The amazing story behind one of the most famous memorials in America.

In 2015 my family and I spent Memorial Day weekend in Washington D.C. This is a must-do experience for all Americans. Spending Memorial Day at the famed Arlington National Cemetery, or exploring the war memorials, provides a profound perspective on this important American holiday. Because is shines a spotlight on the true cost of freedom. And there are more lives of American military personnel on the final invoice than you can fathom.

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Ava’s Class Trip

My 13 year old daughter, Ava just returned from a 7th grade class trip to D.C. I wondered how much she would get out of this experience, because she had already been there twice with our family. When she got home I was eager to discuss her 4-day whirlwind tour, and hear about the new things she saw and learned. That’s when she shared an amazing story I hadn’t heard about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

One of the most challenging chapters in America’s military and political history was the Vietnam War. But the memorial honoring the fallen veterans of this war holds an important and inspiring story for us all.

The Young Designer

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was not designed by a world renowned architect, but by a young college student. Maya Ying Lin was a 21 year old senior at Yale when her memorial design was chosen. She was studying architecture. But didn’t yet have her undergraduate or overgraduate degrees. She didn’t have an apprenticeship with Mike Brady. She simply had a good idea.

There were two unique elements of her design. Most of the memorials in Washington are white. But Lin’s memorial is black. Which sets a very different, and more somber tone. The other unique feature of her design are the names. The Wall, as it is known, includes the names of all the veterans who fell during the war, in chronological order. Which means the wall tells the story of the Vietnam War, from beginning to end, in human lives.

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Maya Ying Lin with her winning design.

Lin created her design and submitted it to the national design competition as a part of a college class. In her class at Yale the design only earned Lin a B. Yet in the national competition her design stood out above all others. Which means that despite her age, her lack of experience and the fact that she only got a B on the class project, she beat out 1,420 other designers. The best part of the story is that Lin’s college professor also submitted a design in the competition.

Key Takeaway

There is no age requirement, degree or title required to have a great idea. Never be afraid to share, submit or advocate for your own ideas. Remember that judges, teachers, coaches and bosses don’t always know best. Don’t let the gatekeepers, rule makers and final sayers diminish the inherent value in your great idea, creation or performance.

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Never forget.

Thank You

Thank you to all who served our great country. To those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom, we owe more than we could ever repay. But the Vietnam Veterans Memorial comes the closest. By etching the names of all 58,318 fallen during the war in polished black granite it ensures that each and every one of them will play a permanent role in our nation’s story of freedom. Even a college student can see that.

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One of my favorite picks of my 4 favorite people in one of my favorite places.
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Why I encourage people to fight in the office.

Designing an office space that fits your company culture is like creating a clubhouse. When we signed the lease on our new office space a year ago I couldn’t wait to give it a serious makeover.* The drab office we leased was move-in ready for a lobotomy clinic. That wasn’t quite the vibe we were going for at The Weaponry, the advertising and idea agency I launched the year before. So as soon as we got the keys to the office we began transforming the space to match our personality.

A Sign Of Things To Come.

One of my favorite features of our office is the large sign that now greets you when you first come in the door. The bright red and white, 5-foot by 5-foot sign invites you to, in no uncertain terms, Fight With Your Brain.

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Business Is War

I love this statement. because at The Weaponry, we believe that business is war. To win the war of business you need to outthink the competition. You win with strategic thinking and creativity. You win by summoning your intelligence and accumulated knowledge. In fact, your brain is your most powerful weapon in any battle, whether you are talking about business, board games or back alleys.

The Double Entendre

As much as I love the obvious meaning of this statement, I love the second meaning even more. The next level message encourages you to fight against your brain. It is a call to resist your brain’s tendencies. It is a reminder to fight your brain whenever it attempts to follow a well-worn path. To default to habit. To think too small. To simply follow others. Or to delete the last sentence in a paragraph (phew, that was close).

Fight With Your Brain is a warning to resist the feeling that you think you already know the answer. It is a call to fight against assumptions. Fight the belief that there is only one right way to approach a problem.

We want you to fight with your brain when it wants to reject a new process, procedure or plan. Fight with your brain when it wants the old version of an app back (I know you know what I mean).

You must also fight against negative thinking. You need to fight self-doubt. Fight unwarranted feelings of insecurity. Fight against giving up. And fight your bad habits. In fact, you should fight against anything that limits your thinking. Except maybe city hall. Because come on, it’s city hall!

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We have also created Fight With Your Brain pins. If you want one leave me a message in the comments section. 

Key Takeaway

By fighting, while using your brain, you develop better strategies and ideas. By fighting, against your brain, you keep your thinking flexible and adaptable. You keep your emperor organ positive and prepared. It is the best way to keep new and valuable ideas flowing. Which is what makes the brain the most innovative research and development lab on Earth. So keep it cranking. Because when you fight with your brain you will be amazed at all the good you can produce.


*In 2017 I chronicled The Weaponry’s search for an office in a 3-part mini series that shares what the process of finding, negotiating and leasing office space is like for startups. My agent believes he can get the trilogy made into a movie series and have it distributed at every Blockbuster Video store in the country! Until then, you can find the story of our journey at these links:

  1. Looking for office space: A startup story.
  2. Looking For Office Space Part 2: The Messy Middle.
  3. Looking for Office Space Part 3: We Have An Office!

Why the right-brain vs left-brain talk makes me want to scream.

When I was a child I was fascinated to learn that the brain is not one solid organ. The brain is actually divided, down the middle, into two hemispheres un-creatively known as the right brain and left brain. The brainispheres have different job assignments. Essentially they work like a great team, dividing the responsibilities of braining for humans into separate but equal parts. Which means your brain works like Siegfried and Roy, Abbott and Costello or Dumb & Dumber.

Choosing Sides

People often talk about being either right-brained or left-brained. If you have not heard such talk, it goes like this: The right side of the brain is thought to control your creative and artistic thinking. While your left brain controls your logic and rational behavior. As with politics, when it comes to braining, people often identify with one side or the other.

I have spent my entire career as a professional creative thinker. I started out as a Copywriter and progressed to the title of Chief Creative Officer. Every title I had for 20 years had either the word writer or creative in it. So it’s natural to sort me into the right-brained team. People do it all the time. In conversations I hear people say ‘You right-brained types…’ or ‘Us right-brained types…’

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Lookie there! Your brain has a coin slot too.

However…

I have never thought of myself as being right-brained. Not once. Ever. I have never thought of myself as being primarily a creative thinker. It’s not that I don’t think creatively. I know I do. But I also use careful analysis and logic every day. I love the scientific method and the absoluteness of math. I enjoy calculating my taxes. But I don’t enjoy stereotypes. Except for Bose. Those guys make great types of stereos.

Business Thinking

The latest role in my career has been as an Entrepreneur. As the Founder & CEO of the advertising and idea agency The Weaponry, I am required to use all of my brain at work. While our service offering is unquestionably creative, everything else about the business is decidedly based in the left brain. I have to think about our accounting, finances, benefits, and human resources. I have to establish processes for project management, account management, and invoicing.

There is not an element of business that I don’t I feel comfortable with. I understand, appreciate and enjoy all of the thinking that goes into starting and running a business. I see it all as a big system of constants and variables. Some disciplines require more creative thinking. Others require very practical analysis. I am thankful that my brains get along like Bert and Ernie. Their daily cooperation helps me function as one whole person.

Unlabeling

It is limiting, if not damaging to label people, including yourself, as right-brained or left- brained. According to Dr. Daniel G. Amen in his book Making A Good Brain Great, it is a myth that we only use 10% of our brain. Our entire brain is on and working our entire lives, even when we sleep. If you were born with, and still have, both hemispheres of your brain, use them. Some skills and processes may come more naturally. But that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t work to develop the others.

Key Takeaway

The danger in the right-brain, left-brain labels is that you will start to believe that you can’t do things. Then you won’t take on tasks or challenges, because you have told yourself you are no good at them. But you can be. You just have to make sure you are not limiting your thinking.

6 things I didn’t do on my trip to India that will surprise you.

My childhood friend, Marcus Chioffi, once made an interesting statement about me. He said,

‘Adam would be the best person I know at solitary confinement. He would just entertain himself.’ -Marcus Chioffi

I was reminded of Marcus’s statement on my recent work trip to Bangalore, India. I had two 24-hour travel days: one going to India and one coming back (you probably could have guessed that, but I didn’t want any confusion). I had back to back 10-hour flights each way. And what I did on those 10-hour flights is not as interesting as what I didn’t do.

6 Things I Didn’t Do On My Travels To India.

  1. I didn’t watch any movies.
  2. I didn’t watch any TV.
  3. I didn’t listen to any music.
  4. I didn’t play any games.
  5. I didn’t do any puzzles.
  6. I didn’t mind the travel at all.

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Solitary And Confined.

The long flights gave me a lot of time to think, which is one of my favorite hobbies. I watched the flight tracker on the screen in front of me, and I looked out the window.  Combined, those two activities provided me with plenty to think about.

I connected dots about global geography. I flew over beautiful places like The Netherlands. I flew over inhospitable places in the Middle East that have been boiling with cranky people. And I realized that I may be cranky too in such a desolate environment.

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Reading

I finished reading the book Thinking Fast and Slow, about behavioral economics. I read Yes, And…, which is about Second City, and what we can all learn about life and business from improv. My friend, and regular Weapon, Tony Sharpe gave me the book. Thanks Tony.

I also read the body laungauge of a couple of seatmates that said, ‘Don’t talk to me you smiley American! It’s the middle of the night!’ So I didn’t talk to them. Their loss.

Work

The Weaponry has several exciting projects going on right now. So I had a lot of enjoyable work to do. I even texted a project estimate to a new client just after takeoff, because sometimes client service and FAA rules are in opposition.

Writing

I also wrote. (In fact, as I write these words I am flying over Thunder Bay, Ontario). I wrote a lot of notes about my trip and my experience. I found almost no time to write when I was in India because my sleep-eat-work* schedule was so dense there was no time for anything else. (*not to be confused with my Eat. Pray. Love. schedule.)

Key Takeaway

I enjoyed my flights to the other side of the world and back a great deal. They never felt painful, prisony, torturey or claustrophobic. I never felt like I needed to be entertained. I loved having so much time to think, read, write and observe. Most importantly, I never felt like I was killing time. I felt as if I was using the time I had. Which is what I hope to do if I ever do end up in solitary confinement.

I have a little surprise for one of my high school teachers.

My sophomore year in high school I had a teacher named Mr. Bohi. He was a large, bear of a man who spoke with booming confidence and authority. Originally from Iowa, his life path lead him to the Ivy League town of Hanover, New Hampshire. In Hanover he taught high school students lessons about humans, through the lens of history.  He also smiled at you when he was mad at you, which I found quite challenging to process.

Mr. Bohi was a great teacher who taught me a lot. But on the first day of class he said something that I strongly disagreed with. As he launched into his initial lesson, he pulled out a dollar bill, and made a stump speech about the power of money, and its enormous influence over world history.

He orated about the fallacy of money, saying that currency wasn’t real. That money is an illusion in our heads. And that a plain piece of paper was actually more valuable than a dollar bill. One of the things he said that day has bothered me for 30 years. So today I am putting this note in the mailbox and sending it to Mr. Bohi.

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I have thought about this since 1988. I  wrote this out almost a year and a half ago. And I will finally mail it today.
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This is Shakespeare’s Sonnet 104. I thought ‘Milk’ would have been a good nickname for a guy whose last name started with ‘Shake’.

 

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Maybe you can’t write a Shakespearean sonnet on a dollar bill. But I can. 

 

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By George, I wrote it!

I love doing what other people say can’t be done. I love solving problems that others think can’t be solved. As an entrepreneur and Founder of the advertising and idea agency The Weaponry, I appreciate a good challenge. And I realize it is my will to do things that makes them happen. Even if it takes 30 years.

*In case you couldn’t read my handwriting, this is what the note says:

Dear Mr. Bohi,

In 1988, in my first class with you, you said that money wasn’t that valuable.  Specifically, you told us we couldn’t write a Shakespearean sonnet on a dollar bill. I want you to know:

  1. I was listening.
  2. I remembered
  3. You were wrong.

Enjoy your dollar.

Adam R. Albrecht

HHS Class of ’91

 

Can you guess the shocking cost of the first airplane?

We all know the story of Orville and Wilbur Wright, right? These brothers from Dayton, Ohio were the first humans on Earth to build and fly an airplane. They launched their original Flyer in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903. Their airplane forever changed life on this planet. It opened the possibility of space travel, next-day package delivery, and complaints about spotty wi-fi on transcontinental flights.

The Invoice

Do you know how much they spent to get that first plane in the air? It took them four years. Over that period their expenses included all the materials needed to research, build, test, modify and repair their prototypes. The price tag also included all of their travel between Ohio, where they built their machines, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where they attempted to fly them. Remember, this was before Southwest Airlines made it cheap and easy to fly about the country.

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So how much did they spend?

I’m adding fluff to this story to prevent your eye from catching the number below.

It’s my attempt to add suspense.

But now it is time for the number:

All in, they spent less than $1000!

Less than $1000!  That’s unbelievable, Wright?!?  It is so ridiculous that it wasn’t even one of the multiple choice answers!

The Wrights found that the actual inputs were not crazy-expensive (my words, not theirs). They invested more in elbow grease and developed sweat equity in their innovation. They were remarkably frugal with their travel. And as a result, they changed the world for less than $1000.

You can do the same.  Put your own work into your greatest idea. Create an inexpensive prototype. Offer the service yourself. Write that script in your head. Figure out how to develop a minimum viable product. See where things go from there.

Great ideas have a way of taking on a life of their own once you give them the push they need to get started.  So don’t let that great idea in your head shrivel and die. Feed it. Water it. Grow it. Put in the effort. Then watch your idea take off.

Just like the Wright Brothers did.

Epilogue 

*I know this was 115 years ago, and there has been inflation since. So I pulled out my trusty calculator and mathed-up the inflation. In today’s dollars that would be $26,000. But still, it is a frickin airplane! On today’s airplane the barf bags probably cost more than that. The numbers were found in David McCullough’s amazing book, The Wright Brothers, (which I would have titled The Wright Stuff). 

 

All of the best ideas are nuts.

The acorn is my favorite metaphor for an idea.

It is small. Cute. Harmless. Easily overlooked. The acorn is found everywhere. So common and simple. Yet it has the potential to grow and expand in phenomenal ways.

The acorn is actually a mighty oak tree starter kit. The plans for all of the tree’s complex systems are housed inside: the roots, bark, sap, branches, leaves and the alchemy of photosynthesis. The remarkable ability to create habitat, shade, support, protection and oxygen are all under that cute little beanie.

The acorn is a bomb. When detonated, it expands beyond all possible comprehension.  Its final form is no less of a mushroom cloud than a mushroom cloud.

Your ideas are acorns. Recognize the enormous potential they each hold. Create conditions where acorns can transform into forests of towering trees. Those trees will produce more acorns. Which produce more trees. Which produce more acorns.