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.
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.
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.
Do you remember life before the internet? Back in the day, when you had a question, you just had to guess what the answer was. Or you could spend a lot of time searching for answers with primitive tools. Like books and microfiche.
Now, the detailed answers to our most random questions are literally everywhere. We have harvested all human knowledge and loaded it onto the internet like stacking hay in a barn. Anyone with a smart phone has access to that barn and all the information in it anywhere, anytime. Yes, the barn door is always open.
Today, if you have a question you simply google it. Where did Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall get married? (Lucas, Ohio). What was the first interstate school district in America? (Norwich, Vermont and Hanover, New Hampshire). What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow? (African or European?) Curiosity, and the ability to satisfy it, is the driving force behind Google’s success.
I recently read Brian Grazer’s book, A Curious Mind. He positions himself as a modern-day Curious George (my words, not his). The Graze (my word, not his) credits his curiosity, not his creativity, as the driving force behind his Hollywood success. His curiosity lead him to interesting stories that turned into blockbuster movies like A Beautiful Mind, Backdraft, 8 Mile and The Da Vinci Code.
Curiosity also led him to push the limits of what hair gel can do. He talks about that in the book too. But you can just look at the picture below to find the answer.
However, one of the most interesting elements of the book was Grazer’s, statement about where Google’s supreme powers stop. He writes:
There are two things you cannot google.
Answers to questions that have not been asked.
If you are the first person to ask a question, the best search engine to find the answer is you. Don’t stop because the answer doesn’t exist. These are the most important questions to answer. And once you do, you get to pitch the answer into the haymow of knowledge to benefit the rest of humankind.
You can’t google a new idea. You have to invent it. You have to do the work, the thinking, the ideation yourself. Only the human brain can come up with valuable new ideas. There will always be a great need and great value for those who can create a new idea, not simply blow the dust off of an old one.
More importantly, there are new ideas that can only be created in your mind. Yes you. The person reading this. Just like no two snowflakes are alike, no two minds are alike either. Your mind is formed by your unique combination of thoughts, perspectives, experiences, readings, learnings, language, friends, physiology and chemistry. Which means that despite the fact that there are 8 billion people on this planet, there are ideas that could only possibly come from you.
As the Founder of the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I am constantly wowed by the power of the human mind. The power of the new idea. The power to create new things, new thoughts, new connections. There is so much still to come.
It is up to us to create new innovations, new stories, new humor, new lessons, new solutions to old and new problems alike. Stay curious and you will discover the new ideas yourself. Those ideas, your ideas, have the power to change the world. Which means the world may soon be googling you.
Ever since I started the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, the comment I hear most often is:
It must be nice to be in a position to say “No”.
As employees, most of us feel we don’t have the right to say things like:
No, I don’t want to work on that project.
No, I don’t want to work those hours.
No, I don’t want to work with that client.
No, I don’t want to go on that business trip to Newark, again.
No, I don’t want to partner with Stinky Frank the close-talker.
There are plenty of benefits to being an employee. But you have to do what the job requires.
However, now that I am a business owner, the ability to say ‘No’ never crosses my mind. Sure, I’ve heard in-demand artists, actors and musicians talk about being able to say no to opportunities. I know doctors that no longer take new patients (and I kind of hate them for it).
I like having more control over the work my team does. But I approach the opportunity from the opposite direction.
The best thing about owning your own business is being able to say ‘Yes!’ I like to help people as much as I can. So now I say Yes! more than Meg Ryan in the diner scene in When Harry Met Sally. (I’ll have what she’s having).
I get to say Yes! to obscure requests.
I get to say Yes! to small projects.
I get to say Yes! to huge projects.
I get to say Yes! to ultra-fast turnaround projects.
I get to say Yes! to demanding celebrities who have unique pet projects.
I get to say Yes! to startups who don’t yet have the money our work is truly worth.
I get to say Yes! to novel partnerships with other agencies and organizations so that we can both take on bigger challenges together.
I get to say Yes! to clients who have never worked with a team like The Weaponry and have no idea how to get started.
I get to say Yes! when The Weaponry is the mistress agency that gets involved when the client’s lead agency can’t or won’t do what they need.
I get to say yes to projects that are less that $2 million, less that $200,000, less than $20,000 and less than $2000.
Saying Yes!makes me happy. It makes me feel empowered to help. It allows me to work with the people I want to work with, and make decisions that are not driven first and foremost by the income I receive today. It allows me to think about long-term benefits. It allows me to find creative ways to get important work made. It forces me to think creatively. Which is what people come to The Weaponry for in the first place.
If you are looking for more happiness, find more ways to say yes. Help more. Enable more. Get creative more. The world looks better when you are looking for possibilities.
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I have finally finished reading Walt Disney. The Triumph of the American Imagination. It was not a small book after all. To the contrary, it was large, dense and fascinating. Author, Neal Gabler, is an enviable writer who pulls back the curtain to reveal Disney as a complex, chain-smoking, reluctant American icon.
What I learned.
I picked up this book because I wanted to understand the formula behind Disney’s magic. I wanted to know how he made all those great movies and cartoons. How he got us to put on those silly mouse-ear hats and think we looked cool. And how he got us to pay $100 a noggin to visit his Land or World.
As Founder of the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I am always looking for insights from other great creative businesses. So I’ve been studying organizations like Disney, Pixar, The Wright Brothers Workshop, Andy Warhol’s Factory and North Korea’s Vacation and Tourism Board.
I expected Walt Disney would be a book about creativity. Certainly there is a lot of creativity and imagineering in the book. Walt was a visionary who had a crystal clear picture in his head of everything he set out to create. But the reason everyone should read this book is to see how hard his journey really was.
For almost 500 pages of the biography you wonder when Walt Disney will finally catch a break. Seriously. The classic movies we know and love today were largely box office flops, failing to make enough money to pay for production. Disney was a half-step ahead of the Financial Grim Reaper for what seemed like the bulk of his career. In the 1940s he narrowly avoided bankruptcy thanks to government film contracts during WWII. He just kept doing what he had to do to keep his mouse ears above water.
The next time you are working on unsexy projects for tough clients, take comfort in knowing that Walt Disney did the same thing to keep his dreams alive too.
Saving The Best For Last
But the most fascinating thing about the book was that the greatest achievement of his career didn’t come until the very end. In fact, it wasn’t even mentioned until page 603 of the 633 page book. That’s right, Disney World, the 40 square mile resort the size of San Francisco, was his best and last chapter.
When Walt told his wife about his plans for Disney World she was aghast, asking him, ‘What do you want to do that for?’ He replied,
I would get stagnant if I didn’t do new things.
Today Disney World employs 62,000 people, making it the largest single-site employer in the country.
What it means to you and me.
It is never too late in your career to have your biggest and best chapter. If you are willing to keep growing and pushing and driving yourself, the best is still in front of you. Employ all of your accumulated experiences, insights and know-how to create bigger and better chapters of your own story. Keep doing new things until you are done. Like done, done.
Your brain is the most powerful muscle in your body. Ok, your brain isn’t really a muscle. But it is so powerful it KNOWS that it’s not a muscle! Your most powerful muscles are actually your glutes or your quadriceps, depending on who you ask. And depending on whether or not you are keeping up with Kim Kardashian. You can strengthen these leg muscles doing squats, leg presses, lunges, deadlifts and by delivering refrigerators.
However, you should never perform these leg exercises without warming up first. For two reasons.
You could shred your muscles like pulled pork.
You will not perform at your best.
You should warm up your muscles to recruit as many fibers and synapses as possible for the mission. It also loosens the muscles, gets blood flowing through the area and prepares them for action.
Your brain works the same way. When your alarm clock detonates in the morning your brain is cold. That’s why so many people try to stoke some brainial heat with coffee or tea. But it takes actual mental activity to get your brain primed and ready for work.
I have a trick I use to get my brain ready to perform in the morning. It’s not a drink, a dish or a pill. It doesn’t make you sweaty, stinky or even raise your heart rate.
A great way to warm up you brain.
I am a professional creative thinker. I own an advertising and idea agency, called The Weaponry, where we try to stretch our thinking as far as possible every day. To prepare for creative thinking, I use several different techniques to get my brain warmed up. One of my favorite techniques is to spend a few minutes working on brain games.
I like a challenge that forces me to think through questions from multiple angles, spot interesting connections, or evaluate at a level that goes beyond the obvious. I do this in a variety of ways. Here are 5 options that you can try tomorrow morning before work.
5 Warm up techniques that recruit your brain cells.
Brain Challenges: My go-to morning stimuli are my Mensa Mind Challenge books. (I’m not a member of Mensa. I just play one at the bookstore.) They contain a range of
puzzles, math problems and brain teasers. Discovering the answers opens my mind and helps me view the problem, and thus the world, through a different lens.
Soduko Puzzles: These number sequencing puzzles are moronically simple, yet complex at the same time (like me). I really like the fact that I can keep switching my focus to get to the ultimate solve. I’ll hone in on a single number for a while. Then I might focus on a small box. Then a line. I like the fact that I never guess at Soduko. I focus on one small point until I know the answer with certainty before a I declare an answer. This works differently than the Mensa challenges because there is one simple, clear answer for each box, hiding in plain sight. I simply have to force it into focus.
Mazes: These were my childhood favorites. I love the fact that you can think you know where you are going and suddenly you come to a dead-end and have to look in another direction. Many of our life challenges are like this. We think we are on the right path until we know we are not. Then we have no choice but to reevaluate our choices and perspectives. Someone should write a book about this phenomenon. Oh wait they did. (Who moved my cheese?)
Crosswords: These classics are great because they force you to dig into your broad knowledge base. But they also enable you to employ strategy and technique to help you fill in your knowledge gaps, using what you know to offer clues about the things you don’t know. Here you can guess the answers without inducing catastrophic failure (see Soduko). I appreciate that they let you develop increasing levels of certainty on your hypothesis as you progress. They also reward you for knowing Tom Jones songs. So there’s that.
Memory Games: I have become increasingly interested in memory challenges. I come from long-lived people (I currently have 198 years worth of grandmothers). So maintaining my memory is going to be an important life skill. The power of the mind to develop visual codes to remember number sequences is fascinating to me. Over the coming years I expect memory games to become a larger part of my routine as I work to fight off dementia (I was born with as much dementia as I will ever need).
The benefit of a warm brain.
Puzzles in the morning get your brain firing. You will feel like you have recruited more brain cells. You will feel alert and ready to think better, faster, stronger, and probably for longer. It’s like Viagra for the brain. Kinda.
Even though I am a naturally creative thinker, these puzzles, games and challenges help me stimulate my brain in a way that reduces creative blind spots. It is easy to fall into a mental rut and use the same type of creative processes, tools and paths over and over again. The morning puzzles can be like opening a mental tool box of problem solving devices. When you see the tools you could use, the tools themselves reveal the paths to various solutions.
I like the way the puzzles stretch your thinking. They help you see different angles and perspectives. This pays off as you try to solve other business (or life) challenges the rest of the day. The puzzles and mind challenges ensure that your mind is alert, stretched, primed and fully powered to find new possibilities.
These puzzles are also fun. Starting your morning with a bit of fun and play makes your morning more enjoyable. That mood state alone contributes to more creative thinking.
If you are more math oriented consider this: if you could expand the power of your problem solving or creative thinking by just 10% by readying your mind, you will significantly expand the circle of solutions you can uncover.
Try warming up with some puzzles this week. Let me know how you feel afterwards. If you have a type of puzzle, quiz or test you use to keep yourself sharp please share it here. I could use all the help I can get. Especially in the morning, when I am delivering refrigerators.
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.