Why you should share what you know for no good reason.

I grew up in Vermont. If you’ve ever met me you know I am very proud of this fact. Vermont was a wonderful place to be a kid. It was beautiful, safe and quiet. There were various career options available to Vermonters. We had a lot of maple syrup farmers, stone fence stackers, and a couple of world-class ice cream makers. But I didn’t know a single advertising professional.

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The maple syrup district in my hometown of Norwich, Vermont

I left Vermont for college and went to the University of Wisconsin. When I graduated and wanted to find a job as a copywriter for an advertising agency, I didn’t know anyone who could help me prepare for my job search.

A Friend of a Friend of a Friend.

However, I did have friends. My college friend Gina Wagner (now Gina Zanik of Salt Lake City) told me that a friend of her Mom’s might know someone who could help. A few calls were made, and through a friend-chain I was put in touch with a man named Paul Zukowski.

Paul Zukowski

Paul, a grown man with a real advertising career, then did something remarkable. He took time out of his day to meet with me, a total stranger, on a Saturday, to offer advice on how to best present my work, to maximize the chances of landing a job as an advertising creative.

Paul not only owed me nothing, he was likely to get nothing in return for helping this penniless, jobless, cotton headed ninny muggins. Yet Paul offered me some of his valuable time and gave me some really great, if not unconventional advice. Advice that ultimately helped me land my first job in advertising. And this blog post, written 23 years later, is all he got for his effort. (Although, upon his death he may receive eternal consciousness. Which is nice.)

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Union South at the University of Wisconsin, where Paul dropped knowledge like college.

Thinking of Paul

I haven’t seen Paul since the day we met at Union South in Madison, back in 1996, But I have thought of Paul often. In fact, I think of him every time a college student contacts me asking for an informational interview. I think of him every time someone wants advice on launching their own business. I think of him every time someone who is looking for a new job wants to grab coffee. I think of him when an aspiring blogger wants to buy me a chocolate milk and learn how to get started. (You can learn most of what I know here.)

The Impact

Paul Zukowski, a man I have seen once in my life, played an important role in my advertising career. When I was desperately trying to get my foot in the door, he showed me how to put my best foot forward. As a result I got a job as a copywriter. I then got promoted all the way to Chief Creative Officer, before launching my own advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry in 2016.

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Me at work, reflecting. Or at least posing as if I am reflecting.

Paying It Forward

Today, I pay it forward and continue the goodwill that Paul started by helping others. This week I drove from Milwaukee to The Weaponry’s new office in Columbus, Ohio. During my drive I spent more than 3 hours talking to people who reached out to me because:

  1. They were about to graduate from college.
  2. They recently moved and were looking for a job and a network in a new city.
  3. They had lost a job and needed to figure out their next chapter.

I don’t expect a thing from any of the people I try to help. Although I hope my willingness to help encourages them to help others down the road. Just like Paul helped me.

Key Takeaway

Sooner or later we all need a Paul Zukowski. We need someone who can help us chart a new course through a foreign land. While it’s great to find someone who will do that for you, it’s even better to be the Paul Zukowski. To be the one who offers help and guidance while expecting nothing in return. Because it sets off a chain reaction that can make a significant impact on a significant number of people for generations to come. Heck, it can even help a kid from rural Vermont (#redundant) start a career in advertising, launch a business, and launch a blog to share the story with the world.

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The most valuable skill I have.

Do you know what makes you special? In business disciplines like marketing, branding and sales, the key to success is knowing what sets you apart from everyone else. As a marketing strategist I am constantly analyzing my clients to discover and capitalize on their specialness. #SpecialPurpose #IsntThatSpecial.

Turning the Camera Around

Once you train yourself to find the special, unique and rare things in others, you naturally analyze yourself the same way. Many times I have considered what makes me special.  And not to brag, but there are a few things that set me apart.

  1. My feet are among the flattest on Earth. I quite literally have no arches. This was first pointed out to me by my childhood friend Danny Boyle, and confirmed scientifically at a Fleet Feet store during a scan that listed my arches as Not Applicable.
  2. I have no reflexes in my knees. You know how doctors tap patients on the front of the knee and the patient then naturally kicks their leg forward? That doesn’t happen to me, despite the fact that some clinicians have worked up quite a lather trying to get a reaction out of my patellar region.
  3. I was born without two adult teeth. On my upper jaw, my 5th teeth from the center on both sides showed up as baby teeth, with no mature adult teeth behind them. Today I am rocking 2 full-sized implants that more than make up for what mother nature didn’t give me.

However, none of these 3 points offer much of a competitive advantage. Thankfully my 4th and final uniqueness does.

4.      I make friends as fast as anyone on Earth.

For a long time I didn’t know I was unique in this way. But I love meeting new people. So I waste no time converting strangers into lifelong friends.

I am fascinated by people, their stories, experiences, skills and quirks. I love human connections. I love discovering common ground. And I love to learn what you know that I don’t. I devour people the way others devour books.

I am also blessed with a good memory that retains what I have learned about the people I meet. Pro Tip: Friends seem to like it when you remember things about them. Retaining people knowledge also enables me to connect dots and recognize shared connections of people places and things. And ulitmately make more friends.

The Value

In business and in life, my ability to make friends quickly has been my most valuable asset. It helps me develop quick rapport, which ensures that I never feel alone. When I first launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I quickly recognized that I had done the most important work of entrepreneurship 20 to 30 years before launching my business. Because your personal network is critical to connecting the dots necessary to discovering and capitalizing on entrepreneurial opportunities.

Key Takeaway

Friends are the most valuable resources on Earth. Grab as many as you can as quickly as you can. They make everything on the planet better. Don’t be afraid to reach out and make new connections. I do it almost every day. Our friends provide the pathways to the most enjoyable experiences of our lives. They are gateways to opportunities. They provide our personal safety nets. And at the end of our days, our friends and family will be the only things we accumulated in our time on Earth that we will want to carry with us wherever we go next.

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.

It’s time to be more selfish with your time.

Today, millions of  people will be robbed by their co-workers. This thievery is the most under-reported crime in America. Your co-workers are not stealing your cash, or phones or heirloom quality Tupperware from the break room fridge. What they are stealing is far worse.

Time

Time is your most precious commodity. And people take it from you on a daily basis.  They stop by your desk to chat for too long. They cause meetings and phone calls to go longer than necessary. They are turning their lack of planning into your emergencies. The next thing you know, the whistle blows, Fred Flintstone is sliding down his dinosaur, and it’s time to go home. You spent eight hours of your life at work, but your most important work is still undone.

So McGruff The Time Dog is here to tell you that you have got to protect your time. If you want to make a valuable contribution to your organization, you need to use your precious time to execute. You can’t do that when someone stops by to complain that Lucy and Ethel are terrible at packing up the chocolates.

Time Makes The Difference

As a business owner, I look for spare time like spare change in my couch cushions. Because every time I find a few extra minutes, it enables me to spend time working on my business. I can use that valuable time to create new offerings, improve processes and find ways to deliver better work for our clients. But that all takes time.

It is easy to spend all of your time dealing with the needs of others. It may even feel like you are busy working. But you are not advancing your own projects. At the end of the year it is easy to look back and see that you did little to advance your department or your initiatives.

I Must Protect These Hours!

Protecting your time means finding and protecting hours of uninterrupted progress on your own work. That may mean working from home, or a coffee shop, or Chick-Fil-a (which is my secret work-away spot). It may mean blocking off large blocks of time on your calendar so that no one schedules you up. And it may mean putting a sign up in your office space that says you are working on something really important and can’t be interrupted. If that doesn’t work, tell people you have the Bird Flu. Actually, you may want to start with that.

Lock Down The Digital Entries

You will also want to turn off your email, Slack and phone. Because in the digital age, people try to get sneaky and steal your time digitally too. Once your time is fully protected, use it to crank away on your most important work, uninterrupted. Find time to do this every day and you’ll be amazed how much more you can accomplish each week when your are not be constantly chased by Smokey and The Time Bandits.

Key Takeaway

It’s great to be a team player. But you can’t let others take away your scoring opportunities. That’s exactly what happens when you sit in meetings too long, are regularly interrupted, or get sent on wild goose chases (no one ever chases the domesticated geese). Don’t be afraid to be selfish with your time. It’s the only way to advance the work that you are directly responsible for doing. It also keeps your work at work. And prevents you from having to steal time from your personal life to get your work finished.

Sometimes the most important thing to work hard at is patience.

Hard work is important to almost every variety of success. Unless you aspire to be an outstanding subject in a sleep clinic, you have to put in a lot of effort to achieve your goals. That’s why it is so important to pursuit the things you are most passionate about. It is much easier to put in long days of work when you are genuinely excited about the work and the mission.

However…

While hard work is important, it is not the only contributor to business and personal success. Since I launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I have found that the most surprisingly important ingredient to our success has been patience.

Patience

There have been dozens of times over the past 2.5 years when putting in more hard work would have worked against us. That’s because our clients and customers, (and potential clients and customers) have their own timing that has nothing to do with us.

I have had exciting conversations about great opportunities that then took a long time to materialize. I am talking about gestational periods of a year or even 2 years. There are other opportunities that I still expect will materialize 3 years or more after our initial conversations.

That’s a long time to wait for a cake to bake. But there is nothing I, or any of my teammates can do to speed the process along. In fact, calling and asking and pressing the client, or potential client, would only hurt the opportunity.

Key Takeaway

Recognizing when you have done all the hard work you can to generate a new opportunity is an important skill that pays huge dividends over time. Because once you have reached a critical point, less is more. Let the timing that is out of your control take its course. But don’t give up. This is a hard perspective to master. Master it anyway.

*If you have a story to corroborate this need for patience instead of more work, please share.

**Also, this post had nothing to do with people in need of medical care. Thanks anyway spellcheck.

When you are great at what you do, no one cares what you wear.

Yesterday I had a bee and wasp specialist come to my house to handle a situation. A buzzillon yellow jackets found a small opening in my siding, and Goldilocks-ed their way into the just-right attic space above my garage, where they built a watermelon sized nest.

Dennis, aka The Bee Guy, (not to be confused with the Bee Man, Bee Boy or Bee Gees) walked up to the spot where the yellow jackets were throwing me a house swarming party, and calmly said he could take care of the problem. He said, ‘But first let’s look to see if there are any other areas of concern.’

Those Little Stingkers!

We walked around the house, and sure enough, he found another active area on the back side of the house that we hadn’t noticed. Then he got to work. He treated both of the nests, and soon it was clear that these Georgia Tech mascots were no longer active residents in my home.

The Kicker

Dennis never put on any protective gear. He never put on any netting, or armor or even bug spray. He did his work in jeans and a short sleeve shirt. And he did it really well. He talked me through each step. He even walked me through the proprietary equipment he used that he had invented and created himself. I could tell that Dennis knew his profession as well as anyone could (I bet he got all bees in school).

Key Takeaway

Don’t be fooled by clothing. It is easy to buy the right clothes to look the part. It is much harder to have the skills the part requires. There is no direct relationship between clothing and expertise. I have found over and over again that people who are truly experts don’t get caught up in looking the way you think they would or should or could. So focus on gaining knowledge and experience. Become great at what you do. The more value you offer others, the less value they will place on your appearance. Which is good news for a man who looks like me.

How in the world do you schedule your time?

My daughter Ava wants to work at The Weaponry. She is 12. While a 12-year-old may not seem like a valuable asset to an ad agency, she is a really great writer and a very creative thinker. She has a blog, she has adapted a novel she read into a screenplay, and is currently writing a murder-mystery chapter book. Oh, and she has created a series on the new Instagram TV. But she rarely makes her bed. So there’s that.

She recently asked me when she can come to work with me and help out. I told her that I would have to check my schedule to see what might work. She responded with a very simple, but surprisingly profound question:

How do you determine your schedule?

 Good Question

This made me think more deeply about my schedule in an attempt to explain it. I told her that I start with deadlines. I look at all of the things that The Weaponry has to create and the due dates for each. Then I schedule my time to focus on those projects, in order of priority, from hottest to coolest.

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Your schedule starts as a blank slate. How much time do you put into thinking about how you fill it?   

But this begs the question, ‘If it weren’t for deadlines or due dates, what would your schedule look like?’ For entrepreneurs, there is always something more to do. But this is really true of every job, right? So, how do you add tasks to your schedule that don’t have deadlines?

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If you haven’t thought deeply about how you schedule your day, maybe you need a 12-year-old daughter.

How I Do It.

I have found there are 3 things that I incorporate into my schedule, despite the fact that they don’t have due dates.

Connecting:  I am a natural connector.  I think people are the most interesting machines on the planet. I highly value my relationships. More importantly, I maintain my relationships. And when I think of someone, or have a little bell that dings in the back of my head that lets me know it has been too long since we’ve last spoken, I reach out. This is an important part of my regular schedule, and should be part of yours too.

Closing Gaps: At The Weaponry we spend time exploring the gaps between where our organization is today, and our idealized, fully formed organization of the future. As a result, we often think about our shortcomings. Although I don’t think of them as shortcomings. I simply see things that we are not doing, or don’t have yet, that we will in our ideal state. This is about improving our processes, procedures, systems and infrastructure. Entrepreneurs call this working on your business. But I think everyone can benefit from more gap closing. Except maybe The Gap.

Things that excite me: I always leave room for things that interest me. Since we are an idea generating machine, there are always exciting ideas bouncing around our office. I try to find as much time to explore those ideas as possible. This could involve a new way to look at our clients’ challenges. It could be a new product idea, an additional service, or an idea that could transform our business. I often get excited about new ideas for t-shirts, buttons, stickers or hats for The Weaponry. I love thinking about new messaging for our walls too. Most businesses could benefit from more time exploring good ideas. I do it everyday. You should pencil in some Idea Time this week.

Key Takeaway

Our lives are full of deadline-driven must do’s. They become the studs around which we build our daily schedules. But the key to making each day great is the elective activities you work into your calendar. Whether you use the same approach I do (time for connecting, closing gaps and ideas that excite) or your own formula, make sure your daily schedule isn’t simply driven by email requests and meetings. As Steven R. Covey notes in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, engaging in important, non-urgent activities is a key determinant of success. Remember that as you schedule your week.

And Ava, this Friday looks like a good day for you to come to work with me. Make sure your pencils are sharp. (That’s just an old expression. I guess it means, make sure your laptop is fully charged.)