Your mistakes are your most important milestones.

I read as much as I can. I am always searching for knowledge, wisdom, inspiration, perspective and a good laugh. Because I am always searching, I often find what I am looking for.

DaVinci

This morning I was reading Walter Isaacson’s biography on Leonardo DaVinci. On page 59, Isaacson describes the flaws in DaVinci’s painting, The Annunciation. The painting depicts the moment when the angel Gabriel breaks the news to the Virgin Mary that she is going to become the mother of Christ. And Mary is all like ‘WTF!?!’

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‘Hey Mary! How’s it going? Um, God wanted me to tell you that he wants you to have his son. Oh, and you get to ride a Donkey!’

Flawed Genius

The painting isn’t perfect. Because Leo was trying out some interesting new moves. The magic of this painting is revealed when you look at it from the angle he wanted you to see it from. But I think the real magic comes from Isaacson’s commentary:

‘In the process, he made some mistakes. But even the mistakes, which came from innovating and experimenting, heralded his genius.’ – Walter Isaacson from Leonardo DaVinci

Way To Grow!

I love that. I like to think that my mistakes are evidence that I am trying. That I am pushing beyond what I know how to do well, into areas of growth, improvement and innovation. I am more afraid of not growing that I am of messing things up.

Key Takeaway

Don’t be afraid to try. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You, your skills, and your abilities are iterative. Don’t stop at You 1.0. Try more. Learn more. Innovate and experiment more. Push yourself as far as you can. Discover what You 100.0 is capable of. And if you do, someone may write a book about you too.

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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.

How to use Netflix in the workplace to increase creativity.

Creativity is one of your organization’s most valuable assets. It helps you develop new products, services, systems and processes. It solves problems. And helps you create culture. Creativity is the opposite of conformity. It drives you to think and act in ways that others don’t. Which is why creativity is key to both memorability and competitive advantages.

At my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, our core service is creative thinking. We are major exporters of creativity, like Art Vandelay. Which means my number one responsibility is creating an environment conducive to creative thinking.

Growing vs Harvesting

Most businesses think about harvesting creative thinking, but not planting or growing it. Which is like milking cows, but not offering them the water, grain, hay and chocolate they need to produce the milk. You have to fertilize your environment to grow more and better creative thinking. But you can’t just call ScottsMiracle-Gro for that kind of fertilizer. Unless you know a number I don’t know.

Making Connections

Creativity, like innovation, is about connecting dots. It happens when random bits of knowledge that reside in your head meet each other at the community social. They share some thinks, one think leads to another, and the next think you know a new thought is born. That’s why it is important to always be exposing yourself to new ideas. Not like a flasher, of course. But if you don’t get your chocolate in someone else’s peanut butter, you don’t get Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups.

Netflix

One of the tools we use to feed creativity at The Weaponry is Netflix. At lunchtime, we regularly gather in the conference room and find a program on Netflix to stimulate new thinking. We watch documentaries on creative people and their journeys.  We watch programs on noteworthy artists and entrepreneurs. We watch comedy specials, both for a good mid-day laugh, and because comedians offer new ways to think about ordinary things.

What To Watch

To enhance your creativity with Netflix you can watch anything that stimulates your mind. But here are a few starter ideas that have inspired and expanded our thinking. You can click the name of each program to view the trailer.

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Abstract: The Art Of Design

This series profiles great creative thinkers across several fields, including Architecture, Illustration, Sneaker Design and Typography. I recommend starting with this. I’m not sure why I capitalized each of those fields.

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House of Z

This documentary on Zak Posen follows his EKG-like successes and setbacks. It is inspiring to see early wins, his transformations and his comeback. It’s also interesting for creative thinkers to hear from the critics and gatekeepers who felt empowered to judge his work.

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The People’s Designer

Like House of  Z, this documentary follows the career of designer Jeremy Scott as he leaves a little town on the prairies of Missouri to become the Creative Director of Moschino. It’s interesting to compare and contrast the personal styles of Scott and Posen. It’s a great reminder that we all need to find our special formula.

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Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

In this funny and interesting series, Jerry Seinfeld hosts a talk show. But unlike a traditional talk show, the interveiews are conducted in, you guessed it, interesting cars and coffee shops. There are 4 seasons of this show already. The episodes are short, ranging from 9 to 22 minutes, which makes them easy to squeeze in during a short lunch break.

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Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards

This is a fascinating find. Manolo is a real character with a truly unique vision. It is interesting to follow his story, his vast body of work (even though the only part of the body it covers is the feet), his quirks and idiosyncrasies.

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Fastest Car

This series pits Super Cars vs Sleeper cars. Which means that each episode follows an owner of a Super Car (Ferrari, Lamborghini, Viper, McClaren etc) and three builders of sleeper cars, which are essentially wolves in pinto clothing. Then, each show concludes with a drag race to see which car is the fastest.

Key Takeaway

It’s important to feed your creativity. And nothing is easier than watching some interesting program while you are eating lunch. Start with any of these shows and follow your own interests. It’s useful to watch as a team, because each of these programs stimulates conversation. You’ll discover what other people find most interesting too. So give it a try. And let me know what you think. If you have a favorite idea-inspiring program on Netflix let me know. I’m always looking for more.

This is what people really remember about you.

I don’t have any tattoos. But each time we get a meaningful image or quote added to the walls of our new offices at The Weaponry, I feel as if an important statement has been tattooed on me. Of course our wall art is much larger and much less painful than a real tattoo. And I don’t have to hide the wall art from my Mom.

I’ve written about our wall statements before. But last week we had another quote tattooed to our office. Not only do I find this quote inspiring, it states a critical tenant of brand-building.

Our Latest Wall Quote:

 “You are remembered for the rules you break.”

-General Douglas MacArthur

MacArthur hit the nail on the head, and sent it into concussion protocol with this line. In Nike Founder, Phil Knight’s book Shoe Dog, he references this quote several times. I find myself referencing it often too.

There are multiple ways to interpret this quote. But I see it in the most positive light possible. You are remembered for the norms the standards and the expectations you don’t follow. You are remembered for the parts of you that stick out. Not the ones that fit in. You are remembered like Frank Sinatra, for doing it your way.

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Me and my cousin Brooks Albrecht and some 504 point type.

This is true of people, businesses, brands, products, services, plants, minerals and animals. Speaking of animals, consider mammals for a moment. They are warm-blooded and fur-bearing creatures. But the dolphins doesn’t seem like a mammal because it lives in the ocean. The bat doesn’t seem like a mammal because it frickin flies! And the platypus, well, it breaks so many rules I don’t even know what it was to start with.

Conformity

Conformity is the opposite of creativity. Conforming to every rule means you disappear. If you want to be remembered by your peers, in job interviews, or in customers’ minds, you have to break some rules.

Key Takeaway

Look for ways to be different. Break stupid rules. Break smart rules when you have an even smarter reason to do so. Rules were made to be broken. You were made to be remembered. You are not a sheep, or a cow. Don’t follow the flocking herd. Give them something to remember you by.  Your Mom and Dad will eventually get over it. Trust me, I know.

How to learn exciting new skills like Wilbur Wright.

We experience life in three modes.

  1. Growth Mode.
  2. Maintenance Mode.
  3. Atrophy Mode.

These modes are not sequential. You can shift from one mode to another in any order you choose. Read a book and you are in Growth Mode. Do some drugs and you are in atrophy mode. Brush your teeth and you are in Maintenance Mode. (Listen to some 80s English electronic music and you are in Depeche Mode.)

Right now I am spending as much time as I can in Growth Mode. I am reading for learning. I’m working out regularly. And I have started my own advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry, which pushes me to grow every day.

Growing By Learning From Others.

To push myself for more growth, I am soaking up as much as I can about inventors and pioneers. Recently I’ve studied Walt Disney, Lewis and Clark, the team at Pixar, and Ernest Shackleton. Right now I am studying Orville and Wilbur Wright. Notice I say that I am studying them. Not reading about them. You can read simply to be entertained. Or to kill time. I’m studying because I am trying to learn and grow.

The Wright Brothers

For those of you who aren’t up to date on your turn-of-the-last-century trivia, Orville and Wilbur Wright, from Dayton, Ohio, invented the airplane. Which changed the world forever. In fact, if it weren’t for them you wouldn’t be able to complain about the lack of leg room or that spotty in-flight wi-fi as you cross the entire country in just 6 hours.

One of the things that stood out to me about the Wrights was their highly pragmatic approach to their own growth and learning. Today, you and I can use their approach to develop our own breakthroughs, both personally and professionally.

The Wright Stuff

To learn and grow like the Wright Brothers read the following excerpt from a talk Double Dubs (my nickname for Wilbur Wright) gave to a group of engineers in Chicago:

Now, there are two ways of learning to ride a fractious horse: One is to get on him and learn by actual practice how each motion and trick may be best met; the other is to sit on a fence and watch the beast a while, and then retire to the house and at leisure figure out the best way of overcoming his jumps and kicks.

The latter system is the safest, but the former, on the whole, turns out the larger proportion of good riders. It is very much the same in learning to ride a flying machine; if you are looking for perfect safety, you will do well to sit on a fence and watch the birds; but if you really wish to learn, you must mount a machine and become acquainted with its tricks by actual trial.   -Wilbur Wright  1901

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Orville and Wilbur Wright were no couch potatoes. They were the worlds first airplane potatoes.

Applying Wilbur’s Approach

The same holds true for you my friend. You can study that challenge in front of you from the comfort of your couch. You can read about it, talk about it and watch other people do it. But if you really want to learn how to do it yourself, you have to climb aboard your own flying machine and learn the tricks yourself, through trial and error.

That’s how I started The Weaponry. I read and studied and tried to prepare ahead of time. But eventually I had to jump in the cockpit, pull back on the wheel and start messing with the controls. I’m learning by doing. And I’m learning faster than I ever could from a book or a class.

Your Growth

The same approach holds true for learning anything. You learn how to kayak, juggle, write code, start a non-profit, lead, cook, invest and speed-eat hot dogs by doing.  Experience is the greatest teacher. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes help you course-correct and keep you moving forward.

 Conclusion

Don’t settle for Maintenance Mode. Avoid Atrophy Mode at all costs. And keep growing. Not by watching or reading. But by doing. Get off the fence and climb aboard your own horse, bicycle or flying machine today. Then just keep at it until you get it Wright.

*If you got anything out of this post consider subscribing to receive future posts via email. I’ll try to write something smart or funny to make it worth your while. Heck, I’ll even spring for the email postage.

The 2 Things You Can’t Google.

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.

The Google

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.

Curious Mind

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.410161296_hr

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.

  1. Answers to questions that have not been asked.
  2. New ideas.

Unasked Questions

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.

New Ideas 

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.