2020 has been a challenging year. It has served up more flavors of adversity than Baskin Robbins has ice cream. Like COVID-19 itself, no one is immune to the stress in our system right now.
We need to recognize the pressure the people on our planet are feeling. Because pressure makes humans make poor decisions.
Under stressful conditions, bad choices compound. The result is escalation. A simmer becomes a boil. Smoke becomes fire. Self-control evaporates. I’ve been there. I’ve felt it in myself. I’ve seen it in others. It’s intensely powerful. And destructive.
Escalation brings out the worst in us. Yet it comes naturally. We all have the ability to trump a bad action or a bad comment with an even worse response. It becomes a competition to see who can inflict more pain, create more damage and elicit more anger. But it’s a competition that no one wins.
Yet escalation happens in homes and schools. It happens in the workplace. It happens in hockey games. And in bars where people watch hockey games. Escalation happens when police officers lose touch with their humanity. And when angry protestors don’t feel like their point is being received.
What The World Needs Now
What is less natural, but far more valuable, is de-escalation. Removing the tension from a situation. Recognizing when a poor decision by someone else requires a good decision by you, and me.
Don’t respond to anger with more anger, but with empathy. We need to demonstrate that we are listening. That we understand. And we are willing to make things better. Because there are times when we all need someone else to step in and help us adjust our settings when we can’t self regulate.
Calmness and compassion are as contagious as anger and fear.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
Last summer my family traveled to the Pacific Northwest for our summer vacation. There was so much we wanted to see that mapping out our route and scheduling our stops over 9 days was a major challenge. Especially because we wanted to visit British Columbia. Which I would have named Canadian Columbia, but what do I know?
The thing my son Johann wanted to see most on the trip was the Oregon Rail Heritage Museum in Portland. However, the museum’s schedule was a problem. It was only open Thursday through Sunday. And when the logistics were set, we would be in Portland on a Tuesday. #bummer
However, the museum was across the street from another site we planned to hit: the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. So my wife, Dawn, told Johann that we would drive by the train museum and see whatever we could see from the outside.
On The Outside Looking In
As we approached the train museum we indeed saw a few trains and train cars outside. Which was nice. But the reason Johann was so interested in this museum is that it held one of his all-time favorite trains. The magnificent Daylight 4449. The only remaining train of its type. The Daylight was inside the museum, and could not be seen from the outside. #Boo
Come on Clark, It Will Be Fun.
Dawn suggested that we park the car at the closed museum parking lot anyway, and take a look at the closed facility. So we did. In the process we encountered several signs reminding us that the museum was closed that day. I felt a little silly getting out of the car there. Like Clark Griswold parking at an obviously-closed Wally World.
A Sign Of Life
We got out of the car and walked to the fence surrounding the museum grounds. Then Dawn spotted two people exiting the closed building. They clearly looked like they worked at the Museum. Dawn walked briskly along the fence to the gate they were headed for. I knew she was in Deion Sanders-mode, and was trying to intercept them.
I cringed at the idea of what Dawn was going to say to these people. She’s aggressive. A trait that seems more in sync with her years living in New York City and Chicago than her childhood years in Wausau, Wisconsin.
I kept my distance as I watched Dawn intercept the man and woman at the gate. I could hear her sweetly explain that we had come all the way from Wisconsin, and that our son Johann would really, really love to see the Daylight 4449. I braced for the employees to remind her that the museum was closed. And that the sign out front should have told her that.
Instead, the man and woman both smiled at her story. Then, suddenly, the man unlocked the gate, and invited us in. Moments later we were standing inside the large museum staring at the grand prize. The Daylight 4449.
However, since the museum was closed, we didn’t get the normal view of the train. Instead, the wonderful people of the museum gave us an all-access pass to every part of the train, with the engineer as our personal tour guide. Our entire family got to climb up in the cab, past the Please Keep Off signs, which was my favorite part.
Johann got stories and insights that most people would have never heard. We felt like distinguished guests and VIPs at the train museum. It was a very special experience. And all for one simple reason: Dawn asked if we could come inside.
That experience provided our family with an important life lesson. It taught us all that if you want something you have to put yourself in a position to get it. You have to be willing to ask for what you want, and not be afraid to get a ‘No‘. It taught us that a closed door will sometimes open for you if you ask. And it taught us that some of the best experiences are on the other side of a locked door.
Often times a closed door will open when you show just how much you want to come inside. It pays to be earnest and honest about how much it means to you. Remember, someone holds the keys to unlock every locked door. Find that person, and ask to come in. The worst thing that can happen is you are told no. In which case you are no worse off than you were before. But if they say yes, it could open the doors to incredible new experiences and possibilities.
Today, there are many people facing real health and financial challenges. If you need help, or access, don’t be afraid to ask. It’s the quickest and most effective way to get what you want.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
On Sunday afternoon my wife and I went on a rare date to the grocery store. It must have been a thing that day because we ran into our friends Tricia and Dan Kane who were also on a grocery date. The four of us talked for a few minutes until we were interrupted by some grocery store drama.
Another couple, apparently on their own grocery store date, was walking down the aisle, when one of them knocked a large bottle of cooking oil off of the shelf and onto the floor. True to its name, the shatterproof bottle did not shatter. But when the bottle hit the floor (let the bottle hit the floor), the flip cap lid flipped open.
Suddenly, cooking oil, in all of its golden glory, glugged onto the floor in the grocery store’s busiest intersection. It was like the grocery store equivalent of the Deepwater Horizon well spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
A crowd of Sunday shoppers stopped to watch the drama unfold.
As the oil continued to pulse out of the bottle, the corn oil slick grew larger and larger. You could practically hear Florence Henderson’s heart breaking over this loss of perfectly good Wesson. Would it ever stop?
The couple that caused the oilcident stood motionless over the oozing mess. Then the man said, ‘We need to tell them there has been a spill.’ Then he repeated with more concern and more volume, ‘‘We need to tell them there has been a spill!’ As the corn oil continued to flow like midwestern lava across the grocery store floor.
After the man shouted the second time that a report had to be made, I realized he was not in a state of mind to be able to put an end to this crisis. Visions of the Exxon Valdez disaster filled my head. I thought, not on my watch…
I was standing 20 feet away from the epicenter of the oil spill when I lightly sprang into action. Where others may have fled from the disaster, thinking only of their own safety and cleanliness, I walked toward the expanding oil spill. I was running on instinct and adrenaline. When I reached ground zero, I reached down, grabbed the bottle, and set it upright.
Suddenly, the oil stopped spilling. The disaster was contained. And shoppers resumed shopping. It was the simplest and most effective thing anyone could have done to mitigate the issue. A toddler could have recognized the solution and had the mental capacity to upright that fallen bottle to stop the flow of corn oil.
Yet the adult male at the center of the crisis could only think that someone needed to be told there was a problem. While the woman stared, motionless, unable to process her next move.
When you see a problem, or create a problem, don’t just pass it along to someone else. Act to solve it. Work to reduce it. Do what you can to prevent it from getting worse. To watch a preventable problem spread without lifting a finger to stop it is irresponsible. Don’t simply announce that there is a fire. Throw some water on it.
Take responsibility for the problems you face. Imagine you are the only one who can address them. Then do so. Develop a bias towards decision making and action. Those biases get things done. They solve problems. And they make you a more valuable employee, friend and neighbor.
When things go wrong, don’t just report the problem. Be part of the solution. Diagnose quickly. Think quickly. Act quickly. Focus on what you can do. Then do it without delay. It will help prevent a small mishap from becoming a massive problem.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.
Earlier this week I faced a problem. And the problem was on my face. On Sunday night I noticed that a blood vessel had burst in my left eye. It didn’t hurt me, but it hurt anyone who had to look at me. Unfortunately, my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, had a significant first meeting scheduled with a brand new client’s executive team.
If you haven’t already read that post, you may want to take a look at it before proceeding with chapter 2. Or you could be a rebel and read them in reverse order. You so crazy…
Here’s What Happened
In addition to writing the blog post, I called Calla Stanford, the Account Leader on the business. I told her about my eye. And then the plot thickened… It turns out that Calla was extremely sick and was about to go see her doctor. UFDA! (Ufda is not a text-cronym. It’s Norwegian for whatever you need it to mean.)
I sent a message to our client explaining that my eye had suddenly gone Red Rum, and that Calla was sick and would not be able to attend the meeting. I inquired about the possibility of moving the meeting. But I added that I was still willing to attend alone, and wear something that would protect their team from my evil eye. Like sunglasses, a grocery bag or a 1920’s dive helmet.
A few minutes later they called to tell me that they were looking for another meeting time. They called back again within the hour to say that it would be weeks before the same team could assemble. So they preferred to proceed with our original meeting time. And they were mentally preparing themselves for Eyemageddon.
Let’s Do This
I prepared to handle the meeting solo. Meanwhile, helpful friends, family and blog readers were offering great advice. Many people encouraged me to proceed as if there were no problem. Others said call the client to explain the situation and ask them how they want to proceed. Which, of course, is what I did.
However, the most popular advice I received was to proceed with the meeting as planned, but rock an eyepatch to cover up the offending eye. Several people encouraged me to take it one step further and brand the eyepatch with The Weaponry logo. Surprisingly, no one encouraged me to guzzle Visine.
Looking For An Eyepatch
As I was getting ready for work on the morning of the meeting, I asked my wife where we might have an eye patch. She told me to check our 8-year old son Magnus’ room. I went to his room, opened the drawer in his night stand, and within 5 seconds found an eyepatch! Yay! But a minute later, when I tried to put it on, I realized the elastic band was way too small to circumnavigate my head. Boo!
So I went back to the same drawer in Magnus’ room to see if there was any chance that there was another eyepatch that fit a more mature cranium. Sure enough, within 10 seconds of searching I found another eyepatch! And this one was big enough to fit Jack Sparrow’s head after a full day of compliments.
I went to the meeting, solo, as planned. And it was great. I had properly warned them about my issue. I had given them the ability to choose how they wanted to proceed. So there was no surprise. And no disappointment. (That I know of.)
The issue created a great topic of conversation at both the beginning and the end of the meeting. But the eye was a non-issue in between. Instead, we focused on the business at hand. I also positioned myself at the front, on the left side of the room. This meant that the team primarily saw Righty Winksalot, (my nickname for my good eye).
After we wrapped up the business end of the meeting we all gathered for a photo. I always enjoy a good group photo op. But under normal circumstances I would not have taken a pic after a kickoff meeting. But then again, this wasn’t a normal circumstance.
Ask and Ye Shall Receive. I received a lot of good, supportive and humorous feedback from my people that helped me make my decision. Thank you all.
Honesty is the best policy. I shared my challenge with the new client and let them decide how they wanted to proceed. And they said Let’s Roll! So we rolled.
Everyone loves an eyepatch. The amount of love shown for the eyepatch was a significant surprise. Then again, eyepatches are intriguing. Like a good ad, the eyepatch makes you stand out from the crowd, and makes people want to know more.
Things go wrong all the time. You will never be able to avoid all problems. Learning how to deal with whatever comes your way is one of the most valuable skills you will ever develop.
*If you know someone with a bad eye, a nasty rash or simple chronic halitosis, who you think could benefit from this story, please share it with them.
**For those of you paying close attention to the details, the photo used as the featured image for this post was taken as a selfie, using Instagram. Instagram doesn’t un-reverse a reversed image. Therefore it looks like it was my right eye. But it is my left.
There are some business problems they don’t teach you how to solve in business school. They are too odd and too unlikely to happen to spend time discussing. So today, I am going to serve up an odd, real-life scenario to see how you would respond. Because I am not sure what the right answer is. Or even if there is a right answer. So let’s try to figure this out together.
Last night, just before dinner, I went into the bathroom at my home to wash my hands. As I was washing I looked at myself in the mirror and noticed a problem. My left eyeball was completely red. Not as if it was irritated. Or as if I had taken a red eye flight. It was red like a blood vessel had burst in my eye. And it looked disgusting. Like an eye I never want to make eye contact with. Like ever.
When I returned to the table and shared my problem with my family the reaction was not good. My 11-year old son thought I looked hideous and demanded that I not look at him again. My 8-year old son was fascinated, the way a boy may be fascinated by road kill. My 13-year old daughter was greatly concerned for me. (Everyone should have a daughter). And wife Dawn immediately asked if I had any important client meetings this week. The answer was yes.
I have an important meeting with a brand new client that is scheduled to start 24 hours from now. The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, was just awarded a significant project with this client after an agency review. During the review process we met 3 members of the marketing and sales team, whom we liked very, very, very much. #IThinkTheyWillReadThis
The upcoming meeting is for us to meet the client’s executive team, a team we will be working closely with throughout this project. The purpose of the meeting is to introduce ourselves and take them through the proposal with our color commentary.
The most important outcome from this meeting is for us to make a great first impression on our new client’s senior team. That’s hard to do when you have a horror film eye ball. What makes this worse is that I have had a burst blood vessel in my eye before. It was many years ago. During that red period I had multiple client meetings. And my clients were undeniably grossed out by my gore eye. Sorry clients.
Seeking a Solution
This is where I need your help figuring out what I should do next. There are a couple of details you should know before offering your advice. 1. This problem usually takes 5 to 7 days to clear up. There are only 2 people from my team scheduled to attend this meeting, Just me and the account leader. There was a 3rd member of our team who would have attended if she wasn’t on vacation in Europe. It’s amazing the lengths some people will go to in order to avoid seeing my eye.
The Options As I See Them (through my bloody eye).
Reveal the problem and ask to reschedule the meeting for 1 week later.
Send the account leader alone.
Proceed as if there was no problem.
Make the meeting a phone call or video conference.
Attend the meeting, but wear sunglasses
Attend the meeting but wear an eye patch (Arrrr Matey!)
Attend the meeting but wear a welder’s mask.
Attend the meeting but avoid all eye contact, like Rain Man.
Call the client, explain the situation, and ask them how they want to proceed.
What would you do?
Which of the options do you think I should choose? Or do you have a good solution that is not on the list? I appreciate you sharing your opinion. If you know a wise owl who-who offers good advice, please pass this along to them too. Me and my eye look forward to hearing from you.
I am a naturally positive person. I like to start with the positive. I like to end on the positive. And I like to fill the middle with as much positive as I can. Yet, I don’t claim any responsiblity for my positivity. As Lady Gaga once said, Baby, I was born this way.
On Tuesday mornings I meet with my entire team at The Weaponry, the advertising and idea agency I launched in 2016. I share updates on our clients, people, and growth opportunities. We discuss our long-term vision for the organization and our progress towards that goal. And yes, it is a positive experience.
This Tuesday I gave an update on our latest developments. The headline was:
In the past 3 months we have added 8 new clients in 5 different states.
I walked through the new additions, gave an overview on what we are doing for each of them, and mentioned the people who had either helped us secure the business, or who were already working on the accounts.
After sharing the good news of the week I asked the team to keep looking for the peas under the mattress. I want to make this agency the perfect place to work, and the perfect partner for our clients. The only way you get to that point is by removing the elements that cause discomfort. I want to find the pain points and confusion. I want to know what is causing slowdowns and bottlenecks and head scratching.
Why So Negative?
It is easy to ignore your problems, especially when things are going well. But if we do, we won’t improve our machine. And if we don’t improve our processes, procedures, structure and people, we will never achieve the elusive goal of creating the perfect agency.
The Paradox. (Or is it a Pair of Docks?)
Admittedly, it is a little odd, especially for an optimistic, can-do, positive organization like The Weaponry to focus on the blemishes, weaknesses and flaws. But, Mama, that’s where the fun is.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of growth is eliminating weakness. By shoring up our weakest points the machine gets stronger and stronger. The entire team can feel it when a reoccurring problem goes a way. And when it does, we can then focus on the next issue up. There will always be a next issue up. But just as with technological advances and innovation, as challenges are solved, the new challenges that take their place are smaller and smaller issues.
If you really want to be great, don’t just acknowledge or admit your flaws. Seek them out. Root them out. Mark them in highlighter. Then develop a plan to eliminate them. We use the EOS Rocks system, as outlined in the book Traction by Gino Wickman to take on our issues, gain traction as an organization, and continue on our path of organizational improvement. We are not perfect. But we want to be. And we are committed to getting as close to the dream as we can.
*I’d love to know your thoughts on either of the following questions:
Do you feel that your organization makes a priority of discovering and eliminating your organizational and operational flaws?
Do you try to proactively identify flaws in yourself, your outlook, your processes, your knowledge or your procedures in a quest for self-improvement? Or, do you beat yourself up over your shortcomings?
I come from a large family. Actually, I come from two large families. My Dad is one of twelve children. My Mom is one of nine. Both sides of my family have made family a priority. Not only have they committed to a lot of procreating, they have committed to a lot of recreating too. Both The Albrechts and The Spraus have made pilgrimages to the Snow Mountain Ranch in Winter Park, Colorado, which has been rated as the #1 location in America for family reunions. Although how one mountain in Colorado is known as Snow Mountain confounds me. Don’t all of Colorado’s mountains have snow?
Bonding and Building
Family bonding and team building are the focus (or is that foci) of our reunions. We stay in large family cabins that house 40 to 80 people each. We play together, eat together, and enjoy general togetherness together.
On one of the days at each reunion we participate in organized team building exercises. The ranch offers a wide variety of activities that require you to learn how to work with a partner, or an entire team, in order complete a challenge.
The Cable Walk
One of my favorite challenges is the partner cable walk. In this challenge two partners stand on separate cables suspended 18 inches off the ground. Facing each other, the partners have to move as far along the cable as possible without falling off. The kicker is that the cables are arranged in a V-shape, so they spread farther and farther apart as you walk.
When we took on this challenge several years ago with my Mom’s family, I sat back and observed the other pairs as they navigated the cables. I studied what worked and what didn’t. The best performance (farthest distance traveled) was from my brother-in-law Uriah, and my cousin Jacci’s husband, Mike. If you laid Uriah and Mike end-to-end (which to my knowledge we have never done) they would be close to 13 feet long. All things being equal, height was a major advantage.
But all things were not equal. I quickly spotted what I thought people were doing wrong. All of the pairs who went before me held hands and started inching down the cables. While holding on to each other seemed like a good strategy, I could tell it was not the best strategy. And eventually it became a limiting strategy.
Finally, using the insights from our observations, my wife Dawn and I took our turn. Unlike everyone else, we didn’t hold on to each other. Instead, we leaned against each other. As we started, we looked as if we were doing standing push ups against each other. Or maybe we looked like we got caught playing Patty Cake with crazy glue on our palms.
As we made our way along the v-shaped cables we became a human hinge, with our hands forming the connection point. As the cables formed a large and expanding V-shape, Dawn and I also formed a V-shape that allowed us to match the angle of the cables. This made all the difference. In fact, our lean-on-me technique enabled Dawn and I to travel twice as far as any other pair. Or pear. Or Pierre.
It is easy to think we are teaming with others when we are in the same office, or on the same court or field. But proximity and contact are not enough. You have to reorient yourself to rely on your partners or teammates to do their jobs. You have to sacrifice your individual posture in order to create an even stronger team, machine, company or partnership.
Applying This At Work
As we grow the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I know we need to continue building and operating as an interdependent team. In order to thrive we need to create a scalable organization that gets larger and broader and deeper to accommodate the increase in demand. Which means that each of our members must do what is best for the entire team. And each of us must be able to trust our teammates to do their jobs, without handholding. It is the only way to achieve our ambitious goals.
In order for the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts, we can’t simply hold on to each other. We must lean on each other. We must trust that our teammates will lean back on us. By creating this dynamic, we create a structure of support that can produce much greater results than we could ever create on our own. This is true at work, in athletics and in families. It is certainly true within our marriages. 18 years ago today Dawn and I had our very first date. Ever since then, we have been leaning on each other, and accomplishing more together than we ever could have on our own. Just like we did on the partner cable walk at the family reunion in Colorado.
My daughter Ava is a good student. She just finished 6th grade and her report cards always look like they have my initials all over them. She is a self-starter and a self-finisher. Which means that while I would like to be more involved with her academics, she usually doesn’t need my help.
Her final science project of the year finally gave me a chance to get involved. The assignment was to build a Rube Goldberg Machine that incorporated at least four simple machines (#physicstalk).
For those of you who aren’t down with RGM, a Rube Goldberg Machine is a machine, device or thingy that uses a chain reaction to perform a very simple task in a very complicated way. I love this kind of project. It combines science, creativity and whimsy (Did I mention that in college I majored in whimsy?)
The Big Question
The project was a mixture of problem solving fun and you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me frustration. But helping Ava with her RGM set off a series of linked thoughts in my head. My Father Brain nudged my Business-Owner Brain which produced the question:
Are organizations unintentionally creating Rube Goldberg Machines to do what should be done easily?
It shouldn’t be that hard.
Most organizations develop processes and procedures, whether officially or by default, that are way too complicated. What should take a one person a few minutes to complete turns into a complicated chain of events, with too many sign-offs, too many check-ins, too much standing in line, too much discussing and not enough doing.
Check yourself before your wreck yourself.
Chances are that you have an RGM in your organization. But instead of being whimsical and entertaining, it wastes time, adds costs and has a negative impact on customer service.
If you notice an overly complicated process within your organization, or in your interactions with your partners, vendors or clients, let them know. Businesses need this kind of feedback. Because it is really easy to make an easy task difficult.
Taking a fresh look.
When I started the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I reveled in the opportunity to make our processes simple. I also have a long-term vision of the business that should help us avoid unnecessary complexities. But we are not perfect. We will also require regular evaluations and feedback from our team, partners and clients to make sure we are not complicating what should not be complicated.
Rube Goldberg Machines offer good opportunities to teach children about physics. They offer great entertainment. In fact, I would subscribe to The Rube Goldberg Machine channel if such a thing existed. But within organizations, let’s not overcomplicate. Let’s always look for ways to de-complicate our processes and procedures to make sure we are not wasting time or money.
In case you were wondering…
*I envisioned Ava creating a small contraption on a table in our basement. But that’s not Ava’s style. She created a large machine in our driveway, despite the fact that she would have to set it all up and take it all down every day until she completed the project. She finally completed a successful run at 8pm on my birthday. Which meant that my birthday was spent doing a lot more tweaking of components than celebrating me. But that’s what parents do.
Your brain is the most powerful muscle in your body. Ok, your brain isn’t really a muscle. But it is so powerful it KNOWS that it’s not a muscle! Your most powerful muscles are actually your glutes or your quadriceps, depending on who you ask. And depending on whether or not you are keeping up with Kim Kardashian. You can strengthen these leg muscles doing squats, leg presses, lunges, deadlifts and by delivering refrigerators.
However, you should never perform these leg exercises without warming up first. For two reasons.
You could shred your muscles like pulled pork.
You will not perform at your best.
You should warm up your muscles to recruit as many fibers and synapses as possible for the mission. It also loosens the muscles, gets blood flowing through the area and prepares them for action.
Your brain works the same way. When your alarm clock detonates in the morning your brain is cold. That’s why so many people try to stoke some brainial heat with coffee or tea. But it takes actual mental activity to get your brain primed and ready for work.
I have a trick I use to get my brain ready to perform in the morning. It’s not a drink, a dish or a pill. It doesn’t make you sweaty, stinky or even raise your heart rate.
A great way to warm up you brain.
I am a professional creative thinker. I own an advertising and idea agency, called The Weaponry, where we try to stretch our thinking as far as possible every day. To prepare for creative thinking, I use several different techniques to get my brain warmed up. One of my favorite techniques is to spend a few minutes working on brain games.
I like a challenge that forces me to think through questions from multiple angles, spot interesting connections, or evaluate at a level that goes beyond the obvious. I do this in a variety of ways. Here are 5 options that you can try tomorrow morning before work.
5 Warm up techniques that recruit your brain cells.
Brain Challenges: My go-to morning stimuli are my Mensa Mind Challenge books. (I’m not a member of Mensa. I just play one at the bookstore.) They contain a range of
puzzles, math problems and brain teasers. Discovering the answers opens my mind and helps me view the problem, and thus the world, through a different lens.
Soduko Puzzles: These number sequencing puzzles are moronically simple, yet complex at the same time (like me). I really like the fact that I can keep switching my focus to get to the ultimate solve. I’ll hone in on a single number for a while. Then I might focus on a small box. Then a line. I like the fact that I never guess at Soduko. I focus on one small point until I know the answer with certainty before a I declare an answer. This works differently than the Mensa challenges because there is one simple, clear answer for each box, hiding in plain sight. I simply have to force it into focus.
Mazes: These were my childhood favorites. I love the fact that you can think you know where you are going and suddenly you come to a dead-end and have to look in another direction. Many of our life challenges are like this. We think we are on the right path until we know we are not. Then we have no choice but to reevaluate our choices and perspectives. Someone should write a book about this phenomenon. Oh wait they did. (Who moved my cheese?)
Crosswords: These classics are great because they force you to dig into your broad knowledge base. But they also enable you to employ strategy and technique to help you fill in your knowledge gaps, using what you know to offer clues about the things you don’t know. Here you can guess the answers without inducing catastrophic failure (see Soduko). I appreciate that they let you develop increasing levels of certainty on your hypothesis as you progress. They also reward you for knowing Tom Jones songs. So there’s that.
Memory Games: I have become increasingly interested in memory challenges. I come from long-lived people (I currently have 198 years worth of grandmothers). So maintaining my memory is going to be an important life skill. The power of the mind to develop visual codes to remember number sequences is fascinating to me. Over the coming years I expect memory games to become a larger part of my routine as I work to fight off dementia (I was born with as much dementia as I will ever need).
The benefit of a warm brain.
Puzzles in the morning get your brain firing. You will feel like you have recruited more brain cells. You will feel alert and ready to think better, faster, stronger, and probably for longer. It’s like Viagra for the brain. Kinda.
Even though I am a naturally creative thinker, these puzzles, games and challenges help me stimulate my brain in a way that reduces creative blind spots. It is easy to fall into a mental rut and use the same type of creative processes, tools and paths over and over again. The morning puzzles can be like opening a mental tool box of problem solving devices. When you see the tools you could use, the tools themselves reveal the paths to various solutions.
I like the way the puzzles stretch your thinking. They help you see different angles and perspectives. This pays off as you try to solve other business (or life) challenges the rest of the day. The puzzles and mind challenges ensure that your mind is alert, stretched, primed and fully powered to find new possibilities.
These puzzles are also fun. Starting your morning with a bit of fun and play makes your morning more enjoyable. That mood state alone contributes to more creative thinking.
If you are more math oriented consider this: if you could expand the power of your problem solving or creative thinking by just 10% by readying your mind, you will significantly expand the circle of solutions you can uncover.
Try warming up with some puzzles this week. Let me know how you feel afterwards. If you have a type of puzzle, quiz or test you use to keep yourself sharp please share it here. I could use all the help I can get. Especially in the morning, when I am delivering refrigerators.
When I was in college I spent my summers at home in Vermont working for a party rental company. I set up huge party tents with other college athletes, a few rugged high schoolers and a handful of experienced veterans who had real jobs, but would help set tents on the weekends for extra income (and presumably to show us what brands of jeans were cool a decade ago).
There was lot of beef on that crew. You had to be strong because the job entailed lugging tents that weighed more than you did and carrying all the tables, chairs and dance floors needed to get your party on. You also had to be able to hammer 40-inch steel spikes into the granite of Vermont and New Hampshire. This was not a job for the chess club.
Learning the ropes.
The first few tents I set up were in idyllic settings on lush, sprawling lawns. The tents were erected (snicker) in textbook fashion. You laid the tent out flat. Pulled the ropes straight out from the tent. At each rope you drove a spike into the ground four feet from the tent. You tied the ropes to the spikes. Then you set up a side pole at each rope to support the perimeter of the tent. Finally, you set up the tall center poles in the (surprise…) center of the tent. I was a pretty smart kid. I caught on quickly.
Then I went on what I thought would be a really easy assignment. I was sent to set a small 20 foot by 20 foot square tent in a woman’s front yard with one of the veterans. I thought we would be done in twenty minutes.
Then came the problems.
When we got to the house I immediately began to worry. There was no large field of green. There was what amounted to a small rug-sized lawn squeezed in front of a small house. There was no 20′ X 20′ space to be found. There was no way to place the spikes back 4 feet from the tent so we could tie the tent down and anchor them properly. In one corner of the yard the porch of the house prevented us from driving any spike at all.
This was not good. A woman was expecting a tent for her party, but we weren’t going to be able to set it up in this space. The backyard had even less lawn. So that wasn’t an option either. I turned to Dave, the veteran, and said, ‘This is bad! We can’t set the tent. It doesn’t fit here.’ Dave was completely unfazed. He said, “Come on Greenhorn. Let me show you how it’s done.’
The Eye-Opening Transformation
What happened next changed me in ways that will impact my clients for the rest of my career. Dave found solutions for every single problem. Instead of setting the tent in the standard, follow-the-manual way, he set it in the way the situation allowed. Dave mapped out a plan that I had completely missed. He tied the tent ropes, that normally get tied to spikes in the ground, to anything that would hold them. We tied ropes to the fence. We tied ropes to trees. We tied ropes to the railing on the front porch of the house. The bushes and flower beds I thought prevented us from setting the tent in the front yard simply ended up under the tent, adding ambiance. And everything looked perfect. The tent pulled straight and tight and clean, despite the fact that half of the anchor points had been improvised to accommodate for the environment.
It felt like my brain grew 500% that day. I quickly learned to love the challenges of compromised conditions. Over the next three years I became so adept at problem solving I believed there was no problem I couldn’t overcome.
Putting the lessons to work.
Today I use the mindset I developed setting tents in my advertising career. At my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, we deeply believe there is a solution to every problem. We don’t focus on what we would have done in the best case scenario. We explore what can be done given the reality. What can be done with the hand we have been dealt. That means no excuses. We always work to maximize the outcomes given the current situation. Because the key to life is a good plan B or C or D.
Don’t spend a moment thinking about how things should have been done if the situation were different. Focus on how to bake the best cake with the ingredients you have right now. It’s the only way. Put all of your time, thought and energy into solving the problem in front of you. Recognize your assets. Make them work for you. Just like Dave showed me how to make that tent work in that small yard back when I was just a Greenhorn.