Since I was in college I have heard career-minded folk talk about the importance of networking. Which begs the question, What the fruit is networking? Because before college I didn’t network, and I seem to have gotten along just fine.
But starting my freshman year in college, professors, advisors and guest speakers talked about networking as if it twas the key to success beyond college (twas is a word you can only use in December). Then I started my career in advertising and I heard the same thing. Business books and career coaches strongly encourage you to network. I have even attended a few functions called networking events. Oy.
So what the funk does it means to network?
Oh looky here! I found a definition.
Network (verb): interact with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one’s career.
Ahh. When you put it that way, I understand what you mean. And it kinda makes me want to barf. ‘Interacting with people‘, ‘exchanging information’ and ‘developing contacts’ is something that can be done by a machine. Or a criminal.
What I do.
While other people network, I am still doing what I did before college. Before I was told that networking was the key to advancing my career. Before I was told networking was crucial to successful entrepreneurship.
No. I don’t network.
What does that mean? Well, I just happen to have the definition for you right here:
Befriend (verb): act as a friend to someone by offering help or support.
This is what I do. I learned how to do this when I was in pre-school and it has served me well my entire life. Notice the keys to befriending? You act as a friend. You offer help and support. This is the good stuff. This is what other people really want. This is how you improve life on the big blue marble.
When you dive into the synonyms of befriending you develop an even richer picture:
make friends with
make a friend of
keep an eye on
be of service to
lend a helping hand to
The Take Away
The world would be a better place if we stopped trying to network, and we just tried to make friends. So I encourage you to develop real relationships. Because when you make people the most important thing in your life, everything else magically falls into place. Our relationships, and the positive impact we have on one another, are the only things that really matter. It is true at home. It is true in pre-school. It is true in college. And it is true in business. So if you really want to be a great success, be a great friend. If there is any way I can help, please let me know.
These are strange and unsettling times. Since news first broke of Harvey Weinstein doing Harvey Weinsteinian things we have seen a daily parade of disgraced public figures who can’t seem to keep their privates private. Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose… The list, unfortunately goes on and on.
I’ve seen more #metoos than I can stomach. In this current climate Donald Trump would never have been elected president. The Billy Bush audio tape, and the way he bragged about treating women would have received a much different reception a year later, thanks to our new cultural enlightenment. We have experienced a national shift on sexual harassment and abuse. And it’s long overdue.
Yesterday brought new news about Matt Lauer. At first when we heard that he had been fired from his job as anchor of NBC’s Today, many thought this was a rush to judgement. An overreaction. But as the day progressed we learned more and more about the behavior that led to Lauer’s firing. It was not good. And it was not a simple lapse in judgment. What we saw by the end of the day was a clear picture of who Matt Lauer really is when the camera is not rolling.
But what really struck me was the headline that accompanied the news of Matt Lauer’s firing. It said he was fired for ‘Inappropriate Sexual Activities In The Work Place’. Which begs the question:
How much sexual activity is appropriate in the work place?
Are we really talking about a grey area here? Is this a judgement call? Is this a I’ll-know-it-when-I-see-it thing?
The answer depends on what kind of work you do. If you work in the sex industry, sexual activity at work is not only appropriate, it is necessary. And if you like to mix your sexual activity with work, this is definitely the industry for you.
But if you work in ANY other industry there should be no sexual activity at work.
Does this sound way too extreme to you? Or does it sound like I am declaring the obvious? The fact that people fall into such different camps on this subject is part of the problem. Perhaps you think we should allow a little leeway, because there could be legitimate attraction in the workplace.
I know something about that too.
I met my wife at work.
My now-wife Dawn and I were both in our 20s and worked at a large advertising agency when we first met. This is the kind of setting that movies and tv shows use for steamy and/or tawdry workplace antics. And I can say with great confidence that I partook in none of that (did I really just use the word partook?).
I respected my workplace, and the woman I have now been married to for 15 years enough to not engage in any sexually laden language or sexual advances at work. Instead we spent time talking and getting to know each other. Like normal, well-balanced humans do. In fact, yesterday, when discussing this topic, my wife said:
Your activities were so appropriate I didn’t even know you liked me.
There had been no romantic or sexual activity. No innuendo. There was no groping or grabbing or exposing. Instead our G-rated work interactions included throwing a frisbee together at the company picnic. That really got the office buzzing.
Let’s eliminate sexual activity at work (except for sex industry workers). Everyone else keep your hands to yourself. Keep your clothes on, fully buttoned and zipped. Don’t rub, cup or squeeze anything. Don’t whip anything out. Don’t ask for permission to fiddle with yourself. Don’t host or attend work meetings in a hotel room.
Guys, treat your female coworkers with the respect you would give your mother, sister, wife or daughter. Women, demand the same of your male coworkers. If you can’t control your sexual urges at work, get yourself some professional help. That is not normal. And today it will no longer be tolerated. Just ask Matt Lauer.
*If you would like to see what I write about when people are behaving at work please scroll down to see other posts. If you like what you read, consider subscribing. If you don’t like what you read, let’s just be friends.
**To see what my 12-year old daughter Ava and I wrote about Matt Lauer in our Daddy-Daughter blog, Dad Says Daughter Says, click here.
These modes are not sequential. You can shift from one mode to another in any order you choose. Read a book and you are in Growth Mode. Do some drugs and you are in atrophy mode. Brush your teeth and you are in Maintenance Mode. (Listen to some 80s English electronic music and you are in Depeche Mode.)
Right now I am spending as much time as I can in Growth Mode. I am reading for learning. I’m working out regularly. And I have started my own advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry, which pushes me to grow every day.
Growing By Learning From Others.
To push myself for more growth, I am soaking up as much as I can about inventors and pioneers. Recently I’ve studied Walt Disney, Lewis and Clark, the team at Pixar, and Ernest Shackleton. Right now I am studying Orville and Wilbur Wright. Notice I say that I am studying them. Not reading about them. You can read simply to be entertained. Or to kill time. I’m studying because I am trying to learn and grow.
The Wright Brothers
For those of you who aren’t up to date on your turn-of-the-last-century trivia, Orville and Wilbur Wright, from Dayton, Ohio, invented the airplane. Which changed the world forever. In fact, if it weren’t for them you wouldn’t be able to complain about the lack of leg room or that spotty in-flight wi-fi as you cross the entire country in just 6 hours.
One of the things that stood out to me about the Wrights was their highly pragmatic approach to their own growth and learning. Today, you and I can use their approach to develop our own breakthroughs, both personally and professionally.
The Wright Stuff
To learn and grow like the Wright Brothers read the following excerpt from a talk Double Dubs (my nickname for Wilbur Wright) gave to a group of engineers in Chicago:
Now, there are two ways of learning to ride a fractious horse: One is to get on him and learn by actual practice how each motion and trick may be best met; the other is to sit on a fence and watch the beast a while, and then retire to the house and at leisure figure out the best way of overcoming his jumps and kicks.
The latter system is the safest, but the former, on the whole, turns out the larger proportion of good riders. It is very much the same in learning to ride a flying machine; if you are looking for perfect safety, you will do well to sit on a fence and watch the birds; but if you really wish to learn, you must mount a machine and become acquainted with its tricks by actual trial. -Wilbur Wright 1901
Applying Wilbur’s Approach
The same holds true for you my friend. You can study that challenge in front of you from the comfort of your couch. You can read about it, talk about it and watch other people do it. But if you really want to learn how to do it yourself, you have to climb aboard your own flying machine and learn the tricks yourself, through trial and error.
That’s how I started The Weaponry. I read and studied and tried to prepare ahead of time. But eventually I had to jump in the cockpit, pull back on the wheel and start messing with the controls. I’m learning by doing. And I’m learning faster than I ever could from a book or a class.
The same approach holds true for learning anything. You learn how to kayak, juggle, write code, start a non-profit, lead, cook, invest and speed-eat hot dogs by doing. Experience is the greatest teacher. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes help you course-correct and keep you moving forward.
Don’t settle for Maintenance Mode. Avoid Atrophy Mode at all costs. And keep growing. Not by watching or reading. But by doing. Get off the fence and climb aboard your own horse, bicycle or flying machine today. Then just keep at it until you get it Wright.
*If you got anything out of this post consider subscribing to receive future posts via email. I’ll try to write something smart or funny to make it worth your while. Heck, I’ll even spring for the email postage.
When I started my career in advertising my very first account was Case IH farm equipment. Case IH makes the red tractors, combines and implements that dot the American countryside. I was hired to work on the account because I have a farming background. In my job interview I shocked the ad agency leaders with my knowledge of PTOs, disk harrows and 12-row heads. I know these things because I come from a long line of farmers. My mom is one of nine farm kids. My dad is one of twelve.
As part of that first job I did a lot of research, talking to farmers about their wants and needs. In one of those conversations a farmer shared a quote with me that I will never forget. He said,
You will never find a farmer in Vegas. Because we are gambling out here every day.
A Farmer’s Reality
Farmers are gamblers who bet on themselves. They are the ultimate entrepreneurs. They eat and breathe their work. Literally. They work from sun-up until sun-down. They reap what they sow. But to farmers, these are not clichés. These are the facts of life.
But here is the scariest reality of farming: A farmer can work tirelessly every day, follow the best formula for success, never make the same mistake twice, and still go bust.
This is because a farmer does not control his or her own fate. They are at the complete mercy of Mother Nature. And Mother Nature doesn’t play fair. She doesn’t care how hard you work. Or that you’ve invested every dime you have into this year’s crop. And no one is immune to the whims of Mother Nature (except maybe the people who live in San Diego).
So the farmer can do everything in his or her power to grow a bumper crop, and then there is no rain. Or too much rain. Or a killing frost. Or flattening wind. Or hail. Or an eff-ing grasshopper plague.
So this time of year, when the frost is on the pumpkin and the hay is in the barn, farmers are more thankful than you could ever imagine. While all Americans are thankful today, they are not as thankful as farmers.
The moment I started planning to launch my advertising agency, I felt like I was getting back to my farming roots. Because I was betting everything on my ability to grow my own crops. But instead of producing corn, soybeans and milk, I would be growing creative ideas. And the hard thing about growing creative ideas is that you can’t buy the seeds from Monsanto.
Today, I am experiencing farmer-strength thankfulness. The Weaponry, the advertising and idea agency that I started in 2016, has transformed from a dream with a plan to a physical business with walls, doors and desks. We have world-class employees. We have great clients. And we are cranking out ideas like Iowa cranks out corn.
6 things I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving.
Today I’m thankful for my wife Dawn, who has demonstrated unwavering faith in my ability to feed, clothe and shelter our family.
I’m thankful for my kids who share my love for ideas, adventure and creation.
I’m thankful for my team of smart, self-driven creatives who produce valuable ideas every day.
I’m thankful to my clients who have trusted The Weaponry to help them create the strategies and ideas they need to grow and thrive.
I’m thankful for all of my friends. For handshakes and hugs. I’m thankful for those who will take my phone calls and reply to my texts. For the friends who have joined me this year for chocolate milk or a meal. And to those friends who like, comment or share something I post on social media.
And on this day that we give thanks for the harvest I am especially thankful for my large farm family of Albrechts and Spraus. Our rich farming lineage has provided us all with a tremendous work ethic, a strong self-reliance, and a great appreciation for all that we have. Today we are working hard to pass the character traits that grow strong on farms on to our children. So that even though our offspring may never live on a farm, they will benefit from our family roots that reach deep into the rich black soil of Minnesota.
As you enjoy your Thanksgiving feast with friends and family take time to count your own blessings. As you pass the plates around the table remember where the food came from. And please say a little thank you for the farmer. Because surely they are saying thank you for you.
*If you decide to subscibe to this blog I woud be extremely thankful too.
People regularly ask me if I am a full-time blogger. This always makes me laugh. I assume that would mean that I blog 24-hours a day. Which would make it really hard to shower. Or trim my fingernails. I actually have several other responsibilities. I am the Founder of the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. And when I am not blogging or foundering I spend my time husbanding and fathering.
I got my fist job as a father in 2005. Since then I have tripled my responsibilities. My youngest son is a 7-year old viking named Magnus who inherited my love for football. In fact we toss a football around every morning while waiting for the school bus.
Yesterday Magnus must have eaten his Wheaties (which is a reference that you’ll only understand if you were born before 1980). Because every time Magnus tossed the ball he threw it way over my head. So I jogged to pick up the ball, and tossed it back. But after several of these Wheaties-fueled throws I stopped and asked Magnus,
‘Are we playing catch, or are you just playing throw?’
As I asked the question I recognized that Magnus’ approach was emblematic of a common problem that occurs every day in communications. Both personal and professional.
Tossing Marketing Messages
In the most basic form, marketing communications are a simple game of catch. The game starts with a marketer throwing a message to a prospective buyer. The prospective buyer catches the message and throws his or her message back. That message could be, I’m interested, I’m not interested, I’m confused, or Tell me more. As long as you are communicating there is an opportunity to get to a mutually beneficial transaction.
But far too often marketers throw their messages the way Magnus threw the football. Hard. Fast. High. Marketers are focused on their own perspective. In their eagerness to drive results (ROI) they shout what they think is important. They don’t think enough about the person at the other end of the message. Thus, their message sails way over the head of the intended recipient. And there is no reply at all.
Before you throw your next message:
Know who you are throwing to.
Understand how they like to catch.
Account for the distance.
Throw something catchable.
Observe what happens when you throw your message, and recalibrate accordingly.
Prepare to receive the message that gets tossed back to you.
Remember, communication is a two-way interaction. Account for your audience in everything you do. Make it an enjoyable experience for everyone involved. When you do you’ll be surprised how many people will happily play catch with you.
If you found anything I threw your way useful, or think I am off target, please share a comment or subsrcibe to this blog so we can keep playing catch.
I have worked with a lot of well-known humans during my advertising career. Advertising and well-known humans, aka celebrities, are made for each other. That’s because there is a powerful affinity triangle that predicts that if you like a celebrity, and that celebrity likes a product or service, then the chances are good that you will like that product or service too. This is why so many of our moms bought us Skippy peanut butter. #annettefunicello
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. is one of the most influential celebrities I have ever worked with. Dale and I worked together for several years on marketing efforts for Nationwide Insurance, a major NASCAR sponsor.
Nationwide tested every commercial we ever created (and many that never saw the light of day). Time after time, and test after test, I was amazed at just how much influence Dale Jr. had on an audience’s interest in what Dale Jr. was selling. This was made even clearer when we tested the exact same scripts with and without Dale in them. Take my word for it, you don’t want to create a Dale Jr. spot without Dale Jr.
Here are the top 3 reasons Dale Jr. is a world-class celebrity endorser.
He is relatable. Perhaps the greatest thing about Dale Jr. is that total strangers feel as if they know him. People who have never met him feel like he is a friend, a neighbor, a cousin, nephew or uncle. As the son of another well-known celebrity driver, Dale Earnhardt Sr., NASCAR fans and followers have watched Junior grow up. They know his story. They know his successes and his hardships. And they feel as if Dale is just like them. Which is why he has been voted NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver for 14 years in a row.
He is authentic. I have never worked with a celebrity that knows how to be themself better than Dale knows how to be Dale. After working with him the very first time it was crystal clear the he knows exactly who he is. He knows what does and doesn’t sound right coming from him. We rarely asked Dale to act. We wrote spots so that Dale could just be himself. We let him call an audible on set if he felt he would state a phrase differently than we wrote it in the script. Advertising audiences always have their BS meter on. They can sniff out a phony a Talladega lap away. But Dale’s authenticity assured there was no BS to detect. So racing fans bought into Dale big time.
He means what he says: Dale doesn’t really sell things as much as he shares what he actually believes. He really likes Chevy cars and trucks. He really wears Wrangler jeans and thinks they are real. And comfortable. And jeans. He really protects his businesses, his personal cars, his property, his family and dog with Nationwide Insurance. Which makes it really easy for him to earnestly endorse the merits of Nationwide Insurance.
Dale’s Lasting Impressions On Me:
Dale is a good human being. And I’d be willing to bet that he would be happier to have people say that about him than almost anything else. As I reflect on all the work we did together there are a few profound points that stick out.
Photos: Dale, like so many NASCAR drivers, recognized the value of a picture. He was gracious with all requests to have a photo taken with him by cast, crew, agencies, clients and fans. In fact, he seemed honored every time someone requested a photo with him. I always admired that.
The Beard: We always liked to shoot Dale clean-shaven. For adverting purposes he looks better without a beard. But one year we knew going into the shoot that he had grown a Zac-Brownian beard. After a few lean years on the track he was driving like a superstar again. I have no doubt that he felt his beard was part of his positive change. When he arrived on set the day of the shoot he brought the beard with him. This created drama. He clearly wanted to keep the beard.
We, on the other hand, wanted to see his handsome face. After we sat down and discussed our perspective with him he said that if we really felt that strongly about the beard he would shave. Within 10 minutes he emerged from the motorhome, sans beard, ready to shoot. He never complained. He didn’t hold a grudge (at least not outwardly). He was the consummate professional. We had a great shoot and created two really great commercials. While we may have won the battle of the beard, Dale Jr. really won us over with the way he handled the situation.
The Church Sign: One day we were filming Dale driving his Chevy SUV on a country road. At one point we pulled into a church parking lot to regroup and prepare for the next shot. I remember Dale taking a picture of the inspirational message on the sign in front of the church. It reminded me that we all need to seek out the good, the inspirational and the reassuring, and put it in our pocket, or phone, so that we have it when we need it most.
Thank You Dale.
Thanks for all that you did to make each of our efforts together successful. Thanks for your patience. Thanks for delivering for us every time. Thanks for getting up earlier than you wanted to. And sticking around the set longer than you wanted to. Thanks for the great stories you shared during our interviews. Thanks for taking time for just one more picture. And thanks for sharing your friends and family with us too. We had a lot of fun working with you. I think I speak for everyone who worked with you at Engauge and Nationwide when I say thanks for being on our side.
I am not a control freak. I believe there is more than one way to skin a cat. Although most cats I have met strongly prefer not to be skinned at all. I like to hire good people and let them do their jobs. I am very comfortable delegating responsibility. With one notable exception.
When it comes to business travel I become a micromanager. You will never find me handing over my travel planning to an assistant or simply booking what everyone else is booking. Because when I travel for work I always have a hidden agenda… (cue the sinister music).
As the Founder of the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, my first priority on every business trip is to take care of business. I call this my Bachman-Turner Overdrive Philosophy. I want to arrive with plenty of time to prepare for the meeting or the shoot, or whatever I’m travel to do. And I build in enough time for a travel backup plan in case anything goes wrong.
But once the work plan is set I always turn my attention to my hidden agenda. It’s not finding great restaurants or a fancy hotel or seeing a great show.
My People Plan
When I travel for work I always think about the people I can see. Business trips offer us all a chance to keep in touch or reconnect with friends and family. I take advantage of this every chance I get. You should too.
The moment I know I need to travel I start working on my people plan. I study the location I am traveling. I look at a map to see who I know within a reasonable radius of my business.
Then I build my itinerary.
The 3 Parts To My People-Seeing Travel Plans.
Flight: I look at flight options that will get me in early enough and allow me to leave late enough to see my people. Often I will take the last flight home on any given day to help open my schedule and improve my odds of connecting.
Lodging: My lodging is always an important part of my plan. I book hotels that make it easy to see my people. This is either because the lodging is centrally located, or because it is in the middle of a pod of my peeps. However, sometimes the lodging is not a hotel at all. I stay with friends or family members whenever they offer to host me. This allows for the best people experience of all.
Car Unless I am staying in Manhattan or a similar car-unfriendly location I rent a car from Hertz. That’s because Hertz has the best cars, the best service and the best loyalty program. A rental car gives me the most flexibility to see my people. And it gives me the greatest people-seeing range. If I am ambitious, which I usually am, a rental car enables me see several people, over a large area, for a fixed price. This is a major advantage that rental cars have over a ride sharing service.
A Recent Example
Last Thursday The Weaponry conducted an all-day branding workshop with a client in Minneapolis. I scheduled a flight that landed in Minneapolis at 5pm on Wednesday afternoon. I picked up my rental car, then Jeanne, our amazing account director and I picked up two of our clients and went to a really enjoyable dinner. (Side note: One of those clients was a friend before she was a client. And the last time I had seen her was on a people-seeing side trip in Atlanta earlier this year.)
Then I dropped off Jeanne and the clients at their hotels before heading to my sister Heather’s house for the night. There I got to see Heather, her husband John, my nephew Addison, and nieces Rebekkah and Rachael.
Thursday was the branding workshop. It was great. Productive, insightful and fun.
Thursday evening I had dinner with Heather’s family at one of our favorite restaurants.
Then I met my friend Tom Burger for after-dinner lemonades. Tom and I were college roommates and track teammates at the University of Wisconsin. It was really great catching up on family, friends and careers.
Friday morning was special. I got up early and drove 70 miles west of Minneapolis to Hutchinson, Minnesota. I went to surprise my 98-year-old Grandma Albrecht. And boy was she surprised. Which made me think that surprises and 98-year-olds may not be a healthy mix.
It had been too long since I saw Grandma. It was a real gift to be able to spend a couple of hours alone with her. This was all the more special because I lost my other grandmother, Grammy Sprau, two months ago at 100 years old.
Then I drove back to Minneapolis and met my friend Mark Setterholm at his production company, Drive Thru. Mark and I had worked together on a fun Ski-Doo project many years ago and have kept in touch ever since. I got to see his latest office space, I reconnected with members of his team, and met new DriveThruvians. Mark and I had lunch, we updated each other on our latest work developments and talked about life in general. It was great.
Then I headed to the airport and home.
In the past two months alone I have had three business trips just like this. All of them were greatly enhanced with friends and family time. By integrating my work and personal life I am able to get the most out of both.
LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram offer us a great way to stay in touch with our friends, family, and business associates. But it is not the same as seeing your people in real life. Take advantage of the opportunities to grow, maintain, rekindle or develop relationships while you are away from home. You’ll be glad you did. Life is short. And nothing matters more than our relationships.