People love the idea of passive income. Or earning money while doing nothing. I blame Dire Straits. But if you focus your attention on making money while doing nothing there is a high likelihood that you will earn nothing too.
The focus should be on passionate income. The money you make from aggressive moves, serious work, and taking risks. The money you make from following your passion. And harvesting that passion fruit. (Which sounds abstractly naughty.)
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve read Rich Dad. Poor Dad. Everyone should. And I understand the value of accumulating assets, investing and letting your money work for you.
But I don’t believe that should free you from work. It should free you from the work you don’t want to do. And let you work hard at your favorite challenges and opportunities. That’s the sweet spot. Aim there.
The summer after I graduated from the University of Wisconsin I didn’t have a job. No full-time job. No part-time job. I was living in Madison, lightly looking for an entry-level position in advertising. But not looking in a way that gets the job done. In fact, I still hadn’t set foot in an ad agency.
The Ricki Lake Show
On a hot afternoon that July, when real grown-ups were at work, I found myself lying on my couch in the middle of the day watching The Ricki Lake Show. And suddenly the reality of my situation hit me like a Miley Cyrus wrecking ball.
I was a good student. I went to a great school. I now had degrees in both Journalism and Psychology. I had ambition. And goals. And pride. And bills to pay. And here I was in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, plopped on my couch, watching a crappy talk show, because I had nothing more important to do with my time. I thought, WTF? (even though WTF hadn’t been invented yet), This can’t be my life.
In that moment, my life changed. I rose from the couch, an unemployed man on a mission. I bounded up the staircase to my bedroom. I grabbed a scrap of paper on my desk that my Profesor Roger Rathke had handed me weeks earlier. On the paper was written Paul Counsell and a phone number.
Paul Counsell was a college buddy of Profesor Rathke’s, and the CEO of Cramer Krasselt, one of America’s great advertising agencies. He was someone I was told I should call. But I hadn’t.
I plucked my corded 1990’s phone from the wall, punched in the phone number, and was introducing myself to Mr. Counsell less than a minute after dumping Ms. Lake. And things started changing.
From that phone call I got an informational interview. Then a job offer as a copywriter. Then I started my real job, with a salary and benefits, and opportunities for growth and travel. All doing what I always wanted to do. I met my wife Dawn at that job. And I met a client there who years later would call me out of the blue, just like I called Paul Counsell, and encourage me to start my own advertising agency. Which I did.
Today I am the Founder and CEO of the advertising and idea agency The Weaponry. Over the past two decades I have worked with some of the best brands in the world. And the best people. My career has taken me to Argentina, Iceland and India. My wife Dawn and I will celebrate the 20th anniversary of our first date tomorrow with our 3 kids. This is my life. Because I got off the couch and made it happen.
Is this your life?
Are you living the life you imagined? The life you thought you would have when you graduated from high school or college? Or did you fall behind, veer off course, or never get started? Have the recent health and economic crises spun you around and left you wondering what’s next for you?
If you are not living the life you imagined, I hope you have your own This can’t be my life moment. Because that moment can change everything. It can motivate you to take the actions needed to get you where you always wanted to go. There are on-ramps everywhere. So take one. Make that call. Or make a thousand. Change jobs. Change careers. Start your own business. Get back to work. Get away from toxic people. Get near sunshine people. And can-do people. And finally, do what you always knew you could.
This-Can’t-Be-My-Life moments are a gift. They are the push you need to get to the place you are supposed to be. The first half of 2020 was full of challenges and setbacks. But it also created opportunities. Take advantage of them. Get off the couch. And make your life happen.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.
If you want to do something great, find someone who has already done it. Or is doing it now. And doing it well, like L.L. Tuck in behind them and learn as much as you can from them. Ask questions. Observe. And follow.
There is no reason to waste time reinventing the wheelie. Get the blueprints. And the Cliff Notes. Learn as much as you can from those who have already traveled the path. And you’ll experience the least resistance.
You still have to put in the work. Like RuPaul. Your endpoint will be your own. But playing follow the leader will allow you to expend less energy in the early stages. Which will allow you to travel faster and farther and spend more time on course than off.
You will condense the journey to your initial success by squeezing out the mistakes and missteps. The types of mistakes and setbacks that are inevitable if you go alone. Going down the only road you’ve ever known.
Your success will also be the success of the person you are tucking behind. Because you are Them 2.0. You are them but smarter, sharper, and more efficient. You are them with experience, time traveling back to the beginning. Like Uncle Rico playing high school football again.
You can follow a person you know. Or a person you want to know. But you can also follow someone who has done it, and written a book about it. Or created a podcast, newsletter blog or poem about it. You can even follow Robert Frost by not following Robert Frost. Think about that for a moment in the yellow woods.
I have been following too many people to count. They have all made my journey to this point easier. Becuase there is so much already figured out that I didn’t have to figure it out myself. And that has made all the difference
Dream a big dream. Then get going. But don’t go it alone. Find someone to break the wind for you. #snickering Follow a proven recipe for success. Then add your own nuts and marshmallows. The world is full of great stories. Find one you like. Or mix several together to create your own formula. But find a guide. You’ll get there faster. Then just keep going.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
I am on a treasure hunt. In fact, I am looking for hidden treasure everywhere I go. But I am not expecting to find a chest full of gold. Instead, I am looking for valuable insights, nuggets of wisdom, and how-to’s from rockstars who have already done what I want to do.
To find the treasure I need a map. Something to guide my steps, and direction. But I am not looking for One-Eyed Willy’s tattered, yellow, X-Marks-The-Spot number. Google maps doesn’t know my destination. And Rand McNally doesn’t sell what I need. Although those guys really put maps on the map.
My Treasure Map
My map is a small black, hardcover Moleskin notebook. I bought it myself. And when I bought it all the pages were blank.
I bring that notebook with me to meetings. To networking events. To chocolate milk conversations (because I don’t drink coffee). To meetups and roundtables. When I hear something, see something or think of something that I believe will get me closer to the treasure, I write it in my notebook.
That once-blank book is now full of good advice. It holds inspirational quotes. Rules of thumb. Philosophies of successful people. Resources to consider. Math equations. Events to attend. Books or articles to read. Podcasts, blogs and newsletters to follow. And social media feeds worth checking out.
I always keep my notebook nearby and my ears and eyes open. (Okay, I do blink occasionally, but just for eye maintenance.) As a result, the treasure map in my notebook gets more detailed and more valuable all the time. In fact, I believe that my notebooks (there are many of them now) are my most valuable possessions.
Where Is Your Notebook?
Given the high value I place on my own notebooks, I am always shocked when someone requests a meeting with me and then show up without a notebook. Or paper. Or a writing utensil. Or a sense that they showed up to the meeting partially naked.
What That Says
Coming to an informational interview, or networking meeting without your notebook says 2 things:
You are not prepared for the journey.
You don’t expect to find any gold in my world.
Depending on the age, experience and potential of the person I am meeting with I may note the missing notebook, and the value that it would brings. I kindly suggest that in the future, paper and pen or pencil or crayon may be valuable additions to their meeting gear.
Other times I simply write them off without saying anything. Because some people are simply not on treasure hunts. They are not seeking the gold. They are simply going through the motions. And if that is all they are doing, they don’t need my help.
If you are seeking treasure, you’re going to need a map. Your treasure map will be individualized. Which means you’ll have to write it yourself. So pick up an empty notebook, and collect the golden advice you get along the way. Write down the directions and the steps as you find them. It works for careers and building businesses. It works for happiness, relationships, parenting and fitness.
You can use a notebook, a smart list of questions and good pair or ears to find anything you seek. And once you begin looking for the treasures, you will find them everywhere. So draw your own map. Let the world know what you are looking for. And the world will show you how to find it.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this nugget, please share it with them.
I love to shop for books at Goodwill. I love the treasure hunt. I love finding great books for cheap. And I like picking up value that someone else discarded. So when they toss it and leave it, I pull up quick to retrieve. Just like Sir Mixalot.
One of the books I nabbed at the G-Dub was On Writing by Stephen King. It’s the only Stephen King book I have read. I’ll admit, there was way less blood than I was expecting.
I am always trying to improve my writing. And I figured who knows more about writing than a guy who has written a bazillion novels. (I guess a person who has written 2 bazillion novels.)
This morning in the section on editing Stephen King made a statement that jumped off the page like an Acapulco cliff diver. On editing he wrote:
I love this part of the process (well, I love all the parts of the process, but this one is especially nice). -Stephen King
I love this statement! Not because Stephen King loves editing and re-writes. But because I love hearing that someone loves all the parts of the process. Loves all the parts of their work. Because that is exactly how I feel about my job.
I love everything about advertising. I love pitching new clients. I love the research. I love studying the audience. I love developing and sharpening creative briefs. I love the creative thinking. The ideating and concepting. I love pulling ideas and language out of the ether. I love directing creative. And I love presenting new ideas the way an obstetrician loves presenting naked newborns.
I love it when clients love our ideas. But I also love it when clients give us a difficult challenge. Because I love being thrown a good curveball.
I love big budgets, and I can not lie. But I also love small budgets and short timelines, and the way those constraints force you to think harder and dig deeper.
I love production, casting, shooting and editing. I love finding the perfect music track. I love testing and optimizing. I love creating work that produces laughter. Or chills. Or good tears. I love the results that come as a result of the work we produce. That’s the best. It is the reason we exist.
I love the people of this industry, both on the agency and client-side. I love how interesting and smart and varied they are. And they are very varied. Like Vera Bradly and aloe vera
I love the dress code. I love the travel. I love that I met my wife Dawn at work in an advertising agency. And I love that she understands all the things I love about my work.
Since I launched my own advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I have found that I love everything about owning an agency too. I love the competition of business. It’s my all-time favorite game.
I love budgets and revenue and profit & loss statements, and balance sheets. I love taxes and capital expenses. I love adding software and apps to our infrastructure to create a better, smarter, more efficient machine. I love filing our annual report with the state. It’s a reminder that I am officially a business owner.
I love finding office space, and negotiating leases. I love partnerships with other businesses. And dealing with our client’s CFOs and procurement and reviewing legal agreements. Which may sound like drudgery. But it feels like a privilege to me.
I even like the challenge of a crazy global crisis that comes out of nowhere. It tests your preparedness, your resourcefulness and your resolve. The do-or-die nature of such challenges is a thrill. It forces you to ask yourself just how much you want what you want. And I really, really want. Just like the Spice Girls.
Find work that you love. It makes every day fun. It lets you wallow in your passion. It makes you look forward to every day and every new challenge. A love for your work is a key performance indicator. It’s hard to be passionate about your vocation and deliver poor output. Because the time, energy and interest you invest will drive continuous improvement. And over time you’ll become frighteningly good at what you do. Just like Stephen King.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
Before 1776 there was potential. A lot of potential. The American colonies were full of smart, talented, ambitious men and women who wanted more and better than the old world could provide. We had stars. We had bars. And we had Betsy Ross threaded and ready.
The fuse on this firecracker was lit in the summer of 1776. The best and brightest came together with a vision and a quill pen. And when they finally took action they launched the greatest startup the world has ever seen.
But like any startup, they didn’t get everything right, right out of the gate. However, they created a system that enabled the system itself to get better, stronger and smarter over time.
Using the system itself we have been able to clarify that all men are created equal really means all men and women. Itincludes all colors. It includes all religions. It even includes the New York Yankees.
Today, that cute little Philly startup from 1776 is now the most valuable organization on Earth.
This Independence Day weekend I hope you take a few minutes to consider this amazing organization of ours. An organization that began with just some powdered wigs and a dream.
We must continue using the system to make the system itself better. It is not only our right, as shareholders, but it is also our obligation.
I hope the 4th of July also inspires you to consider your own independence.
If you have been thinking of starting your own business, do it now.
If you have lost your job or your entire industry, start fresh now.
If you are energized and eager, it’s go time!
If you are desperate, you have the most powerful fuel of all.
If you want to start your own business but don’t know where to begin, send me a note. I have started my own business. Today, I want to help others experience the same feeling of independence.
And If I can do it, you can too. I know. Because we are all created equal.
This week I am on vacation at the beach. I’ve noticed that people at the beach love sunrises and sunsets. Shocker, I know.
Every morning vacationers and locals alike walk the beach at sunrise and take pictures of the sun coming up. The same think happens each night as the sun sets. It’s almost like a song from Fiddler On The Roof.
But I notice that no one is taking pictures of the sun in the middle of the day when Earth’s favorite fire ball is in mid arc. But that is where the magic happens.
It is not the beginning or the end that makes the difference. It is the missable middle. When the work is performed. When actions are taken. When time and effort and attention are invested. That’s where the wow of the day lives. It is where the stories of our lives, careers and relationships are formed. Unless you are a lady of the night, or a cat burglar. In which case, I am impressed that you also read blogs. Who knew.
Highlighting the sunrise and sunset is like focusing on the bookends on a bookshelf. They may be pretty. But they are not the value. The value is on all the pages in the books in between. Be sure not to miss them. They are full of gold.
Don’t forget the middle. It is where all the difference is made.
If you met Me today you wouldn’t know the real Me. Because the real Me lives in the future. And I have a clear vision of that guy in my head. And he’s nearly perfect.
If you met Me today you would only see a work in progress. You would see a construction site. An early sketch. A minimum viable product.
But I am continuously trying to close the gap between the real Me and the person you would find today. The real Me is in better shape. He is smarter. Better at connecting dots. And solving problems. He is kinder. He is a better father, husband, friend, son, neighbor, brother, entrepreneur, creative thinker, volunteer, and giver than I am today.
He has donated blood. And rescued a kitty from a tree. He can spin a basketball on his finger. He can solve a Rubiks Cube. He speaks Spanish. He can fold a fitted sheet as well as my wife. He is so rich that everybody wants him. Even Billy Squire. He uses his money to improve the world. He knows every step to every dance. And he looks good doing them.
I am gaining on the real Me a little every day. I read, exercise and listen. I am analyzing my mistakes and finding better models. I am asking questions. And questioning answers.
I am trying to contribute more than I take. I am finding a better frequency, Kenneth. And it seems to be working. Slowly but surely.
The Real You
I hope you are improving every day too. Like Elvis Costello. I hope the Real You, the Best You, is still to come. I hope you are closing the gap on the Real You every day. I hope you are spending more time looking at the horizon than the rearview mirror. I hope you are reading and exercising and learning and listening. I hope you are still wet clay. A minimum viable product, ready to become the Maximum You.
You’re not done yet. Not even close.
If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
There are two types of business owners. The first type are those who work in their business. They do whatever needs to be done to deliver the goods and services the business produces. They are doers. They are time-to-make-the-donuts types. They make the business run.
Then there are business owners who work on their business. They are like race mechanics who are tinkering with and tweaking the machine to make it more powerful, more capable, more efficient, and easier to work with. Like Ricky Bobby, they want to go fast.
The business owner who simply works in her or his business never creates a better business. They never grow beyond the limitations of there current inputs and processes. They are hamster wheel owners. And they will never get ahead.
No Limit Soldiers
But the business owner who works on his or her business will know no limits. They will continuously find ways to improve the machine. Sometimes in small ways. Sometimes in transformative ways that make the new version of the business so different from the old that you wouldn’t recognize them as the same organization. Kind of like the Bash Brothers of business.
Those who work on the business create growth organizations. These are the success stories. The highly profitable businesses that attract the best and brightest to join and contribute their ideas for improvement. This is the most rewarding organization to be a part of. And it contributes the highest returns to its employees.
The United States Inc.
Our nation is a business too. You and I are the nation-owners. And we have to decide whether we are going to work in the business or on the business.
If we simply decide that we are going to work in the nation, then we as the owners are not growers, increasers or improvers. The nation we hand down to our children will be the same one we inherited. We will be the forgotten ownership era who did nothing to increase value.
However, if we decide to work on the nation there is no limit to how much better we can make this business of ours. Abraham Lincoln worked on the business. So did FDR. And Susan B. Anthony. And Martin Luther King Jr. And Team America, World Police. They were all owner-citizens, just like you and me. Yet the visions they had, the decisions they made, and the actions they took improved our business in immeasurable ways.
Get To Work
Today, as nation-owners, we all have the ability to work on the business in large and small ways. Voting helps. Speaking out helps. Taking action helps. Fixing the system to work better for all Americans helps. By improving the system we can add more fuel, more horsepower, more capacity, and more contribution. Which leads to more output, greater results and a more prosperous nation for all.
As nation-owners we should expect profit sharing. When the nation does well, all who contribute enjoy a bonus. The more who contribute the greater the bonus will be.
I like a good bonus. I expect you do too. So does Gordon Gekko. The promise of a bigger bonus is how you get Gordon to buy into the plan.
Our nation is like a business. It is time for us as the nation-owners to work on the business. Let’s turn this business of ours into a high-powered, smooth-running, high output machine. Because when we do, all shareholders will enjoy greater dividends. And we’ll be able to pass down an even greater asset to the next generation.
*If you know a fellow nation-owner who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
The week of March 16th was like nothing I had ever experienced. That Monday morning The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, met with the University of Wisconsin Credit Union about updating their outdoor billboards and TV commercials in response to the emerging COVID-19 crisis.
By the end of the day, The Weaponry presented a whole new billboard campaign. The new outdoor boards were up practically overnight in both Madison and Milwaukee. In the process, The Weaponry set new turnaround expectations that are likely to haunt me for the rest of my career.
I was very proud of the new work that we developed in a single day. I especially loved the billboard that said, ‘Even when we’re apart we, stand together.’ It was a great way to express UW Credit Union’s promise to be Here for every you. During that time of growing isolation and uncertainty, as our community faced both a health and financial crisis, the message was spot on. And true.
Two months later, just as our nation was beginning to emerge from the COVID-19-induced isolation, George Floyd was killed by police officers, and our country found itself deep in another crisis.
In the days since George Floyd’s murder, people across the country have searched for ways to express their outrage and create change. Some have found powerful forces for progress. A few have engaged in more divisive actions. Unfortunately, the media coverage of the divisive has far exceeded that of the progressive. Because flames, shattered glass, and unpaid for merchandise with legs make for more interesting video than peaceful demonstrations.
Back To The Billboard
Early Tuesday morning I received an email from Anne Norman, the Chief Marketing Officer at UW Credit Union. She had received an update from Adams Outdoor, the billboard company in Madison, Wisconsin. As the Adams team (no relation) arrived to do a scheduled replacement of the We Stand Together billboard they discovered the billboard has been spray-painted with the words George Floyd. They took a picture of the graffitied billboard and shared it with us so we could see what had happened.
Anne and I were both struck by how powerful the graffitied board was. And we thought it would have been better to have simply left the billboard and its modified message in place. I suggested that we share the George Floyd board via our social channels.
Anne suggested an even better idea. She asked what I thought of putting the graffitied board back up. I thought it was an excellent idea.
Yesterday, on June 3rd, UW Credit Union reposted the George Floyd Board. Except this time they had it posted in one of the highest visibility locations in Madison, on the top of the Adams Outdoor building, beside the highly trafficked beltline. Because you know that a good billboard company always saves the best location for itself.
I am extremely proud to partner with UW Credit Union. It’s an organization fully committed to the communities it serves. I am proud of Anne Norman for making a courageous decision to repost this billboard, a billboard that no longer features the UW Credit Union logo, in support of George Floyd, the Black community and the Black Lives Matters movement.
Do what you can to make a difference. Stand together. Work together. Support each other. Always do what you know is right. Like my friend Anne Norman and millions of others across America who are determined to leave this world better than they found it.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.