I have finally finished reading Walt Disney. The Triumph of the American Imagination. It was not a small book after all. To the contrary, it was large, dense and fascinating. Author, Neal Gabler, is an enviable writer who pulls back the curtain to reveal Disney as a complex, chain-smoking, reluctant American icon.
What I learned.
I picked up this book because I wanted to understand the formula behind Disney’s magic. I wanted to know how he made all those great movies and cartoons. How he got us to put on those silly mouse-ear hats and think we looked cool. And how he got us to pay $100 a noggin to visit his Land or World.
As Founder of the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I am always looking for insights from other great creative businesses. So I’ve been studying organizations like Disney, Pixar, The Wright Brothers Workshop, Andy Warhol’s Factory and North Korea’s Vacation and Tourism Board.
I expected Walt Disney would be a book about creativity. Certainly there is a lot of creativity and imagineering in the book. Walt was a visionary who had a crystal clear picture in his head of everything he set out to create. But the reason everyone should read this book is to see how hard his journey really was.
For almost 500 pages of the biography you wonder when Walt Disney will finally catch a break. Seriously. The classic movies we know and love today were largely box office flops, failing to make enough money to pay for production. Disney was a half-step ahead of the Financial Grim Reaper for what seemed like the bulk of his career. In the 1940s he narrowly avoided bankruptcy thanks to government film contracts during WWII. He just kept doing what he had to do to keep his mouse ears above water.
The next time you are working on unsexy projects for tough clients, take comfort in knowing that Walt Disney did the same thing to keep his dreams alive too.
Saving The Best For Last
But the most fascinating thing about the book was that the greatest achievement of his career didn’t come until the very end. In fact, it wasn’t even mentioned until page 603 of the 633 page book. That’s right, Disney World, the 40 square mile resort the size of San Francisco, was his best and last chapter.
When Walt told his wife about his plans for Disney World she was aghast, asking him, ‘What do you want to do that for?’ He replied,
I would get stagnant if I didn’t do new things.
Today Disney World employs 62,000 people, making it the largest single-site employer in the country.
What it means to you and me.
It is never too late in your career to have your biggest and best chapter. If you are willing to keep growing and pushing and driving yourself, the best is still in front of you. Employ all of your accumulated experiences, insights and know-how to create bigger and better chapters of your own story. Keep doing new things until you are done. Like done, done.
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.
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.
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 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…
Your brain is the most powerful muscle in your body. Ok, your brain isn’t really a muscle. But it is so powerful it KNOWS that it’s not a muscle! Your most powerful muscles are actually your glutes or your quadriceps, depending on who you ask. And depending on whether or not you are keeping up with Kim Kardashian. You can strengthen these leg muscles doing squats, leg presses, lunges, deadlifts and by delivering refrigerators.
However, you should never perform these leg exercises without warming up first. For two reasons.
You could shred your muscles like pulled pork.
You will not perform at your best.
You should warm up your muscles to recruit as many fibers and synapses as possible for the mission. It also loosens the muscles, gets blood flowing through the area and prepares them for action.
Your brain works the same way. When your alarm clock detonates in the morning your brain is cold. That’s why so many people try to stoke some brainial heat with coffee or tea. But it takes actual mental activity to get your brain primed and ready for work.
I have a trick I use to get my brain ready to perform in the morning. It’s not a drink, a dish or a pill. It doesn’t make you sweaty, stinky or even raise your heart rate.
A great way to warm up you brain.
I am a professional creative thinker. I own an advertising and idea agency, called The Weaponry, where we try to stretch our thinking as far as possible every day. To prepare for creative thinking, I use several different techniques to get my brain warmed up. One of my favorite techniques is to spend a few minutes working on brain games.
I like a challenge that forces me to think through questions from multiple angles, spot interesting connections, or evaluate at a level that goes beyond the obvious. I do this in a variety of ways. Here are 5 options that you can try tomorrow morning before work.
5 Warm up techniques that recruit your brain cells.
Brain Challenges: My go-to morning stimuli are my Mensa Mind Challenge books. (I’m not a member of Mensa. I just play one at the bookstore.) They contain a range of
puzzles, math problems and brain teasers. Discovering the answers opens my mind and helps me view the problem, and thus the world, through a different lens.
Soduko Puzzles: These number sequencing puzzles are moronically simple, yet complex at the same time (like me). I really like the fact that I can keep switching my focus to get to the ultimate solve. I’ll hone in on a single number for a while. Then I might focus on a small box. Then a line. I like the fact that I never guess at Soduko. I focus on one small point until I know the answer with certainty before a I declare an answer. This works differently than the Mensa challenges because there is one simple, clear answer for each box, hiding in plain sight. I simply have to force it into focus.
Mazes: These were my childhood favorites. I love the fact that you can think you know where you are going and suddenly you come to a dead-end and have to look in another direction. Many of our life challenges are like this. We think we are on the right path until we know we are not. Then we have no choice but to reevaluate our choices and perspectives. Someone should write a book about this phenomenon. Oh wait they did. (Who moved my cheese?)
Crosswords: These classics are great because they force you to dig into your broad knowledge base. But they also enable you to employ strategy and technique to help you fill in your knowledge gaps, using what you know to offer clues about the things you don’t know. Here you can guess the answers without inducing catastrophic failure (see Soduko). I appreciate that they let you develop increasing levels of certainty on your hypothesis as you progress. They also reward you for knowing Tom Jones songs. So there’s that.
Memory Games: I have become increasingly interested in memory challenges. I come from long-lived people (I currently have 198 years worth of grandmothers). So maintaining my memory is going to be an important life skill. The power of the mind to develop visual codes to remember number sequences is fascinating to me. Over the coming years I expect memory games to become a larger part of my routine as I work to fight off dementia (I was born with as much dementia as I will ever need).
The benefit of a warm brain.
Puzzles in the morning get your brain firing. You will feel like you have recruited more brain cells. You will feel alert and ready to think better, faster, stronger, and probably for longer. It’s like Viagra for the brain. Kinda.
Even though I am a naturally creative thinker, these puzzles, games and challenges help me stimulate my brain in a way that reduces creative blind spots. It is easy to fall into a mental rut and use the same type of creative processes, tools and paths over and over again. The morning puzzles can be like opening a mental tool box of problem solving devices. When you see the tools you could use, the tools themselves reveal the paths to various solutions.
I like the way the puzzles stretch your thinking. They help you see different angles and perspectives. This pays off as you try to solve other business (or life) challenges the rest of the day. The puzzles and mind challenges ensure that your mind is alert, stretched, primed and fully powered to find new possibilities.
These puzzles are also fun. Starting your morning with a bit of fun and play makes your morning more enjoyable. That mood state alone contributes to more creative thinking.
If you are more math oriented consider this: if you could expand the power of your problem solving or creative thinking by just 10% by readying your mind, you will significantly expand the circle of solutions you can uncover.
Try warming up with some puzzles this week. Let me know how you feel afterwards. If you have a type of puzzle, quiz or test you use to keep yourself sharp please share it here. I could use all the help I can get. Especially in the morning, when I am delivering refrigerators.
Do you know how to sell things? You should. Because sooner or later, everyone needs to sell something. It might be as simple as Girl Scout cookies, that ugly couch from college that knows too much, your home or your car. Selling is an essential element of commerce. Businesses live or die based on their ability to sell.
But if you run a household or are an aspiring Minimalist, you need to be able to sell too. Because at some point you are going to find yourself in possession of things that you just can’t use. You probably have some tweener items squatting in your home right now that are too nice to throw away and too nice to give away.
I did. As a marketing professional I was very curious to find the best way to sell such things. So I performed my own experiment. I tested three different channels. I tried selling in-person and online. I also tested a new platform. The results were surprising. Like Macaulay Culkin-using-aftershave surprising.
The Garage Sale
We recently moved into a new home and had some things that didn’t work in our new space. It was nice stuff. But it was Bruce Jenner-ish in a Caitlyn Jenner world. The people we bought our house from also left a few unique items in the house that were more them than us. So they had to go too.
Our subdivision was having a whole-neighborhood garage sale. We were garage sale virgins. But we decided that the Westchester Lakes All-Neighborhood Garage Sale would be our first. However, our first time wasn’t the greatest. It rained, which hurt traffic (the rain didn’t actually hurt the people). We sold a lot of toys, clothes and decor. But we didn’t sell our bigger furniture items. Which was what we were most interested in offloading.
The Digital Experiment
When the final bell sounded on our garage sale we still had a bedroom set, a formal chair, an end table, a large doll house and a set of bar stools that needed to go.
So we moved to Plan B.
I decided the best option was to post our things online. I have sold many random things on Craigslist. Including a car, a swing set and 5 counter tops. But I was curious about how significant some of the new Sell-Your-Stuff-Here platforms had become. So I decided to have a sell-off between Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. I called Pay-Per-View to see if they wanted to cover the rumble. They declined.
I started with the bedroom set. There was a white dresser with mirror, end table, headboard, footboard and side rails. I posted it with the same photos and same description on both sites.
The posting on Craigslist was good. I used their mobile app. It was quick, clear and easy. It didn’t take me long to get it posted. It generated three inquiries the first day. I had 12 people respond to the Craigslist posting over 3 days. I was very pleased. Craig and his list had lived up to my previous expectations.
This was my first time using The Marketplace. It walks you through a 4-step process that makes it moronically simple to list your items. My post was live in no time. But what came next was a total surprise.
Almost immediately the responses flooded in like Harvey in Houston. I had 48 responses in 48 hours. I responded to each inquiry quickly, and had to determine how to prioritize the request to see the items.
That was actually my biggest problem. Because the first person needed 24 hours before she could come see the bedroom set. Then she didn’t show. And neither did the second in line. The 3rd came but it wasn’t quite what she wanted for herself (it was really more of a kid’s bedroom set, and she was looking for a set for herself).
But the second person to come see the set snatched it up and we were done. I was able to declare the buyer on The Marketplace and signal that the item had been sold with just 2 clicks.
Following that Joey Chestnut-like feeding frenzy, I posted the doll house, chair and end table on the Facebook Marketplace too. All of them sold within 24-hours with serious interest across the board.
I had listed the bar stools twice on Craigslist over the past 12 months and they didn’t sell. I listed them for a significantly higher price on the Facebook Marketplace and sold all five for my asking price, with 2 backup buyers to spare.
The Facebook Marketplace is a force to be reckoned with for online selling. Both individuals and businesses should take notice. People are already spending a ton of time on Facebook. So sellers are fishing where the fish spend their leisure time. Whereas Craigslist is where the fish swim when they need an end table.
The Facebook Marketplace could be huge. It may be Facebook’s equivalent to QVC or The Home Shopping Network, or bigger. So the next time you have something to sell go where people are killing time and are happy to find a killer deal. You’ll be happy you did. As for me, I am just happy to have my garage back before the snow flies.
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:
Are you where you want to be?
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.
They remind you that you have a career plan (if you haven’t written yours down do it now).
They make you cognizant of the passing of time.
They remind you of your valuable accumulation of experience and abilities.
They remind you that if you want to accomplish everything in your plan you need to keep moving.
They help you rise above your current day-to-day work to see your entire career and how much of it is yet unwritten.
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.