50,000 reasons to take all your vacation days in 2016.

Right now millions of Americans are trying to figure out how to squeeze in the last of their remaining vacation days. Or worse, they are watching them disappear into the ether like the rest of 2015. According to a study by Oxford Economics the average American hits Dick Clark-Seacrest’s Rockin Eve with one week of unused vacation days still in their pocket. And when the ball hits Jenny McCarthy the vacation days disappear like gym goers in February.

This disturbing little study, commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association puts current vacation day consumption at the lowest point in the past four decades. And for those of you who don’t have a days-to-dollars calculator in your head, the result is 169 million days forfeited, amounting to $52.4 billion in lost benefits. Which means that your most valuable charitable contribution this year likely didn’t go to your church, the homeless or curing cancer. It went to your employer.

But there is yet a deeper problem here that The Perfect Agency Project would like to address. It’s the negative impact forgoing your vacation days has on your creative thinking. In fact, according to the National Science Foundation humans have an average of 50,000 thoughts every day. And if you don’t enjoy new experiences, read new books and meet new people you know what happens?  You have the same 50,000 thoughts day after day.  This type of stale thinking is career-threatening if you are a writer, art director, creative director, designer, strategist, developer, programer or marketer.

To enhance your creativity you have to add new fuel to the fire.  And the best way to do that is to take a day off and experience something new.  Travel somewhere you’ve never been. Meet someone new. Jump off something you’ve never jumped off. Scare yourself. Binge watch sunrises and sunsets. Visit a museum. Go to Burning Man. Because new stimuli create new memories. Which create new thoughts and new pathways. You will naturally incorporate all of these new thoughts into your work.  Which empowers you to solve new problems with more beautiful solutions.

So if you want to make 2016 your most creative and innovative year yet take your vacation days. It will freshen your thinking, expand your brain and make you a more valuable asset to your organization.  Oh, and if you do decide to jump off something you’ve never jumped off before make sure your mom isn’t driving by in her minivan. Trust me on this one.

 

 

 

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I’d like to hire the fly that landed in my ranch dressing.

Finding great people to improve your team is one of the greatest responsibilities of leadership. But how do we really know who to hire? I recently read that Jim Koch, Founder of Boston Beer (maker of Samuel Adams) said that each new hire must raise the overall average. But a resume only tells us part of the story. References come from people who say nice things (I always use my Grammy). And softball skills only add value between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

So you have to be prepared to recognize great talent wherever you see it. Recently I was having an excellent restaurant experience in Nashville. My family and I ate at one of our favorite restaurants near Vanderbilt (no, not Cracker Barrel). It was a nice day so we ate outside. The food and service were great. My kids behaved. But near the end of the meal a funny thing happened. A fly dive-bombed into my ranch dressing.  I was too surprised and amused to be mad at the little fella. But needless to say his appearance pulled the plug on all chicken dippin activities.

I quickly discovered that you can learn a lot about someone when they are up to their neck in dressing. The longer I watched him (I assumed he was a guy and named him Flynel Richie) the more I admired this little bugger. In fact, before I paid the bill I saw three of the most important attributes I see in great co-workers in little Flynel. So what do great teammates do that lesser teammates do not?

1. They go for what they want.

Flynel knew what he wanted. You must too. You need to know exactly what you want in your career. Write it down. Focus on it, dream about it. Whether it’s a better job, more money, or a nice crunchy crouton, set the image in your mind.  Then when you see the opportunity to make progress towards it you dive-bomb your goal like my little guy.

2. They keep on moving

Rodney Atkins had a hit country song in 2006 called, “If you’re going through Hell keep on going.” Since we were in Nashville I assume the fly had heard that song.  Because that little guy was motivated. He kept moving. Kept working. Kept pumping all six of his little multi-jointed legs. He never gave up.  And he kept making slow but steady progress.  Flynel was the kind of fly you’d want to share a foxhole with.

3. They build connections.

The thing that ultimately saved Flynel was his networking skills.  As I watched him work his way across the Great Ranch Lake he kept looking at me. Seriously. In that moment I was his only friend, his cheerleader and ultimately his lifeline.  He looked up at me as if to say, ‘Hey Sport, imagine if you were me.  Pretty rough, huh? Just a fly who saw some delicious ranch dressing he knew he wanted, went after it, and got in a little too deep. Yeah, I see you sitting there with your wife and kids. I’ve got a wife and kids. And I’d sure like to make it out of this dressing to see them again.’

So I lent him a hand. Actually, I lowered him a butter knife.  He walked on. I airlifted him out like the Ranch Dressing Coast Guard. I wiped him off.  And set him on the ground. The little guy Tebowed for a moment and then took off.

I took a moment to reflect.  I have a strong vision of what I want in my career.  I am careful not to lose my head in the dressing. And you’re not likely to find me giving up. But I sure hope I’m making personal connections strong enough to ensure that when I need help someone will lend me a butter knife.