The creative mind behind the Thriller dance.

Halloween is packed with creativity. The holiday offers an annual creative outlet for adults and children alike. Costumes, decorations, and pumpkin carving all provide great opportunities to show off your imagination. I am always inspired by the ideas and executions I see at Halloween.

This Is Thriller

There is one epic stroke of creativity that re-emerges every Halloween that I have been awed by for the past 36 years. The Thriller Dance. Michael Jackson released the Thriller album in 1982. And In 1983 the music video to the title track was released as a 14- minute mega video, or short film, depending on whether you are more impressed by really long short things, or really short long things.

The Wows

The video is creepy and totally engaging. There are 2 wowing surprises. The first comes when MJ transforms into a werewolf, which allows him to chop a tree down with his bare hand. The other comes 8 minutes and 30 seconds into the video, when the zombies break into the Thriller Dance.

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The Thriller Dance

Thirty six years after its introduction I still see the Thriller dance performed every year at Halloween. But this year when I saw it, in the post-Leaving Neverland era, I wondered who actually choreographed the Thriller video. Thanks to the Googler machine, I didn’t wonder for long.

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Michael Peters

Michael Peters

The Thriller dance was the brainchild of Michael Peters, the talented choreographer who also danced in the video as a zombie. Peters’ highly entertaining dance has not only stood the test of time, it is one of the worlds’ best known dances.

‘The Thriller dance is just so universal. The moves from the dance are so iconic that you can go anywhere in the world and people will recognize the moves immediately.’  – Amy Brinkman, Director of Education at Danceweorks

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Beyond Thriller

But if you know 80’s pop culture you know some of Michael Peters’ other work too. Not only did he choreograph Michael Jackson’s Beat It video, he was the dancing gang leader, dressed in all white, who was delivered to the gang fight via forklift. Because when you choreograph a dance fight you get to decide your own entrance. I imagine him talking through the steps in rehearsal like:

‘5, 6,7, 8… Forklift, Switchblade, Tie-Our-Wrist-Together, Stab…’   -Michael Peters

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Michael Peters wearing shades, and what looks like a belt and giant belt buckle around his neck.

Peters also wore sunglasses despite the fact that the video takes place at night. Apparently Peters was inspired by the era’s Corey Hart, who also wore his sunglasses at night.

Beyond MJ

Peters staged the dance moves in Pat Benetar’s Love Is A Battlefield video. And Lionel Richie’s classic Hello video, where he teaches Richie’s blind date to dance.

Michael Peters and MJ

Tony Tony Tony!

In 1982 Peters won a Tony Award for Best Choreography for the Broadway musical Dreamgirls. He also helped mold Angela Bassett into a Tina Tuner-type dancer for the movie What’s Love Got To Do With It. In fact, Basset became such a good dancer that Ike Turner thought about beating her too.

Michael Peters Lives On.

Michael Peters died of an AIDS related illness in L.A. at just 46-years old. But his work lives on. Especially in the Thriller dance. Thank you Michael Peters for adding to our annual Halloween celebrations. Thanks you for creating such iconic cultural art. And thanks for reminding us that if you want to be delivered to a dancing gang fight via forklift you have to script that yourself.

If you haven’t seen the Thriller dance yet this year, or just want to see it again, here it is.

Happy Halloween!

The problem solving magic of the 3rd option.

I am a professional creative thinker. My job is to come up with ideas, and then bring those ideas to life. Which sounds easy, and fun. Which it is. But there is one major obstacle that often stands in the way of professional creatives: clients. You see, clients also have ideas. And their ideas are sometimes different than yours. And sometimes your clients’ ideas are good. Like, really good.

The Creative Conundrum

So what are you supposed to do when clients go all rogue on you and have their own ideas and opinions? After all, we are hired to be the idea people, right? Aren’t the clients supposed to listen to us? To trust us and our superior ideation abilities?

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A creative super-human, looking all creative and photographable.

Learning From Experience

I have faced this issue a million brazilian fo-fillion times in my career. I have had to contend with client-generated ideas from the time I was a young copywriter until I opened  The Weaponry, the advertising and idea agency I launched in 2016. With over 20 years of thinkering experience under my belt, I have found that there are 3 ways you can handle the client-creative idea clash.

The 3 Alternatives

1. Give Up. You don’t have to stand up for your ideas.  In fact, agencies often surrender immediately when a client proclaims their own idea. Or asks for a change. Or sneezes. This is because there are a lot of people who don’t believe in their ideas enough to stand up for them.

I hate this. It devalues the original creative idea. Which should have been presented for a very good reason. (You did have a very good reason didn’t you?) By simply surrendering to your client’s idea you are suddenly just a production person on behalf of your client. Don’t be that guy. And don’t be that gal.

2. Don’t Budge. This is the option I encourage most professional creatives to choose. Stand your ground. Believe unwaveringly in your idea. Fall on your sword. In fact, I’ll throw you on your sword if you like.

The reason I want you to embrace this idea so strongly is because it is a fast way to lose clients. And I would love to slip in and pick up your clients as you are getting thrown out a second story window.

3. Find A New, Better Option. If the client isn’t fully satisfied with your idea or execution it is because they still have a perceived unmet need. They are offering an idea that helps meet that need or concern. Sometimes their suggestion will be perfect. And a good creative should recognize this. But if the solution isn’t perfect, keep exploring. The greatest creative solution is the one that accommodates for the dreams and desires of both the client and agency. (Dreams and Desires is also the title of the trashy romance novel I’m now inspired to write.)

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Pushing for that perfect third option has 5 positive benefits.

1. It demonstrates that you want what is best for the project. And not just what the client requested.

2. It shows you are not simply married to your own idea. (Which also means no one gets to throw idea rice at your idea wedding.)

3. It certifies you as an avid problem solver. Clients love a partner who will push further to make everyone happy.

4. It strengthens your skills. It’s like adding more weight to the bar at the gym. Throw more challenges on the problem, add more constraints, and see if you can still Houdini out.

5. It reveals your work ethic. In the workplace your work ethic translates to character and trust and all manner of positive attributes.

Key Takeaway

Everyone loves a problem solver. This is true in business and in your personal life. But problem solving doesn’t mean giving up on your idea. And it doesn’t mean winning at all costs. It means finding a solution for every challenge. Always push for the win-win solution. Develop a reputation for helping everyone get to the best answer. It is the best way to get many more problems to solve.

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

A fresh new look for one of the most loved brands in Wisconsin.

Last summer I got a very interesting call from a friend. She said she was conducting research for the University of Wisconsin Credit Union. And that following the research they would be looking for an agency partner, in Wisconsin, to help rebrand them. She began telling me how the UW Credit Union was a remarkable organization, with great people who delivered an excellent member experience. But I stopped her before she could finish. I said ‘Oh, I know all about the UW Credit Union.’

(To skip the fun back story you can scroll to the bottom, DVR-Style, to see the new work. But you will miss some interesting points and a giggle or two.) 

Back In the Day (When I was raised I’m not a kid anymore…)

I am a proud University of Wisconsin Badger. On my 3rd day in Madison, my freshman year in college, I made what I thought would be a quick trip to the UW Credit Union near my dorm. But when I approached the UW Credit Union it seemed that all 43,000 UW students were already in line in front of me. The only other lines I ever saw that long in Madison were outside Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday mornings, and in front of the Kollege Klub on Saturday nights.

I joined what appeared to be the entire student body, and stood in the longest line of my life, holding all of the money I had ever earned. All to open my UW Credit Union checking and savings accounts. I thought this place must be special.

And it was.

You’re So Money, You Don’t Even Know You’re Money!

The UW Credit Union became my primary financial institution, and would be for the next 15 years. My first auto loan was with the UW Credit Union. I borrowed $3000, paid it off in 11 months, and felt like a financial baller. But in 2007 an exciting career opportunities came calling, and it was time for me to fly (…time for me to fly…). So I left America’s Dairy Land, and the domain of the UW Credit Union.

Leaving Wisconsin (The Wander Years)

I moved to Columbus, Ohio, and then on to Atlanta, working my way up to the title of Chief Creative Officer. Then in 2016 I launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, and moved back to Wisconsin to be closer to family.  I had worked with several esteemed financial institutions, including Fifth Third Bank, Wells Fargo, and Huntington Bank along the way. And now I was hoping to put all of my financial experience to use with UW Credit Union.

They Meet

My friend Sue Northey introduced me to UW Credit Union’s Chief Marketing Officer, Anne Norman via email. We decided to meet for lunch. But I was in Milwaukee, and Anne was in Madison. So we met in Johnson Creek, an Outlet Malltropolis located directly between Wisconsin’s two largest cities.

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Anne Norman, about to sing the theme song from Laverne and Shirley.

Anne and I met for lunch at Hi-Way Harry’s, which for the unfamiliar, is the Rainforest Cafe of Johnson Creek. We had instant rapport. Although I think Anne has instant rapport with everyone. We quickly realized we shared the same vision for how great the UW Credit Union brand could be. We began talking next steps. Which are always my favorite steps.

The Mission

We put together a thorough proposal that was quickly approved. And we started to roll. We were about to strip the branding down to the studs, and reconsider everything. The logo, tagline, colors and personality would all be re-examined. When we were done we would create a look, language and personality that matched how great the UW Credit Union membership experience really was. Then we would create a fully integrated marketing campaign to bring the brand to life.

Assembling The Team.

My fellow Weapons, Simon ‘Sharper’ Harper, Kristyn’ K-Lil’ Lilley, Kevin ‘Lower’ Kayse and I met with the UW Credit Union’s marketing team, including Anne ’40-Under-40′ Norman, Justine ‘Happy Tears’ Kessler, April ‘Spring’ Laabs, Jocelyn ‘Let’s Ride’ Vande Velde, Becky ‘Shock Value’ Hubing, Jill ‘Rickert’ Rickert, Jill ‘Addy’ Addy, Andy ‘Hugs’ Schubert and Melissa ‘Everything Bagel’ Stapleton (because she does everything, not because she likes everything bagels).

Discovery

We started by digesting all that had been gathered about the UW Credit Union. The research revealed some really important findings, including:

  1. UW Credit Union is a very special place.
  2. UW Credit Union members love their experience.
  3. UW Credit Union invests time and energy in our members well before a bank would find any financial value in them.
  4. UW Credit Union really cares about the communities it serves.

However…

There was a common misperception that UW Credit Union was a starter bank. (Gasp!) Which is totes not true. But the strong and valuable association with the University of Wisconsin made people think it was a financial institution for college kids and recent graduates. They didn’t realize that UW Credit Union was an excellent financial institution for all ages and stages.

It was time to set the record straight.

Tagline

We explored a wide range of taglines to summarize how we support our members from their teenage years through retirement. Life changes bring on different needs and opportunities. And at the UW Credit Union we want to help you no matter where you are on your financial journey.

The new tagline:

UW Credit Union. Here for every you.

We are Here, whenever you need us. Which talks to UW Credit Union’s customer service that made them Forbes #1 rated credit union in the state. We are also Here in Wisconsin, just like our members. It explains why we care about your community, your neighborhoods, and your causes. Because they are ours too. We love the emphasis on You, the member. Because as a credit union, we only exist to serve you and your needs. Every symbolizes our flexibility and ability to adapt as your needs change.

Logo

We wanted a logo that was cleaner, simpler and easier to use. We wanted a contemporary look. And we wanted to it give us an identity that was distinct from other UW-related organizations, including UW-Health and The UW System itself.

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The old logo. It was ready for a good makeover.

New UW Credit Union Logo

The logo highlights the first priority of the organization: you. By highlighting the U in the  name in our flagship color, and making it of equal weight and importance to the name of our institution, we also convey our sense of responsibility to those we serve: You, our members. We also opted for a lower case ‘u’ because it felt more approachable, which is a distinguishing factor of the UW Credit Union. Also, we have taken the liberty to use ‘U’ and ‘You’ interchangeably. #creativelicence

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The new logo. If you overlay the square and the circle from the old logo you can see the inspiration for the new U-Leaf shape.

Advertising

With the new logo, tagline and brand standards in place, we began putting the new brand look to good use. We started creating all manner of new materials in a fully integrated program

First out of the gate are these New Billboards.

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If you know anything about Wisconsin you know we love to jump around. (Jump! Jump! Jump!)
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A very wise plant once said, ‘It’s been a long time since I rock ‘n’ rolled.’
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One of these is typically immature, the other is typically mature. But not always.
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Eventually, we all transition.
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People in Wisconsin have a funny was of saying things…
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From George and Weezy to The Wiz!

There are also new print ads.

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We treat everyone like an insider. Even Soda Pop and Pony Boy.
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This will appear in the Milwaukee Brewers program. And maybe a few popular dentist publication.

Radio

Here’s a radio script currently on air. I would attach the audio file, but I would have to upgrade my account to do that. And it’s too late at night to take on such monumental tasks.

At The UW Credit Union, we like to say we knew you way back when. When your only mode of transportation was the heel-toe express. When the only wheels you owned were connected to a pedal. We knew you when the only home you had ever considered buying was on a monopoly board. When your financial future was defined by the next pay check.  We knew you when your family was still supporting you. It was then, when you greatest asset was your work ethic and a dream, that we first invested in you.  The UW Credit Union. Here For Every You.

Credit Card Design

We then helped redesign the new UW Credit Cards. We turned the design on its head. Literally. Instead of the traditional horizontal design, we designed this card for the chip reader era, with a vertical orientation. To keep the design clean and simple we moved all the hard-working elements, including card holder name, number, contact info and legalese to the back of the card.

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Creating UW Credit Union credit cards was an in-creditable experience.

What’s Next

The new brand will also impact UW Credit Union branch design, television commercials,  sponsorships, debit cards and more. But the member experience will remain as good as advertised. Because people love the UW Credit Union experience. And we have certainly loved working with this great brand and the great team behind it. We look forward to all there is to come.

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This billboard showed up across the street from The Weaponry, where it was born.

4 Netflix shows that will inspire you to think in new ways.

Have you ever found yourself thinking there is nothing on TV? I have. But that is complete poppycock. Today, smart TVs enable you to watch cable, Youtube, Amazon Prime and Hulu on your television set. Not to mention every video ever uploaded to the inter-webs. The problem isn’t a lack of good programs. It is that there is so much programming that it is hard to sort through it all to find the good stuff.

4 Entertaining Shows That Will Stimulate Your Brainium.

At my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, we seek out thought-provoking Netflix programs to watch during our lunch hour. It’s part of our program to stimulate creative thinking. As we watch, we frequently hit the pause button to discuss the interesting, inspiring or provocative stories. The 4 latest shows we have watched have generated so much conversation on our team that I thought they would be worth sharing. So here they are, ranked from Wholesome to Holy Shiznit!

  1.  Walt: The Man Behind The Myth.

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This family friendly program follows the improbable story of Walt Disney’s rise, from humble midwestern child, to the man who changed movies, TV, merchandising and amusement parks forever. Dick Van Dyke narrates the documentary, which features interviews and images that will make you admire Disney more than ever. It’s clean enough for the whole family to enjoy, yet provides a fascinating path for entrepreneurs and creative minds to emulate. I recently read Walt Disney by Neal Gabler, which is an outstanding book. But this 90 minute program covers much of the same story as the 851 page book. So, see it real soon.

2.  Follow This

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This Buzzfeed News production is exactly what the curious modern mind needs. It investigates interesting, if not obscure phenomenon in 20 minutes or less. It is like 60 Minutes for the next generation. Each episode follows BuzzFeed.News journalists on their journey to uncover a unique, untold story. Which means that viewers not only learn about the new topic, they learn how the reporter is learning about it too.

The topics are fascinating. From The dumping of Bird scooters across America, to video game addiction centers, to the ASMR video explosion. (I was surprised to discover my 13-year-old daughter knew all about ASMR. She was just as surprised to hear that I knew about it too.) 

The series often covers topics I know little to nothing about. Which makes them all the more interesting. I can’t wait to see what they uncover next.

3. Slobby’s World

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This is my current obsession. Slobby Robby is a true character who owns an 80s and 90s vintage store in Tuscon, Arizona. The store, Generation Cool, provides the backdrop for Slobby’s wheeling and dealing in old school sneakers, clothing, toys and so much more, bro!

3 reasons to love this show.

First, Slobby Robby is over the top. From his ridiculous clothing, to his insane hair, to his hilarious language, he is a character for the ages. I wish I had made him up. I can’t tell if he is channeling Chris Farley, or if Chris Farley was channeling him

Second. The things he buys, sells and trades are fascinating. If you spent any part of your life in the 80s or 90s this show is likely to bring back some memories of the way we were (sing that line like Barbara Streisand).

Third: Slobby Robby is a shrewd business man. Under all of his loud and clowny exterior (which I love) is a man who really knows his business inside and out. He knows how to find the goods to sell. He understands the true market value of another man’s junk (no, not that kind of junk). And he knows how to offer great customer experience, which keeps people coming back.

4. The American Meme

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Wow! This show is crayer than Crayola Crayons. The 90 minute documentary takes an in-depth look at the phenomenon of internet-famous celebrities, who have achieved celebrity status despite a lack of traditional talents. This all-access look at publicity fiends, including Paris Hilton, The Fat Jew, DJ Khalid, Kirill (The Slut Whisperer) and Bethany Furlan, shows the upside, and dark downside to social media-borne fame. I loved this. And if weren’t for all of the swearing, dildos and boobs I would make my kids watch it to understand that if you try to dance with this type of fame you will get burned.

Key Takeaway:

There is a lot of great programing available today. Much if it is good and stimulating for your brain. I hope you enjoy these 4 shows. If you have been watching something that has really made you think, please share. I am always looking for a good excuse to spend more time on my couch.

Why going too far is so good for you.

One of my goals for 2019 is to push things further. I have always been fascinated with limitations, and what it takes to move beyond them. We are capable of far more than we realize. And if we don’t flirt with the limitations of our minds, muscles and machines we will never know what is truly possible. And suddenly, I’m hoping my kids are not reading this.

Discovering Limits

I find great pleasure in discovering the outer boundaries. I have driven my cars out of gas, just to know where the true limit is. For those of you afraid to experiment with a fume-y gas tank, they can go farther than the gauges advertise. Knowing the true limitations helps you recalibrate, and know what your real options are.

My Junior year in high school I pushed my automitve limits and got into a single car accident. Late one night I was speeding way too fast and lost control of my Ford Escort on a dirt road. I flew off a 10-foot embankment, hit a tree in mid-air and landed on the passenger side of the car. When I came to a violent stop, I was staring at a herd of cows who were staring back at me as if a UFO had just landed in their pasture. And we all know cows and UFOs don’t mix.

The fascinating reward of losing control of your car is that you discover where the limit of control is. And that is a valuable asset the rest of your life. What’s more, I walked away from the accident without a scratch. And the next day in my track and field meet, I broke a 25-year-old conference record in the discus, and set my new personal record. (#TwoFer)  My Escort was tougher than I would have ever imagined too. I never had it repaired, and drove it for another 7 years.

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Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali, the famous surrealist, was known for pushing his art into strange, new and bizarre realms. When people told Salvador Dali he had gone too far he would respond:

It’s the only place I have ever wanted to go. -Salvador Dali

I love this quote. By pushing to the far reaches of his imagination, Dali created artwork like the world had never seen. In 2016, Dali’s Painting, Portrait De Paul Eluard, sold for $22,000,000. Had he not gone too far it is likely that we would have never known Dali’s name, or his melted clocks, or his redonculous stache.

Creativity

At The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, I often ask our team to take things too far. Find the breaking point in a concept, design, or layout. Find how many words is too few. Find the edge of good taste or credibility by pushing beyond it. Because you don’t really know where the limits are until you have bumped up against them. Or better yet, until you have moved beyond them. This is true in the physical, mental and emotional world. It is true in business, art, science, athletics, fashion, medicine, travel and humor. We must push the limits to explore, innovate and discover.

Key Takeaway

This year, go too far. Find the edges and boundaries. Find out what you are really capable of. And where things really fall apart. It may be much farther out than you thought. And discovering where the true limitations are, or are not, may be the most valuable thing you do in 2019. Unless you are my kids. In which case, keep the grape juice off the carpet like your Mom said.

Why I encourage people to fight in the office.

Designing an office space that fits your company culture is like creating a clubhouse. When we signed the lease on our new office space a year ago I couldn’t wait to give it a serious makeover.* The drab office we leased was move-in ready for a lobotomy clinic. That wasn’t quite the vibe we were going for at The Weaponry, the advertising and idea agency I launched the year before. So as soon as we got the keys to the office we began transforming the space to match our personality.

A Sign Of Things To Come.

One of my favorite features of our office is the large sign that now greets you when you first come in the door. The bright red and white, 5-foot by 5-foot sign invites you to, in no uncertain terms, Fight With Your Brain.

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Business Is War

I love this statement. because at The Weaponry, we believe that business is war. To win the war of business you need to outthink the competition. You win with strategic thinking and creativity. You win by summoning your intelligence and accumulated knowledge. In fact, your brain is your most powerful weapon in any battle, whether you are talking about business, board games or back alleys.

The Double Entendre

As much as I love the obvious meaning of this statement, I love the second meaning even more. The next level message encourages you to fight against your brain. It is a call to resist your brain’s tendencies. It is a reminder to fight your brain whenever it attempts to follow a well-worn path. To default to habit. To think too small. To simply follow others. Or to delete the last sentence in a paragraph (phew, that was close).

Fight With Your Brain is a warning to resist the feeling that you think you already know the answer. It is a call to fight against assumptions. Fight the belief that there is only one right way to approach a problem.

We want you to fight with your brain when it wants to reject a new process, procedure or plan. Fight with your brain when it wants the old version of an app back (I know you know what I mean).

You must also fight against negative thinking. You need to fight self-doubt. Fight unwarranted feelings of insecurity. Fight against giving up. And fight your bad habits. In fact, you should fight against anything that limits your thinking. Except maybe city hall. Because come on, it’s city hall!

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We have also created Fight With Your Brain pins. If you want one leave me a message in the comments section. 

Key Takeaway

By fighting, while using your brain, you develop better strategies and ideas. By fighting, against your brain, you keep your thinking flexible and adaptable. You keep your emperor organ positive and prepared. It is the best way to keep new and valuable ideas flowing. Which is what makes the brain the most innovative research and development lab on Earth. So keep it cranking. Because when you fight with your brain you will be amazed at all the good you can produce.


*In 2017 I chronicled The Weaponry’s search for an office in a 3-part mini series that shares what the process of finding, negotiating and leasing office space is like for startups. My agent believes he can get the trilogy made into a movie series and have it distributed at every Blockbuster Video store in the country! Until then, you can find the story of our journey at these links:

  1. Looking for office space: A startup story.
  2. Looking For Office Space Part 2: The Messy Middle.
  3. Looking for Office Space Part 3: We Have An Office!

Forget what you see on TV. This is what an advertising agency is really like.

I admit, I am a fairly loud human. As an extrovert I love to interact with other people. I like to talk, laugh, and not-so-occasionally sing. It doesn’t surprise people when they find out that I  work at an advertising agency. More specifically, in 2016 I founded an advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry. Naturally, you would expect an agency to reflect the personality of the Founder. And indeed, it does.

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Reality Check

But right now it is deafeningly quiet in our office. There is no witty banter among colleagues. No loud music thumping. No pinging and ponging. No pinball machine dinging. No sounds of ball-smacking at the foosball table.

Just quiet.

Tour Disappointment

Many times during my career, in moments just like this, an agency executive would stride through the quiet office, excited to show off the totally cool agency to a client. And the executive would be clearly disappointed by the quiet.

They would often apologize to their tour mate with a line like, ‘It’s usually much louder in here.‘ Or, ‘We have a lot of people out right now.’ Or ‘We have to be careful since we got that last noise violation…’

This is all because ad agencies like The Weaponry are supposed to be loud, fun, energetic and entertaining, right?

And often times we are.

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I think this is a picture of thinking.

But other times, like now, we are as quiet as a library on Saturday night. Because creators gotta create. And we don’t need to get loud to do it. Quite the opposite (or is it quiet the opposite?). The harder I work, the more focused I am, the quieter I am. So are my fellow Weapons. Because the most important work we do is the mental processing we perform when we are alone. That is when we are finding the language to articulate our new ideas in words and images. It is when we are editing our thinking down to the simplest, cleanest, clearest expressions. And that takes quiet focus.

Key Takeaway

If you stop by an ad agency when the people are really, really quiet, don’t be disappointed that you didn’t get a show. Stick around a few minutes to watch the work in progress. It’s usually, fast, focused and fascinating. During a break in the action ask if you can see the work hot-off-the-fingertips. When you see the freshly crafted art, read the  newly woven words, or ingest the just-birthed strategy, you’ll understand that silence is golden.

It’s where the real magic happens.