Don’t lose sight of the WOW!

Do you remember the first time you ever flew in an airplane? It was crazy exciting, right? Remember how the plane began down the runway, slowly at first, then gaining speed until the plane’s nose levitated. Then the rear wheels left contact with the runway and things got quiet, and smooth, and it all blew your mind?

I remember that. Then I started flying so much for work that I would read, work, talk to my seatmate or rearrange my sock drawer during takeoff. I had become immune to the magic.

Then one day about 15 years ago I recognized just how crazy it was that I could yawn through an airplane takeoff. That day I decided to become a born again flying virgin. Every time I have launched to the sky since then, even as a Delta Gold or Platinum Medallion flier, I have stopped what I am doing at takeoff, and experienced the thrust, lift and other-worldliness of the experience as if it were the first time.

Holy David Copperfield!

Today I remind you that the entire world is mind-blowingly magical. Unbelievable things are happening all around you. Look outside. The sunrise, sunset, skies and storms are all sorts are phenomenal.

Watching your garden transform from dirt to sprouts to vegetables and fruit is awe-inspiring. The way the foliage transforms each fall from green to red or yellow or orange is no less miraculous than the caterpillar becoming a butterfly.

That mobile phone that is surely within arms reach of you right now provides access to every bit of information and entertainment ever known And yet it doesn’t have a cord, or pipe or conveyor belt to connect it to anything!  Somehow it all flows through the ether. WTF?

 

Do you realize that the automobile you drive is like a magic carpet that will take you anywhere on the continent that you want to go?!? Imagine time traveling back to any period in time before 150 years ago and seeing the look on people’s faces as you drove by in your car! Even if you drive a Yugo.

Those clothes you are wearing were somehow transformed from plants or animals or chemicals or all of the above into something soft and attractive and shaped just like you! Seriously!?!

Humans

Don’t even get me started on humans. Humans are the most amazing, beautiful and complicated of all machines. And somehow we all stack into a set of our relatives like Russian Nesting Dolls. Which means you were somehow inside both of your parents, and their parents and their parents, and on an on until the beginning of humans! Even if you are not Russian! Nyet. I can’t fathom that.

 

All businesses, teams, organizations, nations are created by humans. Somehow we have figured out how to collect, organize and activate groups of humans to do amazing things together.  From dancing to designing and operating the International Space Station, we have found millions of ways to work together to create things that are totally unnecessary to providing food, shelter and clothing. How cool are we!?!

Dawn

Today is my lovely wife Dawn’s birthday. I have been awed by her since I first saw her. I will never forget that moment. Today we have a wonderful life full of amazing everyday adventures. We have three little miracles named Ava, Johann and Magnus. And I am thankful everyday for the indescribable joy that fills our lives. And it’s all because, on this planet of billions, Dawn’s life-path crossed mine 17 years ago. Thank God.

 

 

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This is what Dawn looks like at dusk in Paris.

So as you go about your day, don’t miss the Wow. It is literally everywhere. Our entire world is full of magic. It is easy to overlook. Because there is just so much of it. Even right next to you, today, at home.

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A real entrepreneur’s reaction to my desire to start my own business.

In the late summer of 2015 I got together with my friend Jeff Hilimire for a little update on our lives and careers. Jeff and I had worked closely together for several years as part of the leadership team at Engauge, an advertising agency with offices in Atlanta, Columbus, Pittsburgh and Orlando.

Engauge was a pretty awesome agency, if I do type so myself. Publicis bought the business in the summer of 2013. Jeff left the company the next day to start his next business (his first startup, Spunlogic, was acquired as one of the three initial pillars of Engauge).

Jeff gave me a tour of his new mobile agency, Dragon Army. I met his team. Then Jeff and I sat outside on the company’s deck, and he gave me exciting updates on his business and his life.

Then Jeff asked how things were in my world. I had stayed on with the company we worked at after Publics acquired it two years earlier. I’m sure Jeff was expecting to hear how things were going at work. He was clearly surprised when I told him,

I am planning to start my own ad agency.

At the time I didn’t have a client. I didn’t have an employee. I didn’t have a name. I didn’t even have this blog. I didn’t have anything to make my claim credible, except my vision and a commitment to myself to make it come true.

I am sure Jeff, who has started multiple successful businesses, has heard a lot of big talk from nontrepreneurs like I was. It is really easy to talk about your plans. Everyone does it. It is so much harder to live into them.

Part way through the conversation Jeff checked my entrepreneurial seriousness. Not in a disbelieving way, exactly. Jeff is a very positive person who loves entrepreneurship (it’s one of his favorite ships). He would help anyone who was truly committed to starting their own business. But he seemed to want to know if this was for realsies, or if he should just smile and nod, but not invest any real time, energy or advice.

Jeff cut through the conversation with this simple question:

What is the percent chance you will actually start your own agency? Because the greatest tragedy would be that the next time we meet we have this same conversation. You’d be talking about wanting to start your own agency, but still hadn’t.  

It was a great question. My answer could forever be used against me in The District Court of Hot Air and Blown Smoke. But I was glad he asked.

My Response:

100%!

Jeff looked pleasantly surprised by my answer, but double checked like Aaron Rodgers, asking, “Really?”

I responded definitively, ‘Yes! I will fail at this before I do anything else!’

My mind was set. I had already burned my employment ships. I was going to allow myself no chance of retreat. The only way ahead was through my own business.

Fast Forward

I recently talked to Jeff about this conversation. I wanted to know what was going through his head on the other side of the table that day two years ago. It was a fun question to ask because The Weaponry is now a very real business, with real clients, real employees and a real office of our own, despite what you might read on our website.

This is what  Jeff said:

I talk to literally hundreds of people that want to start companies and never do. So on the one hand I thought there was a slim chance you’d actually do it. But on the other hand, I know you’re a competitor. And I was trying to tap into your sense of competitiveness. But when you said ‘100%!’ I thought, Heck Yeah*!  That’s what I want to hear! Now go do it!

*he didn’t actually say ‘heck’.

If you really want to accomplish anything you have to be 100% committed. Don’t give yourself another alternative. Burn your ships. Talk is cheap. There are thousands of people who are buried every day with their dreams still inside them.  Don’t let that happen to you.

 

What kind of phone are you?

Have you ever wanted to be someone else? I have that feeling every day. I want to be a better version of myself. I want to be the me that I see in my head. That version of me is pretty amazing. Which means that the today-me is pretty lame by comparison.

But that doesn’t discourage me. I am no Eeyore. You won’t find me feeling bad about myself. Because I don’t see myself as less-than.

I see myself as an iPhone. I am constantly creating a new, more powerful model of myself. I’m adding more features, capabilities, a longer battery and more memory.

I read as if my future success depends on it. I listen to audiobooks while I drive, podcasts about entrepreneurship while I eat lunch, and podcasts about real estate investing while I mow the lawn. Each day I become a little smarter, a little more capable and a little closer to the me in my mind.

My vision of me as a better model of myself is why I workout. It’s why I set goals.  It’s why I try new things that force me to grow. It’s why I travel and see and do as much as I can. It is why I am excited to meet new people. All of these help me grow, expand and improve.

As Founder of the advertising and idea agency The Weaponry, I am growing and learning on the job, every day.  The resistance that entrepreneurship provides works just like the weights at a gym. They are both there to help you develop a better, stronger version of yourself.

If the you in your head is an iPhone X and the real you feels like a flip-phone don’t be discouraged. Keep moving. Keep iterating. Keep learning and growing. There are thousands of versions of you yet to come. Each one gets stronger, smarter and more capable. And each new model of you is even more valuable than the one before.

Why I embrace last-minute requests and ridiculous deadlines.

Wouldn’t it be nice if everything in life worked according to your schedule?  You simply set the amount of time you need to handle anything, personal or professional. Then nothing ever challenged your pre-established timeline. That would be pleasant. And it would bore me to tears.

The world doesn’t conform to your schedule. Business, and life, are far too unpredictable. As Nationwide Insurance used to say, life comes at you fast. Really fast. Opportunities and threats appear in a blink. In the social era you need to respond before your opportunities become yesterday’s tweets. You must be able to thwart threats before they become Napa-sized wildfires, engulfing your home and vineyard.

Get Creative

But opportunities abound in the imperfect schedule. As the Founder of the Advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I am always thrilled by quick deadlines. They add excitement to the work. They test our abilities. They push us to learn what we can do without.

Ridiculous deadlines present favorable conditions for creativity too. When time is short the approval process is also short. You run through fewer approvers, who tend to be more accepting of really great creative solutions. So better ideas are often produced under tight timelines, because the client has less time for second guessing.

Walt Disney’s Magic

Recently I read about a crazy request Walt Disney received from Pepsi in 1963. Pepsi had been working on a collaboration with UNICEF for the World’s Fair, but had failed to come up with a worthwhile idea. So they approached Disney with the daunting task of creating an exhibit to fill their 94,000 square foot exhibit space. But they had far too little time and far too little money for the challenge. So Joe Fowler, the supervisor at Disneyland, turned down their request.

When Walt Disney heard this he was furious. He said, ‘I’ll make those decisions,’ and then informed his team that they would indeed take on the Pepsi project. To solve for the time, space and money challenges, Disney devised a boat ride through a canal, surrounded by animated dolls from around the world. The dolls sang a song that Disney commissioned the Sherman brothers to write. As Disney described the concept of the exhibit to the Shermans, he explained ‘It’s a small world after all.’  That, of course, became the name of the song, and the ride itself.

The World’s Fair exhibit was a resounding success for Pepsi and UNICEF. Today, almost 55 years later, that boat ride is still one of the most popular attractions at Disney World.  And its theme song is known around the world.

Conclusion

Your next great opportunity may show up at your doorstep wearing a really short deadline. But don’t be too quick to shoo it away. Don’t focus on all the reasons you can’t take on the challenge. Focus on the possibilities. That opportunity just may turn into the greatest thing you’ve ever done. But if you truly can’t find a way to make it work, send it my way. I love a short deadline after all.

The 2 Things You Can’t Google.

Do you remember life before the internet? Back in the day, when you had a question, you just had to guess what the answer was. Or you could spend a lot of time searching for answers with primitive tools. Like books and microfiche.

Now, the detailed answers to our most random questions are literally everywhere. We have harvested all human knowledge and loaded it onto the internet like stacking hay in a barn. Anyone with a smart phone has access to that barn and all the information in it anywhere, anytime. Yes, the barn door is always open.

The Google

Today, if you have a question you simply google it. Where did Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall get married? (Lucas, Ohio). What was the first interstate school district in America? (Norwich, Vermont and Hanover, New Hampshire). What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow? (African or European?) Curiosity, and the ability to satisfy it, is the driving force behind Google’s success.

Curious Mind

I recently read Brian Grazer’s book, A Curious Mind. He positions himself as a modern-day Curious George (my words, not his). The Graze (my word, not his) credits his curiosity, not his creativity, as the driving force behind his Hollywood success. His curiosity lead him to interesting stories that turned into blockbuster movies like A Beautiful Mind, Backdraft, 8 Mile and The Da Vinci Code.

Curiosity also led him to push the limits of what hair gel can do. He talks about that in the book too. But you can just look at the picture below to find the answer.410161296_hr

However, one of the most interesting elements of the book was Grazer’s, statement about where Google’s supreme powers stop. He writes:

There are two things you cannot google.

  1. Answers to questions that have not been asked.
  2. New ideas.

Unasked Questions

If you are the first person to ask a question, the best search engine to find the answer is you. Don’t stop because the answer doesn’t exist. These are the most important questions to answer. And once you do, you get to pitch the answer into the haymow of knowledge to benefit the rest of humankind.

New Ideas 

You can’t google a new idea. You have to invent it. You have to do the work, the thinking, the ideation yourself. Only the human brain can come up with valuable new ideas. There will always be a great need and great value for those who can create a new idea, not simply blow the dust off of an old one.

More importantly, there are new ideas that can only be created in your mind. Yes you. The person reading this. Just like no two snowflakes are alike, no two minds are alike either. Your mind is formed by your unique combination of thoughts, perspectives, experiences, readings, learnings, language, friends, physiology and chemistry. Which means that despite the fact that there are 8 billion people on this planet, there are ideas that could only possibly come from you.

As the Founder of the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I am constantly wowed by the power of the human mind. The power of the new idea. The power to create new things, new thoughts, new connections. There is so much still to come.

It is up to us to create new innovations, new stories, new humor, new lessons, new solutions to old and new problems alike. Stay curious and you will discover the new ideas yourself. Those ideas, your ideas, have the power to change the world. Which means the world may soon be googling you.

Lucky 21!

Do you remember the very first day of your career? You probably remember what the day was like. (You didn’t know anyone. You had to ask where the bathroom was. Lunch options were a mystery. And you didn’t know when it was acceptable to go home.) But do you remember the date? I do. I started my career in adverting 21 years ago today, on October 7th. I’ve always remembered that because it is also my Mom’s birthday. It must have been a pretty great birthday present for her, knowing that her son wouldn’t be living in her cellar (I’m from Vermont. We didn’t have basements).

Feeling Lucky.

Today I am feeling lucky that 21 years later I am just as excited about my career as I was on Day 1. Maybe even more excited.

On that first day, 21 years ago, I became an advertising copywriter. I think. I never actually saw my title written anywhere in that first year. Today, I am lucky to be the Founder and CEO of my own advertising agency called The Weaponry.  I’ve been able to take everything that I have learned about creativity, strategy, customer service, business development and having fun, and turn it into The Weaponry Way.

I’ve been lucky to develop a lot of really great personal relationships over the first 21 years. And I’m enjoying those relationships more now than ever. My latest chapter is a product of the trust my clients have in me and my team. As well as the faith that my colleagues have in my ability to help keep them fed and sheltered.

I feel lucky that my Weapons and I will soon move into our new office space (hopefully we will get our keys this week).

I am lucky to be working with so many great brands and great clients. There are even more great clients joining us over the next few months. Which is likely to make this year the most exciting year of my career yet.

I am lucky to still be learning.  But now I am also in a position to share all that I have learned.

As many of my friends consider career changes I am still intensely passionate about my work. I still get to wear t-shirts and flip-flops most days. I still get to play loud music in the office. And I still find nothing more exciting than a smart new idea.

On the first day of my career, 21 years ago today, I sat next to a young art director named Vince Demarinis. On Thursday I am traveling to Miami to meet with a potential new client. Thursday night I will be staying with Vince. We have remained good friends despite the fact that we haven’t worked together for 17 years. And despite the fact that he has way better hair than me.

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That’s Vince (art director)  on the left.  I’m in the middle. The third amigo is Dan Koel (art director) on the right. I am sporting the very informal costume I wore to the formal company Christmas party at Cramer Krasselt.  It’s not that I didn’t get the memo. I just decided to ignore it. Oh, and I would never wear that hat under normal circumstances. Go Sox!

Today I’m thankful for my supportive wife Dawn, whom I met at that first job. I am blessed to have three great, healthy kids who get to see a father who really loves his work. And I feel lucky to have friends, family and others willing to read a blog post about my career anniversary. Thank you for your time and your continued support. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

My little business travel trick.

I travel a lot for work. In fact, I am flying from Milwaukee to Miami right now. As we all know, 9/11 made travel tougher on all of us. Especially if you travel with liquids. Or have feet.

I own an advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry.  Which means I am in the business of coming up with ideas that solve problems.  But sometimes the problems I solve are my own.

One of my problems is that I have long hair. Not like Crystal Gale. But long for a guy. My hair also has some curl to it that turbocharges in high humidity. You know, like the kind of humidity I wil find this afternoon in Florida.

So, I am embarrassed to say, I need me some hair products when I travel. But none of my stash comes in airport-legal bottles of 3.5 ounces or less.

The Solution

Contact cases.

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When I am only traveling for a night or two I use contact cases and fill the wells with the daily dose of whatever liquids I may need:

  • Styling gel
  • Leave in conditioner
  • Wash-out conditioner
  • Contact solution
  • vodka
  • Tears of a mermaid

These little cases help me travel lighter and quicker.  Because these liquids are not in big bottles I don’t need to check a bag. Because they are not in small bottles I don’t need to put them in a ziplock bag, and then remove them when I go through security.

Try this contact case trick the next time you are traveling. Just make sure to keep your cases straight. I don’t want you to be mad at me when you put vodka soaked contacts in your eyes before you big meeting.

Safe travels.