Why I embrace last-minute requests and ridiculous deadlines.

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.

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The one simple thing that separates Dreamers from Doers.

The one simple thing that separates Dreamers from Doers.

Everyone has a dream. Me. You. MLK Jr., Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Yet the number of people who do something to make their dreams a reality is really small. Like Pluto vs. Jupiter.

So what’s the difference between Dreamers and Doers?  I’m glad you asked. Wait, I asked. Well, I’m glad I asked because you should know the answer.

A Deadline.

A goal is a dream with a deadline.  -Napoleon Hill

Time constraints motivate you to action. If you are serious about your dream, give yourself a deadline to make it a reality. Because a deadline tells you what you need to be doing now. (Hint: You can start by setting a deadline to take the first step. I do this a lot.)

When you were in school it was easy to set goals like these:

  • Make the varsity team.
  • Make first chair violin.
  • Get the lead part in the play.
  • Go to a party with cool kids.
  • Become an emcee of the Winter Carnival Talent Show and orchestrate a stunt to get the show shut down forever.

In school you have 4 (or 5) years to bring your dreams to life. That finite amount of time is a critical driver. Because you can’t stay in school forever (unless you were this guy named Brucey from my hometown).

But once you get past your schooling you start to float in an odd, timeless space. It’s like losing the effects of gravity once you leave Earth.  Time is still slipping by. You just don’t notice it until it’s too late. Like alcohol in a really fruity drink.

We all need time to ground us.

Time scarcity is what tells us what we need to do NOW.

If you want to accomplish great things, travel exciting places, learn new skills or start a business, you need deadlines. The deadline creates the urgency to act today.

When I turned 40 I set a goal of starting my own ad agency by the time I was 42. I easily beat the deadline. The time limit forced me to start moving. And when I started moving things developed quickly.  I set timelines for other business plans at the same time. Those plans are coming to life now too. On the other hand, I have a whole mess of dreams that I haven’t given deadlines. Those dreams are just floating out there, like Sandra Bullock, calling to George Clooney.

Dreaming is fun and easy. But it won’t translate to wealth, experience, accomplishment or pride without a deadline. Set one for yourself. Or set a lot of deadlines. Accomplish a lot. I’m giving you until midnight on Sunday to take the first step.  You’re on the clock. Tick…Tick…Tick…

How does your job look on you?

How does your job look on you?

How often do you take a good long look at your job? Once a year? Once an hour? Once a never? It is really easy to stop evaluating your job and simply accept it as your reality.  Then years go by, and your job search muscles atrophy to the point where you can barely lift your interviewing suit off the hanger.

Many of us accept our jobs as necessary, but not special. Your job provides the money you need for critical things like food, clothing, shelter and a mobile phone. However, the ‘necessary evil’ mindset leads many of us to jobs that are just… fine.

But life it too short, and the workday is too long for fine.

I have reevaluated my job-love frequently throughout my career. But instead of job-hopping I have used my evaluations to tailor my jobs in ways that kept them feeling enjoyable, dynamic and growth-oriented.

A New Lens

A couple of years ago, while mentally jogging, I began thinking of my job as clothing. It made me consider my personal style, the image I want to show the world and my personal comfort. In that context it was clear to me that my current job didn’t fit me. The size, style and cut of the clothing was nice. But it just wasn’t for me. Clothes are highly personal that way.

So I decided to do something about it. I got all idyllic. I thought a lot about the perfect job. I thought about the perfect place to work, the perfect kind of work and the perfect culture. I even started a blog about it. Maybe you’ve read it.

I concluded that the specific place I was looking for didn’t exist, yet. So I started the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry.  Today, I couldn’t be happier. Everything about it seems to fit me. It seems the people working at The Weaponry are enjoying their experience too.  Perhaps because we set out to make this a really enjoyable place to work. Perhaps this is because, like fashion designers preparing for a runway show, we have been able to pick people for our team that we knew would look good in our jobs.

Now, back to you.

Today  I want you to think of your job as a piece of clothing.  It could be a dress, a suit, a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, a blouse or jacket. I want you to think about the fit and feel of your current job. Think about the style and the silhouette.

Now, let’s evaluate.

14 Questions To Ask Yourself About Your Job, If It Were A Piece Of Clothing.

  1. Do I like wearing it?
  2. Does it fit me well?
  3. Do I choose to wear it as often as I can?
  4. Would I only wear it if everything else was in the laundry?
  5. How would I feel if an old boyfriend or girlfriend saw me wearing this?
  6. Is it out of style?
  7. It is well-tailored to me?
  8. Does it make my butt look big?
  9. Am I excited that I own it?
  10. Do I get compliments when I wear it?
  11. Does wearing it make me feel stronger, more attractive or more fun?
  12. Could I really benefit from removing it from my closet?
  13. Is it the right style, but too big or too small?
  14. Do I cringe when I see the types of other people who wear what I’m wearing?

Here’s the reality: Your job really is like a piece of clothing. You wear it more than anything else you own.  Yet many people would be better off donating their jobs to Goodwill. You may think your current position is better than nothing. But I know many people who would look better wearing no job than the one they currently have.

You have more career options than you realize. You have the ability to create your own job, perfectly tailored to you.  Don’t ever forget that.  The more you enjoy your job, the more you enjoy your life. As far as I know, we only get one shot to get this right. So find something you love to do and a place you love to do it. If you find it doesn’t exist, make it yourself.

Why art school students fail to find jobs, and what to do about it.

Why art school students fail to find jobs, and what to do about it.

I love art schools. The creative vibe at these colleges makes me want to make something. I dig the students buzzing around campus, toting art projects with their backpacks crammed full of supplies. The experimental clothing that often adorns these boundary-explorers creates a feeling of Kindergarten 2.0. Or Kindergarten 20, since most of the students are in their 20s and still playing with glitter and glue.

Ahh, to be creating art again without clients or the budgetary limitations that kill your hopes and dreams…  I re-experience the excitement of art school every spring when I visit campuses for portfolio reviews and senior exhibits. Having spent 20 years in advertising, collaborating with art directors and designers, I know some of these students are going to experience amazing adventures, create rewarding work and make great money.

But in the next breath (and the next paragraph) I find these schools depressing. While all of these students are following their passion, many of them will never enjoy an art-fed income that will enable them to buy fancy peanut butter and gourmet ramen.

The 3 Types That Fail

The art school students that won’t make it professionally fall into 3 categories:

The Weirdo. This is the weird art kid that is so weird that even the art kids (who are tolerant and even inspired by the odd, unique and experimental) think is too weird. These students don’t have a natural place in business. So, unless they create their own jobs, they are out of luck. Sorry. (Consolation prize: If you would have followed any other educational adventure you were likely to have had the same result. So study what you love).

The Nartist.  This student is simply not an artist.  They don’t have applicable art skills.  Often they are horrible at art but love it so much they are willing to pay for schooling that will help them learn theory, but not be able to apply it in a meaningful way. Natural selection prevents them from getting, or at least maintaining, a meaningful creative job.  It’s sad that their dreams die. But that means it is simply time for a new, more realistic dream. Note: this person exists in every field. There are Nastronauts, Nengineers, Noptometrists, Neducators and Nactors.

The Quitter.  This person has the skills, a passable personality and hides their weirdness well. They just don’t hold out long enough, search hard enough, network, follow-up, stand out from the crowd or demand their chance.  This represents the vast majority of students who won’t find a job.

 

I don’t get bummed by The Weirdo or Nartist. Those people were born to not work in art. I am bummed by The Quitter. The one who could have done more to make her dream a reality. The one who just needed more grit. The Quitter has real skills, even if they are still developing. I hate to see these colorful and interesting berries wither on the vine.  But The Quiter is not unique to art school. Every school develops talented and capable students who fail to find jobs in their chosen profession because they give up too soon.

3 Keys:

Action

If you want to find a great job, doing what you love, initiative is everything. You have to stick to it. You have to spot your opportunities and capitalize on them. You have to learn what works in your book. Keeping adding to it. Go well beyond your college art projects and create work that will help you land a job. Ask for informational interviews. Offer to prove your abilities for free.  Stand up and stand out.

Sell

Art students are often so concerned with not selling out, that they fail to sell themselves at all. Selling yourself is key to opening doors and creating opportunities to making a living off your creative skills. Ultimately, to make money in a creative profession you need to make things that sell.  Whether it’s your work itself that sells, or your work helps sell other products or services, no one avoids selling. Understand it. Get good at it.

Network

When I meet students, I usually offer them my business card and invite them to contact me if I can be of assistance. About 1% of the students follow-up.  Many of those who contact me have landed internships or jobs.  Last week I handed out about 25 business cards to students. I’ll be surprised if I hear from more than two of them. This is why people fail (or maybe it’s a sign that I’m actually a Wierdo Nartist).

The Bottom Line

You have to take action and be creative in the way you pursue a creative job. Do it. It’s worth it. I can’t think of a better way to earn money than being paid for your creativity. So let’s make sure that more art students who deserve jobs get jobs in art. These are not jobs to be shipped overseas or automated by robots. If you have some good job-finding advice, please add it to the comment section below.  But the responsibility is still on the student. Get out there and network, hustle and sell yourself.  It’s your future. Paint it. Sculpt it. Or Photoshop yourself into it.

The one thing you need to know to effectively work a room.

The one thing you need to know to effectively work a room.

We’ve all been told not to talk to strangers. But I love strangers. The stranger the better. This may be because I have moved a lot. Which means I’ve often found myself amongst people I don’t know. But most people are less comfortable with total strangers than I am. This is probably a good human survival mechanism. A mechanism I lack.

As the Founder of The Weaponry, I know that the ability to talk to strangers is critical for entrepreneurs. If you don’t talk to strangers you are not growing your business. Or helping  anyone else grow theirs. When I meet a potential new client, it is our ability to connect as humans first that leads to us working together.

I believe in building on my strengths. So recently I listened to the audio book How To Work A Room by Susan RoAne.  I figured I would find a valuable new nugget or two.  And I did.

The most important thing I learned from the book is this:

When people find themselves with other people they don’t know, they adopt one of two behaviors:  1. A guest mindset. or 2. A host mindset.

The guest mindset adopts the attitude of the outsider, of the person who waits for others to make the first move. They wait to be introduced, or welcomed or fed. They wait to join or participate until they receive an invitation. If you have a party full of guest-mindsets, you don’t have a party.

The host mindset means you initiate. You welcome others, introduce them, offer them food or drink or a crack at catching the greased pig (depending on what kind of event you typically attend).  You activate the party. If you want to feel at home and enjoy any group of strangers, take on a host mindset.

This is what I do. I just didn’t have a name for it. I don’t wait for someone else to decide whether or not I am worthy to talk to (I probably am not).  I make the first move. I create the introduction. I act as if it were my job to make people feel welcomed.

I’ve found that when you don’t worry about rejection you don’t get rejected. Think of it like a Junior High dance. You just have to walk up to someone and say, ‘Stairway to Heaven is a sweet tune. Let’s dance. And let’s not worry about the fact that this song will gradually speed up, and we’re going to go from a slow dance into a full-on rock song, and we won’t know when we should stop holding on to each other.’ Remember the Stairway analogy. Because holding on to one person too long at a social gathering also becomes awkward.

If you want to enjoy a room full of strangers more, lose the Stranger Danger, and act like it’s your party, your wedding, your conference or luncheon.  Start by introducing yourself to others. Ask people about themselves. So, where are you from? What do you do for work? Where did you go to school?  How do you know the homeowner?  Why are your palms so sweaty?  Why the neck tatttoo?

There are people at every gathering who are just dying for someone else to make the first move. They don’t know they should be doing it. Because they never read this blog. Or How To Work A Room. Or danced with me in Junior High. Help them out. Be a host. They may be extremely interesting or valuable to you. They’re just not comfortable initiating. So you have to be. And you’ll enjoy the rewards.  You never know when that total stranger may have the kindness, connection or kidney you need.

Why I ask job candidates if they can Double Dutch.

Why I ask job candidates if they can Double Dutch.

Starting something new is hard. I’m not just talking about things like going to prison. Which I imagine is really hard at first. And in the middle. And towards the end.  It’s hard to be a rookie at anything. Some people enjoy the luxury of not caring whether or not they look dumb doing something new. I don’t have that luxury. I care.

But I also really enjoy taking on new challenges. And I have developed my own technique for starting new activities that you may find usefeul. I refer to it as my Double Dutch technique.  You remember Double Dutch. It’s the playground activity where you try to jump two ropes, swinging simultaneously, in opposite directions. Because jumping one swinging rope just isn’t hard enough.  Double Dutch can be a ridiculously intimidating activity. Those ropes are relentlessly nipping at your heels. And once they bite your foot the game immediately halts to bring everyone’s attention to your failure.

But I like Double Dutch. It’s an activity for people who like to try hard things. It’s much more challengeing than single Dutch, or non-Dutch rope jumping. And it’s infinitely harder than just jumping up and down with no rope (which always earns me funny looks).

I like to try hard things.  It makes me feel stronger, more confident and more capable. It makes me feel like I am growing. And I like to work with others who enjoy pushing themselves.

Today, I utilize my Double Dutch technique all the time as I grow my advertising agency, The Weaponry. Because not only am I taking on new challenges personally, I want our entire team to continuously expand our capabilities and find new and better ways to help our clients.

Here’s how my Double Dutch technique works.

I get close to the activity. To get a feel for Double Dutch you have to step into that space right next to the ropes. And when I start something new I try to first get really close to the action without fully engaging.  There is something about being close to the activity that helps you absorb how it works quicker. If you want to climb Mt. Everest go to basecamp first to get aclimated.

I watch others. Aside from the very first Double Dutchers on Earth, whom I assume were twins from Amsterdam, I bet no one has ever tried jumping the two-ropes-of-doom without first watching someone else do it. That’s why I always watch other people performing the task I want to learn. I study the moves, the attitude and the technique. Much like an actor studies others when preparing to play a role.

I find the rhythm  Double Dutch has a unique rhythm all its own. You have to get in sync with it to succeed. Most human interactions are like this. The interactions at a networking event, a yoga class, and in business meetings follow a certain flow and cadence. Learn them so you can anticipate the order and timing of the activity.

I jump in. At some point if you want to Double Dutch you have to jump in.  Once I have armed myself reasonably well by getting close to an activity, watching it, and finding the rhythm, I channel my inner Davd Lee Roth and I jump (might as well, right DLR?). Sometimes it goes well from the start. Other times I need a mulligan.

I recalibrate  In Double Dutch the rope tells you what you did wrong. And the problem is always that you touched the rope. The question is where. Use that feedback to do better on the next try. If you jumped too soon, wait another beat. If you jumped too late, go a bit sooner.  This is little data at its best. Create a new plan based on the learnings.

I jump in again. And again.  To jump ropes you have to keep trying. This is how life works. Get in and jump, over and over until you get it right. Whether you want to build a great brand, learn how to knit, or run QuickBooks, there is ultimately no substitute for doing. Be a do-er.

As you focus on growth and acquiring new skills consider the Double Dutch approach. Give yourself a chance to get close, observe, absorb, try, learn and try again. Soon you will find yourself in rhythm, jumping, and singing, ‘Big Mac, Filet-O-Fish, Quarter Pounder, French Fries.’ Let’s talk about how well you’re doing when I see you at recess. Until then, here’s a little inspiration.

How to get smarter every time you get in a car.

How to get smarter every time you get in a car.

If you are like most people, you are on a long intellectual decline. Sure, you absorbed a lot of knowledge in school. But once you left high school or college or became a beauty school dropout, you stopped learning. Ok, ok, so you still ‘learn something new everyday.’ Maybe you pick up a little trivia under a Snapple cap. You learn that the very first touch tone phones didn’t have pound or star symbols. Or you learn that Americans invented Mexican, Italian and Chinese food.  But that’s not exactly growth learning.

True growth learning is extremely important to me. Because I learned at an early age that the stock version of Adam Albrecht was pretty ordinary. I have a vision of myself as a much better, smarter, stronger, funnier, nicer, braver, more capable human than I am today. Therefore I’m always trying to close the gap between the me in my head and the me on my couch.

One of the best habits I have developed to create a better me is listening to audio books while I drive. I stumbled onto my audiobook interest accidentally.  In 2009-ish I attended the Hachette Book Group’s annual book sale, just north of Indianapolis.  For one weekend in June everything is on sale for a dollar. So I bet a dollar on Ted Turner’s ‘Call me Ted’ audiobook. I loved the book. But more importantly, I learned from it.

  1. I learned how a kid who didn’t apply himself well in school could become among the wealthiest people on the planet by applying himself at life.
  2. I learned that to make wild leaps in your accomplishments you sometimes need to take wild risks.
  3. I learned that meeting room antics can make you highly memorable.
  4. I learned that pursuing your passionate interests can change the world.
  5. I learned that through mergers and acquisitions you can get tossed out of your own company.
  6. I learned the immense impact of philanthropy.
  7. I learned the value of keeping your eye on the future.
  8. I learned that the first Ted’s Montana Grill was in my former hometown of Columbus, Ohio. (ok, so this is a little more Snapple cap-esque)
  9. I learned how the right people and processes can turn losers like the Atlanta Braves into World Series Champions.
  10. I learned that Jane Fonda is a pretty great lady to have on your arm when you walk into a party.

So I sought out more audiobooks. I listened to biographies and self-help books. I listened to history books and books about the future. Now I pick up nuggets of knowledge and pearls of wisdom every day when I drive. I will often stop the audiobook and ask Siri to take a note for me, repeating a quote I heard, or paraphrasing a lesson so that I can review later.  It’s my way of highlighting the key passages as I listen. Just as I did in college.

Soon, the audiobooks made me feel like I was winning at life. Because I realized that by listening and learning on my commute I would arrive at work smarter than when I left home. Later that day I would arrive home smarter than I was when I left work.

Since I left the University of Wisconsin, no other activity has so clearly added layers of depth to my thinking, new lenses through which to view the world, or examples of how to choose my own adventures like my audiobook lessons. Today, The Perfect Agency Project owns a library of audiobook titles that our team can checkout anytime they want. Which is the easiest way I know to grow a stronger and smarter team without adding new people.

Many of you will be flying or road tripping over the next few days for the Thanksgiving holiday. I encourage you to stop by your local library to check out the audiobook section before you hit the highways or flyways. I bet you’ll be surprised  by the range of titles and topics. And it’s all free (unless you count the taxes you already paid that bought the books). Of course, there are also plenty of digital resources, like Audible and Amazon. When you find something you like, shoot me a message. I am always looking for great new reads, or listens, or learns, or whatever we should call them. If you’re interested, I’m happy post a list of my recommendations too.

Happy Thanksgiving. Safe travels. And I hope your thinking expands as much as your waistline.