Entrepreneurship taught me I can create my own friend groups.

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

College

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

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

Work Work Work Work Work Like Rihanna.

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

Coworker friends from NYC, Columbus, Pittsburgh and Atlanta.

Entrepreneurship

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

The Weaponry Friends.

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

Getting The Band Back Together

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

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

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

New Kids On The Block

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

An original collection of former UW Badger varsity athletes.

Key Takeaway

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

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

Prepare to turn your opportunities into inflection points.

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

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

Opportunity Points

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

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

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

How to capitalize on your opportunities.

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

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

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

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

Key Takeaway

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

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

The important thing to remember about desserts, and life.

Early this week I had dinner with an entrepreneur in Saint Paul. He’s a real go-getter. He fills his time with major initiatives that over time will lead to remarkable results. He is hyper-ambitious, hyper-hardworking, hyper-productive. Which makes me feel like I am not trying very hard at life.

My guy has been working on a new startup. The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, has been helping him with marketing, packaging, design, and all the other things a startup needs to look like a well-established business. #theygrowupsofast

The Dessert

The product is an interesting and novel dessert. (Remember, 2 S’s means a sweet treat, not a dry sandy place.) I asked him how things were going. He shared that almost everything was going well. Suppliers, facilities, equipment, funding, prospects, and strategy were all in place. There was just one challenge. The product was just ok.

To be clear, he started with a great product. But they have been experimenting to find the perfect combination of price, shelf-life, and manufacturing process. It’s the type of stuff that makes a viable business product less fun than the ideal product you would make for yourself.

Other people who were with us who had tried the latest version of the product were supportive and said that they liked it, and shared that other people had liked it too. My guy shook off the support and noted that they had recently performed taste-test research, and the results were just ok. Because like Shakira’s hips, tastebuds don’t lie.

Not Good Enough

The great problem is that when you are creating desserts, okay doesn’t cut it. Desserts have to be worth the splurge. The taste has to be worth the cost. And the experience has to be worth the calories.

A just-okay dessert is a failure. Like 38 Special, it won’t get a second chance. It has to rate as good at a minimum. Ratings of great, amazing, indulgent, to-die-for, and better-than-sex mean you have a winner.

Key Takeaway

Unless you are trying to be the low-price option, evaluate your products and services as if they were desserts. Good is the starting point. Don’t expect any repeat business or happy customers until you get to great or better. Make your offering worth the money. It’s the only way to make the work you put in worth it.

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

Do you binge your favorite things or make them last?

What are your favorite shows of all time? Think about your favorite series from different eras of your life. The ones you enjoyed the most. The best stories. The most engaging characters. The funniest situation and language. The greatest plot twists and cliffhangers. It’s okay to claim The Dukes of Hazard or Saved By The Bell. #LoveIsLove.

A few classics come to mind:

  • Seinfeld
  • Friends
  • Mad Men
  • 30 Rock
  • The Simpsons
  • Breaking Bad
  • Game of Thrones
  • Yellowstone
  • Presidential Debates

When you reflect on your favorites don’t you wish you could watch them all again for the first time?

Today we can binge watch almost anything. And it is tempting. Because streaming services and on-demand programming make entertainment an all-you-can binge buffet. Or what my college teammate Jason ‘Hoss’ Casiano called a scarf-n-barf.

But don’t binge all you can. Take your time. Enjoy the best programs slowly. Not five in a sitting. Watch one episode per night, or a couple each week and make it last longer.

The same is true for food and beverages. Unless you are Joey Chestnut or Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas, binge eating and drinking rarely leaves you feeling like you are making good choices. Slow down. Take your time. Enjoy the best stuff slowly.

Key Takeaway

Things that are enjoyable should last. And while your curiosity wants to rush, remember, you will enjoy it all longer if you spread it out. Conserve your enjoyment. Anticipation is half the fun.

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

Why you should share your circle with more people.

When you first meet someone new, you have nothing in common. At least not that you know of. You are just two individual circles in a Venn Diagram, separate and distinct, with no shared areas. Like the lenses of John Lennon’s glasses. (Imagine that for a moment. It’s easy if you try.)

However, the more time you spend together the more the circles in your Venn Diagram will overlap, like the Mastercard logo. (Which is priceless.) This Venning happens for 3 reasons:

  1. Conversation reveals how much you have in common.
  2. You share everything new that you experience together.
  3. Through discussion, idea sharing, and learning you begin to incorporate their knowledge and thinking into your own.
Venn Diagrams show venn you have things in common and venn you don’t.

This phenomenon of Venning is extremely valuable. It is key to friendship and courtship. It is how people with diverse backgrounds and experiences profit from each other. This sharing leads to understanding, acceptance, and ultimately to peace and goodwill.

Venning is the reason to network. By meeting others and learning what they know and who they know you not only grow the number of people you have in common with others, but you also incorporate their body of knowledge into your own.

This process can have a powerful influence on your career. By spending time with those who have more experience than you, you pick up their knowledge and techniques. It is key to apprenticeships, internships, mentorships, and probably building ships. You can quickly accelerate past the natural pace of learning and mistaking on your own through the guidance you receive from others.

Charlie ‘Tremendous’ Jones  said, “You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.” This is because both the books and the people will add to your knowledge, your way of thinking, and your ability to connect to others. And evidently, the more people you know the more likely you are to pick up a tremendous nickname.

Key Takeaway.

Meet as many people as you can. Learn who and what they know. Absorb as much knowledge, experience and perspective as possible. Tap into their networks, and bring as many of their people into your own sphere as you can.

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

What story are you telling yourself?

On Sunday morning I was at our local high school for a track meet. While I spent a lot of time at the Homestead High School track in Mequon, Wisconsin this year as the throwing coach for the Highlander girl’s track team, Sunday morning was different.

I was a volunteer official for the Wisconsin Senior Olympics track meet. Which means that I marked the discus for senior competitors who ranged in age from 50 up to 93. It was inspirational to see all of the athletes in the second half of their athletic careers.

It was clear they were having a lot of fun, and the community was very supportive. It was also clear that the brighter the spandex the better for the senior crowd. And there was a lot more talk about the medical procedures scheduled or recently performed than at your average high school meet.

However, after the men and women threw I noticed that many of them came out to pick up their discuses and made a point of telling me how poorly they were throwing. They were self-deprecating, and good-natured about it. But I noted how prevalent the today’s-not-my-day response was. I also figured that one of the challenges of being a senior competitor is comparing your 70-year old skills to when you were a 60-year old whippersnapper.

I responded with encouragement. I told them all to make the next one count. And that it only takes one good throw to have a good meet.

Today is my day!

However, there was one woman who stood out. She was the last and oldest woman discus thrower of the day. She was 77 year-old Susan Morris from Sheboygan. During her warmups she told me she was training to break the state age-group record. Which is impressive at an age when many of her contemporaries are just trying not to break a hip.

When Susan threw I was surprised how far the discus flew. Unlike many of the other competitors, she never served up any modesty, and never said the day wasn’t her day. I knew she had the right mindset when she came out to the field to retrieve her discus after her 3rd of 4 throws. I told her she was doing a great job. She took me by surprise when she announced, ‘I’m gonna throw the shit out of my last throw!

Susan and I are now Facebook friends, which is where I stole the shit out of this picture.

The 77-year old returned to the ring for her last throw and unleashed her best throw of the day. A personal record. Her best throw ever. Just 4 feet from the state record she’s hunting.

When I talked to Susan after the meet she said that she trains without a coach, and learns how to throw, the way most of the seniors do –by watching discus videos on YouTube.

She asked me if I thought I could help her add 5 more feet to her throw. And I said I expected I could help her add another 10 feet. She jumped up and down, pumped her fists, and eagerly asked how much I charge. I said it depends on how far you throw.

Attitude Is Everything

I know I could help Susan because anyone who says I am going to throw the shit out of my last throw has the right attitude to be successful at whatever she takes on.

We all write our own stories in our heads first. Then we bring that story to life. And if the story you tell is that today is not your day, I am 100% sure today is not your day. But if the story is about how much effort you will put in, and about the great outcome you will make happen, sooner or later, your story will end just the way you scripted it.

I also met Pat Hauser from Lake Mills, Wisconsin, who dominated the men’s competition as a 70-year old with a great attitude! We connected some dots and discovered that he was the high school track and basketball coach of my close friend and college teammate, James Dunkleberger. James was the 1997 NCAA Division I decathlon national champion. This morning I discovered that Pat and I also share a birthday!

Key Takeaway

Tell a great story about yourself. Then make it come true. Believe in your ability to work hard and perform at your highest level. And when you throw yourself into your work, throw the shit out of it. Just like Susan Morris of Sheboygan, the future Wisconsin state record holder in the discus.

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

Every day you can find an excuse not to do the work.

Entrepreneurship is no joke. I started my own advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry in 2016. The business requires a great deal of effort to maintain and grow. It’s not for the weak of heart, weak of mind or weak of alarm clock.

At the same time I started my business I also started writing this blog. I wanted to share my experience and learnings with others. Now I publish a new post 3 days per week. Every day except Saturday I get up at 6 am to write. On Saturdays I sleep in until 6:30 am. I’m like the ‘Time-To-Make-The-Donuts’ man. Except consuming a lot of what I’m making won’t give you diabetes.

However, almost every day I can find an excuse not to do the things I need to do to grow my business or write my blog. I can always, always find excuses not to get up and put in the work to improve our product, processes and people. I can find excuses not to write, polish, and publish the next post. But Like Forrest Gump kept on run-ning, I keep wor-king, and wri-ting.

Excuses are everywhere. And they can get you out of anything hard. In fact, excuses can make your life easier. Much easier.

Excuses are like A-holes, Taylor. Everybody’s got one.

-Sgt. O’Neill from Platoon

But every time you grab one of those excuses you are robbing yourself. You are robbing from all that you are capable of doing and becoming. You are robbing from your life’s work. You are robbing from your own personal legend. You are robbing money from your own pocket. You are robbing from your belief in yourself that you are accountable, reliable and resilient. That you are determined, focused and driven.

An excuse is like Superman’s Kryptonite. The excuse itself weakens you. It zaps you of your superpower. It makes you a very ordinary human. Which means you are Clark-Kenty. Not the super version of you that you really want to be.

Don’t touch the excuses. They only appear to be permission slips that let you sleep in, knock off early, put in half-effort, or not work at all. But they kill your momentum. They kill progress. And they sabotage your success. (Listen all y’all it’s a sabotage!)

At the end of your days, when your obituary is written and your eulogy is read, they won’t mention all the excuses you had for not doing more. They will only talk about what you did, who you were, what you accomplished and the impact you had on other people. Remember that the next time you consider grabbing an excuse.

Key Takeaway

Don’t accept the excuses life offers. Do what you are supposed to do to live into your vision for yourself. Let others take the excuses. And separate yourself from them. That alone is the difference maker. Both successful people and unsuccessful people know what they should do. The successful people actually do what they are supposed to do to make their dreams come true. Everyone else makes excuses.

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

Are you getting to the root of your problems?

On Friday night a storm came through Southeastern Wisconsin and knocked out our power like Mike Tyson, pre-face tattoo. The combination of wind, lightning, and rain was more than our grid could handle. As a result, we had a very Amish Friday night.

Five hours later, when the power was finally restored at about 11pm, our internet, cable, and phone didn’t come back on. My wife tried unplugging the modem. She tried disconnecting and reconnecting the coaxial cables. But nothing helped. So we blew out the candles and oil lamps in our little house on the prairie. We tucked Laura, Mary, and Carrie in. And Ma and I went to bed.

Saturday morning we tried rebooting the stuff again. But still nothing. I asked my neighbor Paul if his bundle was functional. (No innuendo intended.) And it was. Which meant the problem was likely at our house.

We called Spectrum, our bundle supplier, and they told us we were the only ones with the outage. They sent a re-booty signal to try to get things going. But it didn’t work.

So they lined up a tech to come find the problem. But he wouldn’t arrive until Monday at 5pm. I assumed the delay was because he was coming from another state, by horse.

Then my wife had an a-ha. She said the last time she called about a problem the Spectrum service rep told her our modem was very old and likely the issue. So Dawn called Spectrum again, and they agreed that we should swap our modem for a new one.

So I drove to downtown Milwaukee on Saturday morning to initiate a modem transplant. I came home, plugged in the fresh new Modem and router, and still nothing. I felt like Yukon Cornelius licking his pick ax while looking for gold and tasting only gravel.

So we waited out the rest of Saturday, Sunday, and Monday without our bundle of digital joy.

Monday at 5 pm we were excited to finally get our bundle back. But the tech didn’t show up. At 6 pm he still wasn’t there. In fact, he didn’t arrive until 9:30 pm.

When he entered our home he asked to see where the cable came into the house. I took him to the basement and showed him the cabley-wirey area by the fuse box that seemed to be the nerve center of our home.

The tech immediately announced, ‘Your amplifier isn’t working. It probably got zapped in the storm. I’ll go grab a new one from my truck.’

He went out to the truck, got a new amplifier, installed it, and everything came back on.

Key Takeaway

Get to the root of the problem. Know where it starts. When you discover and address the core issue, everything changes. Actions become easier and more productive. And your situation improves right away.

In business and in life we don’t always dig deep enough to get to the root issue. We find other issues to address. We address symptoms. We find secondary, easier issues to deal with. But not the root causes.

Surround yourself with people who are great problem solvers. Find people who think scientifically, and can go beyond the obvious issues to find the underlying causes. Learn how they analyze and diagnose root problems. Adopt their methods. And your problem-solving value will increase dramatically.

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

When I smile at people one of two things always happens.

I smile a lot. As Buddy Elf said, smiling is my favorite. I smile first thing in the the morning when I open my eyes to start my day right. On a typical day I try to smile at everyone I encounter. Oh, who am I fooling? I don’t really try to smile at everyone. It just happens, even without trying. It’s just the way I am programmed.

Me and my friend Chris Winters smiling when we saw each other for the first time in 10 years.

When I greet others with a smile one of two things always happens.

1. The other person responds with a great smile.

I love it when people smile back. When this happens the world improves. When my smile generates a smile in another person I enjoy a huge return on my investment. It feels as if I have more friends and fewer foes. I see others in the best light. A shared smile means we are more likely to talk to each other. More likely to develop a significant relationship. And more likely to know if the other person has spinach in their teeth.

Me and Amy Meadows smiling in Carmel, Indiana. Because it is the happiest place in Indiana.

2. The other person does nothing.

A surprising percentage of the time when I smile at someone I get nothing in return. No smile. No smirk. No Mona Lisa impression. Nothing. When the non-response happens it doesn’t bother me. In fact, I always think it is funny. As if the person is facial expression illiterate.

Here my good friend Raghu demonstrates smile immunity.

The lack of a return smile is rarely if ever about me. It is about the other person, and what they are or are not prepared to give. I don’t feel shunned, rejected or ashamed. I simply think, that person either can’t smile right now or doesn’t know how. When this happens I move on and smile at the next person. And the person after that. And the person after that. Because you can’t let an unreturned smile impact the next person you see.

Smiling with my fellow Weapons Adam Emery and Kevin Kayse.

Key Takeaway

Share your smile with others. It is one of the most valuable gifts you can give another person. Don’t worry if they don’t know what to do with it. Most people do. Most people deeply appreciate it. Smile for them. And for yourself. Do what you know is right, and don’t worry about those who get it wrong or take it wrong. Some people don’t know how to play smile tennis. Just keep serving them aces.

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

23 sources of inspiration from my recent vacation.

Sunday night I returned home from my summer vacation. And my head is filled with inspiration I picked up along the way. I consider vacations to be critical to my creativity.

To feed your creativity you have to do, see, hear, feel and taste interesting things. Then you put all of those experiences and knowledge into your processor. Which enables you to create valuable new connections that lead to new ideas and inspirations.

Here are 23 sources of inspiration I collected over the last 9 days:

  1. The power and wonder of Niagara Falls. (And the natural ability for trinket shops to capitalize on natural wonders.)

2. How simply setting a time and place for a reunion can draw people together from all over the country. (It’s easier to create these events than you think.)

3. The thrill of learning how to wake surf, and seeing your children learn too.

4. The beauty and artistry of handblown glass at Simon Pearce. (But thinking it should really be called mouthblown glass. Or maybe lungblown.)

5. Visiting my childhood home in Norwich, Vermont, and seeing both the change and the unchanged.

6. The magnetism and fun of the Ben & Jerry’s factory.

7. The way smoke from wildfires in Oregon can eventually alter the sunlight in New England.

8. The energy of Church Street in Burlington, Vermont. (Yet there is no Church’s Chicken.)

9. A fun hike on Mt. Philo and the panoramic view of the Green Mountains, Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks. (You can tell the Green Mountains from the Adirondacks by looking at the chairs.)

10. How amazing cleaned wedding bands look when you take them back to their birthplace to be polished up. (Not like Polish Sausage.)

11. Seeing Global Rescue’s new office space. GR was The Weaponry’s first client. Dan Richards and his team are thriving!

12. Partaking in the summer tradition of rock jumping at waterfalls into deep pools of icy cold water. And how natural swimming spots are better than man-or-woman-made spots.

13. The joy of coordinating an impromptu meetup on the side of the road with my baby sister who I hadn’t seen in 2 years because of Covid. We realized the Venn Diagram of our travels overlapped for a brief moment in Concord, New Hampshire.

14. Walking the Freedom Trail in Boston and remembering the power of rebellion.

15. Witnessing the power of the Witch Hunt by visiting Salem, Massachusetts. (Then signing up for a witch-hunting safety course.)

16. The polish and panache of the shops and establishments on Newberry Street in Boston.

17. The serendipity of running into friends and family on the street when I saw my cousin Brooks Albrecht randomly on the sidewalk in Boston.

18. The draw of a winner at Gillette Stadium and Patriot Place in Foxborough, MASS. (Go Pats!)

19. The natural beauty of Newport, Rhode Island, and the wow of the Mansions on the Cliff Walk. (People do the walking, not the mansions.)

20. The vibrancy of Dublin, Ohio, where our family called home for 7 years. Dublin continues to innovate and transform itself. (I think they are trying to woo us back.)

21. My friend Troy Allen’s establishments (Pins Mechanical, 16-Bit Arcade and No Soliciting.) I followed these concepts from idea to execution. To see them packed with people is a testament to great ideas executed well.)

22. Showing my family The Weaponry’s Columbus office for the first time.

23. An appreciation for home after an extended time away.

Key Takeaway

Take your vacation time. It is critical to your creativity, mental health, energy and inspiration. See and do new things. Revisit old favorites. Stimulate your brain. spend time with friends and family. Make new friends. And profit from it all in your professional and personal life.

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