The one thing to focus on to be most successful.

The one thing to focus on to be most successful.

Do you know why you are successful?  I know why I am.  Since you are reading this post, I expect you want to learn to be more successful too. So let’s get right to it, after this distraction. And another distraction. Wow, so many distractions before we get to the one thing!  These distractions are ruining this blog post! Or maybe this is an important demonstration of the point of this post.

The common theme of my greatest successes comes down to one word: Focus.

When I have created the best work, come up with the greatest answers or had the most impact on my clients, I was able to focus completely on the challenge in front of me. The same holds true for personal successes and achievements.

Far too often we take on too many responsibilities concurrently, juggling and reordering them like Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory.  Focus is about concentrating your energy. Taking on too much dilutes your power, potential and performance.

FOCUS = Focus On Completely Until Solved

Focus means prioritizing. It means scheduling so that everything can be the star for a time. Sometimes that means we focus on projects exclusively for a month. Sometimes it means focusing on a challenge for a couple of days. Or a couple of hours.

Scheduling to eliminate distractions is key.  As my friend and excellent business ideator  Duane Nelson often says, ‘Multitasking is a myth.’  But it is such a popular idea it could win the Myth America Pageant (if there were such a thing).  It’s really a matter of how hard we are able to focus. More focus means greater intensity of thought, deeper evaluation and more intelligent solutions.

When I have won major pieces of new business or created work that helped transform the way a brand behaves and spurred transformational growth, I have been able to clear my plate, my desk and my brainium to get the work done.

As we attack client challenges at my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I am always thinking about focus. I want to deploy the thinking power of each member of our team in a way that drives the greatest client results.  That is why we schedule our work  so that every project can play center stage for the appropriate amount of time.

It can be tempting to take on as much work as one human can shoulder to show how tough, capable or responsible you are.  While seemingly helpful to your team and your employer, this load-it-until-the-axles-bend approach doesn’t lead to the superstar performances you will be most proud of. It may, however, lead to broken axles.

This isn’t just a work thing.  Distractions are everywhere. Volunteering, attending events and getting roped into activities in your personal life can detract from your focus too.

Micro focus moves the needle micrometers.  Macro focus can move it miles. So if you are looking for greater performance, greater ideas and greater results find a way to get greater focus on the project in front of you.

*This blog post has not been brought to you by the Ford Focus, a model of Performance & Efficiency. With available SYNC® 3 · Dual-Zone Temp Control · Smart-Charging USB Ports.  It is designed to inspire | Ford.com “Car of the Year Award” – Autoguide.com

The best $240 an employer ever spent on me.

The best $240 an employer ever spent on me.

My first job in advertising paid me $21,000 a year. I wasn’t sure how I was going to eat. But I was thrilled to be a professional copywriter. I was rolling in that thin dough for three months before I surged to $22,000. I was making it drizzle. Six months later I got another bump to $24,000. I bought a used Toyota 4-Runner with 175,000 miles on it.  Then, 18 months after I started my first job, my salary climbed to $30,000. Ever since then I have felt rich. Seriously.

However, none of those salary adjustments made me any more valuable to my employer.  They spent more money on me because I was good at my job. And because they underpaid for my value from the start.

The Best Investment

But as I look back at my career, there was one investment that an employer made in me that truly made me a more valuable asset to them. In April of 2000 Cramer Krasselt sent me to a seminar in Chicago on presenting creative.  It was led by Toni Louw.  It cost $240. And it made the agency more money than the salary they paid me.

At this one day seminar I learned how to see creative work from the client’s perspective. I learned about persuasion, about pre-selling and demonstration.  I learned about storytelling, about building a case and developing logical conclusions  I learned about showmanship and being a good host to clients. I learned about how to turn a passive audience into an actively engaged audience. I was hooked.  (I also learned that I could sew a rip in my pants, in a bathroom stall, in less than 5 minutes with the sewing kit I kept in my work bag.)

The timing could not have been better.  I had three years of experience. Which was enough time to know a few things and enough experience to recognize what I had previously been doing wrong. Yet I still had the majority of my career to get it right.  I soaked up the ideas and techniques like a Shop-Vac. Presenting was already one of my favorite parts of the job. But now I had a great base of theory and technique to build on.

When I got home I typed up everything I had learned, and added 2 scoops of my own personal style. Suddenly I had a game plan and a process for evaluating client-worthy creative ideas. I now knew how to present them in an effective and entertaining way. Altough the entertainment may be more Branson than Broadway.

Within two months I had the perfect opportunity to put my new skills to use. The Ski-Doo snowmobile account went up for review. Because of my passion for snowmobiling and enthusiasm for the opportunity, I was allowed to lead the creative charge for the pitch, despite the fact that I was only 26 years old.

I poured myself into the Ski-Doo pitch. Through a combination of my personal drive, my new learnings from the seminar and great teammates, we put on quite a show. Not only did we win the account, we proceeded to pitch and win the other Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) brands too. Those included Sea Doo, Evinrude and Johnson outboard motors, CanAm ATVs and the CanAm Spyder.

Pitching and business development became core strengths of mine.  And despite my early concerns, I continued to eat regularly.

Today I own my own ad agency called The Weaponry. As I think about investments to be made in my fast growing business I am reflecting on the ROI of that $240 that were invested in me.  It grew my skills and abilities. It help win new business and grow the agency substantially. It made the agency money, which made me a much more valuable resource.

It may be more fun to spend money on cappuccino machines, murals and foosball tables.  But if you want to invest your money and enjoy a huge return, invest in growing your people (this includes yourself). Make their strengths stronger. Make their breadth broader. Give them the tools to help them realize their potential.  Because money spent growing good employees will yield a greater return than any other investment you will ever make.

5 reasons you should be mentored by a hairdresser. 

5 reasons you should be mentored by a hairdresser. 

I am trying to become a better businessman. As Founder of the advertising agency The Weaponry, I look for any advantages, advice and examples I can get. To help my cause I regularly read books, blogs and magazines. I listen to podcasts and audiobooks. I meet with other business Founders, CEOs and CFOs. But lately I’ve been studying the tricks and techniques of a profession where many of the industry’s best never went to college. Of course I am talking about hairdressers. (I say ‘of course’ because it’s in the title of the post).

Hair and Me

Since I was a teenager I believed I would go bald. I wasn’t afraid of it. I just believed it would happen based on the extensive foreheads of my forefathers. For 15 years I prepared for the inevitable by shaving my head each year from March until September. Then a funny thing happened. When I turned 35 my doctor told me my hair wasn’t going anywhere. After my ‘Whatchutalkinbout Willis?’ reaction, I celebrated by letting my hair grow for an entire year. (I really know how to party, right?) At the end of that year I had to clean up my new mop.  It was then that I met Angie.

Angie Eger in Columbus, Ohio is an amazing hair-ess. She cut and styled my hair well. She was really fun to be around. But she also had tough conversations with me. Everything she suggested, that I initially resisted, I eventually did.  She was right about everything from long layers, to leave-in conditioner, to eyebrow taming. As I studied  Angie’s approach, I recognized that our businesses are a lot alike (aside from the ear trimming).  And I started using a hairdresser’s model for service with my business.

5 things great hairdressers and barbers do that you can apply to your  career.

1. They listen well.  

This is an essential skill in the hair game. You must listen to what your client or customer is looking for. Once you start cutting hair it is really hard to glue it back together.  Make sure you are clear on the objectives and the vision up front.  At Red’s Classic Barbershop in Indianapolis and Nashville, they take notes on each customer. This helps them accumulate knowledge about individual preferences, products, clippers, shave notes, and general do’s and don’ts.

Any profession can do this with their clients. Do you?

2. They always offer their professional advice.

Hair is too important to get wrong.  So when the customer makes a clearly flawed request, the hairdresser must explain the downside to the ask.  Or the upside to other options. Unlike missteps in many other industries, you can’t quickly recover from a bad haircut.  Alexandra ‘Red’ Ridgway of Red’s says,

 The customer is not always right or reasonable, and they need to know that we have a vested interest in making them look their best.”  

Do you have the fortitude to tell your clients they have asked for a mullet, and that it is no longer 1989?

3. They make you look and feel more attractive. This is the whole point of the profession.  To make you look and feel great. Advertising and marketing works exactly the same way.  At The Weaponry our mission is to make our clients more attractive to their most important audience.  If they don’t look good, we don’t look good. Vidal Sassoon taught me that. Your happy customer is the best marketer of your work.

4. They are trustworthy.  When you get your hair cut you put your self-image in the hands of another person.  This can be very scary.  Alexandra said,

“The sense of self related to image is precious and requires great trust. The major transformations that happen when people shave their beards, cut off a ponytail or dreadlocks are very personal. The trust involved in helping a customer through those transitions is huge.’

Do your clients have a metaphorical beard, ponytail or dreadlocks? If so, the necessary changes they must make to cut them off can be very personal.  Not any old hairdresser will do.

5. You enjoy spending time with them.  Above all else, I looked forward to seeing Angie.  Getting my haircut with her was fun. We talked. We laughed. We developed a great relationship. This is a what separates the pros from the amateurs. You can get all of the other points right and still starve if you don’t nail this. It’s a simple fact that getting your haircut is an intimate act. The hair professional washes your hair. Touches your hair, your ears, your neck. And maybe the top of your toes (we all have issues). If you don’t have great interpersonal skills this becomes a super awkward interaction. If you have great skills in this arena you will book all the hours you are willing to work.

I will continue to encourage the team at The Weaponry to study great advertising minds like David Ogilvy, and great marketers like Richard Branson.  But they will also learn lessons from Angie Eger and other great hair people. If your hair professional does something great that others could learn from, let me know in the comment section.  If you are a hair professional I would love to hear from you too. If you are Angie Eger, I would love for you to set up shop in my new hometown.  Because my hairdo is overdue for a redo.

 

How do you respond when someone asks for a HUGE favor?

How do you respond when someone asks for a HUGE favor?

I recently received a cryptic text from my good friend Stacy Sollenberger in Atlanta. It simply said, ‘Do you have a few minutes to talk? I have a HUGE favor to ask you.’ My curiosity was piqued. What could Stacy’s huge favor possibly be? Does she need me to take in one of her brainiac kids for a summer to teach them what a non-brainiac parent is like? Does she need a kidney? Does she need bail money? (I figured it was bail money). Either way, huge favors are interesting. Because having to ask someone for a huge favor is an inherently awkward situation.

Which begs the question, how do you respond when someone asks you for a huge favor? Do you lean in and want to help any way you can? Do you open up your excuse case (the buck-passing cousin to the suitcase) and pull out a good excuse because you are not into offering favors? Do you worry that the favor, and therefore your personal sacrifice will be too great? Or does it all depend on who is asking?

Now, back to the story.

Stacy called the next morning and revealed the favor…

Stacy co-chairs a remarkable organization called Emerge Scholarships. They offer academic scholarships to women whose educations have been interrupted, who are doing everything they can to better their lives, despite facing and overcoming some ridiculous obstacles. The kicker: to earn the scholarship you also have to be giving back to your community.

Stacy asked me if I would be willing to MC Emerge Scholarship’s annual celebration luncheon. What The What? This was no HUGE favor. This was a HUGE opportunity for me to help a great organization in its efforts to help others. Not to mention it’s an opportunity to dust off my powder blue bell-bottomed tuxedo.

She said, “We want the event to be fun, and uplifting and a good time for everyone.”  Which was perfect, because I triple majored in those areas in college.  I was all in on this favor. So we began planning.

The more I heard about the women Emerge Scholarships helps the prouder I was to be involved. I heard story after story of inspiring  women who had faced things that would cause others to throw in the proverbial towel on their dreams. Disease, divorce, abuse, poverty, etc. Yet these women were determined to complete their education in order to become the person they had always envisioned, and provide a better future for their families. On top of that, the eligible women were all helping others, despite facing real struggles themselves. This is a special sub-set of human.

The vetting process is so thorough, and the candidates so worthy, that this doesn’t even feel like a charitable organization. It feels like an insider-trading deal.  They type of thing Martha Stewart would want in on.  Betting on these women is a sure thing. They are absolutely determined to make the most of the opportunities they have been given. If you are looking for an idea for an inspirational book or movie, talk to one of these women. And my agent. #FindersFee

Emerge Scholarships is the story of strong women who have had great success in life helping other strong women who know that their success is waiting for them, just on the other side of their college degrees.

So I have a HUGE favor to ask of you.

Find a cause you believe in and dedicate a portion of your time every month to helping others who need it. If you are looking for a great cause, and you are in the Atlanta area, and you are a human between the ages of 2 and 122, check out emergeluncheon.swellgives.com. Consider attending the event on Thursday, February 16th. It’s at the Cherokee Country Club in Buckhead (if they will let me in the place, anyone can get it). If you can’t attend, it would he helpful to donate a couple of dollars or offer a quick share of the event on The Twitter or The Facebook.

We should all remember that the more we give, the more we shall receive. And it is immensely enjoyable to give. Especially to those who deserve it, appreciate it, and do their part to amplify the contributions of others.

Thanks for the opportunity, Stacy.  Oh, and I’m not really wearing a blue tuxedo.  An event like this deserves the orange one.

Why I ask job candidates if they can Double Dutch.

Why I ask job candidates if they can Double Dutch.

Starting something new is hard. I’m not just talking about things like going to prison. Which I imagine is really hard at first. And in the middle. And towards the end.  It’s hard to be a rookie at anything. Some people enjoy the luxury of not caring whether or not they look dumb doing something new. I don’t have that luxury. I care.

But I also really enjoy taking on new challenges. And I have developed my own technique for starting new activities that you may find usefeul. I refer to it as my Double Dutch technique.  You remember Double Dutch. It’s the playground activity where you try to jump two ropes, swinging simultaneously, in opposite directions. Because jumping one swinging rope just isn’t hard enough.  Double Dutch can be a ridiculously intimidating activity. Those ropes are relentlessly nipping at your heels. And once they bite your foot the game immediately halts to bring everyone’s attention to your failure.

But I like Double Dutch. It’s an activity for people who like to try hard things. It’s much more challengeing than single Dutch, or non-Dutch rope jumping. And it’s infinitely harder than just jumping up and down with no rope (which always earns me funny looks).

I like to try hard things.  It makes me feel stronger, more confident and more capable. It makes me feel like I am growing. And I like to work with others who enjoy pushing themselves.

Today, I utilize my Double Dutch technique all the time as I grow my advertising agency, The Weaponry. Because not only am I taking on new challenges personally, I want our entire team to continuously expand our capabilities and find new and better ways to help our clients.

Here’s how my Double Dutch technique works.

I get close to the activity. To get a feel for Double Dutch you have to step into that space right next to the ropes. And when I start something new I try to first get really close to the action without fully engaging.  There is something about being close to the activity that helps you absorb how it works quicker. If you want to climb Mt. Everest go to basecamp first to get aclimated.

I watch others. Aside from the very first Double Dutchers on Earth, whom I assume were twins from Amsterdam, I bet no one has ever tried jumping the two-ropes-of-doom without first watching someone else do it. That’s why I always watch other people performing the task I want to learn. I study the moves, the attitude and the technique. Much like an actor studies others when preparing to play a role.

I find the rhythm  Double Dutch has a unique rhythm all its own. You have to get in sync with it to succeed. Most human interactions are like this. The interactions at a networking event, a yoga class, and in business meetings follow a certain flow and cadence. Learn them so you can anticipate the order and timing of the activity.

I jump in. At some point if you want to Double Dutch you have to jump in.  Once I have armed myself reasonably well by getting close to an activity, watching it, and finding the rhythm, I channel my inner Davd Lee Roth and I jump (might as well, right DLR?). Sometimes it goes well from the start. Other times I need a mulligan.

I recalibrate  In Double Dutch the rope tells you what you did wrong. And the problem is always that you touched the rope. The question is where. Use that feedback to do better on the next try. If you jumped too soon, wait another beat. If you jumped too late, go a bit sooner.  This is little data at its best. Create a new plan based on the learnings.

I jump in again. And again.  To jump ropes you have to keep trying. This is how life works. Get in and jump, over and over until you get it right. Whether you want to build a great brand, learn how to knit, or run QuickBooks, there is ultimately no substitute for doing. Be a do-er.

As you focus on growth and acquiring new skills consider the Double Dutch approach. Give yourself a chance to get close, observe, absorb, try, learn and try again. Soon you will find yourself in rhythm, jumping, and singing, ‘Big Mac, Filet-O-Fish, Quarter Pounder, French Fries.’ Let’s talk about how well you’re doing when I see you at recess. Until then, here’s a little inspiration.

How to get smarter every time you get in a car.

How to get smarter every time you get in a car.

If you are like most people, you are on a long intellectual decline. Sure, you absorbed a lot of knowledge in school. But once you left high school or college or became a beauty school dropout, you stopped learning. Ok, ok, so you still ‘learn something new everyday.’ Maybe you pick up a little trivia under a Snapple cap. You learn that the very first touch tone phones didn’t have pound or star symbols. Or you learn that Americans invented Mexican, Italian and Chinese food.  But that’s not exactly growth learning.

True growth learning is extremely important to me. Because I learned at an early age that the stock version of Adam Albrecht was pretty ordinary. I have a vision of myself as a much better, smarter, stronger, funnier, nicer, braver, more capable human than I am today. Therefore I’m always trying to close the gap between the me in my head and the me on my couch.

One of the best habits I have developed to create a better me is listening to audio books while I drive. I stumbled onto my audiobook interest accidentally.  In 2009-ish I attended the Hachette Book Group’s annual book sale, just north of Indianapolis.  For one weekend in June everything is on sale for a dollar. So I bet a dollar on Ted Turner’s ‘Call me Ted’ audiobook. I loved the book. But more importantly, I learned from it.

  1. I learned how a kid who didn’t apply himself well in school could become among the wealthiest people on the planet by applying himself at life.
  2. I learned that to make wild leaps in your accomplishments you sometimes need to take wild risks.
  3. I learned that meeting room antics can make you highly memorable.
  4. I learned that pursuing your passionate interests can change the world.
  5. I learned that through mergers and acquisitions you can get tossed out of your own company.
  6. I learned the immense impact of philanthropy.
  7. I learned the value of keeping your eye on the future.
  8. I learned that the first Ted’s Montana Grill was in my former hometown of Columbus, Ohio. (ok, so this is a little more Snapple cap-esque)
  9. I learned how the right people and processes can turn losers like the Atlanta Braves into World Series Champions.
  10. I learned that Jane Fonda is a pretty great lady to have on your arm when you walk into a party.

So I sought out more audiobooks. I listened to biographies and self-help books. I listened to history books and books about the future. Now I pick up nuggets of knowledge and pearls of wisdom every day when I drive. I will often stop the audiobook and ask Siri to take a note for me, repeating a quote I heard, or paraphrasing a lesson so that I can review later.  It’s my way of highlighting the key passages as I listen. Just as I did in college.

Soon, the audiobooks made me feel like I was winning at life. Because I realized that by listening and learning on my commute I would arrive at work smarter than when I left home. Later that day I would arrive home smarter than I was when I left work.

Since I left the University of Wisconsin, no other activity has so clearly added layers of depth to my thinking, new lenses through which to view the world, or examples of how to choose my own adventures like my audiobook lessons. Today, The Perfect Agency Project owns a library of audiobook titles that our team can checkout anytime they want. Which is the easiest way I know to grow a stronger and smarter team without adding new people.

Many of you will be flying or road tripping over the next few days for the Thanksgiving holiday. I encourage you to stop by your local library to check out the audiobook section before you hit the highways or flyways. I bet you’ll be surprised  by the range of titles and topics. And it’s all free (unless you count the taxes you already paid that bought the books). Of course, there are also plenty of digital resources, like Audible and Amazon. When you find something you like, shoot me a message. I am always looking for great new reads, or listens, or learns, or whatever we should call them. If you’re interested, I’m happy post a list of my recommendations too.

Happy Thanksgiving. Safe travels. And I hope your thinking expands as much as your waistline.

 

6 lessons from the class everyone should take but no one ever does.

6 lessons from the class everyone should take but no one ever does.

I work in advertising. I know the value of the New and Improved. Which is why I am always trying to create a newer, improved-er version of myself. I realized at the beginning of my career that if I wanted to catch up to the best professionals in this industry I was going to have to do my homework. So I began studying and learning. Not in a structured school program. But in a self-directed, choose-your-own-adventure, movie montage kind of way.

Like most people who are into self-improvement, I have focused heavily on communication skills: public speaking, presentation skills, selling skills. But the deeper I get into this game Prince called, Life, I realize that most people (including me) spend too much time on the wrong side of the equation.

The most effective and important communication skill is not speaking. It’s listening.

Listening is where all success starts. It is only through listening that we understand the problems that we need to solve. It is how we hear what isn’t said (don’t think about this too hard or it sounds really stupid). Through listening we learn about other people. We learn about their history, their values, their styles and their quirks. Which allows for deeper, more meaningful and more valuable relationships. Yet when was the last time you heard about someone going to a listening seminar?

So here are The Perfect Agency Project’s 6 Keys To Improving Your Listening Skills. These are sure to make you a better, bigger-eared version of yourself.

1. Listen Competitively.

Start by trying to be really good at listening. You already know the little things you have to do to be a great listener. We learned them playing Simon Says. Look at the person talking. Give the person speaking your full attention.  And do this like your earning potential, relationships and Parent Of The Year award depend on it. Because they do.

2. Shut your mouth.

We are often so compelled to talk that we stop listening. If you want to be a great listener you have to silence your own impulses. And focus on your role as a listener. This means you are not providing answers, or solutions or opinions. You are harvesting. Not planting. Know what season it is. Bring the right equipment to the field.

3. Keep your partner lubricated.

I don’t mean with alcohol or KY.  With affirmations. And demonstrated interest. Lean in. Show you care. And you will keep others flowing with information. Yet without the annoying public outcry that comes with waterboarding.

4. Listen with your Spidey Sense.

Go beyond the words that are said. Note the tone. The emotion. Those things are like limps, signaling that something deeper is wrong. Or they could signal that someone is in a good mood that exceeds the norm for the current situation. Maybe they just got engaged. Or maybe they are on drugs.

5.  Play back, Jack.

The curtain call of any good listening session is the summary of what you heard.  The highlight, simplified conclusion or takeaway that demonstrates that you really heard what was said. What was implied. And what is now important.  Do this and you will always leave a conversation with more personal equity.

6. Lock up the valuables.

The most important listening skill is keeping the private stuff private. You have to know which things you heard were intended for you alone. And don’t talk about them. When people know that you are trustworthy they tell you more. You become an important confidante. An insider. It’s like being sponge-worthy.

Improve your listening and everything else will improve. Better relationships with your friends, family and co-workers. Better solutions to problems. More and better networking. And better creative ideas. If you have your own tips and tricks for better listening I would love to hear from you.