What we can all learn from the Best Picture snafu at the Oscars.

What we can all learn from the Best Picture snafu at the Oscars.

When I woke up Monday morning my iPhone was practically on fire. It was glowing and crackling with texts, tweets and push notes. The world was dying to tell me about the disaster at the Oscars. The wrong movie had been announced as Best Picture. OMG!  Hollywood had been embarrassed on national TV! Those poor, wealthy celebrities…

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I couldn’t wait to see the clip. (You can see the whole thing by clicking here. You’re welcome.)

It did not disappoint. The seven minutes of crazy was even better than I could have imagined. It was a train wreck. I squirmed through Warren Beatty’s confusion. I cringed through Faye Dunaway’s quick scan of the card. I felt terrible for La La Land’s la-cast and la-crew celebrating, and thanking, and feeling honored, before having their pants pulled down on stage in front of the world.

I felt even worse for the Moonlighters, who couldn’t really celebrate. After all, they just lost. Now, they didn’t know if they were coming on stage just to have their pants pulled down, before being forced to hand their hand-me-down awards to Manchester By The Sea. I watched it all several times. I will remember those seven minutes of award show infamy longer than I will remember the movies.  

What we can learn.

However, it is important that we take away more from this than the uncomfortable entertainment. Following the debacle I heard many people exclaim, “Someone should get fired over that mistake!”  Let’s think bigger.

We now know that the presenter, Warren Beatty, was handed the wrong envelope by a Price Waterhouse Cooper accountant. PWC has done this for 83 years. Which means a new gremlin was introduced that exposed a flaw in their process. As the founder of the ad agency The Weaponry, I see Envelopegate as a welcomed reminder that we should all use our mistakes to help improve our processes. Not to punish the mistakers.

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In the book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (yes, I really read a book about checklists) Atul Gawande, a renowned surgeon, champions checklists as a way to ensure processes are implemented that help save lives in hospitals. He also cites checklists for having done more to prevent airplane crashes than any other innovation. If a checklist helps save lives in hospitals and on aircraft, certainly a checklist could be used to help save some unfortunate moments at The Weaponry and in Hollywood. And probably when you leave a restroom.

Simple Solution

A simple checklist used by the PWC accountants backstage, and the award presenters, would have prevented the mistake.

  1. Ask presenter what award they are announcing.
  2. Check run of show list to make sure the award they are scheduled to present matches answer.
  3. Read the award category written on announcement envelope aloud to make sure it matches before handing it to the presenter.
  4. Make presenter read the category on the announcement envelope aloud to make sure it matches before allowing them on stage.

Boom. Done. Bonnie and Clyde get away.

A Story

Once upon a time I was shooting a TV commercial in Indianapolis for Donatos pizza. When we arrived at the production company’s office for the wardrobe fitting, I was shocked to see the wrong actress there, trying on clothes. After a quick and panicked huddle we understood what had happened. It seemed that once the client signed off on our talent choices for the commercials, a message was relayed to the production house that we would be using all of our first choice talent. So the production company called, and hired, all the first choice talent. However, the first choices were not the same on both the agency’s list and the production company’s list. Yikes!

That afternoon, the production company made magic. They tracked down the actress who should have played the lead, and got her on a flight that night from Iowa City (which is where you go when you don’t think you got the lead in a pizza commercial) to Indianapolis. The next day we shot the commercial and it turned out great. More importantly, we improved our process. After that, my teams have always confirmed the talent choices by name, not first choice or backup.

What you can do now.

Today, I encourage you to watch the clip from the show again. Because it reminds us that mistakes happen. Mistakes are great at indicating flaws in our systems and processes. If we respond correctly, we come out stronger, with a better way of doing things and a lower chance of that same mistake happening again.

Through better processes we can save more lives, we can avoid plane crashes and we can prevent a lot of embarrassment. Getting angry doesn’t prevent a mistake from happening again. Getting better does. There is no need to fire anyone. I think we can all agree that the person responsible for the Best Picture goof will never, ever make that mistake again. Just as Steve Bartman will never again interfere with a fly ball.

If you have a process improvement story spurred by a mistake please share it in the comment section. You may help others avoid the same mistake. Or maybe you’ll just make us laugh. I’ll take either.

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What Groundhog Day teaches us about making things up.

What Groundhog Day teaches us about making things up.

There are two types of holidays: meaningful and made up. The meaningful days include The 4th of July, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving and religious holidays. Made up holidays include Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day and February 29th. It seems February needed a little spicing up. Since today is Groundhog Day, let’s take a moment to reflect on its significance.

Hmmm. Like a groundhog on a cloudy day, I see nothing when I reflect. Because there is nothing to reflect on. There is no meteorological reason to focus on groundhogs. Forget the meteors, there are no logical reasons to focus on groundhogs.  Yet we do.

I’m not writing to pooh-pooh Groundhog Day.  Quite the opposite. I think it stands as an amazing symbol of creativity, and possibility, and making something out of nothing. If a nation of over 300 million people can recognize this fabricated rodent day, you can bring your vision to life too.

MLK Jr. Day, Small Business Saturday and Earth Day are all holidays that were born during my lifetime-ish.  These are all great ideas, made real by someone’s vision, imagination and effort. I’m not saying you need to make up a new holiday, but you could.

The important thing to recognize is that if you want something to exist that currently does not, you can make it happen. If you have an idea that is useful or fun or important I strongly encourage you to write it down, sketch it out and give it as much detail as you can. Then work hard to bring it to life. It could be a product, business, charity, service or event. Heck, it could be a home, a support group, a marketing campaign or a better groundhog trap.  All ideas come to life through the same simple process.

This time last year my advertising agency, The Weaponry, only existed in my head. A year later it is as real as it gets. Like IRS-real. In fact, we have already worked with 11 clients in 6 states and 2 countries.  If I can do this, you can do it.

So what is your Groundhog Day? I know you have something in your head that you wish was real. From now on, when you hear or read Groundhog Day I want this invented holiday to make you think of the things you want to create. Let it inspire your ideas that could have a bigger impact on life than a rodent in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania or Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. You can do it. I believe it beyond a seeing-your-own-shadow of a doubt.

3 rules of marriage I should have told Brad and Angelina.

3 rules of marriage I should have told Brad and Angelina.

If you want to do something great, like create the perfect agency, it’s helpful to have a great partner on your side. Like my wife, Dawn. It doesn’t even matter which side of you they are on (just choose one and go with it). But finding a compatible partner for your life-business is really hard.

I reflected on this as I heard about the shocking break up of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Ok, so I wasn’t really shocked. While I am certainly not a pessimist, I am pretty good at spotting trends. And I know that if you are a famous person and you marry another famous person, you’re not likely to end up in the Marriage Hall of Fame.

Despite the fact that we once shopped at Famous Footwear, my wife and I are not famous. And while studying for our marriage (yes, we really studied) we learned some important facts. One was that 50% of marriages die before the people in them do.

Like most couples, Dawn and I celebrate the victories in our marriage. Like anniversaries. Next week we will have been married 14 years. And we celebrate the anniversary of our first kiss. Mostly because it was the day I stopped hopping like a frog.

But there is another thing we do in our marriage that most couples don’t do. We view other couples’ divorces as our wins. I realize this sounds bad. But if 50% of marriages fail, this is a game of survival. And while we are always saddened to hear of a friend, coworker or family member that got voted off Marriage Island, we’re thankful to still be playing the game.  When we hear of a couple splitting up, Dawn and I always high-five (seriously).  It’s as if we just scored a point in the Marriage Sand Volleyball league.  We knew someone was going to lose that point. And it wasn’t us.

There are lots of ways to help ensure your marriage is successful.  But if I was in charge of the Department of Homeland Matrimony, I would create 3 laws to improve the marriage success rate.

  1. No famous people marrying other famous people.
  2. No getting married before you are 30. We change too much during our 20’s and make too many dumb choices.
  3. Everyone must listen to the audio book, Marathon Marriage by David Moore. Dawn and I got this 4 CD series as an engagement gift from my Auntie, Jan Faust. It made us think about and discuss important issue before we signed the contract. It tried to scare us out of running the marathon. And it forced us to think about building a strong marriage that will last. And not just throwing a great party.

Brad and Angelina, if you are reading this, I’m sorry things didn’t work out. I’m sorry you and the six kids have to go through this tough time. I’m sorry it is being talked about in all of the media. But I’m thankful it is you, and not me.

Why there has never been a better time to wear white.

Why there has never been a better time to wear white.

Welcome to After Labor Day! This, unfortunately, is the darkest time of the year. Because now we are supposed to put away our white clothing until Memorial Day. Or until Diddy invites us to a party. Whichever comes first. I have known about this rule since I was old enough to make my own fashion faux pas. But I didn’t understand the rule, until now.

After long minutes of research (hey, it’s the information age) I discovered the Labor-Day-White-Thing was basically a mean girl rule established by a small gaggle of old money biddies in the late 1800s. They decided that they would use the imaginary rule to identify and ostracize new money ladies who didn’t know the insider rules, and wore white on the wrong days. Yet over time everyone adopted this standard.

How lame is that?  

This isn’t a rule. It’s a joke. Or at best a standard we follow without reason. With this knowledge, how do you pick out your clothes tomorrow?

There are two ways to view these widely followed, but non-rule-rules.

  1. We can adhere to them, just like everyone in-the-know.
  2. We can see them as the gifts they are. And use them to help us stand out from the masses.

When I was in college I had a track teammate named Alex Mautz. Alex liked wearing shorts so much he decided not to pack them away after Labor Day, or Halloween or Thanksgiving. In fact, Alex wore shorts every day for an entire year. Which is no big deal if you live in Florida. Or Ecuador. But we lived in Madison, Wisconsin. Where I experienced -26 Fahrenheit without windchill. Alex turned heads everywhere he went. Not only was he memorable, he provided total strangers with an instant conversation starter from November through April.

One of the most important things we do at The Perfect Agency Project is find ways to help people and organization stand out from the crowd. That’s how you build a memorable brand. And if you want to be noticed, cultural and category norms are a gift.

White wedding dresses don’t stand out. Red ones do. I have seen thousands of diamond engagement rings that all blend together. But my sister Heather’s stands out. Because it’s an emerald ring. Chick-fil-a is one of my favorite restaurants. But unlike most restaurants, it isn’t open on Sundays.  Yet Chick-fil-a is the first restaurant I think of every Sunday (can I get an Amen?).

If you, your brand or business want more attention, find a convention and start doing the unconventional. There are opportunities all around you. If you would like help finding your white clothes after Labor Day let me know. We could grab some caramels and talk.

3 things every business can learn from Super Bowl commercials.

3 things every business can learn from Super Bowl commercials.

The greatest sporting event in America is this Sunday. Maybe the greatest sporting event in the world. I know there are arguments that the FIFA World Cup is bigger than our football game. And that the Olympics have more flames, more luge and more cowbell. But neither of those is the Super Bowl. Our Super Bowl is the Super Bowl of all Super Bowls. Which I admit is a super dumb thing to say.

In 2015 more than 114 million Americans tuned in to the big game. And for good reason. Actually there are three good reasons to tune into this spectacle. First, for the football. The game is usually exciting. And this year we again have two great teams and a compelling matchup featuring Peyton “Old Man” Manning vs Cam “New Kid” Newton. (see what I did there?)

Second, the Super Bowl is a cultural phenomenon. It’s what everyone in the office will be talking about around the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine on Monday morning. If your office still has a water cooler the talk probably won’t be about the Super Bowl. It will be about why you still don’t have a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine.

And the third reason to watch is the commercials. The Super Bowl commercials are a fascinating study. Because we look forward to the commercials as much as we look forward to the game itself. Even though the commercials slow down the game and make the whole night last longer than a Wagner opera. But why?

The magic of the Super Bowl is that for at least one night a year we all recognize that the commercials themselves add value to our lives. They are entertaining. And on Sunday night, we as a nation will be in the mood to be entertained. The commercials are usually humorous. Some are big funny. Some are small funny. Some are produced like mini-blockbusters packed with action and drama. Some are touching and cute, usually with an animal tugging at your heartstrings. Which is particularly impressive when you consider that most cardiologists can’t even find your heartstrings.

As a whole the commercials are interesting and engaging. But even the lesser spots enable us to play commercial critic. And as we learned from American Idol, a few train wrecks amongst the stars makes for oddly enjoyable TV.

As you prepare for Super Sunday here are three things every business can learn from the Super Bowl commercials.

Meet people where they are.  As a business you need to put the audience you want to reach first. Understand their wants and needs. Understand their habits and how you can fit into them. If people want to party, like they do during the Super Bowl, party with them. If they want serious information to solve a serious problem, get serious with them. But don’t cross streams. Trust me on this one.

Offer a consistently enjoyable experience. A major reason we look forward to the Super Bowl commercials is that we enjoyed them last year. And the year before. And like Pavlov’s dogs, when we hear talk of the Super Bowl, we start salivating for Doritos, Budweiser and Coca-Cola commercials. So deliver a great experience every time. Because when you do, whether you’re a carpet cleaner, a dentist, a software company or a mortician, your customers will look forward to interacting with you again. Wait, scratch mortician.

Make great things.  Americans love greatness. We have a deep appreciation for things like a well crafted Super Bowl commercial, or say, a well written blog post. Great things get elevated in our culture.  Yeti coolers, iPhones and American Giant sweatshirts are all great products from great companies that generate a lot of love. In turn they help build great brands that command love, respect and a premium price. So focus your business efforts on making things great. And the profits will follow.

I hope you enjoy the game. I hope you enjoy the commercials.  And I hope you enjoy the conversations about the game and the commercials on Monday. But most of all I hope that by this time next year your business is competing in the Super Bowl of your industry. And that you have a long line of customers lining up outside your door.  Unless, of course, you’re a mortician.

Hello. Who wants to play Adele Roulette?

Hello. Who wants to play Adele Roulette?

You’d have to be living in a connectivity-free prepper bunker right now to not know that Adele’s new album release, 25, is the hottest thing since global warming. Because even though we live in an era when people don’t buy music anymore Adele has sold 5 million albums in just 3 weeks. This uber-talented singer is everywhere. TV, radio, online, magazine, newspapers, billboards (I saw 3 giant Adele-faced billboards on one block on the sunset strip in Hollywood last week). I even check the shower before I get in each morning to make sure Adele’s not in there.

At The Perfect Agency Project we are always looking for opportunities to take advantage of culture phenomenon. And if we can rope in our favorite technologies to expand the fun, even better. So we’ve created a social game called Adele Roulette to ride the Tsunami that is Adele 25.

Here’s how you play:

1. Create a group of at least two people. Use your social network to play with people all over the country or all over the world. I like to ask people on Facebook or Twitter to RSVP to my game invitations with a simple “Hello”.

2. Pick a start time. First thing in the morning is always a good way to play.

3. Once the game starts, see who can go the longest without encountering anything Adele related. Once you hear an Adele song, see a picture of her, hear someone talk about her, read about her, or hear someone sing one of her songs you are eliminated.

4. You then have to message your group through Facebook, Twitter, text or whatever other digital connective tissue you are using to tell the team you’re out. Then make sure to describe the circumstances of your elimination.

4. The last person un-Adeleified is the winner.

The games tend to go fast. And the eliminations are unpredictable. I’ve been eliminated by my daughter singing Hello in the car (which was a particularly surprising audio shot to that back of my head). Terry Bradshaw eliminated another friend of mine on Sunday during NFL pre-game activities. Yet another friend was taken out by an online video of a toddler singing Hello while strumming a cardboard guitar. Sharing the assassination stories is the best part of the game.

So let’s give Adele Roulette a whirl. If you’ve read this far consider yourself part of my next game. And respond to this post with your elimination story. Good luck my friends. You’re going to need it.