Amazing advice I got from a man falsely imprisoned for 20 years.

In 1999 I went to see a fascinating  speech by Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter. Over 3000 people showed up at Marquette University to hear from this man you have likely never heard of. But Hurricane Carter has a remarkable story, and we wanted to hear it from the man himself.

Things Started Bad

Carter was sent to a juvenile reformatory at 11 years old for stabbing a man. He escaped and joined the army. That didn’t work out so well either. He was court martialed 4 times, then discharged in 1956 as unfit for service. Oops.

Things Got Worse

Carter became a professional boxer in the 1960s. He had a very successful career, until 1966, when he ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. A black man, with a car like his, had murdered people in a restaurant in Patterson, New Jersey. Police found Carter nearby, and he closely matched the description of the suspect. He was arrested, tried and convicted for a crime he did not commit.

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Things Got Better

After 20 years in prison, the error was finally revealed, and Carter was released. By that time Bob Dylan had written a popular song about him. Years later Carter wrote a book about his story that was turned into a popular movie called The Hurricane staring Denzel Washington as Carter.

The Question

After Carter’s speech, I stuck around the book signing to ask The Hurricane a question. I waited patiently for all the books to be signed and all the other people to leave. Then I approached Carter and asked him the question I was dying to know.

I said, ‘Mr. Carter, after spending 20 years in prison for a crime you said you did not, could not and would not commit, what was the first thing you did when you got out?’

His answer surprised me.

‘I went blind. I literally lost my sight. Prison is such a stressful place, and I had been fighting for my safety, my sanity and my freedom so hard for so long, that once I got out it was like my body shut down, and I lost my sight for a week.’

I said, ‘Wow! It is crazy that after fighting for your freedom so hard for so long, you couldn’t even enjoy it.

I will never forget what he said next.

‘Life’s funny man. Life’s a trip but you gotta take it. A lot of people will say life’s a shit sandwich. But I tell you what, the more pieces of bread you put on it, the less shit you gotta taste.’  -Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter

Remember this the next time you are having a hard day at work or school. Remember this when you have a tough day with your kids, the bank or the neighbors. If Rubin could say that after his time in prison, you can remind yourself of this after a hard commute.

Remember to focus on the bread. Add as much bread as you can. Look for the thick, Texas Toast loaf of life, and just keep adding it to your sandwich.

Key Takeaway

Ask people who have been through extraordinary experiences what they have learned. Grow through their growth. Take their knowledge, lessons and insights and put them in your pocket. That way you don’t have to go through what they have experienced in order to benefit from it too.

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How to find your secret language and trade it for wealth and happiness.

My son Johann has always been musical. He hummed before he could talk. He sang before he got his first haircut. And he memorized lyrics to songs before he started preschool. Thankfully, my wife and I were smart enough to pick up on this. We started Johann on piano lessons when he was 5 years old. He took to it naturally. Before he even outgrew his baby lisp he was pounding out songs on our piano at home.

A few months after Johann started playing piano I was tuning a guitar at home. 5-year-old Johey walked past as I was strumming and said ‘That sounds like a G Dad.’  I stopped what I was doing and looked at him and said, ‘It is a G!’

But the question was, how did this 5-year-old piano player know this was a G on a guitar? And could he recognize other notes? I then plucked the other strings of the guitar and asked Johann if he knew what they were. Sure enough he named them all with ease. E, A, D, G, B, E.

I quickly researched perfect pitch. I learned that it is the ability to identify musical notes. People with perfect pitch can typically create the sound of a note perfectly without assistance or reference, and they can dissect the notes in a chord. In other words, they are freak shows.

I went to our piano and asked Johann if he could make the sound of middle C. He quickly produced a hum. I hit the middle C key on the piano and had a perfect match. Weird. Then, I tried what seemed really far-fetched. I asked him to face away from the piano. I then played two notes at the same time and asked him what notes they were. He nailed them both. I played 2 other notes. He nailed those too. Then I tried 3 notes together, and he named all 3.

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Johann and his piano teacher Rita Shur, and a bunch of rectangles .

The Secret Language

It was then that I realized that little 5-year-old Johann spoke a language that I don’t speak, and very few people do. In fact, only about 1 in 10,000 people have perfect pitch.  That’s one for each lake in Minnesota. Typically, people who develop PP (#snicker) have musical training before the age of 6. Unfortunately, we lose our ability to develop perfect pitch after the age of 9.

Recognizing his unique musical abilities and interest, we have leaned into his natural skills and talents. He is now 11 years old, and plays the piano, violin and saxophone. He performs in state piano competitions. And he can do things with a harmonica that make me think he could follow in the lip steps of Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan or John Popper.

Your Special Language

We all understand a secret language that most others don’t. Music is just one example. For others it is finance, or sales, or compassion. For still others it may be baking, sports, mechanical interactions or makeup. We all have at least one rare language that we are born with a natural ability to speak and understand.

The key is for you to identify what that is, and lean into it hard. Become fluent. Add value to the world through your mastery of that language. And it is likely to bring you great happiness, and wealth.

Discovering My Language

Johann speaks the elegant and beautiful language of music. God gave me the ability to make wordplay out of anything. Which feels more carny than Carnegie Hall. But hey, I’ll take what I can get.

I knew as soon as I learned to read that I had the innate ability to create headlines. I loved reading them in newspapers and magazines. I loved the way they quickly summarized stories, with a clever twist. I always thought headline writer would be the perfect job for me. That and chocolate milk drinker.

When I took my first advertising class at the University of Wisconsin I was completely hooked. I got straight A’s in everything advertising related. I enjoyed the strategy and the creativity of it immensely. My college professors recognized my abilities and connected me with Paul Counsel, the CEO of Cramer Krasselt, one of the greatest ad agencies in America. Paul hired me, and I got my start as a writer.

Creating a Career

I have spent my career speaking my secret language. I have enjoyed it tremendously. Clients and coworkers value my thinking. As a result, fun and interesting opportunities keep coming my way.

In 2016 I launched my own advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry. We doubled in size in 2017. We doubled again in 2018. And we have unlimited potential ahead. All because me and my teammates are specializing in our secret languages.

Your Secret Language

You can do the same thing with your secret language. Pay close attention to that thing that comes easily to you. Discover it. Develop it. And do amazing things with it. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old. Tap into your secret language and you will have tapped into your path to greatest happiness, value and financial success.

Key Takeaway

You have a secret language that has been programmed into you. It enables you to perform at a very high level. A level that most people have no chance of ever achieving. Specialize in your secret language and play to your strengths. It makes you feel smart and strong. It makes you feel comfortable. It makes you valuable to others. And when you provide great value to others, it translates to both happiness and wealth. Which are two powerful forces we can all understand.

The one phrase that makes me want to scream at work.

Business can be a frustrating game. In this game, a conveyor belt drops challenges at your feet, over and over again. Your job is to solve those challenges before they bury you alive. Like soccer Quidditch and Jarts, some people love this game, and other people hate it.

Team Sport

When a company wins everyone goes home with money. Which makes business the ultimate team sport. It requires great communication to be successful. Since I launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I pay even closer attention to the words and phrases used at work. I have found that there are a number of words and phrases you never, ever want to hear in your place of business. They include the following:

  • “Fire!”
  • “You’re not going to like this but…”
  • “Ponzi”
  • “I just called animal Control.”
  • “Sorry, it looked like a real search warrant.”
  • “It worked for Enron.”
  • “The Repo Man”
  • “I handled it, Lorena Bobbit-Style”

But there is one phrase that bothers me more than all others:

“That’s above my pay grade.”

This phrase jolts me like an electric fence. Because it reveals powerful forces at work within the mind of the person who says it, or within the culture where it is used.

A Mindset Problem

Making this statement is a way to shirk responsibility.  It is a way of saying, ‘This is not my problem.’ Or, ‘It is out of my hands.’ Or, ‘I don’t get paid enough to think about these kinds of things.’ This mindset is the polar opposite of entrepreneurial thinking.

A Cultural Problem

If ‘That’s above my pay grade’ is commonly tossed about in your workplace it means your team members feel their opinions don’t matter. Or that they don’t feel free to speak their mind on important topics. It usually represents a clear Us vs Management division within an organization. None of these are good for business.

The Power of Empowered People

I like people who don’t sense a limit to their thinking, responsibility or problem solving abilities. I like people who take ownership. I want my people to operate as if they must make a leadership decision. Which is a product of recruiting the right types of people, and empowering them to always do what they know is right.

Key Takeaway

Take on as much responsibility as you can. Regardless of whether or not the work and the decision-making is part of your job description. Always think like a leader. When you view the world like a manager, department head or CEO, sooner than later that conveyor belt will drop a set of business cards on your desk with a title that matches your take-charge mindset.

The most valuable skill I have.

Do you know what makes you special? In business disciplines like marketing, branding and sales, the key to success is knowing what sets you apart from everyone else. As a marketing strategist I am constantly analyzing my clients to discover and capitalize on their specialness. #SpecialPurpose #IsntThatSpecial.

Turning the Camera Around

Once you train yourself to find the special, unique and rare things in others, you naturally analyze yourself the same way. Many times I have considered what makes me special.  And not to brag, but there are a few things that set me apart.

  1. My feet are among the flattest on Earth. I quite literally have no arches. This was first pointed out to me by my childhood friend Danny Boyle, and confirmed scientifically at a Fleet Feet store during a scan that listed my arches as Not Applicable.
  2. I have no reflexes in my knees. You know how doctors tap patients on the front of the knee and the patient then naturally kicks their leg forward? That doesn’t happen to me, despite the fact that some clinicians have worked up quite a lather trying to get a reaction out of my patellar region.
  3. I was born without two adult teeth. On my upper jaw, my 5th teeth from the center on both sides showed up as baby teeth, with no mature adult teeth behind them. Today I am rocking 2 full-sized implants that more than make up for what mother nature didn’t give me.

However, none of these 3 points offer much of a competitive advantage. Thankfully my 4th and final uniqueness does.

4.      I make friends as fast as anyone on Earth.

For a long time I didn’t know I was unique in this way. But I love meeting new people. So I waste no time converting strangers into lifelong friends.

I am fascinated by people, their stories, experiences, skills and quirks. I love human connections. I love discovering common ground. And I love to learn what you know that I don’t. I devour people the way others devour books.

I am also blessed with a good memory that retains what I have learned about the people I meet. Pro Tip: Friends seem to like it when you remember things about them. Retaining people knowledge also enables me to connect dots and recognize shared connections of people places and things. And ulitmately make more friends.

The Value

In business and in life, my ability to make friends quickly has been my most valuable asset. It helps me develop quick rapport, which ensures that I never feel alone. When I first launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I quickly recognized that I had done the most important work of entrepreneurship 20 to 30 years before launching my business. Because your personal network is critical to connecting the dots necessary to discovering and capitalizing on entrepreneurial opportunities.

Key Takeaway

Friends are the most valuable resources on Earth. Grab as many as you can as quickly as you can. They make everything on the planet better. Don’t be afraid to reach out and make new connections. I do it almost every day. Our friends provide the pathways to the most enjoyable experiences of our lives. They are gateways to opportunities. They provide our personal safety nets. And at the end of our days, our friends and family will be the only things we accumulated in our time on Earth that we will want to carry with us wherever we go next.

Do you create the best kind of heat?

We’ve reached the end of February, and across much of the country it is still wintry cold. But the low temperatures don’t bother me. That’s what happens when you grow up in Vermont, where cold air flows thick like maple syrup. Of the four seasons we experienced in Vermont (Summer, Leaf Peeping, Skiing and Mud Season) two of them are predominantly cold. And one is wicked cold.

To warm the chilly air, most homes in Vermont have either a fireplace or a wood burning stove. The two look, work and produce heat differently. Just like people.

The Fireplace

The fireplace is by far the more popular of the two. It is written about, sung about, and helps add value to your home. Fireplaces are highly coveted because they look beautiful in action. They are romantic. They create ambiance. And they are the perfect backdrop for showing off both bear skins and bare skins.

brown beside fireplace near brown wicker basket

Wood Burning Stove

The wood burning stove is far less popular. They are not sexy or romantic. In fact, they are often located in the sensible center of the home, rather than in a cozy family room, living room of master suite. The visible opening to the burning action is relatively small.  Which means there is a lot less to look at, and not much to sing about.

Hot or Not?

But the wood burning stove has one major advantage over the fireplace: Heat. You see fireplaces are more show and glow than go. They are highly inefficient at heating  anything but the toes next to them and the chimneys above them. In fact, most of the fireplace’s heat escapes up through the chimney, like Andy Dufresne.

On the other hand, the wood burning stove quietly cranks out enough heat to warm your whole house. You can load the stove at night, ignite a hell-strength fire inside, drop the damper like it’s hot, and heat your home all night long. Like Lionel Richie.

ash blaze bonfire burn

 

The 2 types of employees.

Employees are either fireplaces or wood burning stoves. When you are recruiting staff for your team, don’t get fooled by the bright lights and dancing flames of fireplace people. They talk a good game. They give the illusion of action. They show up and show off in meetings. But they generate very little action on their own. And little to no useable heat.

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Burn Baby Burn!

To create a great team you want to collect as many wood burning stoves as you can get you hands on. (Actually you should keep your hands off of them, and read this post I wrote on Matt Lauer.) You want those people who can create the most heat with the least amount of fuel. People who are more go than show.

Fill your team with people who use their time and energy efficiently. People who don’t need to poked and rolled to come to life. These are the team members who get their work done when no one is watching. They produce surprising amounts of heat. And you don’t need to sit right next to them to benefit from having them on your team.

At my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, we are full of wood burning stoves. We have recruited a team of smart, self-starters who put a premium on results. No one needs to be poked, prodded or doused with lighter fluid to get going. A fireplace employee simply wouldn’t survive in our environment.

Key Takeaway

There are two types of people. Those who put on a good show, and those who generate heat. If you want to assemble or be part of a red-hot team, focus on the quantity of heat produced. Not the dancing flames.

Why it is so valuable to be shallow.

The single greatest challenge of entrepreneurship is finding a way to get clients to buy what you are selling. It is the pass-fail measure of business success. You either sell things or you don’t. Not even Kellogg’s can sugar-coat this. Close simply doesn’t count.

When I first launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I wanted to make it easy for potential clients to engage in a small project with no long-term commitment. Because I knew that if clients tried a small project with us they would like the results and come back for more. It’s the same technique used by razor blade companies, crack dealers and Pringles.

Under No Pressure. (Ding Ding Ding Digga Ding Ding)

In my business development discussions I started talking about our engagements like swimming pools. I told prospects, ‘If you know you want to commit to a serious engagement with us, you can cannonball into the deep end of the pool right away. But if that is not how you want to start, and I don’t blame you if you don’t, we have another, more customer-friendly approach.’

Testing the Waters

I then invited all prospective clients to think about working with The Weaponry like walking into a zero-entry pool. Which means that if all you want to do is get your toes wet with a tiny project, we’re up for that. And if you like the way that feels you can go a little deeper, say, to your ankles. If that goes well you can proceed deeper and deeper, until you’re in up to your knees, your nethers, or your eyeballs.

Along the way we found that clients loved this no-pressure, earn-your-depth approach. It has been instrumental to our growth and business development efforts ever since.

A Business Is Born

I was reminded of our zero-entry pool approach a couple of months ago when my wife and I went to see the movie A Star Is Born, a movie that also started slowly, and took 10 years to make. The signature song of the movie is Shallow, by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. On Sunday night Shallow won the OSCAR for best song.

When I first heard the song it reminded me how The Weaponry came to life in the shallow waters of low commitments and small projects. But one line in particular stands out to me every time I hear the song. It’s at the end of the chorus when Lady Gaga finishes with the line ‘We’re far from the shallow now.’

Getting Deep

This entrepreneurial journey I am on with The Weaponry is far from the shallow now. Today the business has major commitments from major brands. We have deep-end-of-the-pool retainers. And while we are still happy to have clients engage with us for projects that are measured in the hundreds, most of our client engagements now are measured in the hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. And our total revenue projections are measured in millions.

By March 1st we should take possession of our second office in a second city (not the improv theater troupe). We have 18 active clients that span from Florida to San Francisco. And I attribute much of the depth of our current success to starting in the shallows. The shal-lal-lal-lal-lal-lal-lows.

Key Takeaway

Great big things start as great small things. The key is to get going. If you are thinking about creating a business, a habit or a movement, start by asking for a small, easy-to- make commitment. If the first small step is a success, take another step forward, into deeper water, with even greater results. Small step by small step you will make steady progress. Before you know it you’ll find yourself far from the shallow. And thankful you took that first small step that started it all.

How to deal with harmful energy suckers.

I’ve been having a problem with my battery lately. Not my internal human battery. The battery that powers my car. Several times over the past couple of months my car wouldn’t start and I had to jump it to get it going again (with jumper cables, not the Fosbury Flop.)

The Replacement

I decided to measure my car battery with a voltage meter. Sure enough, the voltage was way low, like Consuelo. So I replaced the battery. But two weeks later, with a brand new battery, I found the car dead again. Watt The Volt?

Spotting a Pattern

I began noticing a pattern. When the car wasn’t driven for a couple of days it would wind up dead. It was dead when we returned from a family weekend in Chicago. It was dead-dead when I got back from a 4-day business trip to Atlanta and Orlando. So it was time to take my car to the dealership to get to the bottom of the issue.

Diagnosing The Problem

When I made the phone call to set up an appointment, the service representative seemed to understand my problem better than he should have with the limited amount of information I gave him. When I brought the car in, the representative shared his diagnosis without ever looking at the car. He said:

‘I am 99.9% sure that you have a parasitic draw on your battery, caused by the Bluetooth control module. When that malfunctions it draws down the battery at an abnormally high rate while the car is off. The demand eventually drains the battery until you don’t even have enough power to unlock the doors.’ -Acura Dealership Dave

The test the technicians performed confirmed that we was right. Se we replaced the Bluetooth control module. And the problem disappeared.

Beware The Parasitic Draw!

Parasitic draws are not limited to car batteries. They can happen anywhere. In businesses, on teams, and in social groups. Malfunctioning human parasites draw down the energy of the group, depleting them of power, until they limp along severely compromised, or ruined.

Key Takeaway

Great organizations, teams and groups require energy to function properly. If anyone in the system is taking away energy, rather than contributing it, you have to remove them from the system. Do it as quickly as you diagnose it. There is no cure, other than a parasitectomy. Don’t waste your time trying to fix it. Removing the offender is the only way to return to full power and achieve your full potential. And you should never settle for anything less.