Do you have any idea how many books there are in the world? I do. Because I got curious and looked it up. According to The Google, there are 130,000,000 published books. There are also 7300 magazines, and another 1300 daily newspapers in the United States alone. Which means there is no shortage of material for even the world’s hungriest bookworm to digest.
That’s why I am so thankful for everyone who takes a moment of their valuable time to read my blog posts. This includes you. Because it would be impossible for you to read this blog post without reading this blog post. But more importantly, I know there are a lot of other interesting things you could be reading right now.
Why This Matters Today.
Today is my birthday. I have several birthday traditions. One is eating a full can of black olives in one sitting. Seriously. Another is taking time to reflect on my life. Or as the kids would say, ‘Evaluating my current sitch.’ As I reflect on all that I am thankful for today, beyond surviving another year, I am extremely grateful that you have taken the time to read my silly little blog.
I started The Perfect Agency Project in 2015, as I began planning to launch my own advertising agency. I began sharing my ideas, experiences, and random thoughts on advertising, entrepreneurship and self-improvement. And people around the world keep reading up what I am writing down.
So thank you. The time you take out of your own schedule to read my writings is a tremendous gift to me. Not only because you have so many other reading options. But because, whether or not you realize it, your time is your most valuable commodity.
Thank you to everyone who reads, shares, likes and comments on my posts. Thank you to everyone who has subscribed to the Perfect Agency Project. Thank you for investing your time and attention. It is a wonderful gift to me. And I get to enjoy it year round here at The Perfect Agency Project.
My Birthday Request
If you have read this far, please consider leaving a mark (like/hate/thumb-any-direction/comment) in the comment section, so I know who to thank today. I hope you all have a very happy My Birthday, and a fun Memorial Day weekend.
The best part of business is the people. I didn’t know that when I started my career. But over the past two decades I have discovered that businesses aren’t just powerful economic engines. They are the primary source of social interactions among adults. The workplace is dramatically undervalued as a matchmaker of friends, mentors, collaborators and life partners. In fact, I met my wife, Dawn, at work.
On Mother’s Day I got a shocking text from my close friend, Jennifer Hanley, whom I first met when she became a client of mine in 2008. She had bad news. My friend and former client, Steven Schreibman, had passed away the day before. This was totally unexpected. He recently began experiencing severe headaches. Then, on May 7th, he suffered a fall that resulted in a brain injury. He never regained consciousness.
I am truly blessed to have known Steven. But we would have never met had it not been for business. Steven was a fancy pants marketing lead at Nationwide Insurance. I was the creative lead at one of Nationwide’s advertising agencies. And we became fast friends.
Steven’s reputation preceded him. My coworkers would come back from meetings with Nationwide telling stories of this wild, rogue client. I couldn’t wait to meet this mythical marketing creature.
He didn’t disappoint. In fact, Steven Schreibman was such a fantastic character, that even though I am only halfway through my advertising career expectancy, I am declaring that I will never encounter another client or coworker that is more spectacularly unique than Steven.
Today I am reflecting on Steven’s impact on my life. My last 10 years have been much more flavorful thanks to Steven. Here are four of the many things I will never forget about him.
The Steven Schreibman Top 4 List.
1. His Laugh
I love to laugh. But Steven’s laugh made me look like the farmer in American Gothic. His laugh felt like the essence of life itself. His laugh was big and loud, like an alarm. And it never contained an ounce of restraint. Nor did it adhere to any social norms. I would have loved to have gone to church or synagogue or a library with Steven just to see if he could actually put a lid on his impulse to laugh without a hint of inhibition at the hilarity of the world. We should all live and laugh like that.
2. He cared.
Steven engaged with people as if he were a talk show host. Which is probably the job he should have had. In fact, I hope he gets that gig in Heaven. Because me and St. Peter would watch the Steven Schreibman Show every night.
Steven always showed a genuine interest in my life. He was full of questions and remembered everything I ever told him. When we first began working together, my family was small and growing. I have three blonde haired, blue-eyed kids named Ava, Johann and Magnus. Steven would always ask me, ‘How is your little Aryan race coming along?’ I laugh out loud when I think about how completely inappropriate he was, even as he demonstrated how much he cared about me and my family.
3. He Was Eternally Optimistic
Steven was a great client to present creative ideas to, because he recognized the potential in every idea. This is an extremely rare and valuable skill. Everything was Fabulous and Brilliant and Amazing. He loved pushing each idea to see how far it could go. He loved making things bigger, wilder and more attention-getting. He loved making ideas more memorable, and less like everything else. He could have taught a class on getting the most value out of a creative idea. He also could have been the class clown in that very same course.
4. He Was Entertaining
Steven was outlandish, and over-the-top, all of the time. His personality was completely incongruent with that of a large, conservative insurance company. But Steven reveled in being the pot stirrer. He understood his role as the person who could balance out a conservative corporate culture with his total irreverence for all things conservative.
The Master of Shock Value
We should all have a friend who is as endlessly entertaining as Steven was. He was so funny, and so outlandishly unpredictable, that you just wanted to be around him to see and hear what he would do next. There were no ordinary conversations with Steven. I think it would have been a violation of his personal brand to give you a straight answer. Every conversation with Steven was like a box of Cracker Jacks. And I looked forward to the joke, the surprise, or the shocking commentary that was tucked into every exchange.
My First Impression
I first met Steven on a Nationwide commercial shoot, on a 100 degree day in North Carolina. His face was lathered in sunscreen that was barely rubbed in. Which meant that he looked ridiculous. And he loved it. He kept asking if there was something on his face, and he acted oblivious to the white creamy mess he wore like Halloween makeup, just to get a reaction.
The Shirt Incident
One of my favorite Steven memories was from his birthday in 2009. We had a meeting together, and I wore a wild paisley shirt. When the SS waltzed into the meeting he was wearing the exact same shirt! When he spotted me wearing his birthday shirt, his jaw dropped, and he exclaimed, ‘Oh. My. Gawd! We HAVE to sit next to each other!!!!’ So we did. The rest of the meeting felt like a Saturday Night Live skit. It was all just too ridiculous to take anything seriously. As I think about Steven now, I immediate go back to that meeting. We looked like twin clowns. And we loved every minute of it.
Steven was the most engaged reader of this blog. Literally. The insights page on The Perfect Agency Project show that he has provided the most comments on this blog, by far. In fact, Steven has 33% more comments than the next most prolific commenter. This blog will miss him.
I love characters. And Steven was one of the greatest characters I’ve ever known. My conversations with Steven were more provocative and entertaining than the Howard Stern show. Always hilarious. Always inappropriate. And never a bit predictable.
Steven was indeed larger than life. And to those of us whose lives he touched, he is larger than death. Nothing can undo the impact you’ve had on all of us Steven. We will miss you greatly. I can’t wait to hear your laugh again on the other side.
*If you know a friend or family member of Steven’s, please consider sharing this post with them.
My plane from Atlanta to Milwaukee just took off. My past three days have been packed full, like Oreo Double Stuff cookies.
Monday our team conducted an 8 hour branding workshop with one of our great new accounts in Georgia. There were 16 clients and 4 agency people collaborating intensely to forge a new path for the brand. Afterwards I drove 2.5 hours in 2 different rental cars while drinking 4 large sweet teas.
Tuesday between 7:20am and 9pm I had 8 in-person meetings and an hour-long client presentation
Today I had 5 more in-person meetings.
Then I refilled a hole in my concrete driveway in Atlanta, with help from a few neighbors (thanks Steve, Crain, and Chris! I feel like that really cemented our friendship. #DadJokes)* Then I had dinner with some of my great Atlanta neighbors, including all of the above plus Betty, Melinda and Grace. Then I bolted Adam Albrecht-Style to the airport. (I’ve written about that style before here.)
After I finish this post I need to get back to work for the rest of the flight.
I have a huge creative presentation to a brand new client.
I have another important kickoff to an exciting new client engagement.
I have a call with a major foundation based in New York City that we are supporting with a really rewarding initiative later this year.
And I have a new business pitch.
The Wee Hours Of The Morning
I will get home at 2am ET.I will sneak into my three children’s bedrooms, and give them each a kiss (my kids, not the bedrooms). I will tiptoe into my room and kiss my favorite person on the planet for the first time in 4 days. (I am referring to my wife Dawn, in case you were unsure). Then I will sleep as fast as I can.
As I reflect on the past 72 hours, and prepare for the next 24, I feel like I am the luckiest man 35,000 feet above the Earth.
*The hole stemmed from a pinhole leak in the main waterline to the home. It was detected by a higher-than-normal water bill. I hired a leak detection company to find the leak. Which they did. Unfortunately it was two feet under the center of the concrete driveway. Hence the hole. Life is an adventure.
I’m not easy to scare. I’m not an anxious or nervous person. In fact, I am so normal that I am often bored by my lack of lunacy. My kids say that the only thing I am scared of is missing out on a fun time. In the past, they may have been right.
But I have a new fear that seems to have crept up on me when I wasn’t looking. I feel it in libraries and bookstores. It makes me truly uncomfortable in these places that should be quiet and calming.
So What’s Up?
I have tracked and analyzed this feeling and have discovered its source. Libraries and bookstores make me anxious, because I am now comparing all of the books I want to read with how little time I have left to read them. The equation does not work in my favor. And this freaks me out.
I love to read. Reading a book is like being the recipient of an organ transplant. Because as you read, someone else’s knowledge gets transferred to your body of knowledge. Yet, unlike when you receive a new, kidney, heart or appendix, your body rarely rejects new reading material. Even when you disagree with what you’ve read, you incorporate it into your understanding and world view.
Entrepreneurship Makes Symptoms Worse
I have always loved to read. But ever since I founded my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, my reading pace has picked up. So has my phobia. My FOLAB (Fear Of Libraries and Bookstores) is like FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Except the FOLAB stems from the knowledge, perspective, and mental stimulation I know I will never receive.
I have read several sources that say the average CEO reads one book per week. This doesn’t surprise me. Because entrepreneurs are looking for as much knowledge as they can accumulate. I turn to books as my primary source of professional inspiration and education. I pick up something useful in everything I read. I always juggle several books at once (because they are safer than chainsaws). And most of my commute is done listening to audio books. Yet, time is slipping away.
I am confronting the finite amount of book-reading life I have left. And I am in desperate need of some knowledge donors. Please share some of your go-to books that you feel I should prioritize. The average age of my four grandparents was only 95 years old.* So I may only have 50 years of reading left. Oh, my gosh. Seeing that in print is totally freaking me out. Please help by sending your reading recommendations today.
*My Grandma Albrecht is 98 and still going strong. So the average is still going up. But still…
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 memorabilityand 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I always say something ridiculous at the beginning of our quarterly meetings. Ok, even typing that sentence sounds ridiculous. For someone who started his advertising career as a precocious young copywriter, the idea of being a business owner who ‘begins quarterly meetings’ sounds kinda crazy. But I digress.
At the beginning of each quarter meeting at my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I say,
“The Weaponry is a (insert ridiculously large revenue number) business, with (insert ridiculously large number) of offices, and (insert ridiculously large number) of employees. Our job, ladies and gentlemen, is to close the gap between The Weaponry I just described, and The Weaponry that exists today.”
We then identify the most important things the business must add, remove, implement, enhance or change in order to close the gap between who we are today and our ideal self. We use the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), as spelled out in Gino Wickman’s book Traction to help us do this.
Every Day I Write The Book.
We compare ourselves to The Ideal Weaponry constantly. It’s our version of What Would Jesus Do? When making decisions about hiring, copier machines, our website, or business development, we constantly asks, What Would The Fully Formed, Fully Realized Version of The Weaponry Do. You know, the classic WWTFFFRVOTWD.
By creating a strong, tangible and detailed vision of your future self, you can mentally google any questions about your ideal state. Just ask yourself, ‘How does Future State You handle performance reviews?’ Or ‘How does Future State You invoice, or develop a pipeline of new business opportunities?’ When you ask such questions, you’ll usually find the answers sitting right there at the top of the search results. Because your ideal state is optimized for mental SEO.
I’m Talking About You Too (And Maybe U2)
This works for individuals too. By creating a strong image of your future self, you always have a great model to follow. When you stand back-to-back with your future self, you can easily find the gaps in knowledge, professionalism, patience, trust or reliability that you need to close. This helps you focus your efforts on acquiring new knowledge, skills, and maybe updating your wardrobe.
Don’t compare your business to a competitor. Don’t try to keep up with the Jones’s. The only organization you should be benchmarking against is your organization’s ideal state. The only person you should be jealous of is Fully Formed You. These are the only comparisons that matter. And they are the only comparisons that you can do anything about. That’s why the guy sitting in my chair at my company’s quarterly meeting didn’t completely surprise me. I’ve been comparing myself to him my entire life.
Over the past year I have helped several brands introduce new logos. It’s always exciting to freshen up a brand’s core mark. A new logo is a powerful way to offer a more contemporary, more stylish and more relevant brand image to the world. Logos are like clothes and hairstyles. If you don’t re-examine them periodically, one day you’ll wake up and realize that you’re sporting the wrong decade.
Just as a logo serves as the identifier for a product or organization, your signature serves as a signature mark for your personal brand. Whether you are John Hancock, Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Zoro, your signature represents you when you are not around to represent yourself. The kicker is that the mark that you make mindlessly today will be around to represent you for centuries to come. Seriously.
Which begs the question…
When was the last time you revisited your personal signature? It’s probably been a long time. Most people put very little thought into it. But I would like you to think about creating a new autograph. A new signature. A new stamp of approval. A new (insert your name here).
Steps to re-branding your signature.
Grab a piece of paper and a pen
Sign your name the way you normally do
Explore making it more legible
Explore making it more professional
Explore making it more fun
Explore making it more distinct
Explore making it taller
Explore making the letters rounder
Add an initial or two.
Add a flourish, icon or ownable mark.
You signature makes an impression every time you make it. Every check, document and permission slip you sign makes a statement about you to the people who read it. So put a little more thought into. If it’s bland, messy or Kindergartenesque, take this opportunity to make an evolutionary or revolutionary update. Experiment, play and practice until you find something that feels more like your personal brand today. Don’t stop until you find an option that you would sign off on. If you find something you like, or have put real effort into this in the past, I would love to hear about it.