6 lessons from the class everyone should take but no one ever does.

I work in advertising. I know the value of the New and Improved. Which is why I am always trying to create a newer, improved-er version of myself. I realized at the beginning of my career that if I wanted to catch up to the best professionals in this industry I was going to have to do my homework. So I began studying and learning. Not in a structured school program. But in a self-directed, choose-your-own-adventure, movie montage kind of way.

Like most people who are into self-improvement, I have focused heavily on communication skills: public speaking, presentation skills, selling skills. But the deeper I get into this game Prince called, Life, I realize that most people (including me) spend too much time on the wrong side of the equation.

The most effective and important communication skill is not speaking. It’s listening.

Listening is where all success starts. It is only through listening that we understand the problems that we need to solve. It is how we hear what isn’t said (don’t think about this too hard or it sounds really stupid). Through listening we learn about other people. We learn about their history, their values, their styles and their quirks. Which allows for deeper, more meaningful and more valuable relationships. Yet when was the last time you heard about someone going to a listening seminar?

So here are The Perfect Agency Project’s 6 Keys To Improving Your Listening Skills. These are sure to make you a better, bigger-eared version of yourself.

1. Listen Competitively.

Start by trying to be really good at listening. You already know the little things you have to do to be a great listener. We learned them playing Simon Says. Look at the person talking. Give the person speaking your full attention.  And do this like your earning potential, relationships and Parent Of The Year award depend on it. Because they do.

2. Shut your mouth.

We are often so compelled to talk that we stop listening. If you want to be a great listener you have to silence your own impulses. And focus on your role as a listener. This means you are not providing answers, or solutions or opinions. You are harvesting. Not planting. Know what season it is. Bring the right equipment to the field.

3. Keep your partner lubricated.

I don’t mean with alcohol or KY.  With affirmations. And demonstrated interest. Lean in. Show you care. And you will keep others flowing with information. Yet without the annoying public outcry that comes with waterboarding.

4. Listen with your Spidey Sense.

Go beyond the words that are said. Note the tone. The emotion. Those things are like limps, signaling that something deeper is wrong. Or they could signal that someone is in a good mood that exceeds the norm for the current situation. Maybe they just got engaged. Or maybe they are on drugs.

5.  Play back, Jack.

The curtain call of any good listening session is the summary of what you heard.  The highlight, simplified conclusion or takeaway that demonstrates that you really heard what was said. What was implied. And what is now important.  Do this and you will always leave a conversation with more personal equity.

6. Lock up the valuables.

The most important listening skill is keeping the private stuff private. You have to know which things you heard were intended for you alone. And don’t talk about them. When people know that you are trustworthy they tell you more. You become an important confidante. An insider. It’s like being sponge-worthy.

Improve your listening and everything else will improve. Better relationships with your friends, family and co-workers. Better solutions to problems. More and better networking. And better creative ideas. If you have your own tips and tricks for better listening I would love to hear from you.

I Owe My Career To The Vanilla Ice Philosophy

I have a philosophy about philosophies.  It’s that everyone should have one. I believe we all need something to ground our actions, beliefs and decisions. It is our philosophies that create the bedrock of our character and our personal brands.

I also have a philosophy about the work I do as a professional creative. It encompasses why I believe advertising and marketing exist. And I stole it from Vanilla Ice. Yes, I am an evangelist of the Vanilla Ice Philosophy. What? You’ve never heard of it?  Right now consultants at Deloitte, Accenture and McKinsey are looking at each other asking, “Do you know what hell he’s talking about?” (And I know you guys read this. #analytics!)

Allow me to explain. The Vanilla Ice Philosophy was first introduced 25 years ago in Mr. Ice’s hit song, Ice Ice Baby. The philosophy emphatically states, “If there was a problem, Yo! I’ll solve it!”

It’s that simple. And it reminds me that there is only one reason agencies exist: To solve our clients’ problems. Fortunately for us, our clients always have problems (some more than others).  Sometimes they are really difficult challenges. Sometimes they are good problems to have.  But they are always there.  And solving them puts food on our tables.

I also love the attitude of this philosophy. You know, the “Yo! I’ll solve it!” part.  Because like an athlete who wants the ball, puck or frisbee when the team needs a big play, I always believe I can find a solution. So throw me the problem! Business is now my competitive sport. And I build teams full of people with the same competitive mindset.

Clients constantly warn us of big challenges or tight deadlines that make their problem difficult to solve. But our team never flinches. We’ve seen too much and overcome too many challenges. In short, we are hard to scare.

So what makes the perfect agency good at solving problems?  Again, we turn to Vanilla Ice. He doles out important instructions in the opening line of Ice Ice Baby. Because he knew in his infinite icy wisdom that the key to solving problems is to collaborate and to listen.

Collaborating means we work together. Our agency huddles together to put the best minds to work as one. We also collaborate extremely well with our clients. By representing all perspectives in the solutions we know we come up with better options than we ever could alone.

Listening means we hear the real problem to be solved. We listen for understanding. We listen for insights. We listen to hear the key problem we are trying to solve. In corporate America too much time is wasted by not hearing, identifying or responding to the real problem.

So thank you Robert Van Winkle. Over the past 25 years you’ve made great music. You’ve made us dance. And you have penned some solid philosophy that I follow every day. Word to your mother.