A better approach to the first day on the job.

Do you remember the first day of your career? I do. It was weird. On the first day of my advertising career I got shown to a mostly empty cubicle, was handed a schedule of my departmental orientations, and was mostly abandoned. The 2 highlights of the day were that I was taken out to lunch by a handful of other creatives at the agency, and that I didn’t get fired.

The Weaponry

Two decades later when I launched my own advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I wanted to do things differently. I wanted something more profound to happen on the first day. And I wanted it to be OSHA compliant.

This Week

We had an exciting new employee start at The Weaponry this week. She is significant in that she is the first member of our team who started with us right out of college, without prior advertising or marketing experience.

After talking with the new team member for an hour about what we do and who we do it for and why we do it the way we do it, and Mountain Dew and the Dewey Decimal system, we gave her The Weaponry’s unique first day assignment.

The Assignment

The assignment for our new team members is to spend 1 hour writing. Even if you are not a writer.

First: We ask that you spend 30 minutes writing down your career goals and aspirations. We want you to think about the journey you are on and all that you want to accomplish. We ask that you think big, be specific and paint a clear picture of what success looks like to you.

Second: We ask you to write down your goals, aspirations and expectations for the upcoming year. We want to know what you want to know and how you expect to grow. We want you to think about how the first year fits within the Elon-Musky career you just wrote about.

Sharing

We ask our team members to share their goals for the first year. It helps us understand what they are expecting to get out of the year. It ensures that they will get the support and knowledge they most want over the next 365 days.

However

The Career Goals Overview is private. That is just for the new team member. We want our teammates to feel as if they can think really big. We want them to set gonzo goals without judgements. We want them to start their careers with the end in mind, so that they can clearly understand how the next step in their career can help them make progress towards their ultimate goals.

We also acknowledge that their career goals may not involve us. Or even working in our industry. I am Ok with that.

Direction

This exercise helps create career clarity, direction and calibration. It will help them refocus when they lose their way, or stall. It will provide guidance when making decisions about the opportunities that come their way. And It will help them prioritize long term goals over short term rewards. Plus, the writing exercise will make for a cool scene when a movie is made about their amazing career. Note to the director: I want my role to be played by Morgan Freeman or Awkwafina.

Key Takeaway

We all have the ability to positively influence those we interact with. As a business leader, coach, parent or teacher you can have a profound impact on the lives of those you have the privilege to lead and guide. Take that opportunity seriously. Look for ways you can have a positive, long lasting influence. Because at the end of your career and the end of your days, the only thing that really matters is the impact you had on others.

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

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5 Things I do to keep my work energy high.

Being an entrepreneur is as close as I will get to knowing what it was like to be Bruce Lee. Because entrepreneurs face a nonstop onslaught of challenges that come from all angles. It requires you to remain sharp and on your toes. And that is just to play defense.

Getting Offensive

But like Deion Sanders, entrepreneurs don’t have the luxury of simply playing defense. Since I first launched The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, I have been constantly on offense. It is how you create something out of nothing, and then grow it into something worth talking about. It requires vision, focus, persistence. And a whole lot of energy.

Pure Energy

I am a naturally high-energy human. But my job, like yours, will take as much energy as I have to give. I have lofty goals that will take a tremendous amount of work to achieve. That’s why I have been focused lately on keeping my energy reserves high by taking care of myself physically. Here’s what I am doing.

The 5 Things I Do To Keep My Energy Up

1. Sleep 

Sleep is the key to great energy. If you do just one thing on this list, I recommend  saturating yourself with sleep. It is how the human body recharges. Most Americans sleep far too little. Then again most American’s aren’t thinking about operating at their optimal level. #StateFairObservation

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I probably don’t look like this when I sleep. But I like to think I sleep pretty, on a log, in the woods.

I am an Early Owl, which is a cross between an Early Bird and a Night Owl. So I naturally feel great early in the morning, and energized late at night. I enjoy staying up late feeding my curiosity. Which is why I now have a curiosity curfew.

However, I recognize that I feel much better with good sleep. So I have been trying to get to bed by 10:30 or 11pm so I am well rested when my non-negotiable alarm goes off at 6am. I have found 7.5 hours to be my prime sleep number. Although when I plugged it into a Sleep Number Bed I found 7.5 to be waaaaay too soft.

2. Eating

We all know that we get better energy by eating better food. But right now I am focusing not just on what I am eating, but when I am eating. Eating at the right times helps me keep my energy levels where I need them to perform at my best throughout each day. Bill Cosby taught me this lesson in a Public Service Announcement on TV when I was a kid. And we all know Bill Cosby had enough energy to pave his own 4 lane highway to hell.

tray of food beside body of water
This is an overly romanticized view of breakfast. My actual breakfast has far more Frank’s Red Hot. I put that shiznit on everything!

I typically eat breakfast (and I always eat breakfast) at just about 8am. But I have often pushed my lunch back to 1 or 2pm, because I have been on a roll at work. But I am making a concentrated effort to create a hard stop for lunch at noon. Because it helps maintain a more consistent energy level throughout my afternoon. And it prevents me from becoming a hangry, hangry hippo. I have also tried to eat dinner between 6pm and 7pm. My family’s hectic evening schedule often tempts me to push off dinner until 8pm or 9pm. But when I wait that long I feel like a skateboarder who took too long between kicks and lost all momentum. Don’t be that skateboarder.

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Eating is like kicking while skateboarding. Do it regularly or you’ll lose your momentum.

3. Drinking  

I am working on more and better hydration. Water is my go-to drink. I have heard that you should start your day with a drink of water to wake up your machinery. So lately I have been starting my day with a tall glass of water, first thing, before I start writing in the morning. I can tell it helps get me flowing faster.

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This is a fancy pic of fancy water. I drink the generic stuff that comes out of the tap and it works the same way.

4. Exercise 

My energy is higher when I exercise regularly. Even when I am exhausted at the end of a day, making time to exercise helps me elevate my energy. As a result I enter each new day with a deeper energy reserve when I exercise regularly. #RichardSimmonsStyle

man jumping in mid air holding blue ball above his head
This is kinda what I look like when I exercise, because I also work out under fluorescent lights.

5. Downtime  

You need downtime and rest to restore your energy, passion and love for what you do at work. I take weekends completely off from work whenever I can. I take vacations with my family. I try to spend a considerable amount of time when I am not working not thinking about work. I do this by becoming totally engrossed in other activities that range from reading to boogie boarding. The downtime helps me increase my enthusiasm for my day job when I come back to it.

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Boogie boarding is one of my favorite downtime activities to do with my family, including my daughter Ava.

Key Takeaway

You are your most important business machine. If you want to accomplish great things you have to keep yourself running in top condition. While money may make the world go round, it is your energy level that helps you get that bread. So take care of yourself. And make sure you have the energy to take on the kind of work your ambitions demand.

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

Why feeling comfortable should make you feel uncomfortable.

I am always looking for nuggets of wisdom. And because I am always looking, unlike Bono, I often find what I am looking for. The latest gem arrived yesterday from Robert Kiyosaki, the famed investor and author of Rich Dad. Poor Dad. Kiyosaki is an active tweeter, dropping 140-character bread crumbs of wisdom throughout each day.

Here is the tweet that has me all atwitter right now:

The biggest trap, the biggest dungeon in life isn’t laziness or bad luck, it’s comfort.  -Robert Kiyosaki 

The Human Trap

I know exactly what Kiyosaki is talking about. And he nailed the big ole human trap. If I was trying to catch me a feast of humans, I would not set out an oversized mousetrap baited with oversized cheese, or a giant ant trap baited with a giant picnic basket.

Instead, I would set up a steady 9-to-5 job in middle management, with competitive benefits, no night or weekend work, no travel, a swell group of co-workers, an easy commute and decent pay. And my trap would suck in humans like a new and improved black hole designed by James Dyson.

Dissecting The Trap

Comfort is a trap. It slowly and silently pacifies you. It lulls you into a false sense of security. Comfort takes your ambition, hands you back mediocrity, and makes you feel like you got fair value in the exchange. Comfort smothers dreams, dismantles goals and leads to the motherlode of regret that so many people unearth in their last chapters.

Staying Uncomfortable

Most people are looking  to make a comfortable living. But that is my greatest career fear. Because it would mean that my career would be good, but never great. It wouldn’t be memorable or laudable or history making. It wouldn’t create a legacy or generational wealth. But most importantly it wouldn’t allow me to accomplish my personal mission and live into my personal legend. #TheAlchemist

A Quick Recap

I spent the first 19 years of my career working as an employee. I earned fancy titles that included words like Executive, Chief and President. Those roles generated internal clout and an enviable salary that most would be thrilled to have. And most people would never give it up.

The Grand Illusion

My past jobs offered a great deal of perceived comfort. But that type of comfort is an illusion. It tricks more people than David Copperfield (Vegas not Dickens). Jobs are not steady or guaranteed. They only appear steady because people want to believe they are.

Entrepreneurship felt like the path to the endgame comfort I was looking for. Because the comfort I want comes from having control over my time, which is our only un-renewable resource. So in 2016 I launched my own advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry.

Even More Dangerous

However, entrepreneurship does not make you deaf to the siren song of comfort. Worse, a sense of comfort is far more dangerous to entrepreneurs than it is to employees. Entrepreneurship requires you to always feel unsatisfied, incomplete and scrambling to generate the next phase of growth that keeps your machine humming.

I stay uncomfortable by committing to goals that are very hard to achieve. Those unattained goals provide a constant feeling of discomfort. Of failure. And of motivation that drives me forward. I try to keep that discomfort front and center. Because it prevents me from falling into the big trap that Robert Kiyosaki warned the Twitterverse about yesterday.

Key Takeaway

Comfort is the enemy of high achievement. It makes you feel as if good enough is good enough. Comfort forces you to pawn your hopes and dreams. It makes you lay down your ambition and stop fighting. But don’t. Don’t give into comfort. Keep your eyes fixed on your original dream. And make it come true. Because that is the only way to guarantee you will feel comfortable with the way your story ends.

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

I have found something I am terrible at. Now what do I do?

I love a good challenge. I like testing myself to see what I am capable of. Never was that more clear than when I decided to launch my own advertising agency in 2016.

Suddenly I wan’t just responsible for my own work, or for the creative department that I oversaw.  I was responsible for absolutely everything that happens at The Weaponry, my advertising and ideas agency.

Jumping In The Deep End

I quickly had to learn if I was capable of running operations, business development, customer service, human resources, production, accounting and the creative department at the same time. Which is a bit like walking and whistling and juggling gum on spinning plates at the same time.

The Good

I discovered, that like you, I am capable of a lot more than I had been doing. I discovered new strengths. I found that I enjoy addressing late payments, shopping for business insurance, and establishing leases in multiple states. Those broad new tasks have tested me in new and dynamic ways. Better yet, I have passed those test with at least satisfactory grades. And I am proud of that. Because low expectations lead to high satisfaction. 

The Bad And The Ugly

But lately I have discovered something I am terrible at. It’s relatively small. But my challenge with it seems worthy of sharing.

I am terrible at calling people when they say call me anytime!

I have at least 6 people to call who have invited me to call them without stating a specific time slot. And I can’t seem to get traction on these action items.

These are all big dogs. People who I really want to talk to. The list includes 2 company CEOs, 2 company Presidents, and a cheese broker. (I live in Wisconsin, and I have cheese needs).

Here’s what happens:

  1. I put a tentative time for a phone call on my calendar.
  2. My day gets hectic (Every day gets hectic).
  3. I move the call off my calendar to focus on more pressing issues.
  4. I get a lot accomplished by utilizing that free time.
  5. The important but not urgent calls slip into the future with Steve Miller.

Important But Not Urgent

I am a huge proponent of the Important But Not Urgent activities. I was first introduced to these activities through Stephen R Covey’s classic book, The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People. (If you haven’t read this it should be your next book. Unless you have to retake your drivers test soon. Then read that little book on driving in your state next.)

Important But Not Urgent activities include the things you don’t have to do today but really should. These are investments in a better life, and greater success. Things like networking, relationship maintenance, exercise, planning for the future and applying deodorant.

So Now What?

I know having these invited but unscheduled calls are important. But I haven’t developed the proper skill, habit or muscle to get it done. That being said, I am looking forward to figuring this one out. Because it means I will be turning an area of weakness into an area of strength. Which is the kind of growth I was seeking when I decided to try my hand at entrepreneurship.

Key Takeaway

No one is good at everything. We all have areas of weakness, ignorance or immaturity. If you want to accomplish great things you have to be okay with that. Your deficiencies can be improved or avoided through hiring and delegation. Which means that your most valuable skill is problem solving. Because problem solving provides the answers to every test. Just ask Felicity Huffman.

How to keep A-holes out of your organization.

I’m not a huge fan of rules. Creative people as a species are naturally averse to them. But if you want to develop a business with a strong culture and a rock solid, repeatable process you need some rules to guide you.

Some Background

Prior to starting my own ad agency I had been part a fun, feisty and progressive agency called Engauge. We had offices in Atlanta, Austin, Columbus, Pittsburgh and Orlando. And we worked with some of America’s best brands, including Coca Cola, Wells Fargo, UPS, Nike, Chick-Fil-A, Nationwide, Walgreens, and Cisco. We had a lot of very talented people. And we had a great company culture. #weness  But it didn’t happen by accident.

Rules That Free Us

When I joined Engauge’s restructured executive leadership team in 2011 our first order of business was to create some simple rules to govern the organization. Because we believed that a great organization is made of great people who enjoy working together, the first rule we unanimously agreed on was the ‘No A-holes’ rule. For those unfamiliar with the rule, or the obviousness of the phrase, it means that your organization will not tolerate people who act like A-holes.

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This dude is acting like a textbook A-hole. Well, maybe not a medical textbook A-hole, but you know what I mean. 

Prevention

Preventing the A-holes from joining your team isn’t easy. Because they are on their absolute best behavior in interviews. Sometimes we sniff them out (yeah, I said it). But often they sneak past our filters. So as much as we try to prevent an A-hole from getting into our organizations in the first place, they get in. So now what?

The Conundrum

You just get rid of them, right? After all, no one likes an A-hole. Unfortunately, it’s typically not that simple. Because let’s face it, there are a lot of talented A-holes. The drive, intelligence, confidence and will of a typical A-hole help makes things happen. It’s common for them to make a quick impact and create immediate wins.

The Problem

But that upside comes with an equally significant downside. Because A-holes are uncomfortable to be around, they drain morale and sap energy. The unfortunate reality is that when you retain an A-hole, (which means you are A-hole retentive) it sends a terrible message about your values to your most valued employees. You’ll watch them drop like flies. Among the employees you will retain you’ll lose untold dollars in productivity as co-workers gather to talk about what an A-hole the A-hole is.

Even Worse

Of course the worst problem of all occurs when an A-hole develops a close relationship with a client. Because then the business has to decide whether they want to lose the valuable contributions of the A-hole and irritate or lose a client.

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The Solution

There is a proven 2-step process to handling such problem employees. First, ask a handful of cross functional team members if they think the co-worker in question is an A-hole. Second, if the consensus is yes, you put on your scrubs and perform an Assholectomy.

There simply is no room for the distraction, the division and the drama caused by A-holes. Accepting them tells the rest of the organization that It’s okay to be an A.  That can’t happen. Because eventually enough people will leave, or threaten to leave that you have no choice but to get rid of the A-hole A-nyway.

 The Result

After implementing the A-hole rule in the past, I’m proud to say we purged several very talented but very difficult people. By dropping those stinky sphincters, the culture, vibe, productivity and overall love for the organization improved.

The Weaponry

When I launched my own advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, in 2016, the first rule we implemented was the No A-Holes Rule. But we didn’t just make it a rule. We baked this non-negotiable into the center of our brand identity. You’re probably wondering how we did this.

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See the A in the middle of the word Weaponry? Notice that it has no A-hole? That’s because there are no A-holes at The Weaponry. #TrueStory #BakedInFromTheStart

By establishing this rule from the beginning we have had no A-hole problems at The Weaponry over the past 3 years. None. Not even a whiff of a personality problem. #snickering  All of our full-time and part-time team members have been exceptional people who work great with others.

Key Takeaway

If you want to create a great work environment, team and culture you have to invite the right people in and keep the wrong people out. There simply is no room for A-holes. Even really talented A-holes. Because you will be cleaning up their crap until the day they leave. So create a policy and a process to prevent them from getting into your organization, and for removing them if they sneak in. By eliminating A-holes you will have avoided the negative distractions that kill both productivity and culture. Which means you and your team can focus on building a great business. And building great, long lasting relationship with each other.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message (like someone dealing with an A-hole) please share it with them.

When you develop a new business you develop new hope.

I expected that starting my own advertising agency would be hard. I expected long days and late nights. I expected endless challenges. I expected to make mistakes. I expected to forgive myself for not knowing all the things a business owner really should know. I expected to learn and grow along the way. And I expected to use the word expected more than usual in this opening paragraph.

Hard Things Are The Best Things.

I launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, in 2016. And all of the things I expected ahead of time have come true. I have no complaints. Because doing great things should be hard. I am not afraid of hard things. They make me feel alive. Where others get anxious, intimidated or nervous, I get excited. It’s a gift. Or maybe there is something wrong with me. Or both.

The Unexpected

But more and more I am noticing something I didn’t anticipate during the pre-launch phase. I am surprised by the number of former coworkers, clients, friends and acquaintances that have come to me hoping, urging, expecting me to build something great that they could be part of too.

There are a significant number of very talented people who have gotten very close to The Weaponry, and put their names on our wait list, preparing for the next opening or opportunity to develop.

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Sarah Disanza created her own opportunity at The Weaponry, worthy of a whole other post. #Prequel

These are smart people with jobs, and freelancers. Recent graduates and pre-retirees. People who are burned out with their current situation, and fed up with their boss. People who want to feel like they are part of a winning and growing team. People who want a little more excitement in their workday. People who believe that The Weaponry offers the type of work experience they are hungry like the wolf for. And I would like to have all of them on our team.

Under Pressure

So the pressure is on to grow this business. To find out just how many people we can accommodate. We need to see how much demand can we generate. While keeping this business as attractive at scale as it is in miniature, and in the collective minds of both our current team members and those who hope to join us next. That’s a good pressure. Like the pressure Queen and David Bowie were under.

Key Takeaway

When you start something new, anything new, you are creating new hope. Hope for a better job, a better experience, a better resource, and ultimately better products and services. All of which ladder up to hope for a better life. If you can make that happen you have done something really special. That’s exactly why I started the The Perfect Agency Project in the first place.

You never forget your first income as an entrepreneur.

I am into simple pleasures. As an entrepreneur, one of those simple pleasures is taking checks to the bank and depositing them in person, old school style. I have been doing this since I first launched my business in 2016. It is one of my favorite parts of business ownerships. I find it extremely rewarding. Like a fisherman bringing home his daily catch. Like a farmer hauling the harvest to town. Or a gold prospector showing off his nuggets. #snickering

My Last Bank Run

Friday afternoon I made a run to the bank to deposit some checks I received last week. But what started as a routine trip to the bank became a trip down memory lane. Because as I entered the bank I was hit by the memory of depositing the very first check my business ever received.

You Never Forget Your First

I dreamed of starting my own advertising agency since I first started my career as a young copywriter. Finally, in 2015 I decided to take the proverbial plunge. (Which makes me a proverbial plunger.) From the time I committed to launching my own agency until I legally established The Weaponry LLC and left my job was 7 months. Just 1 month after I launched The Weaponry I received a check for $46,444 made out to The Weaponry LLC. I was amazed. I kept thinking that 1 month earlier The Weaponry didn’t even exist. Now it was about to have $46,000 in the bank.

Show And Tell

I remember going to my bank in Atlanta to deposit the check like it was yesterday. The woman who helped me set up The Weaponry’s business banking accounts just weeks earlier happened to be working that day. I hurried over to her like a proud kid coming home with a great report card and said, ‘Look what I have!’

I showed her the check for $46,000 and her eyes got really big. She said, ‘Wow! That was fast! How do I get in on this business?’

3 Years Later

Fast forward 3 years to last Friday. I walked into another branch of that same bank in Milwaukee. I was thinking about that momentous first check as I approached the counter where I sign my checks before I deposit them. As I pulled out the checks to give them my John ‘Don’t-Call-Me-Herbie’ Hancock, I saw something remarkable on the checks. And it wasn’t the dollar value.

Another Wow

What I noticed was that 2 of the 3 checks I was depositing had logos printed on them that The Weaponry designed. Now we were not just getting paid with checks. Our work was literally on the checks, and on the envelopes in which the checks were mailed.

When I first envisioned The Weaponry I imagined the agency impacting every touchpoint of the brands we worked with. But I hadn’t imagined getting paid for our efforts with checks that had logos on them the we had designed.

These brands were not tiny startups either. One of the checks came from a client of ours who is celebrating their 125th year in business. The other was from a brand owned by one of the best known companies in the world.

I took my time signing the checks as I soaked in the moment. Then I walked up to the teller with a smile even wider than usual. Knowing that The Weaponry is not just making money. We are making an impact on our clients’ businesses.

Key Takeaway

Entrepreneurship, like life, is an exciting journey. It is easy to lose sight of just how much progress you have made along the way. That’s why it is important to recognize those telltale signs that you are growing, building and improving. Keep your eyes open for your own important, yet often subtle signs of progress. They indicate that You have outgrown the You of yesterday. In the end that is all we can really hope for.

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