Why I now have a curiosity curfew.

I am a self-proclaimed Early Owl. This rare avian species is a cross between an Early Bird and a Night Owl. Which means I love to go to bed late AND get up early. It’s how I am squeeing* as much as I can out of life. (*Squeeing is just squeezing without the required Zzz’s).

Night School

I don’t sleep nearly as much as I should. But I recognize the value of good sleep. Whenever I force myself to get a little more of that night magic I feel even better. Lately, I’ve been going back to school on the power of sleep. My coursework includes the writings by born-again sleep evangelist, Ariana Huffington, including her books Thrive and The Sleep Revolution.

I have learned that only 27 percent of American grown-folk get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night during the week. Only 10 percent prioritize sleep over other daily activities. And I want to be in that number, when the saints come marching in.

Your Best Bet Is A Better Bedtime

The key to getting more sleep is going to bed earlier. In fact, going to bed early is the adult version of sleeping in. Historically I have had serious trouble with this. And I have identified the main cause.

My late nights are not a result of drugs or alcohol. I never found the on-ramp to either of those hobbies (although they look fun). I don’t stay up late playing video games or studying pornography (although they both look fun too). I don’t guzzle coffee or energy drinks. Unless you consider chocolate milk an energy drink. I just call it delicious.

My Problem

My sleep problem is a result of a chronically curious brain. At night, when my wife and three children are in bed, my curiosity and I are ready to party.  I love to read. I gobble up books, magazines, and online articles like a turkey. My curiosity helps me chew through online videos, social media posts, and Netflix programing like a starving goat. My curiosity will devour everything and anything. The whole world is interesting to me. Which makes my curiosity the #1 enemy of my sleep.

If my curiosity is allowed to run feral, it will sprint past midnight, and well into the early morning hours. But my alarm is always set for 6am, whether I go to bed at 10pm (never) or 2am. I typically get under 6 hours of sleep. But I am working hard to up that to 7 hours.

The New Plan

I have come up with an idea to help me sleep more. It is borrowed from an idea that has been around since the invention of the teenager. I have implemented a self-imposed Curiosity Curfew. As of 11pm on weeknights, I have to put the books, magazines and iPhone down. I turn my TV/Netflix/Internetting device off. If I have work to do I can still do it. But no more exploring the world. It is the best thing I can think of to get my head to bed earlier.

Key Takeaway

Sleep is important. It’s how you refresh, recharge, rebound, reenergize and regenerate. If you are going to bed too late, identify the cause, and implement a curfew on the offender. It will help you increase your overall sleep. And getting enough sleep is both a health and quality of life issue. As good as you may think you are with little sleep, you are always better with more.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them. 

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How to collect more points for creative thinking.

Creative thinking requires you to fill your head with interesting stimuli. This takes effort. Because life’s most interesting elements don’t just show up on your doorstep like Ed McMahon, with a giant check, balloons and a camera crew. That’s why I make a regular point of visiting museums.

Long before social media and hipster shopping sites made curation seem like a cool new idea, museums around the world began curating facts, images, stories, ideas and experiences. Museum-style binge-learning helps you stretch your mind in unexpected directions. This is good for everyone. But essential for professional creative thinkers, like me.

My Kind of Museums, Chicago Has.

Over the past 2 days I have visited some of the greatest museums in the world. The Field Museum of Natural History, The Museum of Science and Industry, and the Shedd Aquarium, all in Chicago.

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My family and I hit the museums hard in Chicago this weekend. Not to mention the pizza, hot dogs and donuts.

I visit the Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry at least once a year. But there is so much to see that I always find new things to tickle my brain. Here are a smattering of things that caught my attention this weekend.

9 Things That Stretched My Brain

1. Sea Dragons

These beautiful little dragons don’t breathe fire. But they do look like bigger, more elegant versions of sea horses. What really fascinated me were the almost invisible fins near their bums, and behind their heads, that provide propulsion and change of direction. The Mother of Sea Dragons should be very proud of her intriguing little offspring.

2. The Helicoprion

Check out that lower jaw!  That thing is ridiculous! It is like a weaponized dip-lip. Wait a minute, maybe these sharks chewed tobacco, got mouth cancer and that’s why they went extinct.  #truthsleuth

3. Vertical Farms

I learned how vertical farms in sky scrapers could help us feed urban populations, close to home, year round, without weather reliance or threats of drought. I also like the idea of growing popcorn at high enough elevations that it pops itself.

4. Our Proximity to Space

The quote above is a novel thought to me. Evel Knievel and Bo and Luke Duke were more like astronauts than I ever knew. In fact, we are often closer to outer space than we are to neighboring states. It makes me want to stop by to borrow a cup of space sugar.

5. Zheng He’s Treasure Ship

Holy Ship! Check out this beautiful Chinese vessel! I had a hard time wrapping my head around how big the actual ship was, based on how long ago it was built. Read the story below for more. 

 

6. The Rate of Extinction

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This is a frightening number. Although it also makes me wonder how many species are created every day. Oh, and when the asteroid that killed the dinos hit, it also wiped out half of the other species on Earth. #NeverForget

7. The Tiger River Stingray

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I was fascinated by the pattern on these rays. It made me wonder which came first, the tiger or the tiger ray? This species should get its own breakfast cereal. Tony-Ray, The Tiger River Ray, would make a Grrrrrrreat spokesperson.

8. How Sue Got Its name

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Sue, The T-Rex, is the most famous dinosaur in the world. Ok, maybe it is just the most famous dinosaur in my world. But I never knew why it was named Sue. It was actually discovered by Sue Hendrickson, an explorer and fossil collector in South Dakota. And hence the name. Although scientist don’t know if it was a male or female. (Don’t you just look at it’s private fossils?)

9. How They Got The Boeing 727 to The Museum

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I have been on this airplane at the MSI many times. But I never thought about how it arrived at its current location. There is a fun video that plays nearby that tells the story. Highlights: It was flown to an airport on the lakeshore. It was loaded onto a barge, and then driven/pulled across the beach, down the street and into the parking lot. Then, one of the museums massive columns had to be removed to bring it into the building. When it was finally in place there was a huge celebration with tiny little bags of peanuts.

Key Takeaway

If you want to think in new and more interesting ways, you have to continue to feed your brain new and more interesting food. There is no better way to expand your thinking than exploring a museum. I encourage you to find one near you with a reciprocal membership that offers access to museums in other cities. That way you can see great museums whenever you travel. Or better yet, you’ll have great new reasons to travel.

Bonus Points: Can anyone name the art museum in the featured image at the top of this post? Leave your guesses in the comment section!

Why the right-brain vs left-brain talk makes me want to scream.

When I was a child I was fascinated to learn that the brain is not one solid organ. The brain is actually divided, down the middle, into two hemispheres un-creatively known as the right brain and left brain. The brainispheres have different job assignments. Essentially they work like a great team, dividing the responsibilities of braining for humans into separate but equal parts. Which means your brain works like Siegfried and Roy, Abbott and Costello or Dumb & Dumber.

Choosing Sides

People often talk about being either right-brained or left-brained. If you have not heard such talk, it goes like this: The right side of the brain is thought to control your creative and artistic thinking. While your left brain controls your logic and rational behavior. As with politics, when it comes to braining, people often identify with one side or the other.

I have spent my entire career as a professional creative thinker. I started out as a Copywriter and progressed to the title of Chief Creative Officer. Every title I had for 20 years had either the word writer or creative in it. So it’s natural to sort me into the right-brained team. People do it all the time. In conversations I hear people say ‘You right-brained types…’ or ‘Us right-brained types…’

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Lookie there! Your brain has a coin slot too.

However…

I have never thought of myself as being right-brained. Not once. Ever. I have never thought of myself as being primarily a creative thinker. It’s not that I don’t think creatively. I know I do. But I also use careful analysis and logic every day. I love the scientific method and the absoluteness of math. I enjoy calculating my taxes. But I don’t enjoy stereotypes. Except for Bose. Those guys make great types of stereos.

Business Thinking

The latest role in my career has been as an Entrepreneur. As the Founder & CEO of the advertising and idea agency The Weaponry, I am required to use all of my brain at work. While our service offering is unquestionably creative, everything else about the business is decidedly based in the left brain. I have to think about our accounting, finances, benefits, and human resources. I have to establish processes for project management, account management, and invoicing.

There is not an element of business that I don’t I feel comfortable with. I understand, appreciate and enjoy all of the thinking that goes into starting and running a business. I see it all as a big system of constants and variables. Some disciplines require more creative thinking. Others require very practical analysis. I am thankful that my brains get along like Bert and Ernie. Their daily cooperation helps me function as one whole person.

Unlabeling

It is limiting, if not damaging to label people, including yourself, as right-brained or left- brained. According to Dr. Daniel G. Amen in his book Making A Good Brain Great, it is a myth that we only use 10% of our brain. Our entire brain is on and working our entire lives, even when we sleep. If you were born with, and still have, both hemispheres of your brain, use them. Some skills and processes may come more naturally. But that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t work to develop the others.

Key Takeaway

The danger in the right-brain, left-brain labels is that you will start to believe that you can’t do things. Then you won’t take on tasks or challenges, because you have told yourself you are no good at them. But you can be. You just have to make sure you are not limiting your thinking.

6 things I didn’t do on my trip to India that will surprise you.

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.

  1. I didn’t watch any movies.
  2. I didn’t watch any TV.
  3. I didn’t listen to any music.
  4. I didn’t play any games.
  5. I didn’t do any puzzles.
  6. I didn’t mind the travel at all.

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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.

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Reading

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.

Work

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.

Writing

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.)

Key Takeaway

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.

Do you know that your smart phone is robbing you every day?

Digital devices are amazing. They enable you to find the answer to virtually any question, any time. They help you fill in knowledge gaps like grout. Or mortar. Or caulk.

So we end up filling our free time by answering questions: What is the weather like tomorrow? Tap. What’s the balance in my bank account? Tap. What is Debbie doing? Tap. Is she still in Dallas? Tap. What was Gregory Hines famous for? Tap. What do you call water from the faucet? Tap.

The Dark Side

But these omnipresent digital devices have a significant downside too. They are depleting one of our most valuable resources: our free time. That precious time when we can let our minds wander in empty space. The time we can use to imagine exciting new ideas is disappearing at an alarming rate. In fact, the planet is losing free time faster than we are losing rain forest (acutally I just imagined that fact in my free time).

If we are not careful we will squander our most fertile time to invent, improve and inspire. That time lost can never be recovered. Not even with LoJack.

The world needs more great ideas. So do businesses, communities, schools and households. Great ideas are born in the quiet spaces in between. Those spaces that are now being filled in with screen time.

Key Takeaway

Starting today, take back some of your thinking time. While you are waiting for something to start, or something to end, or someone to show up, keep your smart phone in your pocket or purse. Instead, let your mind go wherever it wants. If you give it enough time it is sure to arrive somewhere exciting and new. Once it does, pull out your phone and tell me all about it.

*If you know someone who could benefit from more free time and less screen time, please consider sharing this post.

The best $240 an employer ever spent on me.

My first job in advertising paid me $21,000 a year. I wasn’t sure how I was going to eat. But I was thrilled to be a professional copywriter. I was rolling in that thin dough for three months before I surged to $22,000. I was making it drizzle. Six months later I got another bump to $24,000. I bought a used Toyota 4-Runner with 175,000 miles on it.  Then, 18 months after I started my first job, my salary climbed to $30,000. Ever since then I have felt rich. Seriously.

However, none of those salary adjustments made me any more valuable to my employer.  They spent more money on me because I was good at my job. And because they underpaid for my value from the start.

The Best Investment

But as I look back at my career, there was one investment that an employer made in me that truly made me a more valuable asset to them. In April of 2000 Cramer Krasselt sent me to a seminar in Chicago on presenting creative.  It was led by Toni Louw.  It cost $240. And it made the agency more money than the salary they paid me.

At this one day seminar I learned how to see creative work from the client’s perspective. I learned about persuasion, about pre-selling and demonstration.  I learned about storytelling, about building a case and developing logical conclusions  I learned about showmanship and being a good host to clients. I learned about how to turn a passive audience into an actively engaged audience. I was hooked.  (I also learned that I could sew a rip in my pants, in a bathroom stall, in less than 5 minutes with the sewing kit I kept in my work bag.)

The timing could not have been better.  I had three years of experience. Which was enough time to know a few things and enough experience to recognize what I had previously been doing wrong. Yet I still had the majority of my career to get it right.  I soaked up the ideas and techniques like a Shop-Vac. Presenting was already one of my favorite parts of the job. But now I had a great base of theory and technique to build on.

When I got home I typed up everything I had learned, and added 2 scoops of my own personal style. Suddenly I had a game plan and a process for evaluating client-worthy creative ideas. I now knew how to present them in an effective and entertaining way. Altough the entertainment may be more Branson than Broadway.

Within two months I had the perfect opportunity to put my new skills to use. The Ski-Doo snowmobile account went up for review. Because of my passion for snowmobiling and enthusiasm for the opportunity, I was allowed to lead the creative charge for the pitch, despite the fact that I was only 26 years old.

I poured myself into the Ski-Doo pitch. Through a combination of my personal drive, my new learnings from the seminar and great teammates, we put on quite a show. Not only did we win the account, we proceeded to pitch and win the other Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) brands too. Those included Sea Doo, Evinrude and Johnson outboard motors, CanAm ATVs and the CanAm Spyder.

Pitching and business development became core strengths of mine.  And despite my early concerns, I continued to eat regularly.

Today I own my own ad agency called The Weaponry. As I think about investments to be made in my fast growing business I am reflecting on the ROI of that $240 that were invested in me.  It grew my skills and abilities. It help win new business and grow the agency substantially. It made the agency money, which made me a much more valuable resource.

It may be more fun to spend money on cappuccino machines, murals and foosball tables.  But if you want to invest your money and enjoy a huge return, invest in growing your people (this includes yourself). Make their strengths stronger. Make their breadth broader. Give them the tools to help them realize their potential.  Because money spent growing good employees will yield a greater return than any other investment you will ever make.

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.