How Mark Zuckerberg helped me put my life back together.

Some people live their entire lives in one nest. You know the type. You can see the hospital where they were born, their high school, their first job, their bowling alley and their nursing home all from the highest point in town. That’s not me. Life has been an exciting adventure of change from the jump. I lived in five states by the time I started 7th grade. I went to college 1000 miles from home. And I have traded license plates many times since graduation. #WitnessProtectionProgram.

I love my nomadic lifestyle. I have been exposed to traditions, foods, history, religion, weather and sports from a wide variety of angles. This has been a blessing for a creative professional. The one oddity, is that for a very long time, when I changed chapters, I would never see or hear from people in the previous chapter again.

But in 2007 that all changed. Because of Facebook. That thing that we so often take for granted as a silly time waster, quite literally changed my life. It allowed me to reconnect with childhood friends and neighbors from New Jersey, Wisconsin, Missouri, Vermont and New Hampshire.  Then I was able to find classmates from The University of Wisconsin. And coworkers from Cramer Krasselt, and Engauge. (Ohio, Georgia and Moxie/Publicis Groupe were added later).

I reconnected with clients and vendors. Neighbors and distant relatives. And people I’ve met at parties and on planes (I’ve met a lot of people on planes). Suddenly, I stopped losing track of people. As a people collector and connector I no longer have to box friends up and store them on a shelf every time I move or change jobs. Now I can play with them whenever I want.

Of course there is LinkedIn too. Which I love. The great Link-A-Roo has allowed me to reconnect and collect people in another, more quasi professional way. (The quasi is all me LinkedIn. You have been nothing but professional). I recently discovered that my friend Nissa Kubly (UW Track) and Cher Fesenmaier (cousin) both work at the same high school in Phoenix.  One of the craziest connections that I discovered through LinkedIn is that three of my friends, Neil Miklusak (college buddy from Wisconsin), Audrey Lowder (former co-worker at Engauge in Atlanta) and Erika O’Toole (we met on a flight to NYC) all work together, in the Empire State Building, at LinkedIn!

The simple fact is that if it were not for Facebook and other social platforms I would likely never see, or have any interactions with the majority of my friends and Linkys ever again. (I don’t know what you actually call a person on LinkedIn. Linkletters? Linkins? Linklings?

As I have started The Perfect Agency Project, my connections have become even more important. I am always looking for ideas, support and people to join the project.  Over the past few months, thanks to my online network, I have reconnected in person with dozens of people I hadn’t seen in 10 to 30 years. That’s cray.

So thank you to Mark Zuckerberg for allowing me to have my personal “This is your life’ moments every day. It is absolutely mind-blowing to think I may never lose a friend again. Except maybe Alex ‘Big Drawz’ Mautz, my college track teammate who moved to San Diego and must enjoy such perfect weather that he never needs to connect to the rest of us.

As a fun demonstration of the topic of this post, and to see who, if any of my people read this all the way to the end, I would love for you to share a word or a sentence about how we know each other. Thanks for playing.

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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.

 

Do you have a Think Well?

The most valuable asset on the planet is a new idea. The surprising new solutions to old problems. The reinventions that change our lives and disrupt the way business is done. Ideas make money. And save money. They create competitive advantages, differentiation and wide motes out of model-thin air.

So why is it that a small handful of organizations seem to have a monopoly on great ideas? Nike, Google, Apple and Facebook all seem to pump out new ideas like Kardashians pump out selfies. While other organizations are simply one-hit-wonders, too busy dancing the Macarena with Rico Suave and Mickey to have another 99 Red ideas.

At The Perfect Agency Project we think the problem is simple. To generate great ideas you need two things.

  1. Time to think.
  2. A place to think.

I won’t get into the time issue here. Time is the most precious and most wasted commodity on Earth. Wait, I just got into the time issue.  Backing out now. Beep. Beep. Beep.

To make sure you are creating the best ideas possible you need to have a great place to think. I call this a Think Well, because:

  1. You think well in that space.
  2. When you find your place, ideas flow like water from a well.
  3. It sounds like Inkwell.
  4. I like a good triple entendre.

Does your office have a space people can escape to, that is quiet and relaxing?  Where people can think uninterrupted for a long stretch? Sure, senior executives usually have offices where they can close the door, put their feet up and imagine things like John Lennon did.  But what about the rest of the team?  Maybe you have a Think Well at home. If so, work there more often.

The downside to the open concept work environment, which eliminate offices, is that you decimate the natural thinking habitat. Which threatens the thinking population. Despite their popularity and low-cost per square foot, cubicle farms are not good at growing ideas.

There is a simple way to discover if your office has Think Wells: ask your employees. ( I thought of that in my Think Well). If they say they have such a place, encourage them to spend more time there.  If they don’t have one, send them on a mission to find one. If they can’t find a Think Well, you need to create one.

I’m a big fan of the quiet section of the library.  I’ve always gotten a lot of work done there. The no-talking mandate simply means I start talking to myself, in my head. Which is exactly what thinking is. That’s why every organization should have a quiet, comfortable space where you can go to let your mind jog. Innovative thinking requires pumping the thoughts and ideas from deep in your mind, into your conscious brain, where you can process them, and translate them into physical form.

As Napoleon Hill wrote in Think and Grow Rich:

“More gold had been mined from the mind of men than the earth itself”

So find your personal Think Well. Create a space for others. Then enjoy the ideas and the value they produce. Oh, if you know anyone from Baha Men, please forward them this post. I’m dying to finally know who let the dogs out, and if they ever came back.

 

Why today is such a big F-ing day.

Happy Election Day!  This is the latest day in The Perfect Agency Project’s Rebrand The Day series, which aims to create a new, more interesting way to view each day. We explored a number of ways to reframe Election Day. At first we really liked, ‘Adults Wearing Stickers Day!’ But we also noticed that since the rise of the mobile phone, voting is the one thing Americans still do in a booth. So maybe we should greet each other today with, “Happy Booth Day!”

But beyond stickers and revisiting the wonders and confines of a booth, this day has other, much greater significance. That’s why we’re rebranding Election Day as:

The Big F-ing Day.

It has a nice ring to it, right? It sounds naughty. Which means kids will remember it. That makes it easier for parents and educators to teach the significance of this day. But the best reason to think of today as The Big F-ing Day is that today we make major decisions that impact our F’s.

  • Our Future:  Decisions we make today will impact everything that happens next.
  • Our Freedom: Our liberties and the liberties of others around the world will be effected by our actions today.
  • Our Foreign Relations: The trust, respect, collaboration and admiration of other nations is impacted by our decisions.
  • Our Finances: Our taxes and our healthcare costs will rise or fall based on the actions of the day.
  • Our Funding: The money to support the projects, causes, institutions and organizations we care about are influenced today.
  • Our Foundation: The US constitution, the court system and the interpretation of our laws hang in the balance today.
  • Our Fun: Access to public lands and protection of our environment will shift today.
  • Our Flexibility: Our acceptance of others is in play today.

Fellow Americans, make sure you are doing your F-ing job today. Please, get out there and  F-ing vote. It is really F-ing important.

Instantly sound more trustworthy by dropping these words.

I love words. I understand, value and utilize the power they each hold. As a professional creative, I prescribe words like a doctor prescribes medicine. People hire me to find the right words to make their brands, products and services sound as attractive as possible.

Just as words have the power to make people, places and things sound more attractive, they can also make them sound uglier. I know which words make me sound like me is dumb. And I know which words make you sound pervy.

In America, we constantly introduce new words and phrases into our banter to see what sticks. Some of these are interesting and innovative (Emoji, FOMO, Photobomb). Some of them are moronic  (Totes, Obvi). Either way, blame Kanye.

Today, there are two unfortunate phrases that are clinging to conversations like cockleburs on corduroy.  If they haven’t arrived in your neck of the cell tower yet, they are coming. I’m referring to the increased use of, “To be honest’ and her twin sister, ” To tell you the truth”.  I know deep down you know this, but when you tack these unnecessary qualifiers onto any other statement, you have told the person on the receiving end of the statement, “Usually I lie to you.’ Or ‘Most of the time I just make up shit without verifying.’

At The Perfect Agency Project we are especially concerned about removing these phrases from business. We don’t want your salespeople or customers support staff dropping, ‘If I’m being honest’ or ‘To be completely truthful’ on your customers and potential clients.  This undermines the trustworthiness bestowed upon your brand. And that will end up costing both you and I real money.

Please coach your team out of using these phrases. You can do that by sharing this post. Or you could do what I do when people drop these phrases on me. I respond immediately to the errant statement with, “Thank you for being honest with me.” The response I get is always very WTF-y. Because people are not thinking about what they are saying.  But I want you to. I want you to sound smart. And trustworthy. And professional. But, hey, It’s all good.*

*’It’s all good’ has been rated as the funniest cocklebur-phrase of all-time by The Perfect Agency Project. Because it is almost always used in instances where something, if not everything, is not good at all.

To have more great ideas stop thinking about it.

I love ideas. New ideas tingle and jump in my head like pop rocks. If that is how crack makes you feel I would like crack. A lot. Ideas are the seeds that grow every kind of human-induced improvement on this planet. Yet many of us don’t spend much, if any time ideating.

I love the entire ideation process. I love loading my brain with information by reading and researching. Great ideas come from rearranging the ingredients in your head in new and novel ways. The more ingredients the more possibilities.

But after you top off your brain with input about the problem to be solved comes the most valuable part of the process: Stepping away from the problem completely. And doing nothing. That’s right. Just let the elements do what they want to do. Not what you want them to do. Yet, deep inside your mind, the ideas are growing. And fermenting. Brewing and bubbling. Forming and frothing. Without any additional effort from you.

This part of the process is like making cheese. Or wine. Or a baby. Well not making a baby. Just the baby-growing part. To the naked eye it looks like you are being lazy. The fun distractions at advertising agencies and other creative environments are great at getting team members away from the active thinking and into incubation. That way you don’t get in the way of the natural process. Think of it like baking a cake. Opening the oven door and jabbing toothpicks doesn’t help transform the batter into cake. Time and heat do the work.

The incubation period is the most valuable step in developing unique and differentiating ideas. Yet it is absolutely free. At The Perfect Agency Project we don’t charge for the time when we’re not actively thinking about challenges. During this phase of the process you can multitask. Or sleep. Or make cheese. Or compost. Or babies. The longer the incubation period the more you compound the interesting.

Unfortunately, for the professional creative, the incubation period is an endangered part of the process. Over the course of my career this valuable time has been disappearing like the Brazilian rainforest. And record stores. A lack of planning on the part of the requester hacks at this time. So does a lack of patience. But creatives thinkers have not done enough to promote the ROI clients earn on this free time. I hope sharing this post is a first step in re-establishing the importance of this step.

To make sure you get the most value out of the incubation period start early, build in time for nothing and let the team sleep on it. I often wake up and find myself perched on a great idea like a hen sitting on a warm egg. Resist the temptation to see work ASAP. You will often get the best results if you see the work ALAP.

So spend less money. Offer more time. Let your team know the outline of the challenge early. And watch the great ideas emerge like popcorn. And wine. And babies.

An idea to make debates useful again.

On Sunday night I watched the presidential debate. It was ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, I was highly entertained. But the debate failed miserably at its sole purpose: helping Americans become better-informed voters. There was so much talk about non-issues, non-answering of questions and unverified fact-spewing that all of America was dumber for having watched it. Entertained, but dumber.

When it was finally over I switched channels and watched the Sunday night football game. Taking in the final 15:00 minutes of the Packers and Giants game was like mental sorbet, cleansing my palette before I prepared to think like a human again on Monday morning.

But a funny thing happened when I woke up the next morning. I had an idea to solve the debate problem.

Let’s make debates more like football games.

One of the great things about a football game is that it follows a clearly defined set of rules. There are pre-established ways to score points. There are also consequences for breaking the rules. The debates should have the same structure.

edhochuli

Instead of having a moderator like, say, Lester ‘Don’t-Mind-Me’ Holt, we would have referees, like Ed Hochuli. Ed is a trial lawyer when he’s not flexing his zebra stripes.  He’s the man we need controlling the candidates.

The Perfect Agency Project’s debates look something like this:

  • Moderators are replaced by referees (didn’t I just say that?): refs put the question in motion, blow whistles to stop the talk and penalize participants for breaking the rules of the debate.
  • Penalties: The ultimate penalty in a debate is air time. If you fail to answer the question, stray off topic or introduce false information, you have to sit out questions. Debaters have to serve there ‘Time Outs’ in a hockey-style penalty box. I would have Martha Stewart design it.
  • Run over your time limit: a whistle blows and your mic is cut off. If we can humiliate Hollywood stars by cutting their mics off during an acceptance speech, surely we can do the same to long-winded presidential candidates.
  • Talk when it’s not your turn: You lose time. This is just like being offsides in football. Or encroachment. Or interference.
  • Unpresidential-like conduct: Your mic is cut off. A third-party candidate walks on stage and replaces you for the next question.
  • Answer a question: score points on a 1 to 7 scale based on the quality of your answer.
  • Don’t answer the question: no points
  • Make false claims: the referees stops the debate, sites the facts, sends you to the Martha Stewart penalty box.
  • Nachos: Let’s all eat them. Just because.

But this is just a start. Now it’s time to add your ideas to the comment box. Don’t mention any candidates by name. It’s not that kind of show. Just the football-style rules we could incorporate to make the debates fair and informative. Points will be awarded for good rules. A flag will be thrown on anything that is offsides. Ready? Set. Omaha!