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.

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.) 

Why it is so important to find your fit.

Last week I was riding an escalator at the rental car center at the airport in Atlanta. The man in front of me turned to me and asked, ‘Did you go to the University of Wisconsin?’  I proudly replied, ‘Yes!’, and realized I was wearing a Wisconsin hat that had likely invited the question. Either that or I still smelled like brats, cheese and Mickies Dairy Bar.

The man continued:

My daughter goes to school there right now and absolutely loves it. She looked at Michigan State, which is where I went, and Ohio State, because we live in Canton, Ohio. But when she visited Madison she said, “Dad, I found my people.”   -Escalator Dad

I could relate. That is exactly how I felt when I went on my recruiting trip to Wisconsin.

Two days later I was visiting my neighbor Christy Sheahan in Atlanta. She told me she and her son Christopher, who is a high school senior, had just visited Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana (home of my Mom and Dad). Christy and her husband Kevin’s oldest daughter Sydney is currently a freshman at the University of Georgia in Athens. Christy told Christopher, ‘I want you to keep looking at schools until you find a college environment that you love as much as Sydney loves UGA.’  Christopher, listen to your Mom.

The Fit Makes It.

These two comments are great reminders of how important it is to find your people and your places. Whether you are a student looking for the right college, or you are in the workforce, looking for the right job, you should  search for that place that fits you just right. That place that is full of your kind of people. Finding the right fit makes all the difference in your happiness, your self-esteem, your memories, your relationships and your probability of success.

Key Takeaway

If you haven’t found the school that fits you, keep looking. If you haven’t found the workplace that fits you, keep searching. It is out there, and there are people who want to work with you as much as you want to work with them. Life, school and careers are all too short to spend in the wrong place, with the wrong people. There are 5300 colleges and universities in the United States. There is one that is just right for you, Goldilocks. And if you don’t think that the place you want to work exists in the place you really want to live, make it yourself. That’s what I did when I launched The Weaponry. And I couldn’t be happier. Not even if I was a student again back in Madison.

How to make a business trip more than a business trip.

I like to make the most of my business travel. After my work obligations are Sharpied into my calendar, I always fill the open spaces in my schedule with personal activites. That might include eating at an interesting restaurant, exploring, museuming or exercising. But my favorite activity to add to a work trip, by far, is socializing. Sometimes I meet new people. Sometimes I reconnecting with old friends. And sometimes I do both at the same time.

This Week

I had to travel to Atlanta this week for a film shoot. Since I had to fly in on Monday I began filling my afternoon with interesting activities. Here is what I did between 12:30 and 6:30pm:

  1. Had lunch with a former client
  2. Had back-to-back-to-back meetings with 3 different freelancers who are currently working with my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry.
  3. Met with a college senior to talk to him about his career options after he graduates.
  4. Guest lectured to a college marketing class about creativity and the creative process.
  5. Stuck around 20 minutes after the lecture to talk to a group of 5 students who had more questions.
  6. Drove to my Atlanta neighborhood in East Cobb and talked to my neighbor, Dr. Betty Garrot about my recent trip to India (Betty’s family is from India, and they contacted me when I was in Bangalore).

Monday Night

It was a fun and interesting day. But what I had planned for Monday evening was really special. Last Friday I texted my college teammate Jabari Pride, who lives in Atlanta, and asked him if he would like to get together Monday night. He said yes. So I reached out to another, former University of Wisconsin track athlete, Lenton Herring, who lives in Atlanta, and invited him too. Then I reached out to Stephanie Herbst-Lucke, who was not only up for getting together, she invited us to gather at her home. So we decided to contact a couple more former Badger track athletes to tell them what we were doing.

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Jabari, Adam and Lenton. One fo these guys is allergic to shoes.

Just three days later, on a rainy Monday night in Atlanta, these are the Badger track alum who showed up:

  1. Adam Abrecht: Discus and hammer thrower from Norwich Vermont, now living in Milwaukee (but still a proud Atlanta home owner).
  2. Jabari Pride: Sprinter and all-around athlete from Los Angeles, now living in Atlanta.
  3. Lenton Herring: Jumper and sprinter from Gainesville Florida, now living in Atlanta.
  4. Stephanie Herbst-Lucke: Distance runner from Chaska, Minnesota, now living in Atlanta.
  5. Tina Erps-McGee: Sprinter and jumper from Bettendorf Iowa, now living in Atlanta.
  6. Terry Reese: Hurdler from Fort Wayne Indiana, now living in Atlanta.
  7. Scott Jenkins: Distance runner from Kenosha, Wisconsin, now living in Atlanta.
  8. Stephanie (Bassett) Orman: Distance runner from Bloomington, Indiana now living in Atlanta.
  9. Mark Euler: Jumper from Madison, Wisconsin, now living in Atlanta.
  10. Reed Connor: Distance Runner from The Woodlands, Texas, now living in Atlanta.
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Tina, Stephanie and Steph, between two lamps.

Socializing not Social Networking

It was an amazing night. I got to see friends and teammates I have known for decades, some of whom I hadn’t seen in decades. I also got to meet three new Badgers. We talked about our families and careers. We shared stories about our days competing for the University of Wisconsin. We talked about our coaches and the things we learned from Ed Nuttycombe, Peter Tegen, Martin Smith, Mark Napier, Scott Bennett, Mick Byrne, Mary Grinaker, Robert Hackett and others.

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Lenton telling us the story of how he invented the fist bump.

We talked about how there is no other experience quite like spending your college career in Madison. We talked about the unique people, the unique setting and the unique educational environment. Because of our shared history, the group instantly felt like a community. We traded contact information and made plans to gather again. Just like that, the W Club-Atlanta was born.

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The W-Club Atlanta, freshly birthed.  

Connect In Person

This was a great reminder to make sure you see your people in real life. It is great to keep in touch with each other on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram. But people are better in person. We all need to experience real human connections. Those connections are strongest, and most impactful, when we are in a room, talking to each other, face to face.

Key Takeaway

I encourage you to reach out to your people. Get together with friends from home, from college or camp. Organize a gathering of former co-workers, teammates or roommates. Get together with your neighbors. Or create your own social or professional groups.

At the end of our days, the only thing that will really matter is the relationships we build, and the impact we have on each other. Don’t be afraid to make the first move. I did. And because of it, ten former Badger track athletes are now part of another special community 803 miles from Madison.

*Special thanks to fellow Badger, James Lucke for hosting us and joining us Monday evening! On Wisconsin!

Recognizing the tremendous value of your client ark.

In your career you will have the opportunity to work with a broad range of clients. Some will help you make a lot of money. Some will help you make a little money. Some will help you grow old friendships. Some will help you make new friendships. Some will be strictly business. And some will be a party. Some will enable you to do great work. Some will help you make a difference. Some will build your confidence. Some will test your limits. Some will cost you money. Some you will love. And some, you will wish you never met. But if you pay attention, they will all help you grow smarter, stronger and more capable. So on the toughest days with the toughest clients, and the best days with the best clients, don’t forget to learn.