How to learn exciting new skills like Wilbur Wright.

We experience life in three modes.

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

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

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

Growing By Learning From Others.

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

The Wright Brothers

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

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

The Wright Stuff

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

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

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

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

Applying Wilbur’s Approach

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

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

Your Growth

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

 Conclusion

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

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

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What kind of phone are you?

Have you ever wanted to be someone else? I have that feeling every day. I want to be a better version of myself. I want to be the me that I see in my head. That version of me is pretty amazing. Which means that the today-me is pretty lame by comparison.

But that doesn’t discourage me. I am no Eeyore. You won’t find me feeling bad about myself. Because I don’t see myself as less-than.

I see myself as an iPhone. I am constantly creating a new, more powerful model of myself. I’m adding more features, capabilities, a longer battery and more memory.

I read as if my future success depends on it. I listen to audiobooks while I drive, podcasts about entrepreneurship while I eat lunch, and podcasts about real estate investing while I mow the lawn. Each day I become a little smarter, a little more capable and a little closer to the me in my mind.

My vision of me as a better model of myself is why I workout. It’s why I set goals.  It’s why I try new things that force me to grow. It’s why I travel and see and do as much as I can. It is why I am excited to meet new people. All of these help me grow, expand and improve.

As Founder of the advertising and idea agency The Weaponry, I am growing and learning on the job, every day.  The resistance that entrepreneurship provides works just like the weights at a gym. They are both there to help you develop a better, stronger version of yourself.

If the you in your head is an iPhone X and the real you feels like a flip-phone don’t be discouraged. Keep moving. Keep iterating. Keep learning and growing. There are thousands of versions of you yet to come. Each one gets stronger, smarter and more capable. And each new model of you is even more valuable than the one before.

Life lesson in London.

The Dinner

A few years ago my wife and I went to London. We went without our three kids, which made it feel like we were playing hooky on a global scale. On the second night of our trip we had a world-class dinner experience at The Ritz.

Afterwards we strolled down Piccadilly, hand in hand. It was a wonderful July night. We were excited to be in one of the world’s greatest cities. We were adventurously far from home. And we had just finished a meal that we would talk about for the rest of our days.  Life was good.

The Show

Then something even more interesting happened. There, in that date-night glow, we witnessed a show that no one in the world saw except us. It was a one-man, one-act play.  The script had 5 words.

The stage was on the landing in front of a shop on Piccadilly. A homeless man was making his bed for the night. He was just steps off of the very busy street, outside, exposed to the world, and the elements, with no privacy. Like a zoo animal on display.

As he went about his routine of preparing his bed for the night he said:

Life is hard. No complaints.

I will never forget that. In those five words this man summed up a simple truth about life. And how he chose to respond. He clearly understood that life is a challenging game. He accepted the challenge. Even on the days when it seemed as if he was losing.

Inspiration comes in many forms.  That night I was inspired by a homeless man who faced a reality more challenging than most of us will ever face, without complaint.

On this Monday, as you head back to work, back to school and back to your own challenges, I remind you that, yes, life can be hard. But how you choose to respond to it is entirely up to you. And it is your response that makes all the difference.

The one simple thing that separates Dreamers from Doers.

Everyone has a dream. Me. You. MLK Jr., Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Yet the number of people who do something to make their dreams a reality is really small. Like Pluto vs. Jupiter.

So what’s the difference between Dreamers and Doers?  I’m glad you asked. Wait, I asked. Well, I’m glad I asked because you should know the answer.

A Deadline.

A goal is a dream with a deadline.  -Napoleon Hill

Time constraints motivate you to action. If you are serious about your dream, give yourself a deadline to make it a reality. Because a deadline tells you what you need to be doing now. (Hint: You can start by setting a deadline to take the first step. I do this a lot.)

When you were in school it was easy to set goals like these:

  • Make the varsity team.
  • Make first chair violin.
  • Get the lead part in the play.
  • Go to a party with cool kids.
  • Become an emcee of the Winter Carnival Talent Show and orchestrate a stunt to get the show shut down forever.

In school you have 4 (or 5) years to bring your dreams to life. That finite amount of time is a critical driver. Because you can’t stay in school forever (unless you were this guy named Brucey from my hometown).

But once you get past your schooling you start to float in an odd, timeless space. It’s like losing the effects of gravity once you leave Earth.  Time is still slipping by. You just don’t notice it until it’s too late. Like alcohol in a really fruity drink.

We all need time to ground us.

Time scarcity is what tells us what we need to do NOW.

If you want to accomplish great things, travel exciting places, learn new skills or start a business, you need deadlines. The deadline creates the urgency to act today.

When I turned 40 I set a goal of starting my own ad agency by the time I was 42. I easily beat the deadline. The time limit forced me to start moving. And when I started moving things developed quickly.  I set timelines for other business plans at the same time. Those plans are coming to life now too. On the other hand, I have a whole mess of dreams that I haven’t given deadlines. Those dreams are just floating out there, like Sandra Bullock, calling to George Clooney.

Dreaming is fun and easy. But it won’t translate to wealth, experience, accomplishment or pride without a deadline. Set one for yourself. Or set a lot of deadlines. Accomplish a lot. I’m giving you until midnight on Sunday to take the first step.  You’re on the clock. Tick…Tick…Tick…

Two questions to refocus your career every Labor Day.

Happy Labor Day!  I’m honored that you took a moment to read my blog today. Because as you read this, the last hours of summer are sprinting through the hourglass. You would probably be better off using this time to soak up some sunshine. Either way, that healthy summer tan is going to start fading at sundown. Sorry. I’ll try to make this brief.

Labor Day is for you.

Labor Day is YOUR national holiday. It is a day to honor the work you do. Yes, you!

According to The US Labor Department (Labor Day’s Parents), Labor Day constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

Good for you, Worker Bee! Have some honey! Take the day off. Eat a hotdog, drink a Miller Lite and blow off some steam by throwing some bags in a hole.

This is a great time to reflect on your career.

Labor Day is also the perfect day for your annual career evaluation. It’s like a mammogram or prostate check for you career. Only you get to keep your clothes on, if you want.

Careers are long and complicated journeys. Along the way we often become so consumed with our daily work that we don’t think about the big picture.

It’s easy to focus on the days and lose site of the career.

I took the time to chart my ideal career course at the beginning of my journey. If you haven’t done that yet, do it today. Determine all the things you want to accomplish in your career AND what the end looks like.

I had a vision for my entire career from the starting blocks. Luckily for me, my wife Dawn always seems to know when it has been too long since I have revisited my career map.

At those times she poses these two simple questions:

  1. Are you where you want to be?
  2. Where are you going next?

These questions have been extremely helpful to me over the past 15 years. Here is how they can be helpful to you.

6 ways these questions help your career.

  1. They remind you that you have a career plan (if you haven’t written yours down do it now).
  2. They make you cognizant of the passing of time.
  3. They remind you of your valuable accumulation of experience and abilities.
  4. They remind you that if you want to accomplish everything in your plan you need to keep moving.
  5. They help you rise above your current day-to-day work to see your entire career and how much of it is yet unwritten.
  6. Most importantly, they are a scary reminder that if you don’t start writing the next chapter, there will be no next chapter. There will be no rising drama. There will be no cray-cray challenge that tests your fortitude. No great triumph. Your career story will end on this chapter. That is perfectly acceptable if you have accomplished everything in your plan. I have not.

You just read the critical part of the post. Feel free to go enjoy some sun now. If it is raining or nighttime as you read this, I baked you some more blog cookies below.

My last 3 Labor Day evaluations.

On Labor Day 2015 I was deep into my plans for starting my own advertising agency. My career evaluation was full of excitement and potential. But only if I followed through with the plan and plunged into entrepreneurship, which was the next square on my Career Candyland board game.

On Labor Day 2016 I had launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, and had already worked with 8 clients. I was learning. We were growing. I was on course.

Today, Labor Day 2017, I couldn’t be happier. I love what I am doing. I love what we are building at The Weaponry. I have a great team of full-time, part-time and some-time coworkers.  I love the clients we have been honored to help. We have now worked with 20+ great brands in the United States and Canada. This is the most exciting and rewarding chapter of my career. But I wouldn’t have gotten to it if I had not regularly pondered where I stood in my career and where I wanted to go next.

So each year, at Labor Day, as you enjoy the tribute to your labor, take a few minutes or a few hours to ask yourself, what’s next for my career?  Find the next step towards the type of success you’ve always wanted.  Take the steps that add new, more interesting chapters to your life story. Don’t just coast through each year trying not to get fired. If you stop evaluating long enough it becomes too late. The game is over. The book is done. And no one wants to read it. But if you chart your progress and refocus every Labor Day, you’ll have a book to be proud of. And I can’t wait to read it.

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.

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.