A little creative inspiration for us all from the US Postal Service.

Last week I needed to mail a check. Yes, this sometimes still happens. I went to the drawer where our mailing paraphernalia lives and pulled out a sheet of stamps. And I paused. I was struck by just how artful, detailed and interesting the stamps were. Then my wife Dawn said, ‘Don’t use those. I bought those for Johann.’ (My son Johann is really into trains, as you can read about in Never Be Afraid To Ask For What You Want.)

The stamps that got me thinking.

As I examined the stamps in our Stampatorium, spending far more time engaging with them than I ever imagined I would, I realized the US Postal Service could teach a master class on creativity. Because they infused massive creativity into a space that required none.

These are current US Postal stamps, as of this posting. How cool are these? I mean, it’s the sun, and the sun is super hot. But the design and idea are way cool.

The Stamp

The postal stamp has no reason to be cool or interesting. After all, its only job is to tell the Postal Service that the delivery fee has been paid. It could simply say PAID, and it would have met the minimum requirement. Heck, it doesn’t even need to do that. It could be a black square that you put on your white envelope and that would serve as a signal that the fee had been paid.

America’s first stamp from 1847. I think that is the guy from the Ben Franklin Stores. Although it looks like one of the guys from the 80s Hair Band Reunion Tour, who is now in his 80s.

Pushing The Envelope

Instead, the US Postal Service has created an endless parade of tiny works of art to adorn our envelopes. They are ever-changing, covering every season, every category of honor and commemoration you can think of. And plenty that you would never have thought of. But don’t worry, the Director of Stampology at the USPS has spent a lot of time thinking about it for you.

Some Super Stamps

As a result, stamps not only are interesting to look at, they often tell an interesting story, or teach a valuable lesson, within the bounds of a one-inch square. In fact, they do such a great job, that people collect them, trade them and sell them. In fact, my head high school track coach, Tom Jennings, had an entire business selling stamps, that all started with a stamp collection he had when he was a kid. And the only reason a kid starts collecting stamps is that stamps are cool and collectible.

Why Hello Stamp!

The Big Question

The postal service saw an opportunity to turn a tiny, forgettable touchpoint into their hallmark. Which should inspire all of us to ask:

Which touchpoints could I turn into differentiators or signatures for my business or personal brand?

As the postal service has shown us, anything can become a signature element of our brand. Just look around. Find the most boring element within your brand, or within your personal ecosystem, and do something interesting and differentiating.

Beautify America though stamps and plants.

My Calling Card

Can’t think of anything? Call me at 614-256-2850. If I don’t pick up you’ll get my voicemail greeting which always has a non traditional message. In fact, people often text me and tell me they are about to call just to hear my voicemail greeting. Which means people call me who don’t even want to talk to me because I have made something boring interesting. You can do that too.

Key Takeaway

Find your special thing. The thing that didn’t have to be special. That usually isn’t. But that you made special. That thing will not only add joy, intrigue, or interest to others, it will make you more memorable.Which means that when opportunities come along, you will be thought of first.

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

Are you offering others promises of what you can do, or proof?

Winning new business is exciting. It means you convinced a customer or client to take a chance on you. (Like ABBA said.) But at this point, you are selling the promise of what you can do for them. Because in the beginning, the promise is all you’ve got.

The best moment in business is when a customer or client comes back for the second helping. Because this time it is not because of a promise you made them. It is because of the proof you gave them. (It’s in the pudding.)

The first transaction is based on your promise. The second is based on your proof.

The first engagement is based on hope. The second engagement is based on expectations met. Businesses live and die based on met expectations. Which is why repeat business is so important. It is the lag indicator that you are offering value and a positive experience.

If you track just one measurement on your way to success it should be repeat purchases. It is the pass-fail measure of long-term success. Because without repeat purchasers, you will run out of new prospects. And your business will be all grind, and no bump.

Recent History

Last week I had two great repeat experiences.

First, The Weaponry, the advertising and idea agency I lead, got a call from one of our first-time clients. We were almost done building a website for this client, and they called to tell us they want us to take on another website build for another division of their business.

Second, we had our first creative presentation to another new client. At the end of the presentation, The Boss Man told us he wanted us to work with their procurement team to get set up as an official, long-term supplier. Boom!

These second projects came because we lived up to expectations. We passed an important test. We weren’t one and done, like a University of Kentucky freshman basketball player. Which means we are running a sustainable business.

A Personal Note

The same principle holds true in your personal life. You get a first shot at relationships, opportunities, and trust based on the promise of delivering the goods. The second shot comes because you proved you were worthy the first time. Keep delivering and good things just keep coming your way.

Key Takeaway

Winning new business is simply an opportunity to prove what you can do. It is where the hard work begins. Make sure to deliver on the promises you made to that first-time customer. Because when you do, they’ll come back for more. And businesses only thrive if happy customers keep coming back for more.

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

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The secret to success summarized in just 11 words.

If you want to be successful in life there are no shortcuts. But there is a short formula for success that is easy to remember. Because it rhymes, like LeAnn and Buster.

Here it is:

Early to bed. Early to rise. Work like hell. And advertise.

-No One Really Knows Who Said It First

It’s a simple statement. Just 11 words. And 4 periods. Like a hockey game that goes into overtime. But it is dense in value.

Early to bed. It’s a reminder to get plenty of sleep. If you want to accomplish great things you’re going to need all the energy you can get. Your bed is your recharging station. So treat yourself the way you treat your smartphone, and make sure you get recharged to full power every night.

Early to rise. Getting up early is the best way to make the most of your day. Waking up early gives you bonus time to get more elective work in before the mandatories of the day. Remember, it is your elective activities (exercising, reading, studying, writing, practicing, preparing, volunteering, etc.) that separate you from the masses. By that, I mean the general population, not the church services.

Work like hell. Work creates value. The more you work the more value you create. The more value you create the more you are compensated. Note: the compensation goes far beyond money. Note Note: the compensation also includes money. #AwYeah!

And Advertise. To maximize your positive impact on the world people need to know you exist. You need to be top of mind. When you are top of mind more great things come your way. You need to share the word about your capabilities and willingness to help. Adverting helps people connect their dots to you. It helps others solve their problems with your help. Which makes you more valuable to the world.

Key Takeaway

Start each day early to accomplish as much as you can. Put in as much work as you can. Because we exchange work for gold (gold metals and medals, gold moments, gold relationships, etc.) Let people know who you are and how you can help them. Because the world is full of challenges that you can help overcome. Then get to bed early to rest up and get the most out of tomorrow too.

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

To be your best always be wet clay.

Throughout your childhood, you are wet clay. Moldable, impressionable, flexible. Capable of becoming anything. Sometimes a mess. But always ready for change and improvement. And always ready for your big scene with Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze.

Most people remain wet clay throughout their schooling. And into the beginning of their careers.

Then people separate into 2 groups.

  1. Those who dry and (James) harden. (Either they throw themselves into the kiln or are simply left out to dry.)
  2. Those who continue to evolve.

Key Takeaway

Don’t harden. Remain wet clay. Remember that you are not finished until you are dead, or give up. Keep growing, learning and improving. Keep working towards those goals you set when you still felt like wet clay. Because you are wet clay as long as you think you are.

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

5 Motivational reads for the day after Labor Day.

The day after Labor Day is one of my favorite days of the year. It’s not because people stop wearing white pants. I love me some white jeans, and I usually break them out this week when everyone else’s white pants start smelling mothbally.

I love this day because it is the real start to the new year. When I first started school, Labor Day was the kickoff. The same was true for fall sports. Which makes now a natural time to start your own year.

Today, offices return to full strength after being down players throughout the summer. And from today until Thanksgiving, pumpkin spice joins the realm of gold, frankincense and myrrh the way Neil Young joined Crosby, Stills and Nash. (Side note: Did you know Neil Young is now married to Daryl Hannah? How weird is that?)

If you need a little motivation to kick off your best year ever here are a few timely reads I suggest checking out.

5 Motivational Post-Labor Day Reads

  1. Why September 3rd is the real New Year’s Day.
  2. Why September 6th is the most important day of the year.
  3. Right after Labor Day is the best time for all professionals to do this.
  4. Two questions to refocus your career every Labor Day.
  5. Why there has never been a better time to wear white.

Have a great day! Have a great year! And keep rocking those white pants.

How to use the power of unhappiness as motivational fuel.

The more of life that I experience the more I realize that my happiness is fueled in large part by my unhappiness. It feels dumb to write such a thing. But it is absolutely true.

Here’s how it works.

  1. I have a vision for who I am, and what my life is like.
  2. Everything that is already aligned with that makes me happy.
  3. All the areas where I fall short of my vision make me unhappy.

The unhappiness is a combination of unsatisfied, disappointed, frustrated, and embarrassed. However, that unhappiness is where my motivation comes from.

Family And Friends

In my head, I see myself as a great parent, husband, friend, and family member. But in reality, I am not always great at those roles. Certainly not as great as I want to be. I’m not as level-headed or as patient with my kids as I would like. I am not always as supportive or responsible as a husband-partner as I should be. I’m not always the kind of friend who walks in when the world walks out, or whatever the cross stitch about friendship in your grandma’s bathroom says. And I am unhappy about all of this.

Business

As an entrepreneur, I experience a lot of unhappiness. Because I have significant goals and expectations of my business. And I have high expectations of myself as the leader of the business. But if it all came to an end tomorrow I would be massively disappointed that me and my businesses didn’t accomplish more. Which is how the first kid tossed out at the National Spelling Bee must feel.

However, that unhappiness I experience, which stems from my personal and professional shortcomings, drives me to work, grow and improve. That drive is a huge source of happiness for me.

  • The work makes me happy.
  • Growth makes me happy.
  • Improvement makes me happy.
  • Hitting new milestones makes me happy.
  • Contributing the way I expect to in my relationships makes me happy.
  • Clapping along, and feeling like a room without a roof makes me happy.

Getting To It

Getting up at 6am to get back to work makes me happy. (It is currently 6:55am and I am about to finish writing my second blog post of the day.) Every step forward makes me happy. Executing the plan makes me happy. Laying the groundwork makes me happy. And watching Adam Sandler golf movies makes me happy. Especially when he fights Bob Barker. #ThePriceIsWrong

I recognize that I don’t have to be at the destination to be happy. Traveling there does the trick. Building, growing, and progressing are highly rewarding. As long as I am on the right path and moving in the right direction I get a little happier every day.

Key Takeaway

Your unhappiness is a great navigational tool to lead you to happiness. Determine the source of your unhappiness and you will know the direction to travel to find what you are after. Lose weight, get in shape, start that thang you always wanted to start. Do more. Strengthen your weaknesses. Become the person you always wanted to be. Those things can lead to a lot of happiness. Unhappiness is simply point A. Let it motivate you to get to point B.

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

To grow your business you have to find great customers yourself.

I get a boatload of emails, calls, and LinkedIn requests from strangers who are trying to sell to me. Most of them want to help me generate more business leads for The Weaponry, an advertising and idea agency that I lead.

It is crazy how many people want to help me with this. It is as if they all looked at my demographic information alone and want to sell me a hair growth tonic. But if you knew me, or ever looked at my LinkedIn profile pic, you would know I may have problems, but growing hair is not one of them.

The sales promises are often quantified. They say they will deliver hundreds or thousands of qualified leads per month. To the uninitiated, unsuccessful, lazy or naive this must sound amazing.

But business growth and development doesn’t work that way. Qualified leads and prospects are not a commodity. You can’t outsource them to a stranger. The type of clients or customers you want to work with are not like crops in a field. You can’t simply run a harvester through them, load them into a wagon and sell them on the open market.

Prospective customers and clients are not all created equal. The valuable ones come from relationships, connections, and conversations. From shared philosophies and values. You and your team should find the right ones for you. Then earn their trust. Develop a mutual attraction. And decide you are right for each other.

For a stranger to spam* me and tell me that they can find me a steady supply of qualified leads is like telling me that they can find me more friends. ‘We’ll dump a list of friends on you. You’ll really like them and they will like you too.’ But it doesn’t work that way. That’s a job we have to do ourselves.

*No offense to Spam, the innovative meat. If a stranger offered me some fried Spam for breakfast we would be friends for life.

Key Takeaway

Earn your own customers and clients. Create systems and processes to find them. Develop relationships. Keep your promises. Deliver results. Create a core of happy customers that spread the word about you. That never fails.

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

A great way to prepare for your next networking opportunity.

I made plans last week to meet an interesting new person. My friend and client Bethany Grabher recently introduced me via email to DJ Shawna. Not only is DJ Shawna the official DJ for the NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks, she was also selected to DJ at the NBA bubble in Orlando during the 2020 playoffs. But before all that, she played basketball for the University of Wisconsin Badgers. And the Badgers are my favorite (along with smiling).

To prepare for our in-person meeting DJ Shawna and I connected on both LinkedIn and on Instagram. Those platforms are great resources to get to know someone before you meet them in person. (Unless the person is deep into IG filters.) But DJ Shawna also taught me that you can use these vehicles to set the tone for your in-person meeting.

A couple of days before we were scheduled to meet up I posted my Key Takeaway from a recent blog post on my Instagram Story. (You can regularly catch the key takeaway from my blog posts at @adamalbrecht on IG. Also, check out the Silly Highlight.) Not long after I shared the Key Takeaway DJ Shawna responded to it with the following comment:

I can already tell we are going to be friends.

-DJ Shawna

I found myself thinking about that response a lot. It may have seemed like a simple pleasantry to others. And maybe it is the kind of statement that women share easily. But to me, it felt profound. Because it communicated the following:

  1. I’m researching you too.
  2. I like what you wrote.
  3. We value the same things.
  4. I like positive thinking.
  5. I like positive people.
  6. You have already passed my test.
  7. I’m interested in becoming your friend.
  8. I can read. (This was actually my first takeaway.)

That simple statement changed the nature of our meetup. Instead of going to meet a stranger for a networking coffee, I felt like I was going to meet a friend for the first time. Which is the friend version of meeting a relative for the first time. The relationship is already established. It is simply a matter of bringing reality to life.

As DJ Shawna and I were enjoying some Rocket Fuel downtown Milwaukee we ran into friend and fellow Badger Ben Brust, who captained Wisconsin’s 2014 Final Four basketball team and now hosts the Scalzo and Brust Show on ESPN radio. Go Badgers!

Side Note.

I noticed that being a DJ is like being a doctor. It’s fun to add DJ before the name of a DJ to distinguish them from other regular people without the need for a last name. However, Shawna does have a last name. Her birth certificate calls her Shawna Nicols. (I actually haven’t seen her birth certificate so I’m just guessing at that using the information I have.)

Key Takeaway

If in the process of researching someone before you meet them in person, don’t be afraid to let them know that you think you are going to be friends. Or that you have a lot in common. Or that you find them interesting, fascinating or impressive. It sets the tone for a positive in-person introduction. Because when relationships start well, they tend to go well, last longer, and run deeper. And if you like that, I think we are going to be friends.

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

Entrepreneurship taught me I can create my own friend groups.

When I was in high school I was part of a few natural groups. I played football and felt like part of the team. I participated in track & field and I felt like I was part of that team too. The track team was far bigger and was co-ed. Which was cool. Both teams offered me a great sense of belonging and contributed to my identity. Although I discovered neither was an acceptable form of identity for the TSA or for most college bars.

College

When I attended the University of Wisconsin I continued my track and field career. The track team gave me a sense of belonging to a special group. It hit that Goldilocks sweet spot of being bigger than I was alone, which is key, but much smaller than the full student population at UW Madison of 43,000. The track team gave me a social group, an identity, and a support system that prevented me from ever feeling lost in the sea of studentia.

This was the 1995 Big 10 Championship team. We won again in 1996. And yes, we did have color photography back then. Just not colored media guides.

Work Work Work Work Work Like Rihanna.

After college, I joined the workforce. I felt a sense of belonging at each of the advertising agencies that employed me. Those included Cramer Krasselt, Engauge, and Moxie. Interestingly, I also felt a sense of belonging within many of my clients’ organizations. I’m not sure if that was a result of my strong personal relationships or my delusional thinking.

Coworker friends from NYC, Columbus, Pittsburgh and Atlanta.

Entrepreneurship

When I started my own advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I felt an extreme sense of belonging. Because I created the agency itself, the organization was born with a place for me. But thanks to Thomas Edison, this created a lightbulb moment for me.

The Weaponry Friends.

What happened as a result of creating The Weaponry was that I realized that I had the power to create my own groups to be part of. So I started reforming social groups from my past that had disbanded because of the time and space continuum.

Getting The Band Back Together

I started with my original peer groups. I helped re-organize my high school football team. I helped pull together the guys from my class who played together. We now have a text group that chirps regularly with hilarity. We have Zoom calls to catch up. Thanks to our re-strengthened connections, we make real efforts to connect in person whenever we can. In fact, I have seen 6 of the guys in person this summer alone. (By alone I mean just during the summer. We weren’t alone. We were actually together.)

I helped my high school class get together via Zoom in February and in person in July.

Like adding water to orange juice concentrate, I also helped reconstitute my college track team. We now gather every couple of months on Zoom. Those relationships were a huge help in 2020 as we navigated health, financial, racial, and political craziness. Our team offered a trusted and safe space for a diverse family of brothers to discuss important but sensitive topics. We are also jonesing to gather again in person once our latest health crisis is behind us. (Oh, you didn’t know we had a health crisis?)

New Kids On The Block

However, I didn’t simply reform groups I had been part of in the past. I envisioned groups I wished existed. Then I started to create them too. Today, I regularly think about new and nuanced groups to create. Just as a chef considers recipes with new and novel combinations of ingredients, I think about how various people would form an interesting new social group. Then I make it happen. You can do it too. It’s easier and more rewarding than you think.

An original collection of former UW Badger varsity athletes.

Key Takeaway

Social groups are human creations. So create and maintain the groups you want to be part of. If you envision a great new group of humans, make it happen. If you want to recreate a group from the past, reform it. You will be surprised at how interested others are in being included in a social group, new or old. Most people simply don’t know they have the power to make it happen. Now you do.

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

Prepare to turn your opportunities into inflection points.

All of the good things that have happened in my life have a common theme. They happened because I prepared to take advantage of an opportunity point. Which means I put in work or research before an important moment. Like a Boy Scout would do. Although I was never a Boy Scout. I heard the Be Prepared motto and felt I got the gist of it.

When my big moments came, I drew on the work or the research I had performed to maximize the opportunities. I performed impressively. I made a strong impression. I drove a result. I became memorable for being prepared, capable, smart, insightful, knowledgable, interesting, thoughtful, or resourceful. Then, I was able to cash in my preparation for rewards. Just like you cash in your tickets for prizes at Chuck E Cheese.

Opportunity Points

Make sure you know what your opportunity points are. Here are a few examples:

  • Competitions
  • Meetings
  • Job interviews
  • Sales calls
  • Tests
  • Dates
  • Sorority rush
  • Meetups
  • Performances
  • Parties
  • Introductions
  • Tradeshows
  • Seminars
  • Auditions
  • Conferences
  • Social media encounters
  • America’s Got Idols

Preparation allows you to convert an opportunity point into an inflection point. A point where things change for you. A new door opens. An angle of growth steepens. The trajectory of your life alters in a positive way. Suddenly, people want more of your time. Which means the value of your time goes up too.

How to capitalize on your opportunities.

To turn your opportunities into inflection points try the following approach:

  1. Look at your calendar. (You do have a calendar, right?)
  2. Identify the opportunity points. (They are everywhere.)
  3. Determine what you could do today, and each day before the event to be best prepared to make that event a moment of inflection. (Start with researching all you can about the people and the topic you will encounter. Don’t be afraid to stalk. That’s how I found my wife. Training and practice are also important.)
  4. Do the prep work you determined would be beneficial. (It is not enough to know what you should do. You gotsta do it for realzies.)
  5. Convert preparation into performance. (Boom!)
  6. Make the most of your moment. (Like in that Eminem song about spaghetti.)
  7. Come out the other side on a new trajectory.

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

-Maybe Seneca (But maybe someone else. They can’t find any credible witnesses.)

Key Takeaway

Every week we encounter dozens of opportunity points. Once you recognize them you can prepare for them. That preparation allows you to capitalize on the opportunity. Sometimes the rewards are small and grow over time. Sometimes the rewards hit in major ways that alter your life path immediately. But if you don’t prepare it is as if the opportunity wasn’t even there. Don’t let that happen.

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