Many people have told me they are sorry for my loss. But I’ve had nothing but gain. My Grammy, Lillian (Anderson) Sprau, was 100.5. She was a purebred Norwegian saint from Minnesota. She was the sweetest, kindest person I have ever met.
She was also fun and funny. She loved to travel. She loved a good party. And she loved her family. She was married for 67 years before my Grampy realized he couldn’t keep up with her at 92. She had 9 children, 23 grandchildren and 35 great-grandchildren (not including those of us regular grandchildren who were also great).
I used to call my Grammy regularly on my commute home from work. We would talk about all kinds of things; from weather to family happenings to politics to travel to world news to sports. I would always spend a part of the conversation talking about our family heritage. I knew that Grammy was my best source of family history, and that she wouldn’t be around forever.
On one of our calls, when Grammy was in her northern 90’s, I asked her, ‘What is the key to living so long?’ She paused a moment, then stated confidently,
‘I think you can’t take everything so seriously.’
That is some great Grammy advice.
The stress we feel when we take life so seriously wears down our machinery. As of 2017, humanic machinery still can’t be replaced. So often we take work, politics, sports, family, school and social interactions so seriously that it takes years off of our lives.
As you go about your day today, remember my Grammy’s words. Don’t take everything so seriously. Don’t stress yourself out. Don’t let others do it to you either. Have fun. Find the humor in life. Laugh more. And live more.
I started planning the Perfect Agency Project blog when I began planning to birth my own advertising agency. It was August of 2015. It was also really hot in Atlanta. So it was a nice time to sit indoors in the air-conditioning and think.
I had big dreams back then. I was going to start my own advertising agency. I was going to write a blog to share my challenges, wins and losses, surprises and learnings. But back then The Weaponry was just a vision. There were no clients. No employees. No office. No religion, too.
There was no reason to think The Perfect Agency would become a reality. Other than my vision. But in my head The Perfect Agency was very real. It would be an amazing company that would help its clients win the war of business. It would be a bottomless well of excellent creative ideas. Best of all, it would offer a fun and rewarding experience for everyone involved.
Now let’s do the dream sequence bit from Wayne’s World, and fast forward two years.
Fall of 2017 Updates
Today The Weaponry LLC is realer than Real Deal Holyfield. Don’t let theweaponry.com fool you. We have real clients. Real Processes. Real creative ideas. And a really real relationship with the IRS.
I have joined a CEO roundtable group through the chamber of commerce. I think it is hilarious that the table we meet at is actually rectangular. At our meeting this week we were asked to share one word that describes what’s going on in our world right now, and then spend 2-3 minutes describing why we chose that word.
My word: Maturing
Here are the latest ways The Weaponry has been maturing.
We are in the middle of our search for a new office space. I’m learning interesting nuances, terms, tricks and oddities of the commercial leasing world.
We are preparing to offer our first employee benefits. Health and Dental are the starters. We may also add Fortune Telling.
We have been in significant contract negotiations and budget discussions with several great clients. This provides longer term visibility and increases our ability to plan, hire and invest in the business.
We’ve hired lawyers. It’s a good problem to have. But I’m not sure there is anything that makes you feel as much like an adult as having to spend time with a lawyer. It’s the adult equivalent of going to the Principals office. Trust me.
We’re discussing establishing a line of credit with our banker. It will allow us to tap into capital when our cashflow is burdened by a lot of activity at once, and longer payment terms from our clients.
We are transitioning more of our significant freelance team to part-time employees. This is part of a development process that identifies and moves great talent from our outer rings to our core full-time team.
We are working with international clients and have to clarify on our invoices that all numbers are in US Dollars. That feels significant to me.
Thank you for being a friend #GoldenGirls
Thank you for following the journey. Or being part of the journey. Or being Steve Perry and singing all those great songs for Journey. But the best is yet to come. I can see it.
If you haven’t subscribed to this blog I would love it if you signed up now to get the posts emailed to you. All you have to do is click on the ‘subscribe’ button, and then enter your email.
I have finally finished reading Walt Disney. The Triumph of the American Imagination. It was not a small book after all. To the contrary, it was large, dense and fascinating. Author, Neal Gabler, is an enviable writer who pulls back the curtain to reveal Disney as a complex, chain-smoking, reluctant American icon.
What I learned.
I picked up this book because I wanted to understand the formula behind Disney’s magic. I wanted to know how he made all those great movies and cartoons. How he got us to put on those silly mouse-ear hats and think we looked cool. And how he got us to pay $100 a noggin to visit his Land or World.
As Founder of the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I am always looking for insights from other great creative businesses. So I’ve been studying organizations like Disney, Pixar, The Wright Brothers Workshop, Andy Warhol’s Factory and North Korea’s Vacation and Tourism Board.
I expected Walt Disney would be a book about creativity. Certainly there is a lot of creativity and imagineering in the book. Walt was a visionary who had a crystal clear picture in his head of everything he set out to create. But the reason everyone should read this book is to see how hard his journey really was.
For almost 500 pages of the biography you wonder when Walt Disney will finally catch a break. Seriously. The classic movies we know and love today were largely box office flops, failing to make enough money to pay for production. Disney was a half-step ahead of the Financial Grim Reaper for what seemed like the bulk of his career. In the 1940s he narrowly avoided bankruptcy thanks to government film contracts during WWII. He just kept doing what he had to do to keep his mouse ears above water.
The next time you are working on unsexy projects for tough clients, take comfort in knowing that Walt Disney did the same thing to keep his dreams alive too.
Saving The Best For Last
But the most fascinating thing about the book was that the greatest achievement of his career didn’t come until the very end. In fact, it wasn’t even mentioned until page 603 of the 633 page book. That’s right, Disney World, the 40 square mile resort the size of San Francisco, was his best and last chapter.
When Walt told his wife about his plans for Disney World she was aghast, asking him, ‘What do you want to do that for?’ He replied,
I would get stagnant if I didn’t do new things.
Today Disney World employs 62,000 people, making it the largest single-site employer in the country.
What it means to you and me.
It is never too late in your career to have your biggest and best chapter. If you are willing to keep growing and pushing and driving yourself, the best is still in front of you. Employ all of your accumulated experiences, insights and know-how to create bigger and better chapters of your own story. Keep doing new things until you are done. Like done, done.
A few years ago my wife and I went to London. We went without our three kids, which made it feel like we were playing hooky on a global scale. On the second night of our trip we had a world-class dinner experience at The Ritz.
Afterwards we strolled down Piccadilly, hand in hand. It was a wonderful July night. We were excited to be in one of the world’s greatest cities. We were adventurously far from home. And we had just finished a meal that we would talk about for the rest of our days. Life was good.
Then something even more interesting happened. There, in that date-night glow, we witnessed a show that no one in the world saw except us. It was a one-man, one-act play. The script had 5 words.
The stage was on the landing in front of a shop on Piccadilly. A homeless man was making his bed for the night. He was just steps off of the very busy street, outside, exposed to the world, and the elements, with no privacy. Like a zoo animal on display.
As he went about his routine of preparing his bed for the night he said:
Life is hard. No complaints.
I will never forget that. In those five words this man summed up a simple truth about life. And how he chose to respond. He clearly understood that life is a challenging game. He accepted the challenge. Even on the days when it seemed as if he was losing.
Inspiration comes in many forms. That night I was inspired by a homeless man who faced a reality more challenging than most of us will ever face, without complaint.
On this Monday, as you head back to work, back to school and back to your own challenges, I remind you that, yes, life can be hard. But how you choose to respond to it is entirely up to you. And it is your response that makes all the difference.
Everyone has a dream. Me. You. MLK Jr., Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Yet the number of people who do something to make their dreams a reality is really small. Like Pluto vs. Jupiter.
So what’s the difference between Dreamers and Doers? I’m glad you asked. Wait, I asked. Well, I’m glad I asked because you should know the answer.
A goal is a dream with a deadline. -Napoleon Hill
Time constraints motivate you to action. If you are serious about your dream, give yourself a deadline to make it a reality. Because a deadline tells you what you need to be doing now. (Hint: You can start by setting a deadline to take the first step. I do this a lot.)
When you were in school it was easy to set goals like these:
Make the varsity team.
Make first chair violin.
Get the lead part in the play.
Go to a party with cool kids.
Become an emcee of the Winter Carnival Talent Show and orchestrate a stunt to get the show shut down forever.
In school you have 4 (or 5) years to bring your dreams to life. That finite amount of time is a critical driver. Because you can’t stay in school forever (unless you were this guy named Brucey from my hometown).
But once you get past your schooling you start to float in an odd, timeless space. It’s like losing the effects of gravity once you leave Earth. Time is still slipping by. You just don’t notice it until it’s too late. Like alcohol in a really fruity drink.
We all need time to ground us.
Time scarcity is what tells us what we need to do NOW.
If you want to accomplish great things, travel exciting places, learn new skills or start a business, you need deadlines. The deadline creates the urgency to act today.
When I turned 40 I set a goal of starting my own ad agency by the time I was 42. I easily beat the deadline. The time limit forced me to start moving. And when I started moving things developed quickly. I set timelines for other business plans at the same time. Those plans are coming to life now too. On the other hand, I have a whole mess of dreams that I haven’t given deadlines. Those dreams are just floating out there, like Sandra Bullock, calling to George Clooney.
Dreaming is fun and easy. But it won’t translate to wealth, experience, accomplishment or pride without a deadline. Set one for yourself. Or set a lot of deadlines. Accomplish a lot. I’m giving you until midnight on Sunday to take the first step. You’re on the clock. Tick…Tick…Tick…
Your brain is the most powerful muscle in your body. Ok, your brain isn’t really a muscle. But it is so powerful it KNOWS that it’s not a muscle! Your most powerful muscles are actually your glutes or your quadriceps, depending on who you ask. And depending on whether or not you are keeping up with Kim Kardashian. You can strengthen these leg muscles doing squats, leg presses, lunges, deadlifts and by delivering refrigerators.
However, you should never perform these leg exercises without warming up first. For two reasons.
You could shred your muscles like pulled pork.
You will not perform at your best.
You should warm up your muscles to recruit as many fibers and synapses as possible for the mission. It also loosens the muscles, gets blood flowing through the area and prepares them for action.
Your brain works the same way. When your alarm clock detonates in the morning your brain is cold. That’s why so many people try to stoke some brainial heat with coffee or tea. But it takes actual mental activity to get your brain primed and ready for work.
I have a trick I use to get my brain ready to perform in the morning. It’s not a drink, a dish or a pill. It doesn’t make you sweaty, stinky or even raise your heart rate.
A great way to warm up you brain.
I am a professional creative thinker. I own an advertising and idea agency, called The Weaponry, where we try to stretch our thinking as far as possible every day. To prepare for creative thinking, I use several different techniques to get my brain warmed up. One of my favorite techniques is to spend a few minutes working on brain games.
I like a challenge that forces me to think through questions from multiple angles, spot interesting connections, or evaluate at a level that goes beyond the obvious. I do this in a variety of ways. Here are 5 options that you can try tomorrow morning before work.
5 Warm up techniques that recruit your brain cells.
Brain Challenges: My go-to morning stimuli are my Mensa Mind Challenge books. (I’m not a member of Mensa. I just play one at the bookstore.) They contain a range of
puzzles, math problems and brain teasers. Discovering the answers opens my mind and helps me view the problem, and thus the world, through a different lens.
Soduko Puzzles: These number sequencing puzzles are moronically simple, yet complex at the same time (like me). I really like the fact that I can keep switching my focus to get to the ultimate solve. I’ll hone in on a single number for a while. Then I might focus on a small box. Then a line. I like the fact that I never guess at Soduko. I focus on one small point until I know the answer with certainty before a I declare an answer. This works differently than the Mensa challenges because there is one simple, clear answer for each box, hiding in plain sight. I simply have to force it into focus.
Mazes: These were my childhood favorites. I love the fact that you can think you know where you are going and suddenly you come to a dead-end and have to look in another direction. Many of our life challenges are like this. We think we are on the right path until we know we are not. Then we have no choice but to reevaluate our choices and perspectives. Someone should write a book about this phenomenon. Oh wait they did. (Who moved my cheese?)
Crosswords: These classics are great because they force you to dig into your broad knowledge base. But they also enable you to employ strategy and technique to help you fill in your knowledge gaps, using what you know to offer clues about the things you don’t know. Here you can guess the answers without inducing catastrophic failure (see Soduko). I appreciate that they let you develop increasing levels of certainty on your hypothesis as you progress. They also reward you for knowing Tom Jones songs. So there’s that.
Memory Games: I have become increasingly interested in memory challenges. I come from long-lived people (I currently have 198 years worth of grandmothers). So maintaining my memory is going to be an important life skill. The power of the mind to develop visual codes to remember number sequences is fascinating to me. Over the coming years I expect memory games to become a larger part of my routine as I work to fight off dementia (I was born with as much dementia as I will ever need).
The benefit of a warm brain.
Puzzles in the morning get your brain firing. You will feel like you have recruited more brain cells. You will feel alert and ready to think better, faster, stronger, and probably for longer. It’s like Viagra for the brain. Kinda.
Even though I am a naturally creative thinker, these puzzles, games and challenges help me stimulate my brain in a way that reduces creative blind spots. It is easy to fall into a mental rut and use the same type of creative processes, tools and paths over and over again. The morning puzzles can be like opening a mental tool box of problem solving devices. When you see the tools you could use, the tools themselves reveal the paths to various solutions.
I like the way the puzzles stretch your thinking. They help you see different angles and perspectives. This pays off as you try to solve other business (or life) challenges the rest of the day. The puzzles and mind challenges ensure that your mind is alert, stretched, primed and fully powered to find new possibilities.
These puzzles are also fun. Starting your morning with a bit of fun and play makes your morning more enjoyable. That mood state alone contributes to more creative thinking.
If you are more math oriented consider this: if you could expand the power of your problem solving or creative thinking by just 10% by readying your mind, you will significantly expand the circle of solutions you can uncover.
Try warming up with some puzzles this week. Let me know how you feel afterwards. If you have a type of puzzle, quiz or test you use to keep yourself sharp please share it here. I could use all the help I can get. Especially in the morning, when I am delivering refrigerators.