The most important and overlooked role of mothers.

The most important and overlooked role of mothers.

To celebrate Mother’s Day my family and I went out to brunch.  Actually, it was late enough that it could have been brupper. Or maybe brinner. As we sat down at our table the waitress brought each of my three kids a card to fill out that had 10 open-ended questions about My Mom.  My Mom is ______ years old.  What I like best about My Mom is __________. My Mom shows me she loves me by _______________. The best thing My Mom cooks is _____________.

The cards gave us something fun and engaging to do while waiting for our food. They stimulated conversation and made us all laugh. These cute questionnaires highlighted the typical way we think about our Moms: As maternal figures who support us, love us, cook for us and clean up after us.  My Mom certainly was that figure throughout my childhood. Today, my wife is that figure for our children. But there is another, far more important role that Moms play that goes mostly unnoticed by children.

As a creative professional, I recognize that our Moms don’t just raise us, care for us and love us.  They Design us. From the Moment we are born, until we leave home, our Moms are designing us as the humans they want us to be.  They implement rules and instill values which shape us. They expose us to people and places that stretch and expand us.

From the day you went home from the hospital your Mom chose your clothing to create an image. Your hairstyle was chosen by your Mom to reflect the person she wanted the world to see.  The birthday parties she threw, the gifts she gave, and the punishments she leveled were all part of the design.  The people she steered you towards and the ones she steered you away from were intential, always with the end result in mind.

Ever thought about why you lived where you lived as a child? Or why you went to the schools you went to?  That was your Mom, and Dad, designing you. Those classes your Mom signed you up for each had a purpose.  The musical instrument, community activities, volunteering, clubs and sports were all part of the design too.

The complicated choices she made to have pets, or not reflected her preferences for your life that may take a long time to understand.  How she taught you to address adults was part of the design.  Her lessons about driving, chores and how to answer the phone were part of the master plan. So were the talks about recycling and turning off the water while you brush your teeth. When she gave you money to put in the offering plate at church, that was shaping you. The decision she may have made not to attend church would have been a design decision too.

More thought went into the choices your Mom made in order to form who your are today than you will ever know.  Thank you Mom for all the decisions you made to help create me according to your vision. To my wife, Dawn, thank you for sweating all of the details that help shape Ava, Johann and Magnus. They are the greatest design concepts, responsibilities and successes we will ever know.

A creative ice breaker to get people talking.

A creative ice breaker to get people talking.

It’s always interesting to observe the social dynamics at play when a group of strangers gather. When I am in business meetings, at parties, on planes and at the gym, I like to convert strangers into friends. Simple conversation is the key to this social alchemy. As the founder of the advertsing agency The Weaponry, I know how conversation and rappoire enhance creative ideation, customer service and networking. But getting strangers to talk (without waterboarding) isn’t always easy. But there’s a simple technique that works like magic. And I have been using it since college.

Gotta Go Back In Time.

When I was in school at the University of Wisconsin I lived with a really fun group of Badgers. Slosh, Boo, Hammer and Jacquer. We had a lot of great parties at 1117 Mound Street.  In fact, at our very first party we had the police come to our house at 4 o’clock in the norning (somewhere between night and morning). At another party we had to turn the music off for fear that the massive dance party in our living room was about to crash through the under-equipped floor, and become a deposit-erasing dance party in our basement. We knew how to have a great time.

One of our favorite party games involved name tags. We would hand out tags to all party-goers as they arrived, with just one simple rule:

Write anything you want on your name tag, except your name.

There is simply nothing better at getting people to talk to each other than an interesting, non-named name tag. It’s a fascinating study in psychology, sociology and creativity. The more fun you have with it the better it works. Be sure to tailor your non-name to the type of event you are attending. An interesting nickname, pick-up line, icon in pop culture, or the start of a joke can all work. Names like Knock Knock, Mime, My Little Friend (people always Say Hello to you) are proven, G-Rated winners. My great friend Betty Garrot, often reminds me that when we first met my name tag said, Person of Interest. 

I forgot to mention, I play this game at gatherings now, even when I am the only one playing. Because it works that well. In fact, if I was to open a new bar, I  would call the place, “Hello, My name is…” and implement this time-tested, conversation-sparking technique.

So buy a stack of name tags, have more fun and get more people talking at your next work party, social gathering, mixer, professional event, or wedding (I’m not encouraging you to have more than one wedding).  If you have a great ice breaker that I should know about, please share it in the comment section below. Or is it comments section? Or does it depend on how many comments there are? I don’t really know.

An easy way to have a game-changing creative idea tonight.

An easy way to have a game-changing creative idea tonight.

There is nothing more valuable than a great idea. Powerful ideas can make you rich. They can make you famous. They can separate you from your competitors. Heck, they can convince people to buy a pet rock. But our lives are so freakin busy that it can feel impossible to dedicate enough time to the kind of focused thinking that will land you on TechCrunch, the cover of Forbes, or the prime slot on The Home Shopping Network.

When thinking time becomes scarce there is a technique I use for nighttime ideation. The solution is so simple it is almost laughable. I can confidently say that you’re going to enjoy it more than diet and exercise combined. My ancient-Chinese-secret ideation technique is…

Go to bed 30 minutes early.

Most of us push bed time to the very last-minute. Or beyond. We either have tasks we want to accomplish before we throw in the towel on the night. Or we work so hard the rest of the day that we finally want a little time to binge watch all the shows everyone else is talking about. Suddenly, the latest surprise on The Story of Us, Stranger Things or The Real Housewives of Sandusky robs us of our sleep. Thanks a lot Andy Cohen.

But when I really need more thinking time, I go to bed early. It’s counterintuitive, I know.  But an amazing thing happens when you get your personal go-to-bed timing right. You will find that you are not so tired that you fall asleep immediately. You’ll also find that it isn’t so late that you stress about falling asleep before the alarm pounces on your head early the next morning. Instead, you are able to relax and enjoy the peace, calm and comfort of your bed. And in that state, once you get good and quiet, the ideas come out to play.

To guide your creative thinking in that relaxed, pre-sleep state, gently grab the topic you want to think on, and softly place it at the center of your mind. Then follow the inklings. They are the faint pathways that connect your central topic to new ideas, plans and partnerships.

Remarkable solutions and innovations are birthed in that quiet time if we listen.  To avoid distraction it is important to leave your phone or other digital distractions in another room. An ill-timed push notification from Groupon about a sweet deal on Naked Skydiving And Go-Karting For Four! can interrupt your flow and kill an idea in the embryonic state. Instead, keep a notebook and pen on your nightstand to capture your ideas before they escape into the darkness.

Of course it would be great if I could share an example of a real world, bed-born idea that made a major financial impact. So here it comes.

Ski-Doo snowmobiles was one of my favorite clients of all time. A problem that plagued the snowmobile industry for many years was the reverse mechanism that enables a snowmobile to go backwards. The additional feature added cost and weight to the sled. But one night, while lying in bed, one of the Ski-Doo engineers had the thought that if you simply reversed the wiring on the engine, the engine would run in reverse, as would the rest of the machine. When he rushed in to work the next day to see if that actually worked, he was delighted to find it worked exactly as he had envisioned, and thus Rotax Electronic Reverse (RER) was born. Suddenly Ski-Doo could offer a reverse feature on all of their snowmobiles without adding any additional weight or expense to the machine. This was a clear differentiator and competitive advantage that came from the bedroom. Not the boardroom.

The challenges of life and work can seem relentless. They come at us like chocolates to Lucille Ball. But game-changing ideas are out there waiting for you. To catch them tonight, you may just have to lay down, be quiet, and let them come to you.

(featured image by Andri Iskander:)

 

To have more great ideas stop thinking about it.

To have more great ideas stop thinking about it.

I love ideas. New ideas tingle and jump in my head like pop rocks. If that is how crack makes you feel I would like crack. A lot. Ideas are the seeds that grow every kind of human-induced improvement on this planet. Yet many of us don’t spend much, if any time ideating.

I love the entire ideation process. I love loading my brain with information by reading and researching. Great ideas come from rearranging the ingredients in your head in new and novel ways. The more ingredients the more possibilities.

But after you top off your brain with input about the problem to be solved comes the most valuable part of the process: Stepping away from the problem completely. And doing nothing. That’s right. Just let the elements do what they want to do. Not what you want them to do. Yet, deep inside your mind, the ideas are growing. And fermenting. Brewing and bubbling. Forming and frothing. Without any additional effort from you.

This part of the process is like making cheese. Or wine. Or a baby. Well not making a baby. Just the baby-growing part. To the naked eye it looks like you are being lazy. The fun distractions at advertising agencies and other creative environments are great at getting team members away from the active thinking and into incubation. That way you don’t get in the way of the natural process. Think of it like baking a cake. Opening the oven door and jabbing toothpicks doesn’t help transform the batter into cake. Time and heat do the work.

The incubation period is the most valuable step in developing unique and differentiating ideas. Yet it is absolutely free. At The Perfect Agency Project we don’t charge for the time when we’re not actively thinking about challenges. During this phase of the process you can multitask. Or sleep. Or make cheese. Or compost. Or babies. The longer the incubation period the more you compound the interesting.

Unfortunately, for the professional creative, the incubation period is an endangered part of the process. Over the course of my career this valuable time has been disappearing like the Brazilian rainforest. And record stores. A lack of planning on the part of the requester hacks at this time. So does a lack of patience. But creatives thinkers have not done enough to promote the ROI clients earn on this free time. I hope sharing this post is a first step in re-establishing the importance of this step.

To make sure you get the most value out of the incubation period start early, build in time for nothing and let the team sleep on it. I often wake up and find myself perched on a great idea like a hen sitting on a warm egg. Resist the temptation to see work ASAP. You will often get the best results if you see the work ALAP.

So spend less money. Offer more time. Let your team know the outline of the challenge early. And watch the great ideas emerge like popcorn. And wine. And babies.

The secret ingredient to increase your creativity.

The secret ingredient to increase your creativity.

Everyone wishes they were more creative.  Even really creative people.  Because there is a magical power that comes with great creative abilities. You can see things others don’t. You find opportunities in business that others miss. You can create art, music, stories, products and services that people have never seen before.

Much has been written on the subject of increasing your creativity. There is brainstorming and mindstorming and Hannah Storming activities you can do. Some people try drugs or alcohol to unlock their creativity.  Which can lead to really creative ways to ruin your life.  But there is one key ingredient that is guaranteed to help you, your coworkers and your family and friends think more creatively. And that’s confidence.

Creativity is about taking chances. And the more we believe in ourselves the more and bigger chances we are willing to take. The opposite is also true.  When we don’t have great confidence in a particular area of our lives we play it safe. That’s why I look for confidence when I hire creative talent. (I also look to see if they are dry and secure, and if they will raise their hand…)

I saw a great example of confidence-enhanced creativity recently in my 10 year old daughter, Ava.  She is a great writer if I do say so myself. And I do say it often because I want to amplify this strength. Recently her school held a writing competition. Each class would have two finalists whose writings would be judged against the best writers from the other classes to see who was the best in the entire grade.

Ava came home one day and couldn’t wait to tell me what happened in class. She said, ‘Dad, today in school the kids started talking about who they thought were going to be the two winners from my class. And everyone thought that I was going to be one of them!’   She felt like she had already won. That’s because everyone believed in her. So what happened next? A couple weeks later I ran into her handsome and talented teacher, Mr. Paul DeVigne, at a school play. He said, ‘Adam, I’ve been looking for you! (I get this a lot.) We have had a writing competition at school and Ava won for her entire grade!  Now I need your permission to allow her to enter her poem in the county-wide competition.’ Boom goes the dynamite!

I am sure Ava would have written a nice piece no matter what. But the fact that her class believed in her gave her added confidence to take greater chances.  And when you read the poem she wrote she clearly pushed her creativity and took bigger chances than she might have had no one considered her a viable champ.

So look for opportunities to increase confidence in yourself and others.  Create easy wins, celebrate them and grow. Reward the wild ideas, the big dreams, and you’ll get bigger and wilder yet.  The mind is a complicated place. But if you fill it with high octane confidence there’s no telling what great ideas will come out.  Good luck.  Think big. I know you will. Because you are good enough. You are smart enough. And gosh darn it, people like you.

The most freakishly surprising sentence in the English language.

The most freakishly surprising sentence in the English language.

The primary roll of The Perfect Agency Project is to stimulate your thinking.  And stimulation comes in various forms. It could come from a contrarian point of view. Or a new technology and its resulting possibilities. Or it could come from a humorous video, like ‘Football To The Groin’.

Today the creative and intellectual stimulation comes in the form of a freakish sentence that is shocking in its grammatical correctness. So where did I find such an oddity? The Grammar Circus, next to the bearded sentence and the phrase with the serpent tongue?  No. I found it at Hanover High School in Hanover, New Hampshire. Where minds are blown everyday by chemistry experiments gone crisply wrong, moose on the field hockey field and the fact that I got sent to the principals office on the first day of freshman year. But I digress.

Back to the sideshow sentence that has stuck in my processor for decades.

With only a little further ado…

I present to you…

Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo.

You’re probably thinking, “What The What!?!”  That’s not a sentence! But I assure you it is. And I will slowly reveal its meaning one element at a time.

First, it is not a chant you hear at a Bills game. Okay. So it actually is a chant you might hear at a Bills game. But that wouldn’t be a real sentence. It’s not a log entry from the American Bison Census from a household of four. And it’s not the top four answers to the Family Feud Question: Name Ted Turners four favorite animals.

The sentence breaks down like this: (scroll slowly to see if you can figure out the rest on your own).

The first Buffalo refers to the city in New York.

Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo.

The second buffalo refers to the the animal, plural (a group of buffalo).

Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo.

The third buffalo is the verb. It means to baffle. It could also mean to intimidate.

Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo.

The fourth buffalo again refers to buffalo, plural (a group of buffalo).

Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo.

Got it?  If not, here’s a little more help. Written in a less intriguing style this sentence would say:

Buffalo from the city of Buffalo baffle (or intimidate) other buffalo.

If you still don’t understand, please comment below and I’ll try my best to clarify. For the rest of you I hope this has been a fun and freaky look at language. Share it. Tweet it. Like it. Break it out at parties. It’s a crowd pleaser. Especially if you run with a librarian crowd. Although if you do, don’t run with them through the library at Hanover High on the first day of school.

 

 

 

When Plan A, B, C & D Fail.

When Plan A, B, C & D Fail.

I love meeting new people. And I love helping people solve problems. And I got to do both of those things this morning before most people were alarmed by their clocks.

I arrived at Hartsfield Jackson International airport in Atlanta just before 6:30am for a flight to New York City. As I write this I’m flying to meet with a celebrity on the set of her TV show about some upcoming work we will be doing together. But as I stepped out of my car in the parking garage a panicked woman approached me saying, 

“I’m so sorry to bother you. But I just locked myself out of my car. My phone, purse, laptop and suitcase are all locked inside. I don’t know what to do.”

Talk about an exciting start to your day! She said she was flying to St. Louis on an 8:00am flight. So we started going through our options. And yes, I said OUR options. Becuase as a professional problem solver when someone brings me a problem it becomes my problem too. Except for maybe hair loss. With hair loss you’re on your own.

So like a couple of resourceful first world problem solvers we sprang into action. I pulled out my trusty smartphone and we called the airport to see if they had an unlocking service. They didn’t. Boo. But they did offer us the phone number of a locksmith partner that may be able to help. Yay! 

So we called the locksmith. And yes, they could send someone to help. Yay! But not until  9:00am. Boo.

So we looked at other options. 

Me: Do you have a AAA membership?

Kelly: No.

Me: Do you have emergency services through your car manufacturer?

Kelly: No.

Me: Hmmm. Do you have any sevens?

Kelly: No. Go Fish.

Me: What time is your meeting in St. Louis?

Kelly: 11:00am.

Me: So a later flight won’t work?

Kelly: No. And my company is counting on me to be there. We have built a technology product for this client and they are refusing to close the deal becuase they don’t understand it. I need to walk them through how the product works and solves their problem or the multimillion dollar deal will fall apart! (Dun-Dun-Dun!)

Me: Do you have your drivers liscence? 

Kelly: No.

Me: Why don’t we go see how we can get you through security without ID. (Heck, I got into bars in college all the time without an ID. How hard could it be?)

Kelly: (reluctantly) Let me check my car one more time just to make sure I’m not losing my mind.

At this point she walked back to her Ford Edge for another check. And I began searching on my phone for a Ford dealership that may be able to help.

A moment later she returned, slumped her shoulders and said, “You should go and catch your flight. And you can tell everyone on Facebook and Twitter that you met the dumbest woman in America. Becuase I have a Ford Edge. And the Edge has a keypad on the driver door.”

Me: Do you know the code?

Kelly: Yes.

Me: So you’re all set! 

 Kelly Yes!
At this point Kelly and I, strangers only moments ago, hugged, laughed and cheered on the top of the parking deck at the airport in the pre-dawn darkness. We celebrated our victory like we had just won the Showcase Showdown on The Price Is Right.
So I made a new friend this morning before 6:45am. Kelly made her flight. I got a test run on a valuable problem solving scenario. The Ford Edge got serious credit for a great problem solving, flight catching and potentially deal saving feature. And as Kelly said, I got to tell all of my friends on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn about her morning. Have a great day Kelly! I hope you close that deal. But don’t close your car door until you have your key in hand.