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

 

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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.

 

My life-altering first lesson in professional problem solving.

When I was in college I spent my summers at home in Vermont working for a party rental company. I set up huge party tents with other college athletes, a few rugged high schoolers and a handful of experienced veterans who had real jobs, but would help set tents on the weekends for extra income (and presumably to show us what brands of jeans were cool a decade ago).

There was lot of beef on that crew. You had to be strong because the job entailed lugging tents that weighed more than you did and carrying all the tables, chairs and dance floors needed to get your party on.  You also had to be able to hammer 40-inch steel spikes into the granite of Vermont and New Hampshire.  This was not a job for the chess club.

Learning the ropes.

The first few tents I set up were in idyllic settings on lush, sprawling lawns. The tents were erected (snicker) in textbook fashion.  You laid the tent out flat. Pulled the ropes straight out from the tent. At each rope you drove a spike into the ground four feet from the tent. You tied the ropes to the spikes. Then you set up a side pole at each rope to support the perimeter of the tent. Finally, you set up the tall center poles in the (surprise…) center of the tent.  I was a pretty smart kid. I caught on quickly.

Then I went on what I thought would be a really easy assignment.  I was sent to set a small 20 foot by 20 foot square tent in a woman’s front yard with one of the veterans. I thought we would be done in twenty minutes.

Then came the problems.

When we got to the house I immediately began to worry.  There was no large field of green. There was what amounted to a small rug-sized lawn squeezed in front of a small house.  There was no 20′ X 20′ space to be found. There was no way to place the spikes back 4 feet from the tent so we could tie the tent down and anchor them properly. In one corner of the yard the porch of the house prevented us from driving any spike at all.

This was not good. A woman was expecting a tent for her party, but we weren’t going to be able to set it up in this space. The backyard had even less lawn. So that wasn’t an option either. I turned to Dave, the veteran, and said, ‘This is bad! We can’t set the tent. It doesn’t fit here.’ Dave was completely unfazed. He said, “Come on Greenhorn.  Let me show you how it’s done.’

The Eye-Opening Transformation

What happened next changed me in ways that will impact my clients for the rest of my career.  Dave found solutions for every single problem. Instead of setting the tent in the standard, follow-the-manual way, he set it in the way the situation allowed.  Dave mapped out a plan that I had completely missed.  He tied the tent ropes, that normally get tied to spikes in the ground, to anything that would hold them.  We tied ropes to the fence. We tied ropes to trees.  We tied ropes to the railing on the front porch of the house. The bushes and flower beds I thought prevented us from setting the tent in the front yard simply ended up under the tent, adding ambiance. And everything looked perfect.  The tent pulled straight and tight and clean, despite the fact that half of the anchor points had been improvised to accommodate for the environment.

It felt like my brain grew 500% that day. I quickly learned to love the challenges of compromised conditions. Over the next three years I became so adept at problem solving I believed there was no problem I couldn’t overcome.

 

Putting the lessons to work.

Today I use the mindset I developed setting tents in my advertising career. At my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, we deeply believe there is a solution to every problem. We don’t focus on what we would have done in the best case scenario.  We explore what can be done given the reality. What can be done with the hand we have been dealt.  That means no excuses. We always work to maximize the outcomes given the current situation. Because the key to life is a good plan B or C or D.

Don’t spend a moment thinking about how things should have been done if the situation were different. Focus on how to bake the best cake with the ingredients you have right now. It’s the only way.  Put all of your time, thought and energy into solving the problem in front of you. Recognize your assets. Make them work for you. Just like Dave showed me how to make that tent work in that small yard back when I was just a Greenhorn.

 

An easy way to make a memorable impression in the next hour.

 

I’m starting a new series called, “What are you doing with your blank?” I will pick a different blank for each post. You’re probably wondering, ‘What the blank is a blank?’ Blanks are the thousands of things in our lives that we could each make more interesting and distinct with a tiny bit of effort. Just ask athletes Ocho Cinco and Metta World Peace.

Today’s blank is: voicemail message. (So the question is ‘What are you doing with your voicemail message?’) Your voicemail message impacts your personal brand or your business (and probably both) whether you make an effort or not. Yet most people completely ignore these valuable messages. If you have chosen the default setting on your phone, you are hanging up on the opportunity to make a strong, favorable brand impression.

I’ve been having fun with my voicemail messages since they were called answering machine messages. Maybe too much fun. When I was in college, my roommates and I were recording an enthusiastic voicemail message at 4:00am, when Police Officer Buzzkill banged on our door to tell us they had received noise complaints ‘down at the Cop Shop.’

At The Perfect Agency Project we believe there is great value in unique, memorable or funny voicemail messages. Partially because they are so surprising. Our voicemail expectation are so low that it is easier to jump over the voicemail message bar than to limbo under it.

Last night I got a text from Monica Baer, a former coworker of mine from Cramer Krasselt.  The text read:

Hey, I’m going to call your vm so my kids can hear it :). Don’t pick up.

Does that happen to you?  Probably not. Could it?  Absolutely. Offer a message that will put a smile on your caller’s face. Make them feel important, give them a great quote, a piece of trivia or useful information. If you do, they’ll be happy they called.  Maybe they will even be a little disappointed when they get you instead of your interesting recording.

A memorable voicemail message is also free. It costs no more to create a great, value-adding, entertaining message than to leave no message at all. You can also update messages to match the weather, holidays or major events. You can tout business awards and successes. You could even use your voicemail message to tell callers about an interesting blog post you read about voicemail messages.

I often offer a voicemail promotion, offering a faster call back if the caller performers a specific request, like yodeling. I’ve asked callers to sing their voicemail messages. Think,  The Voice: Voicemail Edition.

Don’t be afraid to try. The great thing about unique voicemail messages is that they can be changed at any point. So try different messages and learn what works well for you and your brand. Just keep it relatively brief.

If you would like to hear my voicemail message give me a call. You can always text me first to tell me you want to hear my VM, so I know not to pick up. My number is 614-256-2850. Don’t be afraid to say hi. I look forward to your message.

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.

 

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.