You have perfected the old way. Now what?

I have spent the last few days speaking to smart people at a giant trade show in Las Vegas. Just as the World Health Organization recommended that we should all hole up in our closets for 2 weeks, I decided to hangout with 100,000 trade show attendees in Sin City. #RollingTheDice

CONEXPO

CONEXPO, the mammoth construction industry show, is the largest trade show in the history of my personal trade show experience. It is like the construction industry’s Super Bowl. Only without the extravagant halftime show. Or football.

Why Are You Here?

My advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry works with CONEXPO in a super secret capacity that I can not disclose. Yet. But as part of our work, yesterday I talked to people about why they come to the show. One particular attendee I talked to had a very simple way of summarizing why he comes. He said:

‘We have the old way of doing things down. We need to find the new way.’ -CONEXPO Attendee

I love this idea.

Out with the old.

It is really easy to master a way of doing things, and think that you can simply repeat that process, technique or approach for the rest of your days. But if you do, you will stop growing. You will stop improving. You will stop learning. And you will forfeit your competitive advantage to those who continue looking for the new way. The better way. The faster, easier and more profitable way.

Grow, Grow, Grow Your Boat.

Always be growing. Technology and innovation are continuously improving. The fact that we can instantly exchange information and cat videos across the globe means that we have unprecedented access to new information and ideas to help you improve virtually everything you can think of. Including your thinking.

New And Improved!

I worked in the advertising industry for 19 years before I started my own agency. But from day one, the technology and applications we implemented at The Weaponry were completely different than those I had previously used. Because we did our homework, and found new, smarter ways to perform our work. And to collaborate with our teammates and partners.

Today, as we close in our 4th birthday, we are challenging assumptions. We are open minded, and ready to advance as soon as the advancements are ready to be taken advantage of. And you should be too.

Key Takeaway

Once you have mastered the old way, start looking for the new way. Always be learning, growing and improving. Embrace change. Put innovation and advancements to work for you. They provide a competitive advantage. And if you don’t utilize them, your competition will.

Oh, and if you see me at CONEXPO, or out enjoying Las Vegas tonight, please stop by and say hi. Or bump my elbow with yours. Or point and smile. Just don’t shake hands. That’s the old way. Before the coronavirus inspired, new, smarter, safer techniques.

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

My daughter thinks I am lucky to have such a cool job. But she is wrong.

Yesterday my daughter Ava had a basketball tournament 90 minutes from home. Ava and I enjoyed some daddy-daughter time as we drove to and from the tournament together. We always talk a lot on our drives. Our conversation yesterday included such random topics as:

  • Top 3 cities in the US you would want to live in someday
  • How to become a songwriter
  • How old you have to be to join the CIA
  • Elbows to the throat
  • Billy Eilish
  • Basketball moves that work
  • How Silicon Valley became a thing
  • Hair tossing and checking my nails
  • Honors Geometry terms (we studied for her quiz together)
  • How the championship medals they won glow in the dark
  • What is the 3rd Jonas Brother’s name (It’s Kevin)

Entrepreneurship

We also talked about my work. When I started The Weaponry, my advertising and ideas agency, I also started this blog to share what I learned on my entrepreneurial journey. This is the 382nd post. So I must be learning something. But I don’t just blog about what I am learning. I try to teach my children as much as they can absorb. And maybe just a little more.

Recent Updates

I told Ava about some of the projects I am working on. I told her about work travel that I have coming up to Los Angeles, Las Vegas and potentially Orlando. I gave her an update on some of the things I just did on trips to Dallas and San Antonio.

Then she said something that really struck me. She said,

‘Dad, you are so lucky. You have the coolest job.’ -Ava Albrecht (14)

I smiled, and told Ava that my entire advertising career has been filled with cool opportunities and experiences. But the thing worth noting now is that I created my own job. I started my own business. All of the cool things I get to do now were not offered to me by an employer. I didn’t find this job like you find a 4-leaf clover. I created the opportunity to do cool things myself.

How Long Does It Take?

I knew that when I launched my own business I would be walking away from a number of amazing opportunities to do fun and interesting work. I wondered how long it would take before I got to do those same kinds of projects for The Weaponry.

It didn’t take long. Today I get to work on rewarding projects for many of my clients. I get to travel all over the country. I get to work with interesting and well known people. And so do my teammates.

Go Luck Yourself

Ava was right, I do have a cool job. But I am not lucky to have this job. I made this job. I knew the kind of work I wanted to do. And I created a job where I would get to do it. I told Ava that I want to make sure she knows that she has the ability to create her own dream job. And I want you to know that you do too.

Key Takeaway

The best way to land your dream job is to create it yourself. Know what you want. And realize you have the potential to make it happen. Today, I am busy creating my dream job. I am certainly not done yet. And neither are you.

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

When you have a great idea avoid sharing it in a bad way.

I love ideas. In fact, I love them so much that I create new ideas for a living. And I can’t think of a better job. As a professional creative thinker my ideas help sell products and services. My ideas help name products, build brands and solve problems of all sizes and shapes, except hyperboloids.

Seek A Professional Opinion

In the same way a medical doctor is sought out to offer medical advice, businesses seek me out for creative advice. And I have written some pretty funky, yet effective prescriptions. Like filling a Prevost bus full of ping pong balls with Danica Patrick for Nationwide Insurance. And claiming that a Ski-Doo MX-Z snowmobile is so responsive it knows which butt cheek you’re flexing. And dressing 100 Argentinian men in pink bodysuits for Snickers.

Things I Hate

As much as I love a great idea I hate it when non-professional creatives share their ideas. You’re probably thinking that I am a typical creative A-hole who thinks no one else could possibly have a good idea. (See ‘The No A-holes Rule”). But, Au contraire, mon frère!

Where Great Ideas Come From

I know with 100% certainty that great ideas can, and do come from anywhere. And anyone. There is no monopoly on creativity in a creative department. No, what I abhor about non-creatives sharing their ideas is the way they typically do it.

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Just keep thinking. Just keep thinking.

You’re Doing It Wrong!

I know that probably sounds like I am judging people on their idea sharing etiquette. Or shaming people for the poor idea sharing technique. But that’s not what I am getting at.

What profoundly bothers me when non-professionals share their ideas is how they often discount the idea before they even unwrap it. Nothing takes the punch out of a great idea like introducing it with one of the following phrases:

  • ‘This is probably stupid but…’
  • ‘I’m not creative at all but…’
  • ‘Feel free to shoot this down…’
  • “I’m not the creative person here…’
  • “Here comes a bad client idea…’
  • “Ok, bad account person idea…’
  • ‘What if… no, never mind, bad idea.”

Share Without Apology

These type of apologetic disclaimers are poison to the creative process. Just as improv works on the ‘Yes-And’ Rule, meaning that every idea shared is embraced and built upon, a strong creative development process requires us to embrace fully-baked, half-baked and raw idea as they are presented. Because there is something to build on within every idea.

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Sharing your idea can impact others in profound ways. 

Connect The Dots

Creativity is about connecting disparate elements. So we should all throw our unique thoughts and ideas on the table. Not just the professional creatives and strategists. Clients, account people, media, technologist, sales, engineering and accounting can all add a very valuable perspective. Spouses and children who know the problem to be solved can too.

Loud and Proud

We all need to contribute our ideas without apologizing. Because when you eliminate the disclaimers, and stop unselling your work before you share it, you’ll get a much better reaction. Which makes everyone more comfortable exploring and sharing their ideas in the future.

Key Takeaway

Great ideas can come from everywhere. There is no monopoly on creativity in creative departments and creative businesses. Which means that no one should ever apologize for having a good thought. The best idea wins. It’s that simple. So share your thinking without discounting it. Encourage others to do the same. And let’s recognize and value all the disparate thoughts that helped us build to the best final idea. When you do that you create an environment that generates more great ideas. I should know. I am a professional.

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

It’s time for a more innovative way to celebrate the 4th of July.

Last Saturday night my family and I went to a fireworks display in Mequon, Wisconsin.  Like a good marketer should, Mequon wanted to differentiate their 4th of July celebration. They noticed that everyone else was celebrating the 4th of July at the same time. Which was ON the 4th of July. But nobody was celebrating in June. So Family Fun Before The Fourth was born. #Boom

Family Fun Before The Fourth

With a your-marketing-strategy-is-showing name like Family Fun Before The Fourth, if you can’t figure out who the celebration is for, what the main benefit is, and generally when it occurs, you are also likely to hold onto fireworks too long after you light them.

Family Fun Before The Fourth is like Friendsgiving. During a Friendsgiving celebration, friends gather to celebrate Thanksgiving, with a Thanksgiving meal, before they head off to celebrate again, by having the same meal with their family. The downside is that the appetizer event usurps the specialness of the main meal. #UsurpAsYouSlurp

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Family Fun

True to its name, Family Fun Before The Fourth, or FFBT4, offers a lot of family fun. There is a parade. Then there is a gathering at a nice park on the Milwaukee River, with food vendors, a water ski show, dancers, tumblers and live music. The cherry on top of the event is the evening fireworks show.

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Fireworks

On Saturday night as the fireworks show was about to start I was excited. Fireworks have always been the highlight of my 4th of July celebrations. Like always, the fireworks show started with a bang, and some bright lights. Followed by more bright lights and more bangs. And more bangs and more bright lights.

Then I experienced something I had never experienced at a 4th of July fireworks display: boredom.

It’s Not You. It’s Me.

It wasn’t that the display wasn’t up to par. It was. It was a very nice and lengthy show, highly appropriate for a town Mequon’s size. But I had the feeling that I had seen it all before.

purple red white and orange fireworks display

Been There, Seen That Explode.

We have all seen fireworks shows many, if not many many, if not many many many times before. I guess I am a Triple Many, because suddenly the novelty and excitement of loud, colorful explosions in midair seemed to have worn off for me. Which felt very strange. Because I consider myself excitable, enthusiastic and easily entertained.

What’s Wrong?

But in that moment I felt like a thrill seeker who wasn’t getting enough thrill. Or an addict whose current dosage wasn’t creating the high. Or someone suffering from depression who could stare at a joyful thing and not feel joy. But as I laughed at myself for not feeling the thrill of the fireworks, my own laughter confirmed that I was not depressed.

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Overexposure Without Innovation

Overexposure to fireworks was to blame. With over 40 years of fireworks display watching under my belt (actually none of the fireworks happened under my belt) my oohs and ahhs had become mehs and hmms.

The world has also changed. Fireworks were once innovative technology that was perfect for entertaining a crowd. The lights and noises and the rocketry that enabled the shells to soar into the sky was once totally foreign, novel, magical and entertaining. But not anymore.

What’s The Story Morning Glory?

The greatest downside to fireworks is that there is no story to follow. Sure, you can argue that there is a beginning, middle and grand finale. You can argue that the story is the re-creation of the rockets red glaring and bombs bursting in air-ing of the Revolutionary War. The war that got this party started in the first place. But it doesn’t feel like a story to me.

Today we have so many options at our disposal to help entertain and engage an audience that fireworks, or fireworks alone, feel underwhelming. A standard fireworks show, even with a backdrop of music now feels as if the host didn’t put much thought into the celebration. They just defaulted to fireworks. Which is like giving a neck tie on Father’s Day.

Many cities try to make up for the lack of an innovative idea by adding to the sheer quantity of fireworks detonated. But I argue that a 45 minute, $350,000 display, like the city of Milwaukee put on last night, is too long and too much. There is a law of diminishing returns at work here. At some point it feels overdone. Like operation Shock And Awe. And you just want to fast forward to the end.

Exploring Other Modern Options

It’s time to put more innovation and creativity into our Independence Day celebrations. Let’s consider all the entertainment options we can now use to create memorable, interesting and exciting 4th of July shows. Let’s share stories. Because we have really great stories to share.

4 New Ways Communities Could Celebrate the 4th of July

 

1. Video

Communities could show an amazing video each year on the 4th of July that represents what Independence and America is all about. It could be set to music and updated for our communities every year. This could be like your town’s version of One Shining Moment that is played at the end of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. This emotional, storytelling highlight reel is a perfect ending to March Madness, and could serve as a template for how we celebrate and recognize our Americanism once a year.

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2. Projection Mapping

Let’s get creative and project interesting images, video, graphics, and animation onto our city landmarks or rural barns. Projection mapping enables us to create a new Wow that fascinates the brain as it entertains. It does what fireworks were intended to do in a thoroughly modern way. My high school classmate David Title at Bravo Media in New York City can hook you up with some jaw dropping badassery if you and your community are ready to take this step.

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Holograms

A hologram is a three-dimensional image formed by the interference of light beams from a laser or other coherent light source. #onlinedictionary  We can now create amazingly real and wowing hologram images that make you feel as if you are looking at something very real, that isn’t really there.

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The possibilities with this technology are thrilling. With a hologram we could have one of the founders of our great nation deliver the keynote address of our Independence Day celebration. Imagine one of our founding fathers, like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or Yankee Doodle, or one of our founding mothers, like Abigail Adams, Betsy Ross or the Statue of Liberty showing up in your town on the 4th to address your community. It would be like having Santa preach the sermon on Christmas Eve.

Broadway Style Musical 

The musical Hamilton is one of the greatest creative innovations of all time. With his broadway show, Lin-Manuel Miranda combined history with music and entertainment in a thoroughly modern, energizing, surprising and captivating way. A show using this formula could create the centerpiece of our Independence Day Celebrations. Add me to the wait list for this show right now.

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Key Takeaway

Nothing is more American than innovation. In fact, America itself is an innovation. So let’s get more innovative with the way we celebrate America’s birthday. Let’s get more creative. Let’s utilize our modern technology. And infuse the whole celebration with powerful storytelling. America’s Independence is one of the greatest stories every told. Yet we don’t often actually tell the tale when we celebrate it. Let’s change that. And start telling this amazing American story the way a modern day Lee Greenwood would do. #GodBlessTheUSA

 

How Social Media Is Killing the Christmas Card.

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.

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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?)

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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.

Opportunity

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.

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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.

Key Takeaway

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. 

Your mistakes are your most important milestones.

I read as much as I can. I am always searching for knowledge, wisdom, inspiration, perspective and a good laugh. Because I am always searching, I often find what I am looking for.

DaVinci

This morning I was reading Walter Isaacson’s biography on Leonardo DaVinci. On page 59, Isaacson describes the flaws in DaVinci’s painting, The Annunciation. The painting depicts the moment when the angel Gabriel breaks the news to the Virgin Mary that she is going to become the mother of Christ. And Mary is all like ‘WTF!?!’

1200px-Leonardo_da_Vinci_-_Annunciazione_-_Google_Art_Project
‘Hey Mary! How’s it going? Um, God wanted me to tell you that he wants you to have his son. Oh, and you get to ride a Donkey!’

Flawed Genius

The painting isn’t perfect. Because Leo was trying out some interesting new moves. The magic of this painting is revealed when you look at it from the angle he wanted you to see it from. But I think the real magic comes from Isaacson’s commentary:

‘In the process, he made some mistakes. But even the mistakes, which came from innovating and experimenting, heralded his genius.’ – Walter Isaacson from Leonardo DaVinci

Way To Grow!

I love that. I like to think that my mistakes are evidence that I am trying. That I am pushing beyond what I know how to do well, into areas of growth, improvement and innovation. I am more afraid of not growing that I am of messing things up.

Key Takeaway

Don’t be afraid to try. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You, your skills, and your abilities are iterative. Don’t stop at You 1.0. Try more. Learn more. Innovate and experiment more. Push yourself as far as you can. Discover what You 100.0 is capable of. And if you do, someone may write a book about you too.

Forget what you see on TV. This is what an advertising agency is really like.

I admit, I am a fairly loud human. As an extrovert I love to interact with other people. I like to talk, laugh, and not-so-occasionally sing. It doesn’t surprise people when they find out that I  work at an advertising agency. More specifically, in 2016 I founded an advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry. Naturally, you would expect an agency to reflect the personality of the Founder. And indeed, it does.

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Reality Check

But right now it is deafeningly quiet in our office. There is no witty banter among colleagues. No loud music thumping. No pinging and ponging. No pinball machine dinging. No sounds of ball-smacking at the foosball table.

Just quiet.

Tour Disappointment

Many times during my career, in moments just like this, an agency executive would stride through the quiet office, excited to show off the totally cool agency to a client. And the executive would be clearly disappointed by the quiet.

They would often apologize to their tour mate with a line like, ‘It’s usually much louder in here.‘ Or, ‘We have a lot of people out right now.’ Or ‘We have to be careful since we got that last noise violation…’

This is all because ad agencies like The Weaponry are supposed to be loud, fun, energetic and entertaining, right?

And often times we are.

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I think this is a picture of thinking.

But other times, like now, we are as quiet as a library on Saturday night. Because creators gotta create. And we don’t need to get loud to do it. Quite the opposite (or is it quiet the opposite?). The harder I work, the more focused I am, the quieter I am. So are my fellow Weapons. Because the most important work we do is the mental processing we perform when we are alone. That is when we are finding the language to articulate our new ideas in words and images. It is when we are editing our thinking down to the simplest, cleanest, clearest expressions. And that takes quiet focus.

Key Takeaway

If you stop by an ad agency when the people are really, really quiet, don’t be disappointed that you didn’t get a show. Stick around a few minutes to watch the work in progress. It’s usually, fast, focused and fascinating. During a break in the action ask if you can see the work hot-off-the-fingertips. When you see the freshly crafted art, read the  newly woven words, or ingest the just-birthed strategy, you’ll understand that silence is golden.

It’s where the real magic happens.