Don’t push yourself until your tires come off. Trust me.

On a recent Saturday my family and I drove from Knoxville, Tennessee to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The drive was beautiful. We rolled through the grand mountains of eastern Tennessee and Kentucky. We passed the surprisingly un-Indiana-like hills of southeastern Indiana. Which is by far the most beautiful part of Indiana. We played geographical connect-the-dots with the great cities of Knoxville, Lexington, Indianapolis, Chicago and Milwaukee.

I also saw something I didn’t want to see. I saw a tire come off of a vehicle directly in front of me. Twice. Seriously.

Incident One

The first time it happened was on I-75, as we were descending a mountain pass in southern Kentucky. A large white SUV in front of me lost its driver’s side rear wheel. The whole tire-rim-wheel situation left the vehicle and made a break for the center median. The remainder of the vehicle, now sitting on 3 wheels and a brake rotor, skidded to a stop on the right shoulder of the freeway.

The runaway tire crossed the highway in front of me, slammed into the cable barrier in the median, bounced into the air, and flopped to the ground on its side. I was happy I didn’t run into it. And I was thankful that the barrier prevented it from crossing into the oncoming traffic.

Incident Two

Three hours later I was on I-275, about to cross the Ohio River, north into Indiana, just west of Cincinnati. I noticed the large pickup truck directly in front of me had a flat passenger side rear tire. I assumed the driver would notice the flat tire and pull over. But no. The driver sped right along at 75 miles per hour on that poor flat tire.

We soon drove onto the Carroll Lee Cropper bridge that spans the Ohio River, and I slowed my roll, concerned about the fate of that poor, little tire that probably couldn’t. It was a good thing I slowed down. Because in the middle of the 1700 foot-long bridge, the tire gave out. The outer tread separated like a giant piece of Goodyear calamari. It rolled down the road in front of me like a naughty kid chasing after the car he had just been kicked out of. Which brought back strong memories from my childhood.

The rolling tread then angled to the right side of the road, slammed into the bridge wall, lost its shape, and flopped to the pavement.

Meanwhile, the pickup truck sped down the highway tossing bits of rubber all over the roadway from the tire’s rapidly vanishing sidewalls. Finally, once the truck cleared the bridge, the truck pulled to the shoulder. A woman in her 50s, with her hair in a long braid, wearing denim shorts, dropped out of the driver’s door and quickly ran around the truck to look at what was left of her rear tire, which was not much.

As I drove past the second 3-wheeled vehicle in 3 hours I heard Nate Dogg’s lyrics from Dr. Dre’s Next Episode in my head:

We gon’ rock it till the wheels fall off. -Nate Dogg

Indeed, both of these vehicles rocked it till the wheels fell off.

But you shouldn’t

These two de-tiring episodes serve as a strong reminder that we all need to take care of ourselves. This has the potential to be an uber-stressful time. COVID-19, the economy, politics, racism, weather, social isolation, uncertainty and unemployment are leading to high levels of unenjoyment. Overworking and underplaying are problems too.

Pay attention to both your physical and mental health gauges. Control the things you can control. Eat right. Get plenty of sleep. Exercise. Brush and floss. Consume more humor. Tend to your spiritual health. By which I mean your Faith, not drinking more spirits. Take your vacation time. We all need it.

Key Takeaway

You have to take care of yourself during this stress-filled time. Think long term. Don’t rock it till the wheels fall off. That is too far. And the results can be disastrous. Not just for yourself, but for those around you. Nate Dogg died at just 41 years old. So check your tire pressure before you wreck your tire presssure. Check your tread and your lug nuts too. Adjust your inputs and outputs as necessary to make sure you and all your tires are here for the long haul.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.

Did you know your lane is ending?

Yesterday I was driving and saw a sign that told me that the lane I was driving in was ending soon. It was a valuable sign. It warned me that I was going to have to make plans for a future that didn’t involve that lane. And soon.

I quickly began making plans to exit my current lane. I had to. It offered no long term prospects. I soon found a perfectly good lane next to the one I was in. I turned on my left blinker, checked for cars, and finding none I merged onto the adjacent lane. And all was good again.

The thing about lanes.

All lanes end eventually. Just ask the leadership team at Blockbuster, or Chuck E Cheese’s. Or Lemmings. The key is knowing when it is time to find a new option.

We don’t always get a clear sign that our lane is coming to an end.  But tastes and technologies change. Jobs end. School ends. And bad habits run out of runway at some point. When they do you are forced to choose something new.     

Lanes offer us a path for now. But not forever. Throughout your life and career, you will have to make choices and changes. You can plan, and make changes proactively. Or you can wait until the lane is gone, you are stopped on the shoulder, and the 18-wheelers won’t move over to let you in.

COVID-19 brought lanes to an end.

The racism lane is coming to an end.

Drugs and alcohol abuse lanes are bumpy and popular. But short.

Key Takeaway

Change is constant. Get used to it. Prepare for it. Get good at it. And you’ll find that new and better lanes are easier to find.

Happy 4th of July! Will today be your Independence Day?

Before 1776 there was potential. A lot of potential. The American colonies were full of smart, talented, ambitious men and women who wanted more and better than the old world could provide. We had stars. We had bars. And we had Betsy Ross threaded and ready.

The fuse on this firecracker was lit in the summer of 1776. The best and brightest came together with a vision and a quill pen. And when they finally took action they launched the greatest startup the world has ever seen.

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Betsy Ross Like A Boss

But like any startup, they didn’t get everything right, right out of the gate. However, they created a system that enabled the system itself to get better, stronger and smarter over time.

Using the system itself we have been able to clarify that all men are created equal really means all men and women. It includes all colors. It includes all religions. It even includes the New York Yankees.

Today, that cute little Philly startup from 1776 is now the most valuable organization on Earth.

This Independence Day weekend I hope you take a few minutes to consider this amazing organization of ours. An organization that began with just some powdered wigs and a dream.

We must continue using the system to make the system itself better. It is not only our right, as shareholders, but it is also our obligation.

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In the words of the great American writer, Will Smith, Boom, Shake Shake Shake The Room.

I hope the 4th of July also inspires you to consider your own independence.

If you have been thinking of starting your own business, do it now.

If you have lost your job or your entire industry, start fresh now.

If you are energized and eager, it’s go time!

If you are desperate, you have the most powerful fuel of all.

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In the words of Montel Jordan, this is how we do it.

If you want to start your own business but don’t know where to begin, send me a note. I have started my own business. Today, I want to help others experience the same feeling of independence.

And If I can do it, you can too. I know. Because we are all created equal.

Happy 4th of July my fellow shareholders!

God Bless America.

It’s time to think beyond the bear in the trail.

I am a long term thinker. I view lives and careers as long journeys with lots of transformation along the way. I expect to drive my own change and growth. Which comes through a combination of planning and action. Or what might be called plaction.

The Bear In The Trail

However, the COVID-19 crisis has caused me to take my eye off of the long view. Over the past several months I have focused almost exclusively on short-term thinking. It’s as if I was hiking the Appalachian Trail, and suddenly encountered an ornry bear blocking my path. Instead of focusing on reaching Mount Katahdin, I needed to focus on the bear-virus, and live to hike another day. As result, true long-term improvement initiatives have been on hold for months. Darn you bear-virus.

Back In The Saddle.

But today my team at The Weaponry will gather again to think about our long term vision for the first time in months. We will open our planning and improvement session by describing what the fully formed version of our advertising and idea agency looks like. Then we will focus on what we need to do to close the gap between the ideal version of The Weaponry and the organization that exists today. However, we will have nothing to do with The Gap closing at your local mall.

We then assign each person a set of tasks, or rocks, to complete over the next 90 days to help us improve our organization. This approach, which is part of the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) outlined in the book Traction by Gino Wickman, has proven to be a highly effective way of helping us grow and progress. Because it ties our vision to meaningful and fruitful actions. Which helps us gain traction towards our goals.

Traction
This is a great resource to help you drive continuous business improvement.

Thinking Long Term

To achieve your long term goals you can’t remain in survival mode for long periods of time. You have to work with purpose towards your vision. You have to recirculate the ideal vision with your team and consider the next actions necessary to reach your vision.

This approach is valuable for organizations. And it is valuable for each of us as individuals. We need to know where our own north star is, and navigate towards it. Even in challenging times. Evn in bad weather. And even after wrestling angry bears.

Starting The Second Half

As we start the second half of the year, remember what you planned to do 6 months ago, before COVID-19 blew you off course and threw you into survival mode. If your original 2020 plans no longer apply to the new world reality, make new plans now.  What can and should you do now to progress over the next 6 months? I know this may be challenging. But in the inspirational words of Arthur Ashe:

‘Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.’  -Arthur Ashe

Key Takeaway

Move forward. We have been doggy paddling long enough. it is time to reimplement some time-tested swim strokes. Remember where you are headed. Or, if you haven’t determined where you are going, now is the time to decide. Determine the short term actions that will lead to your long term goals. Be purposeful. Be consistent. And you are sure to be closer to your ideal 6 months from now.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

What we can learn about all this craziness from Charles Darwin.

2020 started like any other year. New Year’s Day and Valentine’s Day came and went without incident. But by St. Patrick’s Day we had hit the shamrocks. Churches were closed on Easter. Brunches were unavailable on Mother’s Day. And on Memorial Day (my birthday), George Floyd was murdered by the artists formerly known as Minneapolis police officers.

Halftime

As we hit the mid-point it is clear that 2020 is going to be a different kind of year. The 4th of July fireworks will be largely DIY. Basketball will be in a bubble. Popular institutions that have reopened may reclose becuase they are a little too popular to curb the spread of COVID-19. Statues, monuments and names are being changed in an effort to stamp out racism (or what we may call eracism). And entire industries will have to find a new path forward following the disruptions and disallowances of the past few months.

Another Chapter

However, this is not the end of the world. Far from it. This is simply another chapter of change in the book of human history. As we face new and novel challenges it is valuable to get a little big-picture perspective. And who better than Charles Darwin to shed a little light on our current situation? (Ok, God would have been even better, but Chucky D is still solid.)

Darwin

Charles Darwin, best knows for inventing the Darwin Awards, properly spelling Galapagos, and for his role in the hit movie The Pirates! Band of Misfits, also created a few popular theories. Including the following:

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.  -Charles Darwin

Change

Change is inevitable. There will be changes to our economy, to our environment and to our political leadership. There will be changes to industries, to culture and law. There will changes to facemask wearing policies. There will be changes to bar and beach access. And changes to the rules governing how we ride elevators. Strange, I know.

There will also be changes as a result of the Me Too movement and the Black Lives Matter movement that will change outcomes for rapey and racists humans. #SorryNotSorryHarvey. And there will be more movements. Ones that we can’t imagine yet. And they will serve the greater good as they bring on more change.

Survival

The individuals, businesses, industries, cities, states and countries that respond well to these inevitable changes will survive. It doesn’t matter if you are smart, or were in a position of strength before. The only thing that matters now is how well you respond and adapt to change. That is the rule that governs the game, and always has.

Key Takeaway

Change is inevitable and never-ending. You must respond. Understand what works now. Embrace change and the opportunities it affords you to reinvent yourself, your career, your business and your community. Keep improving. Keep adapting. There is so much good ahead. Make sure you are prepared to enjoy it all.

*If you know somoene who could benefit from a friendly reminder from Charles Darwin, please share this with them.

Between the sunrise and sunset lies the real magic.

This week I am on vacation at the beach. I’ve noticed that people at the beach love sunrises and sunsets. Shocker, I know.

Every morning vacationers and locals alike walk the beach at sunrise and take pictures of the sun coming up. The same think happens each night as the sun sets. It’s almost like a song from Fiddler On The Roof

But I notice that no one is taking pictures of the sun in the middle of the day when Earth’s favorite fire ball is in mid arc. But that is where the magic happens.

It is not the beginning or the end that makes the difference. It is the missable middle. When the work is performed. When actions are taken. When time and effort and attention are invested. That’s where the wow of the day lives. It is where the stories of our lives, careers and relationships are formed. Unless you are a lady of the night, or a cat burglar. In which case, I am impressed that you also read blogs. Who knew.

Highlighting the sunrise and sunset is like focusing on the bookends on a bookshelf.  They may be pretty. But they are not the value. The value is on all the pages in the books in between. Be sure not to miss them. They are full of gold.

Key Takeaway

Don’t forget the middle. It is where all the difference is made.

An important spark on my entrepreneurial journey.

Today I am at the beach vacationing with my family. I am also working. This is the reality of entrepreneurship. When work needs to be done you do it. Even if you are at the beach. Even if it is your birthday. Even with a fox or in a box or wearing socks.

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The sunrise this morning from my balcony as I write this post.

The Night Shift

On Sunday night, Father’s Day Night, I worked until 2am. Late in the night when my family was asleep, and my keystrokes were the only noise in the hotel room, I was reminded of a story from 6 years ago.

Cathy Maas

In the spring of 2014, my great friend Cathy Maas contacted me. I worked with Cathy, who is everyone’s great friend, for several years at Engauge. She is an excellent brand planner. And by 2014 one of the world’s greatest food companies had snatched her up and made them their Director of Consumer Insights.

One of the brands Cathy worked on needed some strategic concepts written for an upcoming round of new product research work. I told Cathy I was happy to help. Although when I discovered the timeline I realized that the whole project would need to be completed while I was in Florida, on spring break with my family. I took on the project anyway.

The Taste Test

On that vacation, my family and I had fun each day on Marco Island (which was also one of Cathy’s favorite places). Then, each night after my wife and 3 small kids went to bed, I would fire up my laptop and work on my side project like Rumplestilskin.

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My babies on Marco Island back in 2014.

I loved everything about that project. I thought the work was fascinating. I loved feeling like I was the head of my own ad agency. Albeit an ad agency of one. And I loved that the money I was being paid for the project would pay for our family’s vacation.

Start Me Up

That experience lit a fire in me. It gave me a glimpse of how I could create an advertising agency, develop great work for great clients, and provide for my family without being someone else’s employee. The door had opened just a crack. But all I needed was that little crack. Kinda like Whitney Houston.

George Mort

At the end of my vacation, I had lunch with my snowmobiling buddy George Mort. George had moved from Wisconsin to Marco Island. I was inspired by my freelance experience, and I told George that I was seriously thinking of starting my own agency.

George is a wise guy. I don’t mean he’s a mobster or a dude who gives frankincense and myrrh to a newborn. But George is a genuinely wise guy. And I remember George’s response to my entrepreneurial plans like it was yesterday. He said matter-of-factly, ‘This is the time to do it. It’s now or never.’

It’s Go Time.

I knew George was right. So I got to work. And less than 18 months I had planned out my agency in detail and landed my first client.

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My family and George Mort at his home in Marco Island in 2014

Today

Six years after Cathy Maas sent that spark project my way, The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, is 4 years old. We have offices in Milwaukee and Columbus. I am working on vacation. And I couldn’t be happier. Over the past few days I’ve been swimming and boogie boarding and enjoying time with my family. I have also been working on clients based in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Dallas and Milwaukee. Because I chose now over never.

Thank You

Thank you Cathy Maas for providing a spark. My journey has been propelled by hundreds of important and inspirational events. But this one was special. It allowed me to see what the future might look like if I started my own agency. And today, that future looks exactly the way I thought it would back in March of 2014 during those late nights of work in a hotel room on Marco Island.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.

I am not sure I am a very good father.

If you are a dad, Father’s Day is a good day to give yourself a job review. And if recent events are any indicator, I am not doing a very good job.

On Friday, while running errands with my 14-year-old daughter Ava, I let the gas tank in my car get to 0 miles to empty before I went to a gas station. I thought that was fun and exciting. When we got home and Ava told my parenting partner what happened I was reminded that I was setting a bad example for our soon-to-be daughter driver. Oops.

Yesterday morning I woke all 3 of my kids up at 6am, on a Saturday, during the summer. Then I forced them to road-trip for 800 miles. Crossing through 7 different states. All while Covid-19 is still a real threat to real people.

I let them eat junk food, and drink Blue Mountain Dew that probably rotted their stomachs. I gave them unlimited access to their electronics, which probably rotted their brains.

I drove way too fast through winding mountain roads, causing my youngest to throw up on the side of the road at 10:30pm on Father’s Day Eve.

At 11:45 PM I got a call from the front desk of the hotel where we are staying. We had only been in our room for 30 minutes and already there had been a noise complaint. Despite a moderate amount of effort, I have not trained these kids how to be quiet when close to other humans.

Did I mention that I made all 5 of us stay in 1 hotel room with only 2 beds? Apparently that is less than the good fathering books say you need for 5 people.

My Dad

But yesterday I did take my kids to see a really great father. We saw my parents for the first time since November of 2019. My Dad made us a really good homemade lunch. It had fruits, vegetables, grains and meat. You know, the foods kids are supposed to eat.

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Dad, you have always been like a father to me.

He baked a strawberry-rhubarb crisp for dessert. We ate around a real dining room table. We talked and laughed and used napkins. We got a tour of his gardens and his yard projects. That guy is a doer. He makes me feel like a don’t-er by comparison.

Thanks Dad

Thanks Dad for being such a great Father. And even though I may not have turned out so well, you did a great job with my 3 sisters. And 3 out of 4 ain’t bad. Sorry. I meant isn’t bad.

I am not really me.

I am not really Me.

If you met Me today you wouldn’t know the real Me. Because the real Me lives in the future. And I have a clear vision of that guy in my head. And he’s nearly perfect.

If you met Me today you would only see a work in progress. You would see a construction site. An early sketch. A minimum viable product.

But I am continuously trying to close the gap between the real Me and the person you would find today. The real Me is in better shape. He is smarter. Better at connecting dots. And solving problems. He is kinder. He is a better father, husband, friend, son, neighbor, brother, entrepreneur, creative thinker, volunteer, and giver than I am today.

He has donated blood. And rescued a kitty from a tree. He can spin a basketball on his finger. He can solve a Rubiks Cube. He speaks Spanish. He can fold a fitted sheet as well as my wife. He is so rich that everybody wants him. Even Billy Squire. He uses his money to improve the world. He knows every step to every dance. And he looks good doing them.

I am gaining on the real Me a little every day. I read, exercise and listen. I am analyzing my mistakes and finding better models. I am asking questions. And questioning answers.

I am trying to contribute more than I take. I am finding a better frequency, Kenneth. And it seems to be working. Slowly but surely.

The Real You

I hope you are improving every day too. Like Elvis Costello. I hope the Real You, the Best You, is still to come. I hope you are closing the gap on the Real You every day. I hope you are spending more time looking at the horizon than the rearview mirror. I hope you are reading and exercising and learning and listening. I hope you are still wet clay. A minimum viable product, ready to become the Maximum You.

Key Takeaway

You’re not done yet. Not even close.

If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

 

 

Why a midweek crisis is so good for you.

I have a confession to make. I love Mondays. I dislike the term Hump Day. And I have disdain for the term Finally Friday. Although I dig the song by George Jones. Wait, I think that was 4 confessions.

Your Week Is Your Life

I believe that your workweek is not something to survive. It is your life. In fact, 71% of your time is non-weekend. Which means the workweek is not your enemy. It is your greatest asset. If you dread Mondays and finally feel good again on Fridays, you are doing it wrong. Bang a gong. Now it’s time to get it on.

Rethinking The Week

Think about each week as if it was your entire life. Start Mondays like a youngster. State your goals and plans for the week. Then get to work. If you accomplish your goals by Friday you can enjoy a happy retirement. Which in this case, is your weekend.

Monday

I have been using this simple life-week construct for most of my life. There are 3 keys to making this construct work. The first is a clear Monday plan. Knowing what you want to accomplish during your week is key to keeping you focused and progressing.

The importance of Monday is no surprise. Although in my perfect life-week construct I actually start the plan on Sunday night. Which is probably a bit like planning your life while you are still in the womb. Like Womba Thurman. Or Mr. Wombastic.

Work Like Boots

The 2nd key is putting in the work. You have to put in the focused effort to make strong progress towards your goals. Without putting in the focused work you are simply wishing for success. And if wishes were fishes we would all have a fry.

The Wednesday Breakdown

However, the third key to this approach is not so obvious. If you think of your week like your entire life, then Wednesday is not the day to celebrate getting over the humpty-hump. Wednesday is the day to have your midweek crisis.

Having a midweek crisis means having a legit concern that you are not where you thought you would be at the midpoint of the week. This will cause you to closely re-evaluate your plan for the rest of the week. It will force you to make important adjustments in your priorities and productivity. The crisis and refocusing will help make sure you reach the end of your week with the type of progress and accomplishment you set out to have.

The Go In Goals

Your goals are your guides. You can’t just set them and forget them. You must check in with them often. They should guide your daily and hourly actions. They must drive your priorities. They tell you what you must sacrifice and what your non-negotiables are. So set your goals every Monday (or Sunday night). Then every Wednesday you must refocus on what is most important in order to hit your targets by Fri-yay.

Key Takeaway 

If you want to be more productive every week, start thinking of your week like your entire life. Set your goals at the start of the week. Have a serious evaluation of your progress on Wednesday. Refocus your efforts. Use your time. And achieve all that you set out to. Your life is built week by week. Don’t let another one slip by waiting for Friday.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them by Wednesday.