If you want to develop as a creative thinker you have to color outside the lines. I don’t mean the way a young kid does when they have no sense of how to stop themselves when they get to a delineating line on a piece of paper.
What I mean is that creative thinking can not and should not be contained. To improve your creative thinking don’t simply create when and where you are told to create. Don’t create only when a teacher gives you a creative project. Don’t create only when a boss says they want you to help develop a new idea for the summer picnic (which was a fun event we used to have pre-covid, or what I am now calling PC).
As a creative thinker, you should create all the time, because you can’t help thinking, creating and making stuff. And we should all see ourselves as creative thinkers.
Since the initial covid lockdown back in March, I have written over 80 blog posts. I started an illustrated cartoon series called Kirky. I have written the manuscript for a book, which I am deep into the second draft of right now. I am working on bringing a new brand to life in my spare time with my son Magnus and friend Dan Koel. And I have been using Moleskin notebooks the way most people use mousetraps to catch my ideas and make sure they don’t get away.
I always ask people interviewing for creative jobs what they do creatively in their spare time. This isn’t just a curiosity. It helps me tell if you are a true creative thinker who can’t help but develop ideas and bring them to life. Or if you are someone who wants a fun job. But if they tell me they like to make furniture and lampshades out of human remains I know not to hire them. #SorryNotSorryEdGein
One of the women who freelances for The Weaponry (whom I hope to hire full time) is regularly sharing her extracurricular creative projects on social media. I love that. It shows me that she is really a creative thinker at her core. Those kinds of thinkers don’t have to be spurred into action. They can’t stop the thinking and the valuable actions that follow even if they wanted to. Those are the most valuable thinkers to have on your team. And they can’t be replaced by an app or a monkey, or automated by a machine. #JobSecurity
My great friend Betty Garrot, who lived across the street from me in Atlanta, is a Pediatrician by day. But Mrs. Dr. Garrot as we call her at our house, because her husband Crain is an Oncologist, paints a lot. Her home is full of beautiful paintings she has created of scenes she has witnessed around the world. But she paints so much that I expect she has a secret self-storage space stuffed full of paintings that she doesn’t have wall space for in her home. Betty is an amazing painter. But she rarely paints for money. Because it removes the joy of creating. Which is why she does it.
However, I have recognized that some people simply don’t know that they can think and act creatively when they aren’t asked to. They don’t realize that they can create their own assignments and deliver their own ideas.
So here is your reminder to create. Write, paint, photograph, draw, bake, cook, brew, garden, dance, make music, design, develop a business idea, host, decorate, or whatever you like to do to tap into and express your own ideas. Do it even if no one asks you to. Even if no one is watching. Even if you are not getting paid. Even if you are not great at it at first. Because it is great for your brain and your mental health.
When I visited Iceland several years ago I met a man named Sven (of course), who told me that Icelanders embrace the short and dark days of winter to engage in their creative activities. Now that we are to our short days and long nights in the Northern Hemisphere, I encourage you to do as the Icelanders do. And make the darkest days of the year the brightest days for thinking and creating.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
I don’t like rules. It’s not that I don’t like order. It is that I am wired to find the scenarios where the rules don’t work. I love discovering conditions where something other than the rule is better than the rule itself. And I especially love pointing out these exceptions in rule-heavy environments, like schools, libraries and school libraries. #stopshushingme
All the rules that have been suspended during the COVID-19 crisis have been interestingly satisfying to me. They are evidence that rules are not really rules. They are general agreements we make for now. And when a change in conditions warrants, those general agreements will be unmade. Because we will have entered into the rule-defying scenarios I love to think about.
Over the past 2 months there have been an endless parade of rule changes. Rules about schooling, business, the Olympics, start dates, end dates and requirements of all sorts. Rules about drug trials, telemedicine and sports. Even rules about rules. Which makes this a ruley, ruley interesting time.
Rules that prohibited employees from working from home went out the window when everyone was told they had to work from home. Rules about how long you can hold onto a library book, have changed. And church rules now say we can’t show up for Sunday morning service. Where was that rule when I was 12?
I knew we were getting into interesting territory when the tax rules changed. Paying taxes, once one of the 2 certainties of life, along with death, has been pushed off for several months. At the same time, criminals are not serving time for breaking rules that typically would put them behind bars. And speaking of bars, the crazy rule is no longer that you can’t smoke in a bar. It’s that you can’t drink in one either.
The closing of everything, and the extreme measures taken to combat the health and economic challenges of COVID-19 illustrate that rules can be changed whenever necessary to serve the greater good. So we must keep in mind that rules can also be regularly, and temporarily modified to serve the smaller, individual good.
Rules don’t rule. The people who make them do. And people can change the rules anytime to accommodate for unusual conditions. Which is a reminder for those of us who are charged with making and enforcing rules that we always have the flexibility to acknowledge the exceptions and respond appropriately, compassionately and creatively.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
There are a lot of activities you can’t do right now. In fact, most things outside your home that involve anyone other than a cashier, pharmacist, healthcare worker or delivery professional are currently off the table. At the same time, many of the hard working among us have been prohibited from working. Which creates another level of challenges.
Time to Think
When you can’t take action, the most valuable thing you can do is think. I have spent my entire career as a professional creative thinker. I’ve worked through thousands of business challenges of all sizes and shapes (except for a tiny rhombic dodecahedron). And the great solutions always come during times of deep, focused thinking.
And there is no place to think like the shower. It’s a perfect environment to relax, clear your head and do the type of thinking that makes a real difference. The type of thinking that solves problems, sparks valuable new ideas, and helps you rebalance again. All while controlling your dandruff. #multitasking
The Thinking Prescription
Find some time each day for a long hot shower.
Make sure there is no music or sound from a TV.
Shower by yourself. (Otherwise you’ll be thinking other thoughts.)
Relax. And think of what you can do right now. For yourself, your community, your clients, your family or friends.
Think about what you can do tomorrow.
Think of the opportunities.
Work through your work challenges
Think bigger than you think you should.
You’re sure to come out with a clear head and new ideas. Oh, and you’ll also be clean. And right now that’s more valuable than ever.
The 2 most valuable ingredients of success are strong actions and strong thinking. When you can’t act, think. It will help you solve problems and create a plan of action. Thinking unlocks doors. And it reminds you, in case you forgot, that you are still in control.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
When I was young I always loved editorial cartoons. They were like my favorite people, both funny and smart. I loved the very simple package they came in, which was usually just a frame or 2. But they packed a sharp commentary into a simple piece of intellectually humorous art. I felt like my brain was wired to enjoy those cartoons. The same way it is wired to enjoy chocolate milk, Zucker Brothers movies and videos of people falling down.
For many years I have thought about creating my own cartoon. I have had no shortage of ideas. It is time that I have been lacking. Then COVID-19 showed up on my doorstep, like Ed McMahon with a van, a bouquet of balloons and a mandate for us all to stay home. The lockdown caused by the corona cooties has enabled me to finally spend time exploring this passion project. #silverlining
On Friday I reached out to my great friend Dan Koel about the cartoon project. He was excited to explore it together. DK was my original art director partner at the ad agency Cramer Krasselt, where I first started my advertising career. Dan and I worked together for 10 years. And we have partnered on many side projects ever since, including the Adam & Sleeve t-shirt brand. Dan will drive the look for the project.
Dan and I have committed to making 66 Kirky Cartoons. Why 66? because behavioral research shows that by the time you have done something 66 times it becomes a habit. You are highly likely to perform a task automatically after that. So this will be an interesting creative experiment. As well as an experiment in human behavior.
When I wrote down the name The Weaponry as I was looking for a name for my advertising and idea agency, I instantly knew I had the name I was looking for. The same thing happened when I wrote down Kirky for this project. The name sound like a mix of kookie and quirky. Which are two of my favorite things.
But there is another reason for the name. Dan and I had a great friend named Kirk ‘Kirky’ McDonald. Spending time with Kirk was always a bright spot in the day. Kirk passed away in 2017 at the age of 43, after battling brain cancer for 2 decades. Now, Dan and I hope we can make Kirky a bright spot in the day for everyone who reads it.
Exploring like Dora
Below is an exploration Dan and I did for a March Madness idea. It seemed like we should get this one out while it is still March. We looked at this a few different ways.
Please help us with our research by letting us know which one you prefer: A, B, or C. This project will evolve and improve with your feedback. It take a village to raise an editorial cartoon. And we’ll take all the help we can get.
If you have a passion project you have always wanted to do, do it now. We all have a little additional time in our schedules. Take advantage of it. As Kirky taught me and Dan, life is short. Take advantage of the time you have. And make someone smile if you can.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
Halloween is packed with creativity. The holiday offers an annual creative outlet for adults and children alike. Costumes, decorations, and pumpkin carving all provide great opportunities to show off your imagination. I am always inspired by the ideas and executions I see at Halloween.
This Is Thriller
There is one epic stroke of creativity that re-emerges every Halloween that I have been awed by for the past 36 years. The Thriller Dance. Michael Jackson released the Thriller album in 1982. And In 1983 the music video to the title track was released as a 14- minute mega video, or short film, depending on whether you are more impressed by really long short things, or really short long things.
The video is creepy and totally engaging. There are 2 wowing surprises. The first comes when MJ transforms into a werewolf, which allows him to chop a tree down with his bare hand. The other comes 8 minutes and 30 seconds into the video, when the zombies break into the Thriller Dance.
The Thriller Dance
Thirty six years after its introduction I still see the Thriller dance performed every year at Halloween. But this year when I saw it, in the post-Leaving Neverland era, I wondered who actually choreographed the Thriller video. Thanks to the Googler machine, I didn’t wonder for long.
The Thriller dance was the brainchild of Michael Peters, the talented choreographer who also danced in the video as a zombie. Peters’ highly entertaining dance has not only stood the test of time, it is one of the worlds’ best known dances.
‘The Thriller dance is just so universal. The moves from the dance are so iconic that you can go anywhere in the world and people will recognize the moves immediately.’ – Amy Brinkman, Director of Education at Danceweorks
But if you know 80’s pop culture you know some of Michael Peters’ other work too. Not only did he choreograph Michael Jackson’s Beat It video, he was the dancing gang leader, dressed in all white, who was delivered to the gang fight via forklift. Because when you choreograph a dance fight you get to decide your own entrance. I imagine him talking through the steps in rehearsal like:
Peters also wore sunglasses despite the fact that the video takes place at night. Apparently Peters was inspired by the era’s Corey Hart, who also wore his sunglasses at night.
Peters staged the dance moves in Pat Benetar’s Love Is A Battlefield video. And Lionel Richie’s classic Hello video, where he teaches Richie’s blind date to dance.
Tony Tony Tony!
In 1982 Peters won a Tony Award for Best Choreography for the Broadway musical Dreamgirls. He also helped mold Angela Bassett into a Tina Tuner-type dancer for the movie What’s Love Got To Do With It. In fact, Basset became such a good dancer that Ike Turner thought about beating her too.
Michael Peters Lives On.
Michael Peters died of an AIDS related illness in L.A. at just 46-years old. But his work lives on. Especially in the Thriller dance. Thank you Michael Peters for adding to our annual Halloween celebrations. Thanks you for creating such iconic cultural art. And thanks for reminding us that if you want to be delivered to a dancing gang fight via forklift you have to script that yourself.
If you haven’t seen the Thriller dance yet this year, or just want to see it again, here it is.
I am a professional creative thinker. My job is to come up with ideas, and then bring those ideas to life. Which sounds easy, and fun. Which it is. But there is one major obstacle that often stands in the way of professional creatives: clients. You see, clients also have ideas. And their ideas are sometimes different than yours. And sometimes your clients’ ideas are good. Like, really good.
The Creative Conundrum
So what are you supposed to do when clients go all rogue on you and have their own ideas and opinions? After all, we are hired to be the idea people, right? Aren’t the clients supposed to listen to us? To trust us and our superior ideation abilities?
Learning From Experience
I have faced this issue a million brazilian fo-fillion times in my career. I have had to contend with client-generated ideas from the time I was a young copywriter until I opened The Weaponry, the advertising and idea agency I launched in 2016. With over 20 years of thinkering experience under my belt, I have found that there are 3 ways you can handle the client-creative idea clash.
The 3 Alternatives
1. Give Up. You don’t have to stand up for your ideas. In fact, agencies often surrender immediately when a client proclaims their own idea. Or asks for a change. Or sneezes. This is because there are a lot of people who don’t believe in their ideas enough to stand up for them.
I hate this. It devalues the original creative idea. Which should have been presented for a very good reason. (You did have a very good reason didn’t you?) By simply surrendering to your client’s idea you are suddenly just a production person on behalf of your client. Don’t be that guy. And don’t be that gal.
2. Don’t Budge. This is the option I encourage most professional creatives to choose. Stand your ground. Believe unwaveringly in your idea. Fall on your sword. In fact, I’ll throw you on your sword if you like.
The reason I want you to embrace this idea so strongly is because it is a fast way to lose clients. And I would love to slip in and pick up your clients as you are getting thrown out a second story window.
3. Find A New, Better Option. If the client isn’t fully satisfied with your idea or execution it is because they still have a perceived unmet need. They are offering an idea that helps meet that need or concern. Sometimes their suggestion will be perfect. And a good creative should recognize this. But if the solution isn’t perfect, keep exploring. The greatest creative solution is the one that accommodates for the dreams and desires of both the client and agency. (Dreams and Desires is also the title of the trashy romance novel I’m now inspired to write.)
Pushing for that perfect third option has 5 positive benefits.
1. It demonstrates that you want what is best for the project. And not just what the client requested.
2.It shows you are not simply married to your own idea. (Which also means no one gets to throw idea rice at your idea wedding.)
3. It certifies you as an avid problem solver. Clients love a partner who will push further to make everyone happy.
4.It strengthens your skills. It’s like adding more weight to the bar at the gym. Throw more challenges on the problem, add more constraints, and see if you can still Houdini out.
5.It reveals your work ethic. In the workplace your work ethic translates to character and trust and all manner of positive attributes.
Everyone loves a problem solver. This is true in business and in your personal life. But problem solving doesn’t mean giving up on your idea. And it doesn’t mean winning at all costs. It means finding a solution for every challenge. Always push for the win-win solution. Develop a reputation for helping everyone get to the best answer. It is the best way to get many more problems to solve.
If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
Last summer I got a very interesting call from a friend. She said she was conducting research for the University of Wisconsin Credit Union. And that following the research they would be looking for an agency partner, in Wisconsin, to help rebrand them. She began telling me how the UW Credit Union was a remarkable organization, with great people who delivered an excellent member experience. But I stopped her before she could finish. I said ‘Oh, I know all about the UW Credit Union.’
(To skip the fun back story you can scroll to the bottom, DVR-Style, to see the new work. But you will miss some interesting points and a giggle or two.)
Back In the Day (When I was raised I’m not a kid anymore…)
I am a proud University of Wisconsin Badger. On my 3rd day in Madison, my freshman year in college, I made what I thought would be a quick trip to the UW Credit Union near my dorm. But when I approached the UW Credit Union it seemed that all 43,000 UW students were already in line in front of me. The only other lines I ever saw that long in Madison were outside Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday mornings, and in front of the Kollege Klub on Saturday nights.
I joined what appeared to be the entire student body, and stood in the longest line of my life, holding all of the money I had ever earned. All to open my UW Credit Union checking and savings accounts.I thought this place must be special.
And it was.
You’re So Money, You Don’t Even Know You’re Money!
The UW Credit Union became my primary financial institution, and would be for the next 15 years. My first auto loan was with the UW Credit Union. I borrowed $3000, paid it off in 11 months, and felt like a financial baller. But in 2007 an exciting career opportunities came calling, and it was time for me to fly (…time for me to fly…). So I left America’s Dairy Land, and the domain of the UW Credit Union.
Leaving Wisconsin (The Wander Years)
I moved to Columbus, Ohio, and then on to Atlanta, working my way up to the title of Chief Creative Officer. Then in 2016 I launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, and moved back to Wisconsin to be closer to family. I had worked with several esteemed financial institutions, including Fifth Third Bank, Wells Fargo, and Huntington Bank along the way. And now I was hoping to put all of my financial experience to use with UW Credit Union.
My friend Sue Northey introduced me to UW Credit Union’s Chief Marketing Officer, Anne Norman via email. We decided to meet for lunch. But I was in Milwaukee, and Anne was in Madison.So we met in Johnson Creek, an Outlet Malltropolis located directly between Wisconsin’s two largest cities.
Anne and I met for lunch at Hi-Way Harry’s, which for the unfamiliar, is the Rainforest Cafe of Johnson Creek.We had instant rapport. Although I think Anne has instant rapport with everyone. We quickly realized we shared the same vision for how great the UW Credit Union brand could be. We began talking next steps. Which are always my favorite steps.
We put together a thorough proposal that was quickly approved. And we started to roll. We were about to strip the branding down to the studs, and reconsider everything. The logo, tagline, colors and personality would all be re-examined. When we were done we would create a look, language and personality that matched how great the UW Credit Union membership experience really was. Then we would create a fully integrated marketing campaign to bring the brand to life.
Assembling The Team.
My fellow Weapons, Simon ‘Sharper’ Harper, Kristyn’ K-Lil’ Lilley, Kevin ‘Lower’ Kayse and I met with the UW Credit Union’s marketing team, including Anne ’40-Under-40′ Norman, Justine ‘Happy Tears’ Kessler, April ‘Spring’ Laabs, Jocelyn ‘Let’s Ride’ Vande Velde, Becky ‘Shock Value’ Hubing, Jill ‘Rickert’ Rickert, Jill ‘Addy’ Addy, Andy ‘Hugs’ Schubert and Melissa ‘Everything Bagel’ Stapleton (because she does everything, not because she likes everything bagels).
We started by digesting all that had been gathered about the UW Credit Union. The research revealed some really important findings, including:
UW Credit Union is a very special place.
UW Credit Union members love their experience.
UW Credit Union invests time and energy in our members well before a bank would find any financial value in them.
UW Credit Union really cares about the communities it serves.
There was a common misperception that UW Credit Union was a starter bank. (Gasp!) Which is totes not true. But the strong and valuable association with the University of Wisconsin made people think it was a financial institution for college kids and recent graduates. They didn’t realize that UW Credit Union was an excellent financial institution for all ages and stages.
It was time to set the record straight.
We explored a wide range of taglines to summarize how we support our members from their teenage years through retirement. Life changes bring on different needs and opportunities. And at the UW Credit Union we want to help you no matter where you are on your financial journey.
The new tagline:
UW Credit Union. Here for every you.
We are Here, whenever you need us. Which talks to UW Credit Union’s customer service that made them Forbes #1 rated credit union in the state. We are also Here in Wisconsin, just like our members. It explains why we care about your community, your neighborhoods, and your causes. Because they are ours too. We love the emphasis on You, the member. Because as a credit union, we only exist to serve you and your needs. Every symbolizes our flexibility and ability to adapt as your needs change.
We wanted a logo that was cleaner, simpler and easier to use. We wanted a contemporary look. And we wanted to it give us an identity that was distinct from other UW-related organizations, including UW-Health and The UW System itself.
New UW Credit Union Logo
The logo highlights the first priority of the organization: you. By highlighting the U in the name in our flagship color, and making it of equal weight and importance to the name of our institution, we also convey our sense of responsibility to those we serve: You, our members. We also opted for a lower case ‘u’ because it felt more approachable, which is a distinguishing factor of the UW Credit Union. Also, we have taken the liberty to use ‘U’ and ‘You’ interchangeably. #creativelicence
With the new logo, tagline and brand standards in place, we began putting the new brand look to good use. We started creating all manner of new materials in a fully integrated program
First out of the gate are these NewBillboards.
There are also new print ads.
Here’s a radio script currently on air. I would attach the audio file, but I would have to upgrade my account to do that. And it’s too late at night to take on such monumental tasks.
At The UW Credit Union, we like to say we knew you way back when. When your only mode of transportation was the heel-toe express. When the only wheels you owned were connected to a pedal. We knew you when the only home you had ever considered buying was on a monopoly board. When your financial future was defined by the next pay check.We knew you when your family was still supporting you. It was then, when you greatest asset was your work ethic and a dream, that we first invested in you.The UW Credit Union. Here For Every You.
Credit Card Design
We then helped redesign the new UW Credit Cards. We turned the design on its head. Literally. Instead of the traditional horizontal design, we designed this card for the chip reader era, with a vertical orientation. To keep the design clean and simple we moved all the hard-working elements, including card holder name, number, contact info and legalese to the back of the card.
The new brand will also impact UW Credit Union branch design, television commercials, sponsorships, debit cards and more. But the member experience will remain as good as advertised. Because people love the UW Credit Union experience. And we have certainly loved working with this great brand and the great team behind it. We look forward to all there is to come.
Have you ever found yourself thinking there is nothing on TV? I have. But that is complete poppycock. Today, smart TVs enable you to watch cable, Youtube, Amazon Prime and Hulu on your television set. Not to mention every video ever uploaded to the inter-webs. The problem isn’t a lack of good programs. It is that there is so much programming that it is hard to sort through it all to find the good stuff.
4 Entertaining Shows That Will Stimulate Your Brainium.
At my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, we seek out thought-provoking Netflix programs to watch during our lunch hour. It’s part of our program to stimulate creative thinking. As we watch, we frequently hit the pause button to discuss the interesting, inspiring or provocative stories. The 4 latest shows we have watched have generated so much conversation on our team that I thought they would be worth sharing. So here they are, ranked from Wholesome to Holy Shiznit!
Walt: The Man Behind The Myth.
This family friendly program follows the improbable story of Walt Disney’s rise, from humble midwestern child, to the man who changed movies, TV, merchandising and amusement parks forever. Dick Van Dyke narrates the documentary, which features interviews and images that will make you admire Disney more than ever. It’s clean enough for the whole family to enjoy, yet provides a fascinating path for entrepreneurs and creative minds to emulate. I recently read Walt Disney by Neal Gabler, which is an outstanding book. But this 90 minute program covers much of the same story as the 851 page book. So, see it real soon.
2. Follow This
This Buzzfeed News production is exactly what the curious modern mind needs. It investigates interesting, if not obscure phenomenon in 20 minutes or less. It is like 60 Minutes for the next generation. Each episode follows BuzzFeed.News journalists on their journey to uncover a unique, untold story. Which means that viewers not only learn about the new topic, they learn how the reporter is learning about it too.
The topics are fascinating. From The dumping of Bird scooters across America, to video game addiction centers, to the ASMR video explosion. (I was surprised to discover my 13-year-old daughter knew all about ASMR. She was just as surprised to hear that I knew about it too.)
The series often covers topics I know little to nothing about. Which makes them all the more interesting. I can’t wait to see what they uncover next.
3. Slobby’s World
This is my current obsession. Slobby Robby is a true character who owns an 80s and 90s vintage store in Tuscon, Arizona. The store, Generation Cool, provides the backdrop for Slobby’s wheeling and dealing in old school sneakers, clothing, toys and so much more, bro!
3 reasons to love this show.
First, Slobby Robby is over the top. From his ridiculous clothing, to his insane hair, to his hilarious language, he is a character for the ages. I wish I had made him up. I can’t tell if he is channeling Chris Farley, or if Chris Farley was channeling him
Second. The things he buys, sells and trades are fascinating. If you spent any part of your life in the 80s or 90s this show is likely to bring back some memories of the way we were (sing that line like Barbara Streisand).
Third: Slobby Robby is a shrewd business man. Under all of his loud and clowny exterior (which I love) is a man who really knows his business inside and out. He knows how to find the goods to sell. He understands the true market value of another man’s junk (no, not that kind of junk). And he knows how to offer great customer experience, which keeps people coming back.
4. The American Meme
Wow! This show is crayer than Crayola Crayons. The 90 minute documentary takes an in-depth look at the phenomenon of internet-famous celebrities, who have achieved celebrity status despite a lack of traditional talents. This all-access look at publicity fiends, including Paris Hilton, The Fat Jew, DJ Khalid, Kirill (The Slut Whisperer) and Bethany Furlan, shows the upside, and dark downside to social media-borne fame. I loved this. And if weren’t for all of the swearing, dildos and boobs I would make my kids watch it to understand that if you try to dance with this type of fame you will get burned.
There is a lot of great programing available today. Much if it is good and stimulating for your brain. I hope you enjoy these 4 shows. If you have been watching something that has really made you think, please share. I am always looking for a good excuse to spend more time on my couch.
One of my goals for 2019 is to push things further. I have always been fascinated with limitations, and what it takes to move beyond them. We are capable of far more than we realize. And if we don’t flirt with the limitations of our minds, muscles and machines we will never know what is truly possible. And suddenly, I’m hoping my kids are not reading this.
I find great pleasure in discovering the outer boundaries. I have driven my cars out of gas, just to know where the true limit is. For those of you afraid to experiment with a fume-y gas tank, they can go farther than the gauges advertise. Knowing the true limitations helps you recalibrate, and know what your real options are.
My Junior year in high school I pushed my automitve limits and got into a single car accident. Late one night I was speeding way too fast and lost control of my Ford Escort on a dirt road. I flew off a 10-foot embankment, hit a tree in mid-air and landed on the passenger side of the car. When I came to a violent stop, I was staring at a herd of cows who were staring back at me as if a UFO had just landed in their pasture. And we all know cows and UFOs don’t mix.
The fascinating reward of losing control of your car is that you discover where the limit of control is. And that is a valuable asset the rest of your life. What’s more, I walked away from the accident without a scratch. And the next day in my track and field meet, I broke a 25-year-old conference record in the discus, and set my new personal record. (#TwoFer) My Escort was tougher than I would have ever imagined too. I never had it repaired, and drove it for another 7 years.
Salvador Dali, the famous surrealist, was known for pushing his art into strange, new and bizarre realms. When people told Salvador Dali he had gone too far he would respond:
It’s the only place I have ever wanted to go. -Salvador Dali
I love this quote. By pushing to the far reaches of his imagination, Dali created artwork like the world had never seen. In 2016, Dali’s Painting, Portrait De Paul Eluard, sold for $22,000,000. Had he not gone too far it is likely that we would have never known Dali’s name, or his melted clocks, or his redonculous stache.
At The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, I often ask our team to take things too far. Find the breaking point in a concept, design, or layout. Find how many words is too few. Find the edge of good taste or credibility by pushing beyond it. Because you don’t really know where the limits are until you have bumped up against them. Or better yet, until you have moved beyond them. This is true in the physical, mental and emotional world. It is true in business, art, science, athletics, fashion, medicine, travel and humor. We must push the limits to explore, innovate and discover.
This year, go too far. Find the edges and boundaries. Find out what you are really capable of. And where things really fall apart. It may be much farther out than you thought. And discovering where the true limitations are, or are not, may be the most valuable thing you do in 2019. Unless you are my kids. In which case, keep the grape juice off the carpet like your Mom said.
For much of my life the Christmas Card Season was a highlight of my year. I loved going to the mailbox to see it stuffed full of cards from friends and family all over the country. The cards typically came with beautiful or funny photographs and a written update offering highlights from the year for each member of the family. It was reassuring to know that the people I hadn’t heard from in the past 12 months were still not dead.
The Christmas Card, and its blue-collar brother, the letter, used to be the only technologies that allowed us to share pictures and status updates with our family, professional network and social circles. The people you exchanged cards with defined your social group. Being on someone elses Christmas card distribution list meant that your relationship was worth at least the cost of a card, an envelope and a stamp.
The Year That Changed Everything
Today things are different. The change began in 2007 with the introduction of two new technologies that were invented to kill the Christmas card: Facebook and the iPhone. Facebook’s expansion beyond the college crowd that year meant that old people, like Gen Xers (and whoever was born before them) could suddenly be reunited, online, with people they hadn’t seen or heard from since high school. This was a crazy time. I was in my 30s, and I was suddenly reunited, online, with people I had completely forgotten even existed. Like my Grandparents.
Leapfrogging The Polaroid
The newly invented iPhone was actually not a smart phone as initially reported. It was a wicked smart camera. It enabled us to instantly capture and view photographs without the help of a darkroom or a teenage Walgreens associate. Even better, these super cameras enabled us to instantly share pictures with our friends and family via text, email, and Facebook. Later we added Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and LinkedIn to the distribution list.
Dear Letter, I found someone new.
And about that thoughtful letter we used to write, summarizing the recent year. It has been castrated by technology. There is no power left in an end of year letter in an era when social media allows us to know what our elementary school friends had for dinner last night.
I am an active social media follower. So I know about that recent recital, the restaurant you went to last weekend and that tournament that your child’s team won. I already know about the 3rd person you are dating since the divorce. I know that the Christmas tree tipped over when you put that last ornament on it. (Wait, that was me. And who puts another ornament on a tree that has already tipped over?)
Where do we go? (Oh oh, where we do we go now?)
Does this mean it is time to put the Christmas card to bed? No. Not necessarily. But it does mean that it is time for us to reinvent it. Maybe this means we get back to writing about our personal connection and the memories we share with each individual on our list, instead of mass mailing pics and updates that the recipient already knows.
This also presents a business opportunity to invent a more relevant holiday correspondence. Maybe a Mad Lib type technology that enables us to send personalized digital cards, highlighting the experiences we shared with each recipient. Maybe we use facial recognition software, time stamps and geo tags to effortlessly create cards that show our people when and where we interacted with them throughout the year. And maybe we video chat, or hologram ourselves to sing Christmas carols together on Christmas Eve-Eve.
Since 2007, my family has created a year-in-review video using the best of our digital photography to tell the story of all the things we did, places we went and people we saw. We set it to music, and shared with our friends and family on New Year’s Day, via Vimeo link. Technology makes this so easy that the hardest part is simply deciding which pics to cut out.
The Grand Consolation
If receiving fewer cards each year saddens you, don’t let it. The traditional Christmas card era was a great one. We will always have those memories. But it is better to be in touch with our friends, family and professional network more often. It’s great to see photos of our siblings, cousins, childhood friends, former clients and coworkers on a regular basis. The real-time nature of social media allows us to celebrate the successes when they happen. And support each other as we go through tough times, instead of hearing about them months later.
Just like the newspaper and the horse and buggy, the Christmas card ain’t what it used to be. But these are better, more connected times. We have upgraded to more frequent exchanges of pictures and updates. Even better, technology now allows us to instantly respond to them with real, private conversation through social media apps, or that smart phone that makes it all possible. This is progress. This makes for a better world, year round. Which adds happiness into our lives every day. Not just at the holidays.
Note: The Albrechts are not pulling the plug on our Christmas cards yet. If you are still sending us one, you will still get one in return.