NFL Network can do that ad nauseam.  I’ll simply share a couple of inflection points.

At the opening kickoff the game was close. Really close.

Then, when the Patriots went down by two touchdowns, the announcers were quick to point out that no team in Super Bowl history had ever come back from a 14 point deficit.

Gulp.

That concerned me, statistically. But come on, my team is the Pats! You know, Tom Brady, Malcolm Butler, Bill Belichick. We can make up 14 points wicked fast. It was early in the game. I’ve seen this movie before.

But suddenly it was 21 nothing. Even the eternal optimist in me was discouraged going into halftime down 21-3.

It didn’t get any better in the 3rd quarter. In fact, the Patriots were down by 25 points with just over 2 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter.  That was 2.5 times the largest lead any team had ever overcome in the Super Bowl! This was not good.

I felt like 12-year-old Adam, watching my team get steamrolled by the 1985 Bears. I was having painful Steve Grogan, Tony Eason flashbacks. Even Billy Buckner made an appearance.

There, in the lopsided 3rd quarter, an amazing Super Bowl statistic was born. Maybe the most shocking statistic in the history of sports. It has the potential to change your life if you let it. According to ESPN:

Atlanta had greater than a 99.5% win probability when leading 28-3 in the 3rd quarter.

Or, said another way (which may be statistically illegal):

New England had less than a 0.5% win probability when trailing 28-3 in the 3rd quarter. 

Yet we know what happened.

I am not viewing the comeback as a Falcons fan. I don’t see a letdown. Or a choke. Or an improbable loss.

I view the comeback as a Patriots fan. It was unbelievable in the truest sense of this overused word. And as the statistic shows, it was all but impossible.

But I also look at this crazy statistic outside of football. As a human. As a father. As a family member. As the owner of The Weaponry. As a friend of people battling with terrible hardships and nasty diseases and demons and addictions. What happened last night is a reason for the hopeless to hope. To believe the unbelievable. I have never purchased a copy of a championship game. But this game belongs in my library of reminders and inspirations. It may belong in yours too.

Winning in business is hard. It requires you to never give up, never give out and never give in. Let this game and this statistic serve as an inspiration when you are pitching new business, cold-calling, interviewing and recruiting. Let this game remind you to push harder when you are behind in revenue. And when you are ahead of projections. When you are losing market share and when creditors are calling. There is always something you can do to turn things around.

To my Falcons-fan friends, I know it hurts to sit on the other side of this inspirational teeter totter (seesaw). But the Falcons are on the rise. Great things will come your way too. Take it from me, going through a game like this, or getting demolished by the 1985 Bears, makes the eventual Super Bowl win even sweeter.

What Groundhog Day teaches us about making things up.

What Groundhog Day teaches us about making things up.

There are two types of holidays: meaningful and made up. The meaningful days include The 4th of July, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving and religious holidays. Made up holidays include Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day and February 29th. It seems February needed a little spicing up. Since today is Groundhog Day, let’s take a moment to reflect on its significance.

Hmmm. Like a groundhog on a cloudy day, I see nothing when I reflect. Because there is nothing to reflect on. There is no meteorological reason to focus on groundhogs. Forget the meteors, there are no logical reasons to focus on groundhogs.  Yet we do.

I’m not writing to pooh-pooh Groundhog Day.  Quite the opposite. I think it stands as an amazing symbol of creativity, and possibility, and making something out of nothing. If a nation of over 300 million people can recognize this fabricated rodent day, you can bring your vision to life too.

MLK Jr. Day, Small Business Saturday and Earth Day are all holidays that were born during my lifetime-ish.  These are all great ideas, made real by someone’s vision, imagination and effort. I’m not saying you need to make up a new holiday, but you could.

The important thing to recognize is that if you want something to exist that currently does not, you can make it happen. If you have an idea that is useful or fun or important I strongly encourage you to write it down, sketch it out and give it as much detail as you can. Then work hard to bring it to life. It could be a product, business, charity, service or event. Heck, it could be a home, a support group, a marketing campaign or a better groundhog trap.  All ideas come to life through the same simple process.

This time last year my advertising agency, The Weaponry, only existed in my head. A year later it is as real as it gets. Like IRS-real. In fact, we have already worked with 11 clients in 6 states and 2 countries.  If I can do this, you can do it.

So what is your Groundhog Day? I know you have something in your head that you wish was real. From now on, when you hear or read Groundhog Day I want this invented holiday to make you think of the things you want to create. Let it inspire your ideas that could have a bigger impact on life than a rodent in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania or Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. You can do it. I believe it beyond a seeing-your-own-shadow of a doubt.