Trick or Treating is a grand lab experiment for humans. Over the past four days my children have gone Trick or Treating three times, in three different neighborhoods, with the same results. They are like lab rats who discover that if you ring the bell on the doors with lights, you will be rewarded with a treat.
My kids can’t get enough of this reward. I am certain they would go Trick or Treating again tonight and tomorrow night if I let them. But I won’t let them. Because I have seen what happens to the lab rats in this experiment. And I don’t need any heat from Family Services.
I loved Trick or Treating when I was a kid. I would come home with a huge haul of candy, dump it on the floor in my room, sort it, count it and virtually roll around in it. But then I would do something unusual. I would save it. It is not that I don’t like candy. I like it a lot. But I liked exhibiting control over the candy even more.
Delay of Gratification
What I have learned is that I am really good at the delay of gratification. As a kid that meant stockpiling candy. Today I do the same thing with hotel points and air miles. A quick check of my accounts shows that I have 538,336 unused miles on Delta Airlines and 782,719 unused points with Marriott.
It’s not that I don’t care about those miles and points. I think about them often, and what I will be able to do with them, someday. I love saving and planning for something bigger than a flight to Detroit and a stay at the Airport Courtyard (no offense to either). I have always loved building towards something bigger and more exciting down the road.
Looking back, I can now see that an important entrepreneurial trait could be seen in my youth each year at Halloween. Because as an entrepreneur you have to be willing to show up, make the rounds, find the doors with lights on, ring the bell, and engage with people in order to get the rewards.
But you also have to be willing to not eat your candy right away. You have to be patient and willing to wait for a bigger, better, longer-lasting feast later.
If you are willing to do all that, you can become a great entrepreneur.
My childhood friend, Marcus Chioffi, once made an interesting statement about me. He said,
‘Adam would be the best person I know at solitary confinement. He would just entertain himself.’ -Marcus Chioffi
I was reminded of Marcus’s statement on my recent work trip to Bangalore, India. I had two 24-hour travel days: one going to India and one coming back (you probably could have guessed that, but I didn’t want any confusion). I had back to back 10-hour flights each way. And what I did on those 10-hour flights is not as interesting as what I didn’t do.
6 Things I Didn’t Do On My Travels To India.
I didn’t watch any movies.
I didn’t watch any TV.
I didn’t listen to any music.
I didn’t play any games.
I didn’t do any puzzles.
I didn’t mind the travel at all.
Solitary And Confined.
The long flights gave me a lot of time to think, which is one of my favorite hobbies. I watched the flight tracker on the screen in front of me, and I looked out the window. Combined, those two activities provided me with plenty to think about.
I connected dots about global geography. I flew over beautiful places like The Netherlands. I flew over inhospitable places in the Middle East that have been boiling with cranky people. And I realized that I may be cranky too in such a desolate environment.
I finished reading the book Thinking Fast and Slow, about behavioral economics. I read Yes, And…, which is about Second City, and what we can all learn about life and business from improv. My friend, and regular Weapon, Tony Sharpe gave me the book. Thanks Tony.
I also read the body laungauge of a couple of seatmates that said, ‘Don’t talk to me you smiley American! It’s the middle of the night!’ So I didn’t talk to them. Their loss.
The Weaponry has several exciting projects going on right now. So I had a lot of enjoyable work to do. I even texted a project estimate to a new client just after takeoff, because sometimes client service and FAA rules are in opposition.
I also wrote. (In fact, as I write these words I am flying over Thunder Bay, Ontario). I wrote a lot of notes about my trip and my experience. I found almost no time to write when I was in India because my sleep-eat-work* schedule was so dense there was no time for anything else. (*not to be confused with my Eat. Pray. Love. schedule.)
I enjoyed my flights to the other side of the world and back a great deal. They never felt painful, prisony, torturey or claustrophobic. I never felt like I needed to be entertained. I loved having so much time to think, read, write and observe. Most importantly, I never felt like I was killing time. I felt as if I was using the time I had. Which is what I hope to do if I ever do end up in solitary confinement.
I admit, I am a fairly loud human. As an extrovert I love to interact with other people. I like to talk, laugh, and not-so-occasionally sing. It doesn’t surprise people when they find out that I work at an advertising agency. More specifically, in 2016 I founded an advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry. Naturally, you would expect an agency to reflect the personality of the Founder. And indeed, it does.
But right now it is deafeningly quiet in our office. There is no witty banter among colleagues. No loud music thumping. No pinging and ponging. No pinball machine dinging. No sounds of ball-smacking at the foosball table.
Many times during my career, in moments just like this, an agency executive would stride through the quiet office, excited to show off the totally cool agency to a client. And the executive would be clearly disappointed by the quiet.
They would often apologize to their tour mate with a line like, ‘It’s usually much louder in here.‘ Or, ‘We have a lot of people out right now.’ Or ‘We have to be careful since we got that last noise violation…’
This is all because ad agencies like The Weaponry are supposed to be loud, fun, energetic and entertaining, right?
And often times we are.
But other times, like now, we are as quiet as a library on Saturday night. Because creators gotta create. And we don’t need to get loud to do it. Quite the opposite (or is it quiet the opposite?). The harder I work, the more focused I am, the quieter I am. So are my fellow Weapons. Because the most important work we do is the mental processing we perform when we are alone. That is when we are finding the language to articulate our new ideas in words and images. It is when we are editing our thinking down to the simplest, cleanest, clearest expressions. And that takes quiet focus.
If you stop by an ad agency when the people are really, really quiet, don’t be disappointed that you didn’t get a show. Stick around a few minutes to watch the work in progress. It’s usually, fast, focused and fascinating. During a break in the action ask if you can see the work hot-off-the-fingertips. When you see the freshly crafted art, read the newly woven words, or ingest the just-birthed strategy, you’ll understand that silence is golden.
Today the Mega Millions lottery jackpot is expected to reach $1.6 billion dollars. The Power Ball lottery will reach $620 million by tomorrow. And you will not win either of them. In fact, you would get more value for your money by burning your cash for heat, or eating it for the nutritional value of the paper.
I learned this lesson early in life. When I was 18 I had a lottery experience that forever shaped my perspective on this get-rich-instantly game. I shared this story a few years ago, but with lottery fever once again creating a jackpot mirage, it felt like a good time to reshare.
The Graduation Lesson
At my high school graduation, my classmates and I received our Hanover High School diplomas from our principal, the late, super-great Uwe Bagnato. As he handed us our diplomas, we each handed him a lottery ticket. It was an exciting experiment.
We all wondered how much he might win with 143 chances (my high school scoured ten towns from Vermont and New Hampshire to find 143 educatable kids). We imagined Uwe would become mega-rich, and we would be the last class to graduate under his principality. But when we discovered that he only won a couple of bucks, and would be back at work again after Labor Day, the lottery was forever dead to me.
Don’t flush your hard-earned money down the lottery toilet. If you want a great return on your money, you should always bet on yourself. Bet on your ability to think. On your will to succeed. On you determination and stick-to-it-ness. Bet on your ability to create value. And bet on your ability to do what you are doing right now, but for yourself.
Collect that money you were going to spend on the lottery and invest it in your own business. Buy something to resell. Or purchase equipment so that you can offer a valued service, or create a new product. Get certified at a valuable skill that you can market on your own. Because if you do that, and you have the drive to succeed, you will succeed. There is much more money to be made through entrepreneurship than the lottery could ever provide.
“More gold had been mined from the minds of men than the earth itself.” -Napoleon Hill from Think and Grow Rich.
In 2016 I left a nice job at a big advertising agency to bet on myself. I left the perceived stability of a regular paycheck to see if I could make even more money, be even happier and feel even more fulfilled by creating my own jackpot. And I did it by investing less than most people spend on the lottery. In fact, when I started The Weaponry, I invested more time, energy and focus than money. And my business has been profitable from the beginning.
But forget about getting rich quick. Forget about the instant cash payout, which is the surest way to bankruptcy. Opt for the get rich slow route. If you build your own business slowly and steadily, you can turn hundreds of dollars of side hustle income into millions of family supporting dollars.
The next time you think about filling out a lottery ticket, think about sketching out a business idea instead. Think of all the great businesses started by men and women no smarter or more talented than you. Think about how those businesses, have turned those people into millionaires and billionaires. I hope it encourages you to invest in your own ideas and your own initiative. Because take it from me and Uwe, the chances of winning the lottery are far better in your head. Your best bet is to put your money to work for you. Because the odds of hitting an entrepreneurial jackpot are determined by you.
I will never forget a phone call I received from my wife in 2001. I picked up the phone, and without any other greetings Dawn said, ‘My Mom has breast cancer.’ Those unexpected and unwelcomed words landed with more weight than any others I have ever heard telephonically. With that phone call I joined the not-so-exclusive club of people whose family’s have been invaded by breast cancer.
A Better Call
Fast forward to the spring of 2018. I got a call from my friend Harper Cornell at Mizuno. Harper shared that she was leading the marketing efforts for an exciting Mizuno initiative called Project Zero. Mizuno was partnering with Fleet Feet Stores across the country to raise money to support the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF). Harper and her team were looking for a partner to work with to promote Project Zero. I jumped* at the chance to get involved. (*There was actually no physically jumping. But I definitely jumped in all the non-physical ways.)
Over the next couple of months our team at The Weaponry created logos, themes, scripts, videos, point of purchase displays and a brand style guide for the effort. We thought through budgets, logistics and calendars. We researched and explored great stories we could tell about runners who had been impacted by breast cancer. Then we brought it all to life.
Kristyn ‘K-Lil’ Lilley and Sonia. K-Lil lead our design work, and directed interviews. Because she rocks. Sonia is an amazing advocate for other women dealing with breast cancer.
In August we traveled to Houston to work with Jennie Finch, the Olympic Gold Medal softball player, and Mizuno athlete. We spent a day at the Fleet Feet store filming a series of videos with Jennie promoting Project Zero. She was great to work with and a passionate supporter of the cause. I’m also thankful that she never balked or threw anything at me when I asked her for a long list of alternate takes.
Then we traveled to Atlanta to film four inspiring women who have battled with breast cancer, and six strong breast cancer supporters who have helped friends, mothers and wives through their fight with this menacing disease.
1 in 8 women around the world will be impacted by breast cancer in her lifetime.
45,000 women in the US and Canada are expected to die of breast cancer this year.
There are 3,850,000 breast cancer survivors in the US and Canada today.
The key to turning 1-in-8 women into 0-in-8 is research. That’s why the Breast Cancer Research Foundation is so important.
Harper and Yolaine and I after wrapping. Not rapping.
Impressive Facts About The BCRF.
It is the largest nonprofit funder of breast cancer research in the world.
They fund 275 scientist
They fund research in 15 countries on 6 continents
They help explore causes, new treatments, prevention and early diagnosis
Sorita is amazing. She owns a Fleet Feet Store in Reading, PA. She not only crushed breast cancer, she crushes triathlons too.
I am extremely proud that our team was able to contribute to such an important cause. Thanks to Jeanne Mayer, Kristyn Lilley, Matt Ackley, Kevin Kayse and Tony Sharpe for all of your hard work.
Here is a look at a couple of the 11 videos we created to support the cause.
Gretchen and her family are truly inspiring. I was just happy to be in their world.
If you could use a great new pair of stylish running shoes, please consider stopping by a Fleet Feet store during October, or going to MizunoUSARunning.com. By the way, today my Mother In Law, Cynthia Zabel, is doing great, 17 years after that initial phone call.
I recently traveled to Bangalore, India for work. My ad agency, The Weaponry, was hired to film a very impressive business based in Bangalore. And I was thrilled to have the opportunity to go. Not only was it my first time in India, it was my first time traveling anywhere in Asia, that wasn’t actually in Orlando, Florida. #epcot
Between my readings, my Indian friends, the people I know who have traveled there themselves, and my consultation at Passport Health, I felt fairly well prepared for what I would experience in India. But nothing compares to visiting a place yourself. It was truly a perspective-altering experience. To summarize this once-so-far-in-a-lifetime trip, here are the Top 20 things I noticed during my travels.
Top 20 Things I noticed on my business trip to India.
#1 Language One of the things that makes traveling to India easy for Americans is that so much of the population speaks English. In the area I was in about 60% of the population speaks English. But I never encountered anyone who didn’t. You can quickly understand why it is so easy for Americans and Indians to do business together. Which is why I was there.
Other languages spoken in Bangalore include Hindi and Kannada (the local language that is pronounced like the song, O Canada, without the O. The pervasive English definitely helps make you feel at home, even though you are 10,000 miles away.
#2 Climate The Climate in Bangalore is perfect. Highs are typically in the 80s and lows are typically in the 60s. This is extremely pleasant weather (although I am not sure pleasant can be extreme). Bangalore is close enough to the equator to be consistently warm, yet at 3000 feet above sea level, the heat is moderated by the elevation. I can understand why people enjoy living there.
#3 People The people were fantastic. They were excellent hosts. They were hardworking and responsible. They always greeted me with a smile (except at immigration at 2:30 am). I, like so many other visitors, were struck by the remarkable people. I don’t mean struck in a Reginald Denny kinda way. More in an Eat. Pray. Strong-like kinda way.
#4 Food The food was a surprise. I have eaten Indian food before, but not in such quantities, qualities or with such great diversity. It all felt very different from American food. Different flavors, different textures, different smells, different seasonings. I would have liked to have tried an even greater range of the most adventurous food options, but I was on an important work assignment, and didn’t want to risk missing any of the work because of a gastro-tastrophe.
#5 Traffic The traffic was crazy. The craziest I have ever seen. In the city, during hours when humans were awake, there were vehicles everywhere. There was no adherence to lanes or signaling, or safe distances. It was like the wild, wild east. And I LOVED it! The traffic was pure entertainment. It was like high-caliber improv show, because the drivers seemed to be making up their wacky performances on the fly.
Our driver, Alfton, said, ‘If it wasn’t for the traffic I would be bored driving.’ My friend Tarun said, ‘Here, if I leave more than 4 inches between me and the next vehicle, someone is going to fill that space. But for all the crazy, I never saw a crash. Even better, I never saw anyone angry or hostile. There seemed to be an appreciation that everyone else was trying to get somewhere too, and nobody was trying to prevent you from getting where you were going.
I also noticed that the traffic never seemed to stop moving. Unlike in LA, Chicago, and Atlanta, where you can sit or creep for an hour, this traffic was denser, less organized, but almost always flowed forward. Maybe this self-regulated traffic can teach us something.
#6 Motorcycles There were motorcycles everywhere. Not giant, muscle-y hogs like we have in the US. All kinds of small, efficient, people-moving motorbikes ands scooters. These little bikes moved large quantities of humans, produce, and other random cargo.
A favorite game was finding bikes with more than 2 people on them. While 2 is the maximum allowed by law, the law didn’t seem to have a huge influence over the traffic participants. However, for the rule-less behavior, almost everyone wore helmets. Although several times we saw a father riding with a wife and children, and the man wore a helmet and the others did not. The dynamic was surprising. I later heard that the man would be ticketed for not helmeting up. But the women and children would not.
I also saw many women riding the motorcycles side-saddle. This always drew my attention, as I expected that any moment I would see the women un-saddle off the other side. But thankfully, I never did.
#7 Motorized Rickshaws There were little green and yellow motorized rickshaws everywhere. These mini taxis are like 3-wheeled, partially enclosed motor trikes. They are also kinda like motorized wheelbarrows. They have handle bars, not steering wheels. And they seemed to be able to navigate traffic faster than the cars.
#8 The Smells India smells like no place I have ever been. It is a combination of the plants, the natural environment, the spices and scents that the locals use in cooking and in the general scenting of their environment.
My hotel scented the hallways to make it smell like India. I wish I had a better nasal identifier to be able to tell you exactly what it smelled like. Although one morning during our film shoot the room we were working in smelled so good I finally asked what it was that I was smelling. The answer was cinnamon oil. I had no idea that was even a thing. But it is. And it smells amazing. Probably like being inside a bubble of Big Red gum.
#9 Poverty The poverty in India was impossible to ignore. I saw it as rundown buildings, homes and structures that had fallen apart and were not about to be fixed. It seemed to be intermingled with everything else. There were parts of the city that clearly were more poverty-dense than others. But there were few parts of Bangalore that didn’t exhibit a sense that there were fewer financial resources than there were people who could use them.
#10 Service The service was excellent everywhere we went; from the hotels to restaurants, to our drivers, to the places we worked. The people were extremely accommodating and responsive. It felt as if it was part of the culture to be thoughtful and offer great service to others. I will remember that as a core part of the brand experience in India.
#11 Cows Ever since I was a child I heard that cows are sacred in India. I read that you would see cows wandering the streets in India. I didn’t think that was still the case. But sure enough, I saw plenty of stray cows. But maybe not as many as in Moo-mbai. They seem to congregate near markets, where they benefit from produce being tossed out at the end of a day. It was both very odd and very interesting. I also never saw a cow related menu item either. But then again, I never visited McDonald’s.
#12 Tourist Attractions We had one afternoon to do some sightseeing. We had a driver and a host, Loknath, to take us around to various places he and his team thought we should see. Based on what we saw, Bangalore was not a city of obvious tourist attractions. We saw a historic palace, a historic temple and some interesting government buildings. The palace and temple both had the potential to be impressive. But both of them lacked for the resources needed to impress as a well-kept destination worth visiting.
In other words, the building were visually interesting, but the overall experience lacked because the building were not well cared for, or supported. The government buildings were large and impressive. But I left feeling as if Bangalore could use the help of a business dedicated to offering tourists interesting experiences, and investing in the things worth seeing. #businessopportunity
#13 5 Star Hotels I stayed at two amazing hotels in Bangalore. The Ritz Carlton downtown Bangalore, and the Taj Hotel, next to the airport. Both of the hotels were important to my stay in a couple of ways. They both offered a wonderful experience. The service was excellent. The rooms were extremely comfortable. The food was outstanding. And they both felt extremely safe. When in a place so far from home it is important to have a sense of safety and comfort. These places provided this and more. Which played an important part in enjoying the overall experience. Plus, they were easily the least expensive 5 star hotels I ever paid for. So If you go, I recommend 5 star-ing it up.
#14 American Knowledge It is an understatement to say that the people of India know America better than we know India. Among the people who I worked with, and socialized with, not only did it seem most had a very good knowledge of America, many of them had either lived in the US, gone to school in America or traveled to the US regularly. I was a bit embarrassed by the lack of American travel to India. And I was wowed that so many of the people I interacted with had spent time in America, given the fact that it is neither cheap nor easy to travel between the two countries.
#15 GI Attack If you travel to India prepare for an assault on your GI track. You have to be careful with things like water, ice, and fruits and vegetables that were likely washed in said water. Also the food is interesting and different and potentially spicy enough to create a glitch in your digestive system.
I traveled prepared. I had Travel-Ease tablets before each meal, I had Diahrease in case I ran into trouble, and I had antibiotics in case I ran into a lot of trouble. My stomach definitely got knocked off course by my gastronomic adventures, and I used everything in my weaponry just to make sure my work and flight home were not negatively impacted. The tablets and pills really helped keep me between the ditches. I would never travel to India without such reinforcements.
#16 The Beautifulness of the people I thought the people of India were beautiful and handsome. I had a great appreciation for how visually interesting so many of the people were. It reminded me of when I traveled to Iceland and was impressed by how good-looking the population was. Maybe I just like the looks of people from countries that start with ‘I’.
#18 Namaste I was not at all prepared for all the Namaste-ing I received. It is a beautiful greeting. But I didn’t know how to receive it. Was I supposed to respond with thank you? By replying with my own ‘namaste’ and pressing the palms of my hands together? Did I offer a high-five? Should I wink and point back at them? I still don’t know. But I do know that every time I was namasted, I thought of my friend Suzanne Darmory, who frequently drops a nam-bomb as a funny response to a frustrating situation.
#17 Billboards There were billboards all over Bangalore with no advertising on them. That made me sad. In a city of 12 million people there should be plenty to advertise, and plenty of people who would rather see your ad than a big empty board on the side of the road. I am still mulling over what I can do to help this situation. If anyone wants to collaborate on a “Make Bangalore Beautiful with Billboards’ initiative with me, let me know.
#19 The Head Bobble The most perplexing thing I encountered in India was the head wobble, or bobble. This head movement is neither a head nod, nor a shaking of the head, but both and neither at the same time. In fact, it seems to be the head moving in all the ways a head can move that are neither a nod nor a shake.
I found that I have no way of processing this gesture. So I was confounded by how to interpret it. Did it mean there was a problem? Is it the equivalent to the stink face? Or does it mean everything is ok? Eventually I came to realize it is not a bad sign. And no one was mad at me. But it still feels like an input that my processor doesn’t know how to interpret.
#20. The Time Zone The time in India is 10.5 hours later than US. Central Time Zone. I could not have kept this straight without the World Clock feature on my iPhone. I have never visited another place that did the .5 hour difference. Which made India feel just a bit more exotic than it already felt.
India was amazing. I have a new-found appreciation for all that I saw and experienced there. It all started with the very special people. It also ended with the people. In fact, the final night we were in India we were invited to the beautiful home of Parth and Roshen Amin. They treated us to a wonderful dinner and an unforgetable evening among our new friends on the other side of the planet. It was the cherry and whipped cream on top of our trip.
If you ever have the chance to travel to India for work or pleasure, I strongly encourage you to go. Interact with the people. Enjoy the food. Avoid the water. Smell the air. Look out for cows. Pack your pills. Grab some popcorn, and watch the traffic. And if you figure out how to interpret the head bobble, please let me know.
This week marks the beginning of the 22nd year of my advertising career. Over the past 22 years I have worked for an agency owned by private equity, an agency owned by a public holding company, and an agency that was privately held. I have learned a lot along the way. In 2016 I launched my own ad agency called The Weaponry. And I’m trying to apply all I have learned to make this bird fly.
Private Equity Goals
When I worked for the advertising agency owned by private equity, its main focus was growing to sell. A funny thing happens when you want to grow to sell your company. Especially when your investment clock is ticking, and you want to sell within the next 24 months or less.
You become hyper-focussed on revenue growth.When you obsess over revenue growth, you want to add business as quickly as you can.The quality of the work, the fit, the preparedness or the organization to take on the new work, and both the quality and the timeliness of the work flies out the window. Because short-term growth makes you do funny things.
Public Company Goals
Eventually that agency was bought by a large publicly held company. And the focus of the business changed. The new organization wasn’t obsessed with revenue growth. They were focused on margin growth.They wanted to make sure that we were making healthy profits on everything we did. They were constantly looking for ways to increase that margin.
The agency cut or discarded clients that didn’t offer the margin needed to sustain the infrastructure of a large, publicly held agency. As a result, they made decisions that were based on the target margin number of the day (that’s english for du jour). We walked away from clients who were facing some short-term challenges. We discarded several clients that had great long-term potential. Because the company was focused on meeting margins for the next quarter.
Family Business Goals
I recently worked with a company that had a very different way to think about their business growth. The organization was owned by a successful and impressive family. The key shareholders are not outside investors. They are family members. As a result, the most important measurement they focus on is generational growth. They ask deeper, more important questions, like ‘How can we grow a healthy organization that can sustain generations of positive growth?’ And ‘Who let the dogs out?’
They certainly want good revenue. They also want a good margin. But they play the long game in every decision they make. As a result, they don’t grow faster than they can maintain a high quality of delivery. They don’t cut clients because they don’t live up to today’s margin standards.They are flexible and understanding of their clients’ challenges. That builds trust and loyalty. And long-term relationships. All of this has helped build both revenue and margin. And a long runway for growth for years to come.
Revenue and margin are important to a business. But we should never forget that they are results of how we run our organizations, and the hundreds of decisions we make along the way. When you think about your business in terms of generational growth, you will make better decisions for the long haul. You will build relationships that get you through hard times. And you will build something that lasts long after you are gone.